2008 Subaru Impreza
2008 Subaru Impreza Expert Review:Autoblog
The standard new generation evolution usually goes like this: bigger, roomier, longer, wider. For some models, it's not such a big deal to go fiddling with the specs, on certain cars it's even a welcome improvement. Subaru, however, has a conundrum on their hands when they go messing with the Impreza formulation. There's a loveable quirkiness to the recipe; start tinkering too much, though, and you'll end up with New Coke.
Thus, it's with trepidation that we sampled the 2008 Impreza. It certainly looks different than those which came before. New duds don't mean an expanded waistline here, the 2008 model actually twirls out considerably less measuring tape in several dimensions than its forebear, while gaining inches and tenths where they make the most difference. Better doesn't have enough depth to fully convey the marked improvements Subaru has made in their entry-level model for 2008. Even stretching to "a lot better" leaves more to be said
All photos ©2007 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.
Something that will not pass without controversy is the new styling direction the Impreza has taken. The bug-eyed, ugly to the point of cute previous version is replaced by sheetmetal that follows Subaru's new styling playbook. The Impreza and the revised Tribeca have both shed their off-center exteriors for less outré designs. While we weren't in love with the new look when we first saw it, we've come to appreciate how the clean flanks and crisp surfacing are handsome without being overwrought. The Impreza Outback Sport 5-door carries a stylish hatch profile on its tight dimensions.
The design might be viewed as bland by some, but there are hints of adventure. The hood has a couple of quick, gestural creases, and the C-Pillar has the reverse-kick that's become universally popular as a way to suggest you're an iconoclast. The angle of the backlight and shoulder line converge at the rear light clusters, seemingly the point where the sheetmetal was drawn tight at the factory. It's a nice effect, and the way reflections take on an arrow shape when you're taking in the rear three-quarter view is entertaining. The five-door's rump is far more successful than the sedan, which has a trunk awkwardly tacked on.
The Impreza's length is down, but width and wheelbase have both increased, changing the Impreza's demeanor and environment for the better. Weight is within the same range as before, topping out a little heftier depending on equipment levels. The bodyshell has seen rigidity improvements which lets the suspension perform its duties better, since the structure's not acting as a fifth spring. Subaru has drawn fire for the softer suspension calibration of this time around. The ride is everyday comfortable, soaking up impacts without any residual quivers from the body or wasted motion as the dampers smoothly cycle from jounce to rebound. The body rolls when you bite into a highway ramp or round a corner with some enthusiasm, but the Bridgestone tires are the strong, silent type. The rubber doesn't complain audibly, but once you pass 7/10s it lets its displeasure be known by going squirmy. Cornering and braking are among this car's favorite pastimes, though.
Wringing the Impreza out will easily become a hobby of yours, too. The chunky leather wrapped wheel is just right with a meaty rim and spoke-mounted cruise and audio controls. The steering is ideally weighted and you always have a sense of what the tires are coping with. Overall, the Impreza feels planted and well balanced. The car is eager to turn in, and the AWD covers even the most ham-fisted drivers. Throttle moves have the expected effect on cornering attitude, and there's a forgiving quality to the Impreza that makes you the hero of the off-ramp.
Subaru's ever-present boxer engine is here, displacing 2.5 liters and grunting out 170 horsepower and the same helping of pound-feet. While that's not immediately impressive when a V6 can whip out 300 horsepower, it's plenty. Peaking at 4400 rpm, the boxer's torque delivery is prompt; there's no need to rev the bejeezus out of the Impreza. The 50-horsepower bump provided by the WRX sounds like it'd be just the ticket, but you're not left wanting in the Outback Sport. The composed chassis and just-right power level make for a car that covers your arse. In fact, more power might just get you deeper into trouble than you want to be.
The standard-issue transmission is a five speed manual, and the car we drove was equipped with the four speed automatic. Rowing the ratios yourself would add to the entertainment, but the auto doesn't sponge up proceedings disagreeably. The automatic is a member of the slow-downshift club, though. Dropping out of high gear into a lower ratio takes an eternity. The trans behaved well enough that we never felt the need to use the manual gate that everyone's putting on their autos now. Our fuel mileage might have been better with a manual, too. We saw low 20s, certainly not as good as some of the other options in the Impreza's low $20,000's price bracket, but you do get AWD standard in the Impreza.
While the steering wheel gets a leather sheath, the rest of the interior isn't quite as upscale. That's not to say that the fitment is downmarket, but you don't hear raves about Subaru interiors like the praise showered on Audi, for example. Interior plastics have attractive graining and a low lustre. The seats are covered in cloth carrying a multicolor pattern that's subdued. We liked the way the Impreza's dash mimics the swoopy style of the Tribeca's panel, with a sweep of silver trim. Simple, straightforward controls are easy to use, though they don't have the tight quality feel to top the class. Never does the Impreza feel cheap, though, it's just not a luxury car.
Hatchbacks are eminently useful, and the Impreza doesn't disappoint, even with its shortening. Swallowing large and bulky items is not a problem, and when it's time to carry humans, the back seat is capable of supporting life. The front seats are comfortable and provide decent support, though bolstering could be sportier. One aspect that marred our time with the Impreza is the racket the roof load bars make. Get the speedometer indicating 30 miles per hour, and the crossbars are whistling loudly. The extra wind noise might be reduced with a deflector panel like you can get for Thule or Yakima racks, and the whistling transitions into a more acceptable rushing of air at higher speeds. The crossbars themselves appear strong and well constructed, and Subaru offers a variety of attachments for carrying bikes, skis, kayaks, even a cargo box.
Forget the past, this Impreza is satisfying and entertaining while also being comfortable and refined. Some of the rogueish edge may have been smoothed over, but we found the 2008 Impreza Outback Sport agreeable to our automotive palette. The flingable chassis is reminiscent of what made the Mk1 GTIs so popular – a simple, straighforward, solid-driving car, while the ride, styling, and quality means you can show it off to Mom and Dad without excuses. The AWD and modest power level keep you out of trouble, and are a welcome feature in snowy climes. The Impreza doesn't try to be a premium small car like the C30 or the MINI – it's just a good honest car that performs well and doesn't cost a fortune.
All photos ©2007 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.
I remember the last red Subaru I drove. I was in high school, and the car was my dad's – a new '88 GL wagon with an automatic and push-button 4WD on the shifter. I dug that Scooby. It wasn't powerful but it was fun -- especially when it snowed. Somehow I managed to avoid bouncing it off a lamppost while sliding it around corners. This had much more to do with luck than skill, as I was in high school and clearly an idiot. But I digress -- after all, this isn't about my dad's old GL. It is, however, about a red Subaru – the new Impreza WRX STI, to be specific. If this thing was around back during my neighborhood rally-pretender salad days, I'd probably just be getting my license back right about now.
All photos Copyright ©2008 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.
When Subaru unveiled the all-new Impreza and WRX last April, Scoobyphiles bared their teeth at the sight of the car's new, pedestrian looks. Until then, the WRX's appearance could have been described many ways, but milquetoast wasn't one of them. This matter is corrected with the STI, whose visual punch feels like it's delivered with brass knuckles. Where the base Impreza WRX barely warrants a second glance, the pugnacious STI causes its fair share of wrenched neck muscles as other drivers, particularly young guys in imports (big surprise there, right?) gawk at the bright red hatch. One afternoon, a Jetta GLI barreled into a turnoff where I had parked to squeeze off a few pictures. Out jumped a kid who was so consumed by the car that he wouldn't have noticed if Scarlett Johansen strolled by in her birthday suit. Another night at the supermarket checkout counter, I overheard the guy in the next lane excitedly tell his girlfriend, "Check this out... Outside? There's an '08 STI!" Not bad for a car whose general shape we were all bitching about several months ago.
It's surprising what a few bulges here, some vents there, and trick-looking wheels do for the Impreza. It's still no beauty -- not by a long shot -- but man, it is butch, and purposefully so. You see, the Subaru people apparently didn't get the memo that fake vents are now de rigeur, as everything you see is actually functional. The scoops below the bumpers really are for brake cooling. The front fender vents actually dissipate engine heat. And of course, the giant hood scoop gulps air into the 305-horsepower 2.5L boxer's top-mounted intercooler. In the STI, the relationship between form and function is no sham marriage.
You have to concede that the twin dual-tip exhaust outlets are superfluous (there's just the one muffler, after all), but they really do look pretty wicked, and the diffuser they peek under is also functional. Our tester's swollen fenders sheltered the optional 18-inch BBS wheels whose spoke pattern gives a clear view of the big, STI-branded Brembos (13-inches front, 12.6-inches rear) tasked with stopping the madness. A set of Dunlop SP Winter Sports was on duty during the car's visit with us. Other visual details that differentiate the STI from lesser Imprezas include secondary emblems on the fenders, a chickenwire grille pattern, the larger roof wing, and the deletion of brightwork from the front and rear fascias. It doesn't sound like a lot, but it all makes a difference -- particularly the bling-free rump.
Open the door and you'll find a cockpit that's better than the last-gen Impreza's, but whose materials betray the STI's econocar genealogy. Subaru uses different plastic colors and finishes to decent effect, with silver-ish "wings" that merge into the door panels and additional contrast trim where the center stack merges with the console. The three-spoke wheel boasts integrated radio/cruise controls and an overstyled center cap. Twist the ignition key and the instrument cluster lights up like Christmas, with a big tach sitting front and center just in case you forgot the STI is a performance car. That's also home to the indicators for the SI-DRIVE and DCCD modes, which we'll get to shortly. The STI logo glows red from within the tach and (when the headlamps are on) on the trim ahead of the shifter boot. You'll also find STI markings embroidered on each of the car's front seats. Trimmed in leather with contrast stitching and Alcantara inserts on the main panels, they look pretty good, are comfortable, and have substantial bolsters. That said, they aren't nearly as supportive as the Recaros available in the old car, and they finish second to the seats in the new Mitsubishi Evo, as well.
The boxer engine awakens with its signature grumble and is completely docile at lower revs; boring, even. In neighborhood put-put duty, you'd never guess that there's small block V8-level horsepower in the engine bay. How it behaves when you put a boot to it depends on where you set the SI-DRIVE, and this is where the STI starts to get really interesting. Fans of gadgetry will immediately notice the silver dial mounted aft of the shifter. It's paired with the controls for the adjustable differential, and you won't find either in the standard WRX.
SI-DRIVE has three modes: Intelligent, Sport, and Sport Sharp. On the first afternoon I had the the car, my commute home was in monsoon-like conditions. I selected the Intelligent mode, which actually dials back peak power by 20%, peak torque by 10%, and tranquilizes the throttle response. A dash indicator confirmed my choice, and off I went. This mode should also give you better fuel economy, but seriously, if you buy an STI, it's not because you're trying to do a Prius imitation. Intelligent mode was fine for use in biblical rain conditions, and 240 horses or so is nothing to sneeze at (it's still more than the base WRX offers), but this is not what the STI is about. I never used it again.
Sport is the standard operating mode, and the difference between it and Intelligent is tangible. Make the switch on the fly and you feel it from your spot behind the wheel. The power restrictions are lifted, and its delivery is nice and smooth. Great, right? Well, it's fine. But the STI lives up to its rep when you twist the SI-DRIVE to the right and engage Sport Sharp. Once you confirm that the little green "S#" is staring back at you from the instrument cluster, you wonder why you (and Subaru, for that matter) ever bothered messing with the other two settings at all. Full power and torque availability is complemented by instantaneous throttle response. Worried about that aforementioned lack of jump at low revs? Not a problem. Low revs don't hang around for long anymore.
Punch the throttle and Pandora's Box opens underhood. The tach needle runs for the redline -- pay attention now, because first gear is history, and you'll get acquainted with the rev limiter if you don't shift. Snick that ideally-placed shifter into 2nd and let the rush continue. The Boxer's engine noise is complemented by an audible rush from the turbo as you storm forward. At this point, you're probably cackling like the Joker and gleefully rowing through the gears. It's involving and rewarding, and you silently thank Subaru for giving the car the three-pedal treatment instead of a manumatic deal. The hundredths of a second a fancy-paddle tranny would save you mean nothing to the dude in the Mustang you surprised four lights ago.
The STI is an obedient little bulldog, responding to steering inputs quickly and generally acting unflappable. Twists and elevation changes are simply gobbled up, and you find yourself thinking that maybe those WRC guys have the best jobs ever. The car is as nimble as it is quick, and you need to be aware of what you're doing, because chances are you're doing it a lot faster than your local PD would like. This is where the Brembos earn their keep. They're like the physical manifestation of rational thought. "Too fast," you think. Not any more. If you're trying to find reasons to justify the STI's price differential over the WRX, start with that middle pedal before you even open the hood.
The in-car techno fun doesn't end with SI-DRIVE. The DCCD (Driver Controlled Center Differential) returns, and it lets you choose from three automatic modes in addition to allowing manual torque-split adjustment. The default Auto mode adjusts the front/rear torque assignment as needed. Auto (-) Active Sport is rear-biased and opens the center differential, while Auto (+) tightens the differential up. If you choose to manually configure the differential, you're able to max the power distribution out at 50:50 front/rear. Similarly, the VDC can be left on, shut off completely, or put into a sport-oriented Traction mode. Overall, this is some good stuff. Want launch wheelspin? Just dial it in. Between SI-DRIVE, DCCD, and the different VDC settings, you can mold the STI to suit both the road conditions and your personal tastes. The combination of button-pushes, dial turns and toggles you enter before getting underway determines the nature of the beast you'll be driving. That said, it's not as if you need to tinker much to make it fun. Leaving the VDC and DCCD in their default modes and putting the SI-DRIVE in Sport Sharp did the trick for me 99% of the time. The best part, though, is that this is all very accessible; you don't need to be a wrench turner to tap into the variety of electronically-controlled vehicle setup options.
Part of the plan with the 2008 Impreza was to offer more room, more comfort and a better overall ride than the outgoing car, thus broadening its appeal. These elements carry through to the 2008 STI, and after driving it back-to-back with a brand new 2007 (thanks to my friend Dan for bringing his along), the degree to which the new car has been upgraded is evident. Dan rode shotgun with me while our mutual friend Chris piloted the '07 car on the way to our photo shoot. "My car's going to feel like a dishwasher compared to this when you get in and drive it," he told me after a few minutes in the '08. To be fair, if dishwashers were as fun as the last-gen STI, we'd all be rolling in Whirlpools, but I understand his point. The 2007 WRX STI has much more of an edge to it than the new car. It's noisy, less polished and tighter inside. That's not to say it's in any way bad. It accelerates with a sense of urgency (no SI-DRIVE here -- it's all or nothing), stops as well as just about anything, and can hustle around the bends with the best of them. It's a great car, and the seat-of-the-pants impression you get is that it feels faster than the new STI.
In truth, it's probably a wash, and I'd rather own the new one. Yes, it's a little boomy inside thanks to the hatchback bodystyle, but overall the credit-hours it's earned at finishing school work in its favor. It's decidedly more refined than its predecessor. Bottom line: the 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX STI is loaded with usable tech, goes like absolute stink and is eager to throw down, but it's less punishing to its occupants while it goes about that business. Equal parts rally car and practical, user-friendly daily driver, the 2008 Subaru WRX STI appeals to your inner Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. If you like to drive, that's a win-win situation.
All photos Copyright ©2008 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.
Special thanks to Dan C. for letting his '07 STI come out for a playdate.
It says something when an automaker sees fit to give the tachometer a place of prominence in the gauge cluster. "We're serious," it implies. Unamused sports cars like the Porsche 911 assign the rev counter a level of gravity beyond being a glorified "engine is running" idiot light. Fortunately, the Paprika Red Subaru Impreza GT 5-door that recently arrived in the Autoblog Garage stated its intentions clearly by placing this most important gauge in its "proper" place. New to the Impreza range, the GT model is a chafing dish full of original WRX simmering through an automatic transmission. An autobox may seem anathema to the 224 horsepower turbo-fed boxer, but we were pleased to discover that all the fun is not sopped up by a spongy tranny.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.
While the WRX is now defined as a manual-only model packing 265 horsepower, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with the original spec car. Indeed, even with an automatic, there's a firm shove that starts just below 2,000 rpm and surges the sharply creased hatchback forward smartly. The autobox doesn't blunt the turbo powertrain's edge so much as bring some refinement and, dare we say it, maturity.
Everyone has calmed down about the Impreza's new clothes, and the Impreza GT is subtle, even when tinted a shocking persimmon like our test car. Telltale signs of the car's potential are the slightly aggressive front airdam with foglamps in the lower extremities, and a functional hoodscoop that funnels air across the intercooler. The bulge in the hood from its singular nostril creates hypnotic reflections at speed, and it's a bit of visual muscle to remind you that this ain't no Outback Sport. Even with the flared cyclops nostril in the hood, the 2.5 GT flies under the radar more easily than the bulged and bescooped WRX. Handsome 17-inch alloy wheels finish off the GT, and the more you look at it, the better it gets.
A phrase like "sport tuned suspension" might make your rear end run for the nearest pillow, but Subaru has gone far enough to satisfy stiction junkies with a tenacious chassis that doesn't bash occupants into renal failure. The ride has a level of firm control that we expect from a vehicle birthed in the Black Forest. Impacts are absorbed without a visit to bump-stopville, and higher frequency pavement irregularities are mostly filtered thanks in part to a new multilink rear suspension.
The Impreza GT keeps what was good about the last WRX; the punchy drivetrain and trusty handling are even improved this time around. The 2.5 liter force-fed boxer has been twiddled and tweaked to shift the torque peak down a few hundred RPM, and power delivery is satisfying right from idle. Swing the needle on that prominent tachometer past 4,000 RPM, and the engine's normal gravel throat takes on a steely edge as the engine room delivers "full ahead". 224 hp is plenty capable of yanking around the 3,200-lb Impreza 2.5 GT with authority. This car is fast and handles well with well-weighted steering that keeps you clued in on what the tires are up to and allows the driver to precisely dissect corner apexes. There is a reason why the boosted Impreza has been popular among enthusiasts, and it's because the modest car with the Pleiades badges can run rings around lots of iron. An exciting history of motorsports victories doesn't hurt, either.
Accelerate hard, and the 2.5 GT plants and goes. The AWD system's torque marshaling efforts are more noticeable when the go pedal has been flattened, but that was the only time we noticed it working. While the four-speed automatic transmission doesn't scream for extra ratios, they would be welcome. But the auto is tuned well in this application - staying out of the way and not enraging the driver. The Impreza's hardware just does its thing and the car obediently goes where you point it at as high a rate of speed as you'd like. The helmsman gets a chunky leather-wrapped steering wheel with which to do business that offers a pleasing tactile sensation. Tilt and telescope adjustments makes it easier to fit the driving environment to your physiology, too, and the rest of the ergonomics are satisfyingly simple. Simplicity doesn't mean basic; there's automatic climate control, a panoramic moonroof, power windows, a six-disc stereo with aux jack, heated seats and steering wheel controls.
While there's little to want for equipment-wise, the interior materials could be better. The dashboard has a delightful silver swoop reminiscent of the stylish Tribeca's interior, and the innards present well if you ignore the door panels. Scuff-prone and shiny, they feel cheap, which is unbecoming for a vehicle that's otherwise well turned out and comprehensively equipped. The seats, too, feel a bit low-rent on the keister. We'd have liked a few cents more padding and bolstering, especially since the starting price for the Impreza 2.5GT is just shy of $27,000. Other makes are capable of putting nicer interiors in cars costing less, but we can imagine that the Impreza's powertrain is more expensive, so a bargain must be struck.
Putting performance aside, underneath it all, it's still an Impreza. Our five-door tester proved eminently useful, with plenty of front seat space and superb hatchback functionality. Throw four snow tires on this puppy when the white stuff flies, and you've got a vehicular billy goat. It's quieter than we expected, and the power is "just right". The Impreza WRX has traded its bug-eyed visage and frenetic demeanor for lines that are more reminiscent of an Alfa Romeo and a manner that's calmer and more grown up. Subaru is wise to broaden the appeal of the turboed Impreza, and there's still the more hardcore WRX and STI for the young demographic that's been typically associated with these capable cut-rate M3s. It may seem anti-enthusiast to say that we could live every day with a version of a car that's deliberately down on power and carrying an automatic (a four-speed at that), but the 2.5GT packs more performance than you could ever fully exploit during a daily commute. That makes for a car that's civilized but never caught off guard on the street and can mix it up at weekend track events. Add in the practicality of the five-door, and we're happy to see Subaru usher the Impreza into young adulthood.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
All-new Impreza and Outback Sport bigger, more refined.All-new, refined performance and practicality.
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. The Subaru Impreza WRX and WRX STi are fun, fast and well built, with standard all-wheel drive and overall performance that's rare in their class. A redesign for 2008 hasn't significantly diluted the character and enthusiasm that have made the WRX so appealing over the years. The new models just raise the bar on comfort and refinement.
The 2008 WRX and WRX STi can legitimately be called all new, meaning virtually everything from the interior to the styling to the suspension and underlying structure have been overhauled. Both are somewhat larger than before, with a corresponding increase in interior and cargo space. The available engines and transmissions are essentially the same, though the extra-muscular STi gets a slight power increase.
The WRX and STi are higher-performance versions of Subaru's standard Impreza, though both are different enough that they might be considered separate cars. Both were developed within and made famous by Subaru's highly successful World Rally Championship racing program. While its roots rest in the smallest car line Subaru sells in the United States, the STi's price, performance and reputation make it a flagship of the company's lineup.
The WRXs have achieved cult status among driving enthusiasts and boy racers, but more than ever that image is too narrow and confining. These cars are also practical, with decent room in the back seat and good cargo capacity. Measured in the full spectrum of vehicles available today, they get good mileage (though less than many comparably sized, two-wheel-drive cars). Their all-wheel-drive system can legitimately be considered a safety and foul-weather advantage, even if, with the powerful, turbocharged engines in the WRX, it's marketed primarily as a performance enhancement.
And now, the WRXs are even more refined. They're smoother, more comfortable, and easy to live with during the typical commute. Their cabins are roomier, with an overall improvement in appointments and finish quality. There's also an upgrade in the equipment available, including better audio systems and an optional navigation system for the first time. In short, the 2008 WRX models should appeal to a broader range of buyers.
The standard WRX is powered by a 2.5-liter, 224-horsepower turbo four-cylinder, with cylinders arranged in Subaru's familiar flat, or horizontally opposed, configuration (like a Porsche engine). Both body styles are available with an optional automatic transmission that doesn't substantially reduce the fun-to-drive factor.
The WRX is available as a four-door sedan with a conventional trunk or a five-door hatchback that more than doubles maximum cargo capacity and adds another level of flexibility. At about $25,000, both sedan and hatchback come well equipped, with automatic climate control, an 80-watt stereo and more power than all but a couple cars in this size/price class. The bang-for-the-buck surpasses many more expensive sports sedans.
The WRX STi is essentially its own car, and available only as a hatchback. Nearly every major mechanical system is unique to this model: six-speed manual transmission, special suspension and brakes, unique interior appointments and a high-tech, manually adjustable all-wheel-drive system. Yet the STi's centerpiece is a higher-tech, higher-boost version of the 2.5-liter four, generating 305 horsepower. Its acceleration times match those delivered by exotic sports cars such as the Aston Martin V8 Vantage. STi stands for Subaru Technica International, the high-performance division that made the WRX famous through considerable success in the World Rally Championship. Beyond its more powerful engine, the STi adds a host of mechanical and performance upgrades, including bigger brakes, more sophisticated chassis electronics and a unique, manually adjustable center differential.
The new STi is at least as fast as ever, but it's also quieter, more understated, and eas.
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. The Subaru WRX comes as a sedan ($24,350) and a five-door hatchback ($24,850). Both are powered by a 2.5-liter, 224-horsepower turbocharged engine in Subaru's unusual horizontally opposed design, and both come standard with a five-speed manual transmission. A four speed automatic ($1,000) is available with the Premium option package. All WRX models are equipped with Subaru's Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive.
The WRX comes reasonably well equipped, with a full complement of power features, cruise control, 80-watt audio with an auxiliary input jack, automatic climate control, interior air filter and 17-inch alloy wheels. The hatchback adds nearly 70 percent more cargo capacity, a rear-window wiper and a split/folding rear seat.
Options include the Premium package ($2,000) with heated front seats and an 11-speaker audio system with a 100-watt amplifier, among other things. The Navigation package ($4,000) includes the Premium package contents plus a GPS navigation system with seven-inch screen, satellite radio, digital sound processing, Bluetooth connectivity and an auxiliary video jack. Standalone options include body molding colors ($180), various deck-lid spoilers ($335), a battery warmer ($30), a subwoofer and power amp for the base audio system ($370), and XM or Sirius satellite radio hardware ($398).
The WRX STi ($34,995) is available only as a hatchback, and only with a six-speed manual transmission. The STi is equipped comparably to the standard WRX with Premium package, though the extra money mainly adds performance, starting with the 305-hp 2.5-liter engine.
STi options include forged, 18-inch BBS wheels ($2,000), in gold or silver, and a Navigation package ($3,800) that includes the navigation system, BBS wheels, and leather upholstery.
Safety features, in addition to all-wheel drive, include Vehicle Dynamics Control anti-skid electronics and four-channel, four-sensor anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD). EBD keeps stopping power balanced between wheels regardless of the traction underneath. All models come with dual-stage front airbags with occupant sensors. Front passenger side-impact airbags and curtain-style head airbags for all outboard occupants are also standard. The WRX has achieved some of the best ratings in its class in National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash tests, with five stars for front impacts, five stars for front passengers in side impacts, and four stars in rollover tests.
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. The 2008 WRX and WRX STi are all new for 2008, meaning that virtually every component or system within the car has been substantially revised, starting with its underlying structure.
Both the WRX and STi are larger than their predecessors. Wheelbase has increased nearly four inches, to 103.3 inches overall, while width has increased more than two inches. In general, the larger exterior dimensions translate to more room inside the car. The WRX four-door sedan, developed specifically for the United States, is more than six inches longer than the five-door hatchback.
Some of the changes aren't apparent to the eye, including a new double-wishbone rear suspension. With this design, the suspension towers encroach less into the WRX's interior and allow more usable cargo space. Both the WRX and STi have an aluminum hood, which reduces weight in front and helps distribute the car's mass more evenly over the front and rear wheels. The engine now sits slightly lower in the chassis, and that helps lower the overall center of gravity. It's a noteworthy consideration in a car designed to maximize performance.
Racy styling, of course, has always been a WRX calling card, full of wings and vents and boy-racer add-ons. In this respect, the 2008 models may disappoint some faithful fans, because all are more subtle, perhaps more holistic, than their predecessors. The aggressive look flows less from accoutrements on their bodies and more from their basic shapes.
The changes start in front and surge backward from there. The new grille and front end are wider and bit less vertical, with a more prominent logo. Subaru says the look is intended to create a connection to its heritage as an aircraft manufacturer. In side view, the most prominent bit of design is a sharp crease that extends from the front wheel arch and runs just above the door handles all the way to the rear. It helps create the impression of a wedge, and emphasizes the aggressive flare of the rockers between the wheels. From the rear, the WRX sedan and hatchback are distinguished by more than the obvious trunk lid, or lack thereof. The sedan has conventional red taillight lenses, while those on the hatchback are clear.
American buyers overwhelmingly prefer sedans to hatchbacks, but in the WRX's case we'll take the hatch, and not just for its practical benefits. We'd say it's the more handsome car. Its roofline runs in a single, elegant curve from the base of the windshield to a spoiler at the top of the rear glass, and its rear overhang is considerably shorter than the sedan's. The basic shape is reminiscent of the Audi A3 hatchback, only rounder and stretched out around the bottom.
The STi is available only as a hatchback, and it's the raciest looking WRX of all, particularly with the optional forged, thin-spoke BBS wheels. The STi was first created as a homologation car, or a required street-legal copy of Subaru's winning World Rally Championship competitors. Its fenders bulge more prominently than those on the other WRX models to stretch over its extra-wide tires, and all its various vents and air deflectors are functional. Yet like the other 2008 WRXs, the STi is more subtle than before. Its working air scoop flows more smoothly into the hood, and the integrated spoiler above its rear glass is far less obvious than the honking, two-stage rear wing of yore.
The STi unitbody also has some significant enhancements compared to other WRX models, starting with extra high-strength steel at suspension mounting points and key structural joints. Yet the structure within all Impreza models has been thoroughly re-engineered for the first time in more than a decade. Subaru claims that, while the 2008 body shells are larger, stronger and less prone to flexing than their predecessors, they are also lighter.
The new Impreza applies the latest evolution of what Subaru calls its Ring Frame Reinforced body design. Think of RFR as a sa.
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. Inside, the redesigned 2008 WRX is a bit roomier and a lot nicer than the previous-generation model. Since its introduction in the late 1990s, the WRX has been more about the go than the accommodations, but this new one puts things on more equal terms. Features, too, are more upscale. Niceties such as a sophisticated anti-theft system, cabin air filtration and an outside temperature gauge come standard, while a navigation system is optional.
The front bucket seats in the standard WRX are upholstered with a soft, woven fabric, double stitched in the fashion of a luxury car. At least as important, these seats provide a good compromise between support and comfort. There's enough side bolstering top and bottom to keep occupants snug during fairly aggressive driving, but there's also plenty of give in the cushions. The leather/Alcantara seats in the STi are more like aftermarket performance seats, which means harder and more heavily bolstered. They're even better for hard driving, but the snugger fit leaves less squirm room during longer, more relaxed travel, and they demand more energy to climb in and out of.
Seat adjustments are fairly simple, but also effective, allowing people of various sizes to get properly situated. Overall, the WRX driving position is excellent. Most drivers will be able to reach all controls, including those for adjusting side mirrors, without lifting head or shoulders from the seatback. One minor gripe regarding the armrests: They're positioned such that each elbow rests at a slightly different height.
Overall the cabin is more subdued than before, with no embroidered logos to remind occupants what they're sitting in. The gauges are less garish, too, but easy to read and backlit with orange light. The trim is a metal-ized silver plastic. You can find more attractively grained plastics and maybe richer looking trim materials in this price range, but nothing in the WRX looks cheap enough to kill the deal. That's at least partly because the dashboard layout is so straightforward and effective.
Subaru calls the dash a twin cockpit design. Translation: The size and shape are roughly symmetrical on both the driver and passenger sides, with a big, outreaching center stack in the middle. All the gauges are clustered in a single binnacle directly in front of the driver. The four dash vents are fully adjustable and large enough to move plenty of air.
An LCD information display sits under its own hood at the top of the center stack, with temperature indicator, time and other information. At the bottom sit three big climate-control knobs: one each for temperature, airflow direction and fan speed, easy to grab with barely a peripheral glance, operating with a nice tactile sensation that conveys the amount of adjustment. In between is the standard audio head or the optional nav screen. Both are good sized and easy to manipulate. While the audio knobs aren't as big as those for the air conditioning, most adjustments are replicated with buttons on the steering wheel spokes.
Interior storage is average and easily accessible. The glove box is deep, holding more stuff than most, and there's a lined bin in front of the gearshift for phones, openers or glasses. A pair of cupholders sits in the center console, just right of the handbrake and hidden with a sliding cover in the STi. Another cupholder in each door pocket is large enough for a 24-ounce bottle. The box in the center console has jacks for MP3 players and a power point. Models with the navigation system also feature a video jack. This allows video games or DVD players to project on the nav screen, but only when the car is parked.
In all, this WRX feels less confining, perhaps more airy, than the previous generation. The glass seems more expansive, even though the side windows are now framed in the doors, rather than pressed against weather-stripping on the roof and roof columns, coupe style. In front, the feeling o.
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. The Subaru WRX has always been a blast to drive, and the all-new 2008 model won't disappoint. Long-time automobile enthusiasts who haven't driven something really new in the last five or six years might be amazed by the performance in these moderately priced small cars, and all aspects of it: acceleration, handling and braking. Yet this WRX is more a complete package than ever. Even the super-quick STi is much easier to live with for daily driving. Hardcore sport-compact enthusiasts might lament this new-found civility, but mainstream buyers will find it much easier to embrace.
The refinement is apparent from the first turn of the key. Where the old STi had almost the hollow, reverberating sound one expects inside a stripped-out race car, the 2008 sounds more like the typical family sedan inside, except for the more aggressively tuned exhaust tone. And it's not just a reduction in engine noise. All WRXs now have windows framed into the doors, rather than a door structure that stops where the windows start sliding out. All models are fitted with a full undertray that smoothes airflow beneath the car, and we suspect there is more sound insulating material than ever. Road and wind noise have been reduced considerably at all speeds.
This WRX continues Subaru's tradition of horizontally opposed engines, meaning the cylinders are laid flat with the pistons on each side moving in opposite directions (same as the engines in Porsche's sports cars). Like all engine designs, this one has advantages and disadvantages. One of the advantages is compact size, and the prospect of installing the engine low in the car. Flat-four engines have a distinctive, loping vibration pattern that can quickly be distinguished by motorheads, though like all the vibrations in the new WRX, it's more muted than ever.
At face value, the engines don't seem to have changed much. Output in the standard 2008 WRX 2.5-liter four (226 horsepower, 224 pound-feet of torque) is identical to that of the previous model. Horsepower with the STi increases by 12 to 305 hp, with 290 lb-ft of torque. In both cases, it's a lot of power for the engine's size, yet the figures don't say much about improvements to the WRX engines. Both versions are now 50 pounds lighter than before (other things equal, that means better gas mileage), and fitted with the latest-generation control electronics to improve overall efficiency and reduce emissions. Perhaps more significantly, the power curve has been broadened, so the power is available sooner on the rpm scale, and over a wider range. The acceleration-producing grunt comes sooner, and stays strong as the engine continues to rev.
The same sort of transparent refinement has been applied throughout the WRX's mechanical and electronic systems. For the first time, a single management program controls the electronic throttle, the full-time all-wheel-drive, and the Vehicle Dynamics Control. Even the antilock brakes are integrated. That allows a host of possibilities that can enhance safety and improve handling and overall performance.
The standard WRX takes care of just about everything for the driver, leaving the choices to the computer chip. The STi, on the other hand, lets the driver sort through a bunch of options using a series of buttons on the center console.
One STi feature, called SI-Drive, allows a choice of three maps for the electronic throttle, ranging from commute grade to extra aggressive. This allows the driver to control how much the engine accelerates with a given movement of the gas pedal: smooth, mild response to big dips on the pedal, or major acceleration with small dips. The VDC also offers choices: Standard, Off, and Performance, which allows enough wheel slip to slide the car but still tries to gather things up if it gets too sloppy. A manual adjustment for the center differential controls how much of the power is sent to the front or rear wheels, as it is in a.
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. The Subaru Impreza WRX and WRX STi are engaging, appealing small cars and almost unique in the market place. Both are as fast and as fun as ever, but a redesign for 2008 adds a big shot of comfort and refinement. Both are practical and reasonably economical to operate. More than ever, they make excellent cars for commuters who like a little spice in their daily drive. Of course, the WRX models cost more than the typical small, front-drive car (the STi much more so), and their performance and standard all-wheel-drive comes with a mileage penalty compared to many cars of similar size and weight. But those are trade-offs their buyers are willing to make.
J.P. Vettraino filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com from Monterey, California, after his test drives of the WRX and STi models.
Subaru Impreza 2.5i sedan ($16,995), hatchback ($17,495); Outback Sport ($19,995). Subaru Impreza WRX sedan ($24,350); WRX five-door ($24,850); STi ($34,995).
Ota Gunma, Japan. 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). Satellite Radio/Navigation Package ($4,100) includes heated front seats, 100-watt, 11-speaker audio with digital processing and XM or Sirius satellite radio hardware, GPS navigation with auxiliary video input jack and Bluetooth connectivity; center armrest ($163).
Subaru Impreza 2.5i 5-Door ($17,495). Subaru Impreza WRX five-door ($24,850).
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