Same Same but Different: Subaru Impreza (2009)
They say it was inevitable—that Subaru would one day transform its core Impreza model into a five-door hatchback from the traditional four-door sedan layout. After all, if it was performance in the World Rally Championship they were after, the hatchback configuration is definitely better thanks to its compact exterior and better aerodynamic properties. Be that as it may, there are some out there who aren’t open to change; who don’t like the idea of an Impreza without a trunk. Luckily for these people, Subaru obliged.
It actually comes as a big surprise for a niche car maker like Subaru to come out with two different body styles for its Impreza. It’s an even bigger surprise that its Philippine distributor, Motor Image Pilipinas is offering both body types in the country considering its sole dealership network. After all, it was once believed that you adapt to a Subaru; a Subaru doesn’t adapt to you. Perhaps it’s a sign that Subaru wants to enter the mainstream—that it wants to appeal beyond the racer boy types. And its’ working. Since the introduction of the five-door Impreza 2.0 R Sport, sales of its chief rival, the Honda Civic 2.0 almost stood still. Honda, a company allergic to discounts, resorted to giving freebies and attractive financing rates just to move its range-topping Civic. And just when Honda thought the Impreza assault was over, here comes the four-door sedan.
Frankly, there’s nothing much new to say about the Impreza sedan. If you’ve ever driven, ridden or read about the five-door model, you’ll know exactly how the sedan is—well, at least dynamically. There are two flavors offered in the sedan: a normally-aspirated R Sport (RS for short) and a turbo-charged WRX. Now, unlike other car makers who offer unique engine and/or transmission options between their sedan and hatchback models, Subaru plopped in the stuff that’s found in the hatchback: a 2.0-liter Flat-4 engine good for 150 horsepower and 196 Nm of torque (230 horsepower and 320 Nm for the WRX). The only deciding factor to go hatchback is that if you want a manual transmission to go with your normally-aspirated engine as the sedan only comes with a 4-speed automatic.
Comparing apples to apples though, in this case, the A/T variant of the hatchback and the sedan, things boil down to a matter of taste. Beyond the six-inch stretch aft of the Impreza’s C-pillar, they behave exactly the same. Acceleration from standstill isn’t exactly spirited—it’s more of adequate considering that peak torque arrives lower in the rev range (3,200 prm) versus, say, the Civic’s (4,200 rpm) or even the Lancer EX (4,250 rpm). This is down to two reasons: one is the Impreza’s relatively heavy 1,365-kilogram curb weight and second is its four-speed gearbox which doesn’t like to be rushed. In fact, nailing the throttle at traffic lights will result in a well-felt nudge as the active torque split all-wheel drive (a feature on all Subaru A/T variants) sends torque rearward. As the engine builds up though, the Impreza does exhibit some push. Like its compact car rivals, the Impreza has a manual override function in its gearbox, but unlike its competitors, there are no paddle shifters here. The only way to engage the so-called SportShift would be to slot the gated shifter to the +/- sign. On a positive note though, the Impreza does offer two additional shift modes: Sport and Manual. In Sport, the transmission will keep the engine revs up before shifting, while in Manual, you do the shifting manually.
Despite the less-than sporty engine, the rest of the Impreza’s dynamic package cannot be faulted. For one, it has the segment’s best ride and NVH insulation. The Impreza can soak up the worse of what Manila roads could throw at it without even feeling wobbly or floaty. Credit this to three things: first is that the engine and transmission are mounted on a sub frame to quell vibrations that may enter through the car’s drivetrain. Second is the suspension which is comprised of MacPherson Struts upfront and Double Wishbones at the back. The Double Wishbones in particular show tremendously generous suspension travel allowing the Impreza to ride through the worse of potholes. And lastly, there’s a generous amount of sound deadening material used throughout the car. Just peek underneath the engine bay, and you’ll notice that the entire floor pan is lined with the stuff. After some back-to-back driving, the Impreza sedan does have the upper hand in quelling tire noise better though. But this is probably down to the use of non-standard tires on the sedan (Yokohama A Drive R1 215/45 R 17s) as opposed to the stock tires (Yokohama Advan A10 205/50 R 17s).
With identical performance and on-road behavior, the only difference separating the Impreza sedan and hatchback is the body configuration. As mentioned, the difference lies mainly in the car’s C-pillar rearward and the additional six inches found in the sedan. Besides that though, the single and often seen attempt at pseudo-luxury comes in the additional chrome strip on the window’s sedan molding. Like this out-of-place shiny bit, the new rear-end looks like an afterthought. Whereas the sweeping face works somewhat well with the five-door configuration, especially since it had an arrow-shaped stance, the four-door version is downright bland. It feels as if Subaru designers spent months designing the five-door and only hours doing the four-door. There’s little attempt to dress up the back—it’s all generic down to the conventional lamp clusters (at least the hatchback had those cool LEDs). The faux diffuser from the five-door is gone too, but in its place is something hatchback owners would want: racy-looking dual tail pipes. At this point, some may reckon that the Impreza sedan may have given up some style in exchange for more luggage space (the unanimous weakness of the hatchback). Well, not exactly. If transporting stuff like smelly socks and durians is part of everyday routine, then the physical barrier provided by a trunk is well and good. However, the trunk’s shallow space and obtrusive hinge severely limits the usability. In fact, any luggage measuring more than 16 inches high will find itself banging against the hinge. So if you regularly bring people to and from the airport, better stick with the five-door instead.
Because the addition of the trunk is the one and only difference, the interior of the Impreza sedan is every bit like the hatchback, especially since Subaru made concurrent changes in both versions simultaneously. From the 2008 to 2009 model, the most obvious change is the transition from dark gray to a black interior. The scratch-prone silver dash trim has been replaced by a duller, but more robust painted trim. And in the name of cost-cutting, the lower console bin and the climate controls are now shared with those found in the Forester and Impreza WRX STI. Since Motor Image is still offering the 2008 hatchback model, there are certain new toys unique to the 2009 sedan such as six airbags and an instantaneous fuel mileage gauge nestled between the clock and exterior temperature gauge. However, these features were added at the expense of the power folding and heated mirrors as well as (shock) the unavailability of the VDCS traction control.
With the Subaru Impreza sedan and hatchback priced exactly down to the last peso (P 1,158,000)—choosing the right version is entirely up to you. You have to commend Motor Image Pilipinas for giving you the power of choice. Everything boils down to personal preference: if you’d like the security of a trunk (thefts by breaking a hatchback’s rear glass is common nowadays) then you have the sedan. If you want the sportier look, then you have the hatchback. However, in as much as the Impreza sedan does provide the separate cargo space, the additional cargo room isn’t that great. Though some folks just can’t live without a trunk, at the end of the day, the Impreza five-door does look way cooler and gives marginally more cargo flexibility.
By Ulysses Ang | Photos by Ulysses Ang