2006 Impreza Outback Sport New Car Test Drive
Subaru has remade itself into a premium brand and nowhere is that more evident than in its expansive Impreza line of compact cars. Premium features come not in the form of fancy interiors but in the form of sophisticated all-wheel-drive systems, turbocharged engines and high-quality engineering designs. The days when the Impreza was an inexpensive subcompact, sold mainly on the strength of its low price, are long gone. The 2006 Impreza line offers more variants than ever, almost to the point of confusion.
There's a lot to like in the Impreza line, and a small car for nearly every taste. All models are good fun to drive and quite practical, with decent room in the back seat and good gas mileage. The standard fulltime all-wheel-drive system is legitimately a safety, performance and foul-weather advantage.
On one hand, the least expensive model costs substantially more than some other very good small cars. On the other, even the base Impreza has more horsepower than most cars in its class. For less than $18,500, the 2006 Impreza 2.5i Sedan and 2.5i Sport Wagon (as the base models are now called) come very well equipped. They're the least expensive all-wheel-drive sedan and wagon available in the United States. The Impreza Outback Sport offers a bit more ground clearance and a modicum of off-road capability. The WRX is a genuine high-performance car, but too refined now to be considered a boy racer. The crazy fast WRX STi is an ultra-high-performance machine that can run with big dogs like the BMW M3 for tens of thousands of dollars less.
Their silhouettes may look familiar, but the Impreza models benefit from some serious upgrades for 2006. All models have been restyled front and rear. More significant, in our view, are improvements less visible to the eye. Power has increased at least slightly across the board. The body structure has been improved and the suspension refined. There's more standard equipment, more safety equipment, more new technology.
The 2006 Impreza is more sophisticated, perhaps more serious, but it's still fun and sensible in any guise. It's still loaded with character compared to some of the sanitized appliances that populate this class of car. One of our favorite small cars is better than ever.
Subaru's Impreza line has grown to the point where you almost need a program to tell the players. For 2006 there are 10 models, both sedans and wagons. All are powered by a variant of Subaru's 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine. All come standard with full-time all-wheel drive and a manual transmission. A four-speed automatic ($800) is optional on most.
The Impreza 2.5i Sedan ($18,295) and 2.5i Sport Wagon ($18,295) are the least expensive. Both are powered a 173-hp version of the 2.5-liter boxer engine (up eight horsepower for 2006, with variable valve timing and lift), and both come well equipped. Standard features include upscale bits like interior air filtration, auto-off headlights and an outside temperature indicator, as well as air conditioning, an 80-watt stereo with CD, cruise control and remote keyless locks. The 2.5i Sport Wagon comes with a split folding rear seat, rear cargo utility bars and cover, roof rails and a trailer harness connector.
The Outback Sport wagon ($19,195) is designed for rugged conditions. The Outback's suspension is raised and tuned for more wheel travel (or off-road capability). It adds a chrome grille and gray-metallic lower body cladding, roof-rail crossbars, and projector-beam foglights. The Outback Sport Special Edition wagon ($19,695) comes with a 240-watt stereo with six CD changer and auto-dim rearview mirror.
The WRX is the high-performance Impreza, now powered by 230-hp turbocharged version of 2.5-liter four, with sport-tuned suspension, 17-inch wheels and more potent brakes. The WRX was created as a limited-production specialty car, but it quickly became one of Subaru's best sellers, and there are now six variants.
The WRX TR sedan ($23,995), new for 2006, gets the high-performance mechanicals and standard features comparable to the 2.5i. TR stands for Tuner Ready, and this WRX is geared toward sport-compact enthusiasts who might choose to equip it with some of the hundreds of dealer-installed or aftermarket parts and accessories currently available.
The WRX sedan ($24,995) and WRX Sport Wagon ($24,495) add more features, including heavily bolstered sport seats, automatic climate control, a 140-watt stereo with CD changer, the fog lights and leather trimmed wheel and shifter.
The WRX Limited ($27,495) and WRX Limited Sport Wagon ($26,995), also new for 2006, are the peak of Impreza luxury. Their price includes leather seating with dual-mode heaters in front, a power moonroof, windshield wiper de-icers and heated outside mirrors. These are also the first WRX models offered with the four-speed automatic transmission.
The WRX STi ($32,995) sits atop the Impreza line. This is the one most coveted by hard-core driving enthusiasts, and it's distinguished by a huge two-step rear wing and even more aggressive bodywork. More important, it's powered by a crazy-fast 300-hp version of the boxer four, with even firmer suspension and track-style Brembo brakes.
Options include a CD changer ($355) and an engine block heater ($30).
Safety features on all models include dual front airbags, front side-impact airbags, and seatbelts with pre-tensioners and force limiters for the front seats. ABS comes standard and features four sensors and four channels (meaning all four wheels can brake independently). It comes with electronic brake-force distribution (meaning wheels with the best traction get the most brake force in a panic stop).
The purchase price includes 24-hour roadside assistance for the duration of the three-year, 36,000-mile warranty.