2008 Subaru Impreza: Subie-True

MSRP: $16,995 - $24,850

Invoice: $16,246 - $23,461

If you live and/or drive where it snows, then you should think about Subaru's smallest car for sale in the U.S., the redesigned 2008 Impreza with standard all-wheel drive. The high-performance Impreza WRX and STi editions are respected by automotive enthusiasts for their outstanding acceleration and performance, but the base Impreza is worth a look as it offers much of the samefor thousands of dollars less. The Impreza is available as a 4-door hatchback and 5-door sport wagon.

What we like

With standard all-wheel drive, plenty of interior room and quiet, rather soft ride, the Impreza is off to a good start. Compared to others in this comparison, the Impreza offers more balanced weight distribution (57 percent on the front wheels, 43 percent rear), and this helps contribute to its good handling and compliant ride. Power from the big 2.5-liter four-cylinder is an impressive 170, but hold your thought about this car being a land-bound missile.

Inside the Impreza is a rather generic look that skews toward comfort. Controls are easy to use and the big center speedo can be read without bifocals.

What we didn't like

Some drivers might like the softness of the Impreza's suspension; however we felt it was too much like an old Buick ... or a current Toyota Avalon. The interior was also so generic that it appeared anonymous.

In yet another proof of "there's no such thing as a free lunch,", the Impreza's all-wheel-drive adds weight, and this extra weight tempers potential acceleration (which feels leisurely) and saps fuel economy, which with a 5-speed manual is only 20/27 mpg city/highway.

2008 Suzuki SX4 Sport: Not a four-wheeled motorcycle

MSRP: $14,770 - $16,870

Invoice: $14,179 - $16,195

Suzuki is known for producing some of the best, highest-performance motorcycles in the world. For drivers with some miles behind them, Suzuki is also remembered for the not-so-wonderful mid-1980s Samurai, a tiny, tinny, four-wheel-drive rust bucket. Erase those thoughts from your mind, because today's Suzuki sells a family of completely competent cars and SUV that are backed by an impressive 7-year/100,000-mile warranty.

What we liked

The Suzuki SX4 Sport is funky looking, but after you get used to the minivan-like front pillar, the extra front window, and the SUV-like ground clearance (almost seven inches), the style grows on you.

The forward placement of the windshield and the tall roof make the interior feel especially roomy. That extra front window provides good forward visibility.

Dynamically, the 2.0-liter runs well enough and delivers an adequate 143 horsepower with mileage of 23/31 city/highway. Performance is good because Suzuki kept the SX4's weight down. The ride is comfortable.

While the SX4 has plenty going for it, we think many people will like the big warranty that backs this car.

What we didn't like

Compared to the Saturn Aura or the Volkswagen Rabbit, the 2008 Suzuki SX4 is not as composed or refined. The chassis isn't as responsive, so it doesn't feel as tossable. Part of that has to do with the tall ride height and body, which increases the car's center of gravity. The Suzuki also seems to have more interior noise than the other cars in this test.

While the rear seat is spacious, unlike the others in this test, the rear seat doesn't fold. This limits the cargo carrying flexibility of this car. There are also some interior areas where the SX4 Sport looks and feels cheap. We noticed mismatched interior grains and odd plastic plugs here and there. The plugs in the center console seem to be occupying spots where switches might go, but our test SX4 was sell equipped, so we're not sure what might be missing.


If this is the first time you've seriously considered a small car, you'll find that driving smaller doesn't require giving up as much as you might have thought. Depending on what you're looking for, these vehicles offer economy, style, performance, safety, and features.

Read More Great Stories at AOL Autos:

- Best Deals of the Month

- Is that Hybrid Worth It?

- 6 Upcoming Cars Worth Waiting For

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