The 2008 Subaru WRX is the U.S. pistonhead's cheap thrills with no frills poster child. Meanwhile, the Impreza. Yes, I know: a Subaru without a turbo is like a Mercedes without automatic climate control, but hey, normal people drive cars too. When you move away from turbo-nutter wastegate wonderland, the word “thrills” takes on a different meaning. Or does it? Sans blower, does the new entry level Impreza have what it takes to tickle the fancy of a wider audience?
Farago’s flying vagina metaphor continues to wreak havoc on Subaru’s design department. While the Tribeca’s nose responded to the diss by becoming a Chrysler Pacifica tribute band, the Impreza’s front end is “blessed” with yet another corporate grill. This time out we get a diminutive U-shaped motif topped by the kind of faux aluminum "spread wings" Pan Am stewardess used to pin on small children. The result is about as distinctive as Brooks Brother dress shirt, only less classy and not as distinctive.
Considering the outgoing Impreza’s ability to inflict blindness at 1000 feet, the new model’s overall aesthetics are a step up. The new LED taillights may be completely out of place on a car that’s trying this hard to be inconspicuous, and there’s more than a passing resemblance to the kinda flashy Mazda3. But as far as thoroughly inoffensive looks go, Subaru is making considerable headway. **golf clap**
Yes, well, Impreza build quality still sucks. Yank on the car's door handle and you too can feel like The Incredible Hulk. While the entire portal doesn’t rip off the body in your hand, a Coke can pop top offers a greater sense of solidity. Subaru may have ditched the sashless windows, but the first (quality) cut is the deepest.
Inside, everything looks nice enough. Just don’t touch. I’m not saying the Impreza's plastics are low rent, but if they were a Manhattan apartment, they’d have a waiting list a mile long. To be fair, the new Subie's interior isn’t quite as craptastic as its immediate predecessor– which is like saying Friday the 13th Part VIII was a more compelling cinematic experience than Friday the 13th Part VII. The Impreza’s seats are still as flimsy as the plot lines of both/either films. Then again, if you wanted lateral support, you’d drive a car that needed it…
The Impreza offers the same 2.5-liter boxer engine that’s graced Subaru’s pedestrian offerings since 2004. The 170-horse mill provides the Impreza with class-leading (Civic, Corolla, Mazda3, Cobalt) thrust, And unlike the 2.5-equipped Legacy, the mini-mill serves-up enough grunt to get the 3000 lbs. base Impreza out of its own way. Ditch Subaru’s weak-sauce four-speed automatic tranny– which occasionally ignores requests for power– and "sufficient" acceleration becomes "more than merely adequate forward momentum."
The Impreza’s improved suspension makes for firm-but-soft-but-firm progress. The double-wishbone layout is far more refined than the outgoing multilink version, with bump absorption on a par with Subaru’s more expensive offerings. But something’s been lost in the process: sportiness. Even the slightest whiff of corner carving potential has been completely, radically removed. Sad but true: this Impreza is no sportier than a Kia Rio.
Through the corners, the Impreza handles pretty much like the WRX, only worse (if you like driving) or better (if you don’t). Caning the WRX made me want upgraded sway bars and springs. Pushing the Impreza to its limits made me want neither. In fact, it was one of the least memorable drives of my life. At least that’s what my notes tell me.
The Impreza’s driving dynamics have only one thing to recommend themselves: all wheel-drive (AWD). And who needs that in a thirsty, mildly-powered economy car? Hands-up if you regularly face inclement weather or suffer from general paranoia. In that case, your exceedingly safe, reasonably practical, deeply dull Subaru Impreza awaits. The most basic Impreza gives you AWD, a slew of airbags and change from twenty large. Add another $1,500 for traction control, stability control and emergency braking assist, and you’re good to snow.
If you don’t want or need AWD, there are a lot of other cars that are just as good as the new Impreza, all of which can be had for less money. They may be less powerful, but most drivers in this class are more than willing to sacrifice the extra oomph of a 2.5i engine for higher gas mileage.
Yes, there is that. The base Impreza used to overcome such prosaic concerns based on its “quirky” styling and driver satisfaction; offering enough power and handling to create a [faint] mechanical echo of its extreme sib’s head-banging performance. Clealry, the Impreza has jettisoned both assets in pursuit of mainstream success. The Faustian bargain makes the Impreza a better (if over-priced) Corolla– and a worse Subaru.