2002 Subaru Impreza TS
Haney Louka at the wheel of the Impreza TS. Photo: Mike Deal. Click image to enlarge

by Haney Louka

“It’s unfair to compare the Impreza TS to its glamorous WRX sibling because of the $13,000 difference and huge power deficit. I should note, though, that choosing a TS over a WRX results in a savings of about $210 per hp, and the resulting drive is entirely entertaining, albeit in a much more subtle way.”

Safe, practical, affordable fun

The new-for-2002 Impreza TS might very well have made a sizeable splash in the economy segment had it not been for Subaru’s REALLY big news for this year, the turbocharged WRX. Amidst the hoopla surrounding that 227-hp rocket, Subaru quietly introduced the rest of the Impreza line, unveiling what might just be one of the best bargains of the year.

Major changes over last year’s Impreza include new rally-inspired styling, a slightly larger overall size, and a more powerful standard engine.

Significant changes for 2002

Although the styling of this year’s Impreza suggests a mild facelift over last year’s, a closer look reveals that Subaru has improved their entry-level model line in some very significant ways.

The body structure now incorporates Subaru’s “Ring Shaped Reinforcing” technology that makes use of three separate rings within the body that add to its structural rigidity. The result, according to Subaru, is a 147 per cent increase in torsional rigidity (twist) and an 82 per cent increase in flexural (bending) stiffness. On top of that, Subaru says, the rings improve the dispersion of energy-and therefore occupant protection-in a collision.

Subaru has also improved rear seat passenger comfort for 2002 by raising the hip point 37 mm and moving it back 28 mm for increased leg room.

Three trim levels for wagon

The Impreza line starts at $21,995 with the TS Wagon, the subject of this review. The standard equipment list is extensive and justifies the price, which is near the top of the economy class. It includes Subaru’s renowned all wheel drive system, independent suspension, front disc/rear drum brakes with anti-lock, heated side mirrors, body-coloured trim, 15-inch wheels, air conditioning, CD player, power windows and locks, and a rear wiper/washer.

The $26,395 Outback Sport Wagon adds a host of features; most notably a heavy-duty raised suspension, two-tone paint, 16-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, cruise control, and a rear cargo tray and power outlet.

At the top of the Impreza Wagon heap is the 227-hp turbocharged WRX at a price of $34,995. In addition to the mighty motor, the WRX comes with four-wheel disc brakes, a functional hood scoop, special upholstery, a Momo steering wheel, drilled aluminum pedals, and many other goodies geared to pleasing performance nuts.

An automatic transmission is optional on all models, and adds between $1,000 and $1,200, depending on which model is being considered.

Powerful Standard Engine

The standard engine (and the only one offered) on the TS and Outback Sport Wagons is a 2.5L flat four that produces 165 hp at 5,600 rpm and 166 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, an increase of 23 hp and 17 lb-ft. over last year’s 2.2-litre base motor. The “flat” in the flat four refers to the fact that the cylinders are arranged horizontally, with the pistons moving back-and-forth rather than up-and-down or at an angle like conventional inline or vee-type engines. Other terms used to describe this engine type are “horizontally opposed” and “boxer.” Subaru takes pride in the fact that the only other automaker to use this engine layout is Porsche. The benefit, according to Subaru’s PR people, is that the boxer engine sits lower in the engine bay than other types and contributes to lowering the vehicle’s centre of gravity, therefore enhancing the car’s handling characteristics.

Styling is no longer anonymous

2002 Subaru Impreza TS
Click image to enlarge

I wasn’t thrilled with last year’s Impreza Wagon styling because of the nondescript front end and the awkward-looking profile, with rear quarter windows that resembled the AMC Pacer from the ’70s. While the shape of the ’02 Impreza can hardly be considered pretty, the rear quarter window treatment is more tasteful. The front end, also updated, incorporates the same elliptical headlight arrangement as the WRX. To complete the WRX look in front, though, buyers will need to install the huge rally lights that are recessed into the front bumper. In the TS, the voids in the bumper are covered by plastic caps, which surprisingly don’t look all that bad.

Inside, the resemblance to the WRX continues. The dash is plasticky and the trim doesn’t do a convincing job of looking like metal, but in general the level of materials and fit and finish are appropriate for the price point. The WRX, in the mid-$30K range, doesn’t make many friends in this department, as it greets driver and passenger with the same dashboard and trim.

Controls are well placed in the Impreza. The instrument panel sports a central speedometer flanked by a tachometer on the right and fuel/temp gauges on the left. The centre dash is topped by a digital clock, below which are the dash vents and hazard signal button. A single pop-out cup holder is located below the vents. The AM/FM/CD player and rotary HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) controls form the bottom half of the centre stack, and both are intuitively placed and easy to use.

Driving Impressions

It’s unfair to compare the Impreza TS to its glamorous WRX sibling because of the $13,000 difference and huge power deficit. I should note, though, that choosing a TS over a WRX results in a savings of about $210 per hp, and the resulting drive is entirely entertaining, albeit in a much more subtle way.

Firing up the boxer engine reveals a characteristic truckish note that can be heard loud and clear from the driver’s seat, as there isn’t much in the way of sound insulation on this car. Once underway, though, the engine is relatively smooth, and elevates the Impreza to somewhat of a diamond in the rough that is known as the economy segment.

Unlike so many powerplants in today’s econoboxes, the Subie’s motor doesn’t need to be revved to be appreciated. Plenty of torque is available just off idle and the surge doesn’t back off until it’s time to shift. Speaking of which, the shifter is one slick little unit that incorporates short throws and smooth, if a little imprecise, motions between gears. The clutch is a worthy companion that makes it easy to pull off quick, smooth shifts and minimize the interruption to forward motion.

The Impreza’s firm suspension does a fine job of keeping body motions in check without being punishing. Where I might grow tired of the WRX’s tendency to pummel my body over rough roads day in and day out, I would likely find the TS’s setup to be just the right blend of ride quality and responsive handling. As soon as Subaru lends me both of these cars for a long-term comparison, I’ll let you know.

I was fortunate enough during my week with the Impreza to encounter a couple of inches of fresh snow to test out the all wheel drive system. All I can say is that I pity those Subaru owners that live in warm climates, because they don’t know the half of what their cars are capable of.

The all wheel drive system allows quick, confident launches from a stop and out of corners. Are you in the mood for a little fun? Applying a little more than a prudent level of throttle while exiting a corner results in a controlled drift that can prove to be quite addictive. I soon found myself searching for corners just so I could hang the tail out, having confidence that such competent hardware was at work between me and the slick stuff.

Childish? Maybe. Fun? You bet.

My lone complaint regarding the driving experience in the Impreza has to do with Subaru’s choice of tires. The all-season Bridgestone Potenza RE92s, although labelled as “Mud + Snow” tires, proved to be not up to the task of maximizing the Impreza’s traction potential. I found stopping distances on slick surfaces to be much longer than they should be, although the ABS system allowed adequate control while stopping.

Overall, the Impreza represents a great bargain in the economy car segment. With such hardware as all wheel drive, a torquey motor, and great driving dynamics, this wagon should top the shopping list of anyone looking for safe, practical, affordable fun.

Technical Data:

2002 Subaru Impreza TS Wagon
Base price $21,995
Price as tested $21,995
Type 4-door, 5-passenger wagon
Layout horizontally-opposed front engine, full-time all wheel drive
Engine 2.5L H-4, SOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 165 @ 5600 rpm
Torque 166 lb-ft. @ 4000 rpm
Fuel Regular
Transmission 5-speed manual
Curb weight 1381 kg (3038 lb.)
Wheelbase 2525 mm (99.4 in.)
Length 4405 mm (173.4 in.)
Height 1465 mm (57.7 in.)
Fuel consumption City: 11.1 l/100 km (25 mpg)
  Hwy: 7.8 l/100 km (36 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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