2008 Subaru Impreza
2008 Subaru Impreza. Click image to enlarge

Article and photos by Paul Williams

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Victoria, British Columbia – All new for 2008, the third generation Subaru Impreza – along with its higher performance variant, the Impreza WRX – arrives in showrooms this month. The new Impreza seemed a long time coming, but was worth the wait.

What makes it so special? Well, the 2008 Impreza may just be the ideal small car for the Canadian market. It’s not the cheapest, and it’s not perfect, but with aggressive lower pricing starting at $20,695 for the smart 2.5i sedan and $21,595 for the hatchback, the well-equipped Impreza line-up offers a great deal for your hard-earned dollars.

That’s saying a lot, of course, as the Impreza has strong competition in the excellent Mazda3, Honda Civic and Volkswagen Rabbit to name just three. But feature-for-feature the 2008 Subaru Impreza more than holds its own with its combination of standard all-wheel drive, side impact and side curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, air conditioning, power group, interior roominess, 16-inch wheels, 170 horsepower engine and impressive fit and finish. And its new look, while understated and somewhat generic, will please most buyers.

2008 Subaru Impreza WRX
2008 Subaru Impreza WRX. Click image to enlarge

The Impreza with the optional Sport Package is an even bigger value. At $23,195 for the four-door sedan and $24,895 for the four-door hatchback, this Canada-only package adds premium audio, heated front seats, leather wrapped steering wheel with remote controls, 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, a hill holder system for the manual transmission, windshield wiper de-icer and electronic stability control (Subaru’s Vehicle Dynamic Control) with traction control. That’s a
lot of desirable equipment for $2,500.

And if you want serious performance, the $32,995 WRX sedan ($33,895 for the hatchback) delivers a turbocharged and intercooled engine making 224 hp and 226 foot-pounds of torque, 17-inch alloy wheels, SIRIUS satellite radio (subscription required), climate control, performance instruments and rear spoiler.

2008 Subaru Impreza WRX
2008 Subaru Impreza WRX
2008 Subaru Impreza (top) and WRX (bottom). Click image to enlarge

Said Ted Lalka, Subaru’s Vice President of Product Planning and Public Relations of the new Impreza, “The only thing that carries over from the previous generation is the name: Impreza.” The body structure, interior and exterior design and sheet metal are completely
different than the outgoing model (notably, the car is 50 millimetres
shorter, but the wheelbase is increased by a significant 95 mm) and the Impreza uses a new, compact, double-wishbone rear suspension. This is not simply a revised or “refreshed” Impreza.

Still, the new Impreza retains familiar Subaru features, and is clearly an evolution of the outgoing model. The 2.5i engine, for example,
while sporting a new intake port design, is still based on the tried-and-true 2.5-litre four-cylinder, horizontally-opposed, single overhead camshaft powerplant that debuted in the company’s Legacy in 1996. And the “Symetrical” full-time all-wheel drive system continues to be the foundation of every Subaru.

Two important changes characterize this year’s Impreza drive-train,
however. First, the engine is mounted lower, which further lowers the centre of gravity and improves handling and stability; second, the technical changes to the engine produce significantly more midrange
torque, which provides a welcome enhancement to passing acceleration. The 2007 model, for instance, generated 166 lb.-ft torque at 6,000 rpm, but the 2008 model delivers 170 lb.-ft torque at a much lower 4,400 rpm.

2008 Subaru Impreza WRX
2008 Subaru Impreza WRX. Click image to enlarge

Similarly, the 2007 WRX generated 224 lb.-ft torque at 3,600 rpm, while the new WRX produces 226 lb.-ft torque at 2,800 rpm. With the extra torque comes a welcome five percent reduction in fuel consumption (regular fuel for the 2.5i; premium for the double overhead camshaft WRX) over last year’s models. Fuel economy for the manual transmission 2.5i (sedan and five-door) is 10.6/7.3 L/100 km, city/highway, and for the manual transmission WRX is
10.9/8.1 L/100km, city/highway.

On the road, both models offer commendable handling, braking and
acceleration. The low-mounted flat-four engine and all-wheel drive system has always contributed to a distinctive Subaru driving experience and road “feel”, and this is enhanced with the new drive-train position and rear suspension. The Impreza doesn’t bounce or pitch over bumps and road undulations; rather, it absorbs them and maintains its poise over rough surfaces. Subarus also corner without discernable body roll and the highway ride is especially comfortable due to the increased wheelbase. Midrange acceleration from the WRX is formidable and satisfying.

The seats are also fully redesigned, with new frames, cushions and
upholstery. They are comfortable and supportive, with special attention being paid to thigh and lumbar support. The compact rear suspension has increased cargo volume in both the sedan and five-door.

2008 Subaru Impreza
2008 Subaru Impreza
2008 Subaru Impreza. Click image to enlarge

In the cabin, 50 mm legroom is added for rear passengers, and the the 75-degree opening angle of the rear doors is very wide (the average opening is between 65-70 degrees, according to Subaru senior engineer, Katsuyoshi Tanaka). This improves ingress and egress, while making it easier to install or remove a child’s car seat, for example.

Power from the standard 2.5i engine is lusty, and it pulls harder at lower speeds when compared with the 2007 model. But it has to be said that the engine is still coarse as some speeds. At around 3,000 rpm in third gear of the five-speed manual transmission, for example, sound from the engine can be distracting. It’s the same with the turbocharged version in the WRX. In both models, the four-speed automatic transmission with “Sportshift” enables the engine to operate more quietly.

A notable change to a long-standing Subaru tradition is that the doors now feature frames around the windows. This adds rigidity and an improved feeling of solidity to the cars. An initially puzzling difference between the sedan and the hatchback is that the sedans have dual exhausts while the hatch has a single exhaust system. The explanation centres around differences between the rear body structure of the two cars.

While offering excellent value, engineering and construction, Subaru still has areas it can improve with the Impreza. The inclusion of electronic stability control with the 2.5i Sport Package and WRX, for example, is a valuable consumer benefit (this technology helps the driver prevent or recover from a skid, and can save lives). It should be standard on all Imprezas in my opinion, fully emphasizing Subaru’s commitment to safety for all buyers of its cars.

The WRX retains its centrally-located tachometer
The WRX retains its centrally-located tachometer. Click image to enlarge

Minor annoyances that Subaru could easily fix are the lack of auto up/down for the driver and passenger power windows. Currently, the driver’s window has auto-down only (even the bargain-basement Volkswagen City Golf has auto up/down for front seat occupants. Also missing in the Impreza is a telescoping steering column (also standard on the City Golf).

Another useful and presumably inexpensive feature that’s omitted from the base 2.5i is an auxiliary jack for the audio system. You get one with the premium audio system of the Sport Package and WRX, and granted, the base system will accept CD-ROMs with MP3 files. But many people would prefer to simply plug in their iPod.

The transmissions? I was expecting a five-speed automatic and six speed manual (at least for the WRX). Even though the engine speed at 100 km/h is a low 2,400 rpm in fifth gear, the engine sounds like it wants another gear. Competition like the Honda Civic use a five-speed automatic and the new Volkswagen Rabbit uses a six-speed automatic. These help with fuel economy and smoothness.

2008 WRX (left) and Impreza
2008 WRX (left) and Impreza. Click image to enlarge

And finally, the WRX, while powerful and fun to drive, seems to have lost its mojo a bit (or maybe other brands have found theirs). WRX fans may find the 2008 WRX a little tame even with the big hood scoop and nice wheels. Looked at another way, you could say it’s more refined.

But these criticisms aside, if you’re in the market for a small car, the
Impreza 2.5i is a model that must rank toward the top of your shopping list. In terms of safety, performance, features-for-the-dollar and historical resale values, it will be hard to beat.

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