2009 Subaru Impreza Outback Sport
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    $19,995
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    2009 Subaru Impreza Outback Sport Expert Review:New Car Test Drive

    The following review is for a 2008 Model Year. There may be minor changes to current model you are looking at.

    All-new Impreza and Outback Sport bigger, more refined.

    Introduction

    The Subaru Impreza lineup is redesigned for 2008, getting bigger and more refined in the process. A four-door sedan body style remains, but a four-door hatchback replaces the previous generation's wagon body style. Base Impreza and Outback Sport models return, as do the high-performance WRX and even higher performance WRX STI. This report covers the Impreza and Outback Sport; another NewCarTestDrive.com report covers the related WRX and STi models. 

    Impreza and Outback Sport use a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine teamed with a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission. The engine produces 170-horspower, enough power for everyday needs and enough oomph for good passing punch. We drove it in the mountains of Colorado and found it up to the task, but it had to work hard up steep grades partly due to the thinner air at high altitude. Drivers who want more power should consider the turbocharged Impreza WRX, which is surprisingly civil in behavior. 

    The Impreza powertrain is competitive with anything in the compact class, but some rivals offer six-speed automatics that improve fuel economy. The Impreza's fuel economy is on par with other all-wheel-drive compacts, but it suffers compared to front-drive rivals. If fuel mileage is your main concern, the Impreza is not the best choice among compacts. 

    All-wheel drive adds handling stability and traction on slippery roads, however, and we found it kept us safe on a snowy ski trip. Even a minor wreck costs more than a tank of gas. 

    The Impreza also has a handling advantage versus several competitors. Advanced suspension geometry, a platform built to host the high-performance WRX models, and a low center of gravity thanks to the boxer engine all add up to crisp handling with little body lean in corners. And yet, the Impreza also offers a comfortable ride. 

    Inside, the Impreza is nicely appointed, with a look and feel that would be appropriate for a car costing thousands more. The gauges are easy to read, and there is plenty of storage space for small items. The front seat has enough head room and leg room for tall drivers, and visibility is good to all corners. The back seat is impressive for a compact car, with enough leg room for tall passengers provided the front seats aren't set too far back. 

    The Impreza sedan has a decent trunk, but buyers looking for more utility will want to choose the hatchback. The hatchback's rear seats are split 60/40 and fold flat to open up a useful cargo area with a flat load floor. 

    In short, the Impreza is a lot of car for the money, and its standard all-wheel drive makes it an excellent choice for buyers who want an extra measure of security and stability in inclement conditions. 

    Lineup

    The 2008 Subaru Impreza is offered in four models: 2.5i, Outback Sport, WRX, and WRX STI. This report covers the 2.5i and Outback Sport, which come with all-wheel drive and a horizontally opposed 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. The 2.5i is offered as either a four-door sedan or four-door hatchback. The Outback Sport is only a hatchback. The flat four in the 2.5i and Outback Sport models makes 170 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. It comes mated to a five-speed manual transmission and a four-speed automatic transmission is optional ($1000). 

    Standard equipment on the 2.5i sedan ($16,995) and hatchback ($17,495) includes cloth upholstery, air conditioning, interior air filter, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, height-adjustable driver's seat, 60/40 split folding rear seat, power mirrors, power windows, power door locks, remote keyless entry, 80-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 player with four speakers, outside-temperature indicator, theft-deterrent system, and P205/55R16 tires on steel wheels with wheel covers. Hatchbacks also get a rear cargo cover and a rear spoiler. 

    The Outback Sport ($19,995) adds four-wheel disc brakes, raised suspension, Incline Start Assist (with manual transmission), leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, leather-wrapped shift knob, heated front seats, heated exterior mirrors, six-disc CD changer, 10 speakers, auxiliary audio input jack, fog lights, roof rack cross bars, and P205/50R17 tires on alloy wheels. 

    Options for the 2.5i include a Premium package ($1500) with antilock four-wheel disc brakes with Brake Assist, traction control, electronic stability control, Incline Start Assist (for manual transmission models), automatic climate control, tilt/telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, leather-wrapped shift knob, six-disc CD changer, 10 speakers, auxiliary audio input jack, fog lights, and alloy wheels. A Satellite and Navigation package ($3500) adds a navigation system and Sirius satellite radio plus the Premium package equipment but with a single-CD player. The Popular Equipment Group ($319) adds auto-dimming rearview mirror, compass, and security system shock sensor. Other upgrades include an Audio Sound package ($768) with XM or Sirius satellite radio and a subwoofer/amplifier; a short-throw shifter for the manual transmission ($374); auxiliary audio input jack ($97); roof rack ($250); remote engine starting ($432); XM or Sirius satellite radio ($453); and a rear spoiler for the sedan ($380). The Outback Sport offers similar options. 

    Safety features include dual front airbags, front side airbags, curtain side airbags, front disc and rear drum brakes, antilock brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, front-seat active head restraints, and a tire-pressure monitor. Traction control, electronic stability control, Brake Assist, and Incline Start Assist (with manual transmission) are standard on all but the 2.5i, where they are optional. 

    Walkaround

    The 2008 Subaru Impreza has grown up compared to the last model. The width is the same, but the wheelbase is 3.7 inches longer on an all-new platform. Overall length is also up by 4.5 inches for the sedan, but is actually down 1.7 inches for the hatchback. The hatchback's length is taken out behind the rear wheels. Where the last model had a more squared off wagon shape, this one has a raked hatchback shape. 

    The Impreza gets a completely new look for 2008. The front end changes from Subaru's somewhat controversial horse-collar shape to the new corporate design that is short and wide. The shape of the grille flows into a pair of cat's eye-style headlights, and its basic shape is repeated below the bumper in an air intake that is flanked by fog lights. The outline of the grille leads into character lines on the hood. The whole effect is more organic and flowing than most cars these days. 

    The sides of the car are largely uncluttered, except for bold BMW-like shoulder lines that run from the front wheelwells to the taillights. The fenders are slightly flared at the wheels, again lending an organic, flowing shape. 

    Perhaps most important, the Impreza now has fully framed door windows, which reduces interior noise and the possibility of leaks. Reviewers have complained about Subaru's frameless windows for years. 

    The Impreza sedan ends with a high trunk line, a fairly generic rear end design, and red taillights. 

    The Impreza hatchback, on the other hand, has a raked rear window that leads to an integrated roof spoiler, giving it a sporty demeanor. The hatchback does not have separate opening glass, and its taillights are clear. 

    The Outback Sport, which is only offered as a hatchback, has a couple of exterior visual cues, including a raised suspension (though it sits only 0.2 inches higher), and two-tone paint. 

    Interior

    Hop in the front seat and you find the Impreza is nicely appointed. The dash and center console have lots of plastic, but it doesn't feel cheap. The overall feel would be appropriate for a car costing thousands more, but one of our test cars did have a couple of raw surfaces with rough edges and an annoying squeak from the cargo area. 

    The hooded instrument pod features a large central speedometer flanked by a tachometer and the fuel gauge. The gauges are black with white markings, red needles and raised silver rings. The gauges are easy to read and the overall look is pleasing. 

    The center stack has a vehicle information center with the clock, outside temperature indicator, and trip computer information set in a hooded area at the top of the dash. The radio is right below that, followed by a pair of air vents, and finally three easy-to-use climate control knobs. 

    With the optional navigation system, the radio controls are integrated along the sides of the nav screen. This makes some of the controls small and a bit hard to find, but it shouldn't be a problem after a few weeks. We found the screen hard to read with polarized sunglasses on and hard to read during the day with the headlights on. 

    Small items storage is quite good. The glove box is of a good size. The center console features two cupholders and a deep center console to store CDs and life's little trinkets. There is also a small change tray in front of the cupholders, and the front of the console has an open tray to set cell phones and the like. 

    Inside, the Impreza has plenty of room for a compact car. On the whole, there is more room than the last model. Even tall drivers should find enough head and leg room. Visibility to all corners is also largely unobstructed. 

    The back seat is quite impressive. It has good leg room with all but the tallest occupants up front and toe space under the seats is good if those front seats need to be set farther back. Rear head room is excellent. The only minor complaint is the fact that the seat bottoms are fairly flat, meaning long trip comfort may suffer. 

    Cargo room is good, especially in the hatchback. The rear seats are split 60/40 and they fold flat easily via pull-up knobs. In the hatchback, folding the seats down opens up 44.4 cubic feet of cargo space. (That's less than the previous-generation wagon, which offered nearly 62 cubic feet.) The load floor is flat, the opening is large, and the liftover is low enough to allow for easy loading. We hauled two people with their luggage and ski equipment on a trip to Colorado and found the Impreza hatchback had plenty of room. The sedan has 11.3 cubic feet of trunk space, which is about the same as the last model and is fair for the class. 

    We highly recommend getting the optional Premium package which includes lots of interior, exterior, and safety equipment that would cost much more if priced separately. 

    Driving Impression

    The Impreza 2.5i and Outback Sport use a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine that churns out 170 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 170 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm. Those numbers make the Impreza as powerful as just about anything in the class, though the four-cylinders from Nissan and Toyota feel more responsive. 

    Subaru says it has modified the engine's torque curve to improve low end response. We drove the 2.5i in the mountains of Colorado and found it to be up to the task, though it certainly had to work hard on steep grades. If we had to deal with those conditions on a regular basis, we'd prefer the added power of the WRX's turbocharged engine, which is more powerful and less affected by altitude. 

    Fuel economy is generally good. At an EPA-estimated 20 mpg City and 27 mpg Highway, the Impreza isn't nearly as fuel-efficient as the Honda Civic, which gets 24/36 with an automatic transmission, but it is slightly better than the AWD Toyota Matrix, which is EPA rated at 20/26 mpg. 

    The Impreza offers two versions of Subaru's Symmetrical All Wheel Drive system. Models with the manual transmission have a viscous coupling locking center differential that splits power 50/50 front to rear. Models with the automatic use an electronically managed continuously variable transfer clutch. Both versions of the system transfer power to the wheels with the best grip. Both also provide a measure of all-weather security that gives Subaru an advantage over other makes. That was proven in Colorado, where all-wheel drive gave the Impreza stable handling on snowy mountain roads. 

    The Impreza also has a handling advantage versus several competitors. The Impreza hosts the performance-oriented WRX and WRX STI models, and the base models benefit from the built-in handling prowess needed for the top models. In addition, Subaru's flat boxer engines can sit lower than other engines, allowing for a lower center of gravity and therefore better handling. 

    Get behind the wheel, and you find the Impreza's steering and handling are crisp, and there is little lean in corners. Still, with standard 16-inch wheels and soft suspension settings, the Impreza is not twitchy or harsh riding. The new double-wishbone independent rear suspension helps both handling and ride quality, and we never found the Impreza uncomfortable. These are enjoyable cars for people who like to drive. 

    The brakes provide worry-free stops and good pedal feel. They come standard with Electronic Brake-force Distribution, with apportions braking power to all four corners. We recommend buyers opt for the electronic stability control system, which is included in the Premium package and comes with Brake Assist. 

    Summary

    We are impressed by the Impreza. With alloy wheels, plentiful interior room, and a thoughtfully designed interior, the $20,000 sticker price for our test car seemed like a deal. Standard all-wheel drive adds all-weather security, and Impreza's fine ride and handling make it a worthy choice for anyone looking for a small, well-built car. The Impreza 2.5i hatchback and Outback Sport models offer a lot of utility with their big cargo capacities. The Outback Sport looks more expensive but is loaded with popular options. Choose any model: When it snows or rains heavily, these Subarus are class leaders. 

    Kirk Bell filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com from Chicago. 

    Model Lineup

    Subaru Impreza 2.5i sedan ($16,995), hatchback ($17,495); Outback Sport ($19,995). 

    Assembled In

    Ota Gunma, Japan. 

    Options As Tested

    Premium package ($1500) with antilock four-wheel disc brakes with Brake Assist, traction control, electronic stability control, automatic climate control, tilt/telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, leather-wrapped shift knob, 6CD, 10 speakers, auxiliary audio input jack, fog lights, alloy wheels; four-speed automatic transmission ($1000). 

    Model Tested

    Subaru Impreza 2.5i 5-Door ($17,495). 

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    Read 2009 Subaru Impreza Outback Sport reviews from auto industry experts to gain insight on the Subaru Impreza Outback Sport's drivability, comfort, power and performance.
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