2006 Subaru Impreza 2.5i Sport Wagon
2006 Subaru Impreza 2.5i Sport Wagon. Click image to enlarge


Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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In Canada, the Subaru Impreza is one of only three cars under $25,000 offered with all-wheel drive (the other two are the Dodge Caliber R/T and Suzuki Aerio SX AWD – the Toyota Matrix AWD and Pontiac Vibe AWD have been discontinued for 2007). Given Canada’s generally poor winter driving conditions, this is somewhat surprising. An affordable, “all-weather” car seems like an ideal vehicle for Canada’s diverse climate and road conditions.

Granted, with AWD there is a slight penalty to pay in fuel consumption (approximately 10%), and the Impreza is priced higher than a comparable front-wheel drive compact car, but you could make a very good case that the additional safety benefits of AWD override its extra cost. And with a base price of $23,495, the Impreza 2.5i is good value considering its level of standard equipment. You won’t find very many other AWD or 4WD vehicles priced under $30,000.

If it’s beginning to sound like I’ve already given the Impreza 2.5i the ‘thumbs-up’, you’re right. There’s not much I don’t like about this car, despite its funny new nose and aging platform which was first introduced in 1993 and upgraded in 2002.

Pricing and standard and optional features

2006 Subaru Impreza
2006 Subaru Impreza
2006 Subaru Impreza. Click image to enlarge

2006 Subaru Imprezas come in four trim levels: a base 2.5i four-door sedan ($23,495), a 2.5i Sport Wagon (hatchback)($23,495), Outback Sport Wagon ($27,895), and the turbocharged WRX sedan ($35,495) and WRX Sport Wagon ($35,495). There’s also the high performance 300-hp WRX STI model ($48,995).

This week’s test car is a 2.5i Sport Wagon, which is really more of a hatchback than a wagon. What do you get for its base price of $23,495? In addition to its 173-hp 2.5-litre SOHC 16-valve four-cylinder horizontally-opposed engine, five-speed manual transmission and “symmetrical” all-wheel drive system, it comes with standard 16-inch tires and alloy wheels, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, air conditioning, sporty two-tone fabric seats with height adjustable driver’s seat, metal-look dash trim, AM/FM/CD stereo with four speakers, power windows with driver’s auto down feature,

2006 Subaru Impreza
2006 Subaru Impreza. Click image to enlarge

60/40 split folding rear seatbacks, power heated outside mirrors, power door locks and remote keyless entry, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, variable intermittent wipers, rear intermittent wiper and washer and defogger, front and rear cupholders, digital clock, and outside temperature display.

My car had the optional four-speed automatic transmission ($1,100), cargo tray ($67.77), and cargo privacy cover ($304.15). With freight ($535) and A/C tax ($100), the as-tested price came to $25,601.92

Some changes were made to the Impreza for 2006. A new three-part grille design mimics the styling of the new B9 Tribeca, but on a smaller scale. Frankly, I liked last year’s Impreza design better. There are also new headlights with smoke-tinted lenses and new taillight clusters. All models receive a lightweight aluminum hood and the standard 2.5-litre engine now

2006 Subaru Impreza
2006 Subaru Impreza. Click image to enlarge

uses Subaru’s i-Active Valve Lift system, a variable valve timing system similar to Honda’s VTEC. As a result horsepower was bumped up from 165 to 173.

The 2006 Impreza also receives new standard side airbags in the front seats, and new dual-stage frontal airbags. Curtain airbags are not available.

All-wheel drive system

Subaru’s all-wheel drive system is different to most AWD systems, both in its design and operation. It’s called “symmetrical AWD” because the engine, transmission, and transfer clutch or viscous coupling are all positioned in a straight line, longitudinally.

2006 Subaru Impreza
2006 Subaru Impreza. Click image to enlarge

Compared to transversely-mounted drive-trains, this reduces driveline vibrations and provides better handling and ride because of better weight distribution and a lower centre of gravity.

As well, Subaru’s all-wheel drive system is not the typical “on-demand” system that operates in front-wheel drive until wheel slip is detected and sends power to the rear wheels. Subaru’s system transfers engine power to all four wheels all the time. However, there is a difference in Subaru’s AWD systems in cars equipped with manual transmissions and those with automatic transmissions.

2006 Subaru Impreza
2006 Subaru Impreza. Click image to enlarge

Manual tranny cars have a centre viscous coupling which splits torque 50/50 front to rear and sends more power to either end as needed. Subarus with automatic transmissions have an electronically-controlled multi-plate transfer clutch attached to the rear of the transmission which splits torque approximately 60/40 front/rear and also varies it front to rear based on acceleration, deceleration and traction. For example, under hard acceleration more torque will be sent to the front wheels. Subaru’s system operates at all speeds and doesn’t disconnect when braking, as some AWD systems do. It’s completely automatic: there’s no centre diff lock as there is with some on-demand systems, because it’s not needed.


Driving impressions

Now with 173 @ 6000 rpm and 166 lb-ft of torque @ 4400 rpm from its 2.5-litre SOHC 16-valve four cylinder ‘boxer’ engine, the Impreza is one of the most powerful compact cars in its class, offering good low-end throttle response and brisk acceleration. Still, 0-to-100 km/h takes about 10 seconds, and this can be attributed to the extra weight of the AWD system.

2006 Subaru Impreza
2006 Subaru Impreza
2006 Subaru Impreza
2006 Subaru Impreza
2006 Subaru Impreza. Click image to enlarge

The ‘boxer’ engine has its own particular sound which includes a low rumble at idle, but it’s fairly smooth under acceleration, as is the four-speed automatic transmission.

Fuel consumption with the automatic transmission is 10.4 L/100 km (27 mpg) city and 7.8 L/100 km (36 mpg) highway, comparable with the Dodge Caliber R/T AWD with its CVT transmission, but certainly not as good as many front-wheel drive compact cars. The Impreza uses Regular 87 octane gasoline.

The Impreza’s fully independent suspension (MacPherson struts at each corner) provides nimble handling, a comfortable ride, and absorbs potholes well. My car had Bridgestone Potenza A/S P205/55R16-inch all-season radials which provided satisfactory performance in the dry, although I wasn’t able to test them in the rain. The car’s engine-speed sensitive variable-assist rack and pinion steering is easy to operate when parking and its relatively tight turning diameter of 10.2 metres (33.5 ft.) makes manoeuvring in confined areas easier – this despite the fact that it has all-wheel drive. There is no ‘lock-up’ when making a tight turn.

Standard four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake force distribution provide plenty of stopping power and control, and the all-wheel drive system provides additional traction on slippery surfaces as well as greater stability at highway speeds. In the winter, with a good set of winter tires, the Impreza would be one of the safest vehicles to drive. Its only drawback, when compared with SUVs, would be a lower ground clearance.

The driver’s visibility is very good in all directions, and a standard rear wiper with an intermittent setting will come in handy when the rain and snow starts to fall.

2006 Subaru Impreza
2006 Subaru Impreza
2006 Subaru Impreza. Click image to enlarge


Interior impressions

For a base car, the Impreza is nicely finished inside, and the two-tone fabric seats are particularly attractive. Impreza interiors were restyled in 2005 and look much better than the previous interiors.

The driver’s seat has a manual height-adjuster and prominent side bolsters for support. I found the driver’s seat comfortable over a week’s driving. The Impreza’s small, attractive three-spoke steering wheel has a soft grip and tilt adjustment, and the three gauges behind it are easy to read. A stalk for cruise control behind the steering wheel can be operated without taking hands off the wheel. To the left of the steering wheel is a drop-down coin tray, and the centre stack includes a slot for CDs. The radio controls are a bit small but the sound is good.

2006 Subaru Impreza
2006 Subaru Impreza. Click image to enlarge

The heating and ventilation controls are straightforward, and the air conditioning works well on a hot summer’s day. The two cupholders between the front seats are well-positioned for reach but they have no adjustable grips for different sized cups. The storage bin under the centre armrest is small.

The Impreza’s rear seat is wide enough for two six-foot adults (there are three-point seat belts for three passengers) and there’s enough headroom but legroom is barely adequate for adults. The front seats are raised for extra footroom.

The Sport Wagon has considerably more cargo room than the Impreza sedan. The cargo area behind the rear seats total 790 litres (compared to the sedan’s 311 litre trunk) and measures 914 mm (3 ft.) long X 914 mm (3 ft.) wide. Of course, the Wagon’s cargo area is much taller as well.

2006 Subaru Impreza
2006 Subaru Impreza
2006 Subaru Impreza
2006 Subaru Impreza
2006 Subaru Impreza. Click image to enlarge

By folding down the split rear seatbacks, the cargo area increases to 1,744 litres and adds another 914 mm (3 ft.) in cargo length (the Impreza four-door sedan only has a pass-through between the rear seat).

My car had the optional, removeable rubber cargo tray with an outer lip – great for wet or dirty stuff like hockey equipment, snow boards, wave boards, scuba gear or outdoor sports equipment. In addition, the whole cargo area is lined with a non-scratch felt liner, preferable to the hard plastic seen in many hatchbacks.

A grocery bag hook and ‘gear’ bars on each side can be used to secure cargo. Unfortunately, a retractable privacy cover is not standard equipment. It should be standard on hatchbacks to keep valuables out of sight.

For dog owners, a mesh ‘Dog Guard’ is also available as an accessory ($399). It fits between the rear seat and the ceiling to prevent pets from jumping into the rear seat.

Roof rails are standard on the 2.5i Sport Wagon but lateral cross bars are an option. Specialized attachments for kayaks, sailboards, and skis are offered by Subaru, as well as roof cargo bins. Maximum capacity is 45 kg (100 lb.)

One more thing: like other Subarus, the Impreza comes with frameless side windows. There’s a bit of a rattle when closing the doors, but the windows seem to seal well, and don’t leak.


Crash safety

The Impreza has done well in government crash tests. In recent frontal crash tests conducted by the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA), the 2006 Impreza received four stars (out of five) for the driver and five stars for the front passenger. In side impact tests (equipped with side airbags), the Impreza received four stars for the front passenger and four stars for the rear passenger.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 2006 Impreza a ‘Good’ rating in its frontal offset crash tests, side impact tests and rear crash protection, and awarded it the Top Safety Pick Gold award.


Reliability

Consumer Reports says the Impreza’s predicted reliability is “much better than average”.


Verdict

A practical, well-equipped and relatively affordable hatchback with the safety of standard all-wheel drive, the 2006 Subaru Impreza 2.5i Sport Wagon is really an ideal vehicle for Canada’s diverse climate and road conditions.


Pricing


Specifications

  • Click here for complete specifications


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Competitors

  • Buyer’s Guide: 2007 Dodge Caliber R/T


Crash test results


Manufacturer’s web site

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