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.