Last year, Toyota bought 16 percent of Fuji Heavy Industries, Subaru’s parent company. Those who care about such things immediately began speculating about Subaru’s influence on Toyota. Rumors of all kinds of wonderful sporting Toyobarus emerged, from a replacement for the Scion tC to a resurrected rear wheel-drive Celica using just the rear half of the Subie AWD drivetrain. The highly-anticipated (in some quarters) cross-pollination is well underway. Unfortunately, the result turns pistonheads’ dreams into a nightmare. With the arrival of the Impreza 2.5GT, the Toyotization of Subaru has begun.
Outside, it’s the Impreza we all know and love (or hate). The kyphotic mouse profile has been around long enough that children no longer stare and point as you drive by. The 2.5GT is differentiated visually from lesser Imprezas by handsome 10-spoke alloy wheels and the gaping (functional) hood scoop from the WRX feeding the intercooler. Our pre-production tester’s Newport Blue Pearl paint set it off nicely from the usual silver/gray/beige/white blandness of most small cars, and garnered several positive comments in parking lot conversations.
Inside, though, it’s a Goth’s paradise. Everything is black save the headliner and a bit of faux aluminum trim scattered around. When I say black, I mean deep black. Suck-the-very-light-out-of-the-sky black. Take-it-or-leave-it Carbon Black (yes, that’s what Subaru calls it). The seats are covered with sturdy-feeling fabric that wouldn’t look out of place in a taxi.
The headliner looks and feels like the mouse fur that GM is finally exorcising from their cars, and the carpet’s pile is as plush as the felt on a pool table. The simulated rhinoceros hide covering the dashboard and doors doesn’t do anything to help alleviate the sensation that you had to sacrifice something to get the goodness under the hood. At least the part you touch the most, the steering wheel, is wrapped with leather.
The GT uses last-year’s WRX engine. It churns out 224 turbocharged intercooled horsepower and 226 ft·lb of torque on premium fuel—enough to propel the five-door’s 3,240 lbs to 60 mph in just under 7 seconds. Once the turbo spools up, the power seems endless. The sprint from 80-100 is just as effortless as from 40-60. The GT’s engine always seems willing to do more than you ask, but, alas, it’s held back by the four-speed automatic transmission.
Normally, this is where I’d say something about how much better the car would be with the manual transmission. Unfortunately, the 2.5GT isn’t available with one. Yes, the slushbox does have “SPORTSHIFT manual control” where you rock the shifter back and forth (no paddle shifters here) to change gears. But a four-speed automatic with manual controls is still a four-speed time warp back to the eighties.
The Subaru Impreza 2.5GT’s “sport-tuned” suspension redefines “sport” as “comfort.” If you drive into a corner expecting “WRX-lite,” you’ll readjust your expectations in a hurry. The standard Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) and Traction Control System (TCS) conspire to make sure you don’t do anything stupid. Or fun. You can turn the VDC off and improve the tossability, but you always feel like you and the engine want more than the chassis can deliver.
So, where does all of this leave us? The schizophrenic Impreza lineup now ranges from low-cost AWD grocery haulers to the Colin McRae-wannabes’ dream machine, the WRX STI. The 2.5GT tries to slot between those extremes by combining all the luxury of the base Impreza with the performance of a three-year old WRX. It leaves you scratching your head, wondering what the product planners were thinking. It’s as if they had a bunch of last-gen WRX engines laying around and had to figure out something to do with them.
The 2.5GT hatchback five-door lists for $27,690 (get the less-attractive four-door model and save $500). That puts it at the top of the Impreza 2.5i lineup and solidly into WRX territory. The $7k upcharge from the Impreza 2.5i Premium gives you an extra 54hp, automatic climate control and an automatic transmission.
On the other hand, if you can give up a few amenities, you can save $3k by going for the anything-but-base WRX which has 40 more ponies. Oddly, while the 2.5GT comes fairly well-equipped, including sunroof and seat heaters, you can’t get it with the sat-nav available on the cheaper 2.5i Premium. In case you were wondering.
As for the 2.5GT, it’s the first car I’ve driven in a long time that didn’t stir anything in my soul. Yes, it’s a competent automobile. If it weren’t for the 19/24 EPA rating, it would make a perfect commuter car. But that’s just it—there are tons of competent cars out there, many of which cost less than $27K and get much better gas mileage. And many of them wear a Toyota badge. Let’s pray the 2.5GT is just an aberration in Subaru’s product plan. If not, it signals the beginning of the end of Subaru as we know it and indicates what we can expect from Toyobaru.