2008 Impreza New Car Test Drive
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.