Test Drive: 2008 Subaru Impreza Hatchback 2.5i Sport subaru first drives
2008 Subaru Impreza Hatchback 2.5i Sport . Click image to enlarge
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2008 Subaru Impreza

Oshawa, Ontario – If Superman owned a car, it would probably be a Subaru Impreza – it only makes sense: the standard Impreza is fairly low-key and relatively economical, but morphs into the fire-breathing WRX STI at the other end of the range.

The Mitsubishi Lancer does the same thing, especially now that the Evolution is available in Canada, but Subaru has a trick that Mitsubishi doesn’t: no matter what the trim line, the Impreza always has all-wheel drive.

The Impreza moves into its third generation for 2008; gone is the “aircraft-inspired” front-end styling that was inflicted on the B9 Tribeca and Impreza for 2006. I like funky styling, but that Edsel nose was just way too much.

Some of my colleagues proved equally torn on the rear-end design of my tester, the 2.5i hatchback, but I like it. Both sedan and hatchback share front-end styling, but in behind, the hatchback swaps the sedan’s conventional taillights for white triangles that blend into the chrome liftgate release bezel,

Test Drive: 2008 Subaru Impreza Hatchback 2.5i Sport subaru first drives
2008 Subaru Impreza Hatchback 2.5i Sport. Click image to enlarge

giving the impression of an unbroken line that crosses the car’s posterior and sweeps forward into the fenders. Normally I dislike clear taillight lenses, but they suit this model much better than red ones would, especially on my tester’s ultra-bright “World Rally Blue Pearl” paint scheme.

The 2.5i’s name refers to its powerplant, a 2.5-litre horizontally-opposed four-cylinder that’s naturally aspirated (the next model up, the WRX, adds a turbocharger). It produces 170 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque, and while it’s growly, acceleration is good and it’s pleasurable overall to drive. A five-speed manual is the default transmission, but my tester was equipped with an optional four-speed automatic with manual shift mode, which could have used an extra cog. Left to its own devices, it shifts frequently, even with only light pressure to the throttle. Against the published fuel economy numbers of 10.4 in the city and 7.5 on the highway, I averaged 9.3 L/100 km.

My car also had an optional Sport Package, which adds four disc brakes, brake assist, stability and traction control and 16-inch alloy wheels, along with fog lamps, a windshield wiper de-icer,

Test Drive: 2008 Subaru Impreza Hatchback 2.5i Sport subaru first drives
2008 Subaru Impreza Hatchback 2.5i Sport. Click image to enlarge

leather-wrapped wheel, heated seats and a premium six-CD stereo. When it’s added to the five-speed, the package also includes a hill holder.

As with all Subaru models, the Impreza’s “symmetrical” all-wheel drive refers not to the torque distribution, but to the fact that all driveline components are arranged equally on either side of the car’s longitudinal axis. Under most driving conditions, the Impreza runs 60/40 front bias, but can transfer up to 50 per cent to the rear axle.

Along with the all-wheel system’s placement, the short-tailed hatchback styling also gives this model better balance over the sedan – which is the reason why the redesigned 2008 WRX STI comes strictly as a hatchback, apparently at the request of rally drivers.

Despite all of that, enthusiasts won’t be bowled over by this new Impreza, which is softer and more compliant than in previous generations.

Test Drive: 2008 Subaru Impreza Hatchback 2.5i Sport subaru first drives
Test Drive: 2008 Subaru Impreza Hatchback 2.5i Sport subaru first drives
2008 Subaru Impreza Hatchback 2.5i Sport. Click image to enlarge

It’s a mass-market model meant to compete in volume against manufacturers such as Toyota, Honda, Chevrolet and Mitsubishi, where it stacks up well overall, but with its all-wheel drive to justify a price that’s relatively high in comparison to the segment: the hatchback starts at $21,595, whereas all of the other manufacturers have similarly-sized four-cylinder models that start well under $20,000.

The scaled-back sportiness will serve it well with a more mainstream audience, though; as a daily commuter, this is a good little car, and I thoroughly enjoyed piloting it. The handling is still very sharp for the segment, and cornering is tight and flat.

The makeover continues inside, where it’s long overdue. The last-generation Impreza always felt to me like all the money had been spent on the drivetrain, with nothing left over for the inside, and the result looked cheap and too heavy on the hard plastic.

It still doesn’t quite look like it costs the $26,000 asked for my tester, but it’s much better, with a sweeping dash, more coherent styling, and higher-quality materials. It’s comfortable overall and offers a fair bit of legroom for rear-seat passengers, although the cushions got hard on a longer haul after a couple of hours. Still, for the price, the thin, tinny doors and trunk lid feel far too chintzy.

Test Drive: 2008 Subaru Impreza Hatchback 2.5i Sport subaru first drives
Test Drive: 2008 Subaru Impreza Hatchback 2.5i Sport subaru first drives
2008 Subaru Impreza Hatchback 2.5i Sport. Click image to enlarge

The cluster glows red at night, but the only backlighting is on the driver’s door, and it’s restricted to the driver’s window and the door lock. The centre console controls are straightforward, but larger heater dials would make them easier to operate in winter when wearing gloves. Small-item storage is good, with huge door pockets and a storage ledge ahead of the shifter; the stereo’s auxiliary jack is hidden inside the centre console box, so you can listen to your iPod without the cord getting in the way. I had a minor complaint with the heated seat controls, though, which are tucked up under the console box and hard to reach.

The hatchback configuration works well when you need to move stuff around. With the seats up, the cargo space is 80 cm long; the seats easily fold flat, increasing the available space to a length of 153 cm.

The Subaru crowd is a tough house to play, and I doubt the new 2.5i will resonate with them; these are hard-core drivers who will move up to the WRX, if not the STI. But there’s a huge market among everyday drivers who want surefooted transportation to get them to the office and back home every night. That’s where the 2.5i is aimed, and it hits the mark. It costs more than the competition, but there’s enough in the driveline to make up for that; with its strong points outweighing its weak ones, this is value for the driving dollar.

Pricing: 2008 Subaru Impreza 2.5i

Base price: $21,595
Options: $4,400 (Automatic transmission $1,100; Sport Package of rear disc brakes, brake assist, vehicle dynamics control, traction control, 16-inch alloy wheels, body-colour door handles, fog lights, wiper de-icer, leather-wrapped wheel with audio controls, heated from seats and premium six-CD stereo $3,300)
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,495

Price as tested: $27,590
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

Specifications
  • Specifications: 2008 Subaru Impreza

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