The Truth About Cars » Subaru The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 14:03:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Subaru Capsule Review: 2015 Subaru WRX Tue, 08 Jul 2014 15:00:32 +0000 2015-subaru-wrx-010

As the snow swirled in front of my headlamps, the radio crackled with a forecast of 18-22 inches for an early March Nor’Easter. Most people hate this weather. They huddle in their homes, presumably consuming the massive quantities of milk and bread they bought in a panic earlier that day. A public whipped into frenzy by The Weather Channel and local news stations with nothing better to do has been a predictable pattern for decades. Lately, I’ve noticed a new phenomenon.  When it snows, the Subarus come out. My neighborhood was ringing with the thumping song of the flat four.

Scores of bug-eyed WRXs were frolicking in the storm. I was behind the wheel of a 2015 WRX, and I was part of that club.


Mrs. Braithwaite took one look at the new WRX and declared “that looks like a piece of shit.” She’s entitled to her opinion, of course, and it’d be harder to argue if this were just an Impreza. In the past, I might have even agreed, but the 2015 Subaru WRX is really a gem.

Subaru wants you to think of the STI as its performance star with the brightest gleam. That may be true on a track, but the WRX is not only a better deal, it’s a better car. With the 2015 Subaru WRX, you get the latest evolution of the turbocharged flat-four. It’s a whooshing fire-breather of a 2.0 liter, and it’s strong. While the STI has more power, 305 hp, from its older 2.5 liter EJ engine, the WRX isn’t far behind with 268 hp. What’s more, the new 2.0 liter is is flexible and friendly, with good response “under the curve,” where you’d expect a highly-boosted four cylinder with modest displacement to fall on its face.


Look at the torque curve for the full story, and you’ll find it maxing out at 258 lb-ft by 2,000 rpm and sticking around to 5,200 rpm. If you didn’t know it was a 2.0 liter, you’d guess that it’s at least 500 cc larger than it is. Thank the direct injection, beefy 10.6:1 compression ratio and fancy-pants valve control and twin-scroll turbocharger. Those press-release talking points behind us, all you need to keep in mind is that the STI powertrain is less satisfying in contrast to the Johnny-on-the-spot nature of the new WRX generating station.

This time around, the WRX is available with a CVT. It could be worse; it’s just a transmission, and CVTs do well with torquey engines. The last WRX I drove with an automatic had a four-speeder and a tragically-turned-down wick. The CVT erases those compromises. Still, you want the manual. It’s a new six-speed, and it made me happy to be fully engaged in the act of driving for a week. It’s more exercise than I’ve gotten in a while, getting all the extremities involved. Areas where other manuals disappoint, clutch takeup, shifter action and electronic throttle response are all worked out here.


The WRX has always been an eager meager car. The dopamine hit powered by the exciteable engine made the underwhelming structural rigidity, not-good interior and “why’d they bother?” infotainment all completely non-issues, until you had to get your boot out of the power. The interior materials are better, with more soft touch plastics, a harman/kardon nav/stereo unit that’s not like listening to an Emerson transistor radio from the ‘80s, and a flat-bottomed steering wheel that’s supposed to feel racy. Not being overly-fancy does the WRX a favor in the ergonomics department. The controls for the ventilation system are clear, easy to find without looking, and don’t require stabbing your finger at some touchscreen. All cars should be like this, right down to the knobs that are injection molded to look and feel like they’re kurled. There’s even more practicality in the new WRX because the longer wheelbase makes the back seat more accommodating, so your friends will be more comfortable when you say crap like “check this out.”

The WRX handles better now, too, so that phrase doesn’t have to be a precursor to the inevitable. This car is a precision tool in traffic. The chassis is balanced, the feedback is clear enough to let you know when you’re being a true idiot. The highly-enriched engine is the keystone, too, enabling you to basically place the WRX wherever the hell you want it. Key to that is the responsive new engine that removes the planning you used to have to do. So, because the car lets you mainline your aggression, I spent a week being a complete jerk behind the wheel, loving every second. Oh, is that not what the WRX is for? I mean, I occasionally used the quick-on-its-feet powertrain to facilitate effectively quick merges.


The body structure of the WRX is beefed up with more high-strength steel, too, and that’s the most noticeable improvement other than the engine. The stronger structure allows the suspension to be more deftly tuned, and so the 2015 WRX manages to be supple and controlled where in the past it was brash and crashy. Because I was driving in the Polar Vortex, the WRX was wearing winter tires on its 17” wheels. That, plus the 50:50 AWD system makes the 2015 WRX a damn zippy snowmobile. Power-steering is electric, and could use more feedback, but weight, ratio and control are great.

The 2015 Subaru WRX has the driving thing down. This is a car that reminds you of vehicles twice its price. When Subaru says it benchmarked top-handling sports cars and braced the chassis, it’s believable.


And then there’s the looks. Flares and cranky headlights, extra windshield rake, LED headlights and carbon-fiber look trim strike a balance between badass and boy-racer. It works, and there’s always the STI if you want that stupid-ass wing. The most surprising thing to me was the fuel economy I managed to eke out of the 2015 WRX. It was frigid, I drove it like an animal, and yet, it still coughed up 25 mpg.

Welcome to being a grown-up, WRX. I’m glad you made it.


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Capsule Review: 2014 Scion FR-S Mon, 07 Jul 2014 12:00:31 +0000 2014-scion-frs-001

If you purchase a Scion FR-S with an automatic transmission, I hope you’re deeply ashamed. There might be a legitimate reason. I’d accept a condition that prevents you from working a clutch and shifter. You know, something like losing a tussle with gangrene as a child or an advanced Type-II Diabetes induced foot-ectomy.

Harsh, inconsiderate statements, but why the hell would you want this car with an automatic?


I was deeply disappointed by this 2014 Scion FR-S, and I was disappointed by a 2013 FR-S before that. Both were afflicted with automatic transmissions. When it shifts on its own, it’s only half as good. Instead of working in harmony with the excellent chassis, the dopey automatic slams and locks the door on driver engagement.

There are still brilliant elements. The styling is handsome, restrained and timeless. If it only lasts a single generation, the FT-86 is going to be a classic the instant it’s no longer available. The long hood, short deck, stubby little trunklid, and fenders arching over the front wheels make up a great-looking car.

Greasy Prius tires, the story goes, were chosen to bring the limits down and make the car more fun on every drive. It works. The FR-S doesn’t need a race track to make you smile. Other ToyoBaru legend-making will include threadbare references to the old AE-86 Corolla. I contend that we’re looking back too fondly. The FR-S isn’t cheap speed, either, racking up a $28,711 price tag configured as I drove it. Options were limited to the rear bumper applique, fog lights, rear spoiler, and the BeSpoke premium audio package, which at $1,198 makes up the bulk of the increase over the $25,800 base MSRP.


For 2014, Scion added some leather-like padded vinyl to cover what had been areas of cheap plastic. It’s an effective trick that premiums up the place. The BeSpoke infotainment system includes navigation, voice control, and Bluetooth connectivity, but it will make you work for it. The unit is fiddly to use, the screen is small, and the Bluetooth sound quality will annoy the people you’re calling. Still, it’s refreshing to get a cabin that’s more of a business office. The important controls are located well and easy to use, and that discourages getting distracted by the electronics. After all, we’re here to drive.

The FR-S is a swell trainer. All of the attitudes and responses of a performance car are available to you without the need to plunge past 100 mph. Much like a Miata is a great performance driving starter kit, the FR-S is an accurate-handling car with well-weighted steering, an alert ride, and responsive turn-in. There’s a Torsen limited slip differential standard, and 17″ wheels with 215/45 tires are small these days, but about all you need with the modest curb weight. The FR-S is certainly equipped as a serious driver’s car, ain’t it a bitch that it’s got no lungs to match the legs?


If only the FR-S had about 100 more horsepower. Actually, I wish for about 75 lb-ft more torque, no need to be greedy. The 2.0 liter Subaru boxer is tweaked up with the Toyota D-4S dual fuel-injection rig that uses its direct injectors all the time and supplements with port injection under certain conditions. Scion touts the 100 hp per liter, and it is good for a naturally-aspirated engine. Thank the high 12.5:1 compression ratio for the 200 hp the engine delivers, but torque is a paltry 151 lb-ft to move 2,800 lbs. That’s something not even a 4.10:1 final drive can make up for.

Wimpy engines are more palatable with manual transmissions. While the automatic may help with off-the-line torque multiplication, I hated the mushy flat spot in the middle of the rpm range. Flatten the pedal, nothing much is going on until you clear 4,500 rpm. That’s a long wait. Dyno tests of the FR-S have shown a deep drop-off in torque from 3-4,000 rpm, and boy howdy do you feel it behind the wheel.


Despite the sharp handling, the FR-S is a chore to drive with the auto. It’s less involving than it could be, it doesn’t have enough power to be responsive, and even with a sport mode and paddle shifters, the entertainment is marginal. I’m not a fan of automatics masquerading as race-bred automated gearboxes, and this six-speed in the FR-S is no exception. Up or down, shifts happen too slowly, and that’s something no amount of gimmicky rev-matching can fix. By the time the transmission gets around to delivering what you’ve asked for, the moment has passed, the apex you were clipping is in the mirror, and that’s that. Yawn city instead of yee-haw.

The aftermarket can help, just like it’s been supporting Miata buyers in search of increased wattage for years. Superchargers are a start, V8 swaps have happened. “You’ll mess up the balance!” they’ll cry. Yes, some, but the FR-S could use a little irresponsible imbalance. Trading some increased understeer and a slightly higher center of gravity for a deeper, more flexible well of whoop-ass would be a worthwhile transaction.

The official line is that the wonderful new turbo version of this engine in the WRX won’t fit. There’s also nothing in the Toyota or Subaru dugout that’s packaged like a pushrod small-block, so dreams of a dry-sumped aluminum OHV V8 snuggled against the firewall are just that. Subaru and Toyota are telling the truth. Automakers have to make stuff fit, meet crash standards, avoid setting things on fire, and be reliable for tens of thousands of miles. That’s hard and expensive, and it’s why we can’t have nice things.

They say turbo plumbing won’t fit, and as neat as it would be to drop the 3.6 liter flat six from the Outback in the nose of one of these things, that’s about as likely to happen as a turbine. A talented individual with money (lots of money), time (lots of time), and skill (lots of skill) can turn the FR-S into whatever he or she pleases, powered by whatever can be made to fit. It’s a great platform for the modern-day AC Cobra or Sunbeam Tiger. Box-stock, especially with an automatic, the usefulness of the Scion FR-S is limited.


The problem comes down to money. A Mustang GT is a squeak away at $31,210, less if you can find a dealer hot to move the now-finite S197 models to make room for the 2015 S550 platform Mustang. For a little bit more every month, or a slightly longer loan with a quarter or half point more on the interest rate, you’ll get a 420 hp V8 and a chassis that’s not anywhere near as disciplined as the FR-S, but good enough. A Mustang GT can make the FR-S a small speck in the mirror and keep it there, whether the road is straight or twisty. A Mustang V6 Premium is priced right on top of the FR-S and will whip it, good. Any multitude of ratty used performance cars are truly vehicular methamphetamine capable of deeply embarrassing the guy bringing his $30,000 Scion to track day.

It probably sounds like I don’t like the FR-S. That’s not true. The upgrades for 2014 dress up the interior. The BeSpoke infotainment option is a nice suite of tech where previously there was none. The chassis is still the standout feature, though I wish they’d get over the hybrid tires and put some real performance rubber on it. The entertainment-versus-efficiency tradeoff is good, delivering a lot of fun with a small appetite. The FR-S remains a nimble, good-looking car. It also still screams for some real power and the automatic could make a yogi have a tantrum. Just learn to shift.

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Subaru Behind Jeep, Ram As Most Off-Roaded Automaker Wed, 02 Jul 2014 10:00:37 +0000 green subaru xv crosstrek hybrid

Jeep may be the first thing to come to mind when the idea of going off-road comes up in conversation, but when taking a trip from Los Angeles to that secret pool/art installation in the middle of the desert, you might find a Subaru waiting nearby.

Autoblog reports the automaker’s vehicles are the third most off-roaded in a 2013 J.D. Power study, where 29.5 percent can be found departing the highway for the trail; only Ram and Jeep bested Subaru at 30.2 percent and 31 percent, respectively. Subaru’s director of corporate communications, Michael McHale, added that owners of his company’s offerings were “190 percent more likely to do outdoor activities than other brands,” meriting those treks off the beaten path.

Regarding individual vehicles, the Outback sees the highest use in the dust and mud at 34.7 percent. Meanwhile, most Jeep Grand Cherokee owners prefer the high street over high peaks, with only 21.1 percent deciding to experience just how “trail-rated” their SUVs are. The Outback is also among Subaru’s top three best-selling vehicles in 2013, sandwiched between the Forester and the XV Crosstek as the automaker celebrated its sixth consecutive year of record sales; 424,683 units were sold in the United States alone that year.

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Capsule Review: 2014 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid Mon, 09 Jun 2014 12:00:32 +0000 green subaru xv crosstrek hybrid

Subarus shine when the sun does not. That reputation has been built on the back of Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive so that in places that freeze, Subarus are everywhere. Given the concerns of the customer base and a corporate commitment to sustainability, a hybrid Subaru seems like an obvious slam dunk. That’s why it’s surprising it took so long to get one, even with some ties to Toyota. The XV Crosstrek is the first Subaru to go hybrid. It’s definitely the Subaru of hybrids.

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What that means is that you’ll find a familiar 2.0 liter boxer four and all-wheel drive in the Crosstrek Hybrid. Added to that is a 100.8 volt, 13.5 kW battery pack that tucks .55 kWh of stamina under the cargo area floor. You lose just 1.7 cubic feet of cargo space behind the seats, which is a nice trick compared to what happens in some other hybrid-ized cars. The combination of 2.0 liter boxer with compression bumped to 10.8:1 (from the standard 10.5:1) and electric motor makes the hybrid the most powerful Crosstrek there is. Total combined output is 160 hp vs. 148 hp for the gas-only model. More significantly, the total system torque is 163 lb-ft and you’ve got it all at 2,000 rpm. That beats the heck out of making those opposed pistons flail to 4,200 rpm for  the 145 lb-ft of the non-hybrid. The electric motor is cleverly integrated into the AWD system, a move that keeps the center of gravity the same as the gas model and doesn’t cut into passenger space.

The best Subarus are niche Subarus. The rowdy WRX and Crosstrek Hybrid are the gold and silver medalists on the lot. It says something about the Impreza platform’s versatility and quality. I haven’t forgotten the BRZ, it’s just not as good as the other two. The coupe gets a bronze because it’s not as versatile as the other two and still lacks the power it really deserves. Sales have increased every month since January 2014, when Subaru started keeping  track of Crosstrek hybrid sales. The model cracked 1,000 in May, and the total sits at 2,700 so far.

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The $27,000 price for the the XV Crosstrek Hybrid I drove is close to reasonable. The entry price is $25,995, and with $825 of destination you’ve got the $26,820 bottom line. That’s for a car with cloth seats, no sunroof, and Subaru’s typically half-dismal audio system. If you want the nice stuff like leather and navigation, you’re looking at the $29,295 Hybrid Touring.

The more basic car has got it where it counts, though. It’s not stripped by any means, and the audio head unit easily connects to devices with Bluetooth and streams audio while allowing the steering-wheel audio buttons to control playback. This without stabbing at a touchscreen or dealing with voice prompts. The hands-free isn’t perfect – people I called asked me to repeat a lot of stuff because of audio quality. Three knurled dials give easy control over the HVAC and automatic climate control is standard for the hybrid. The steering column tilts and telescopes, and a rear view camera is also standard. The hatchback layout is useful, with a liftover height that’s easily managed even if you’re shorter, and that’s despite the 8.7” of ground clearance. That’s only 1/10″ shy of an F150 4×4. Other cars this size trading for this price carry more amenities, but none of them are all-wheel drive hybrids.

side view of 2014 subaru xv crosstrek hybrid

Interior materials don’t feel $27K nice, but the design and ergonomics of the Crosstrek cabin present well. Visibility out is what now passes for good, and the controls are all easy to operate. Some, like the shifter, feel a little flimsy (wiggle that silvery piece of trim!), but the Crosstrek Hybrid is not a hard car to use, and that’s a happy thing.

Practical matters aside, this is the best driving Crosstrek, and all the changes made to the Hybrid should be mirrored across the range. The suspension has been retuned, which explains its good wheel control and buttoned-down feel in corners. It works well with the quick electric power steering, which is good on weight and direct feel. Other changes include thicker floor sections and increased sound insulation, both measures that increase the feeling of refinement.

2014 subaru xv crosstrek seats

The Crosstrek Hybrid is unique in that you’re getting all-wheel drive as part of the deal, and the improvement over gas-only Crosstreks is a bump to 29/33 mpg city/highway from 25/33. Pardon me for feeling like that’s a miniscule increase and that the 30 mpg average I observed is what all Crosstreks should be returning already. There are very few other all-wheeler hybrids, and they’re all more expensive. Luxe options like the Lexus RX 400h and Audi Q5 hybrid or the significantly larger Toyota Highlander hybrid aren’t directly comparable. A used second-generation Ford Escape Hybrid (or Mercury Mariner) is likely the closest actual competitor.

The rest of the Crosstrek Hybrid is bang on with the desires of its target customers. The batteries and motor don’t cut into the usefulness of the hatchback layout. There’s a good-sized cargo area behind the rear seats, and since those seats also fold, you’ve got one useful little tadpole on your hands. Moreover, the space inside the Crosstrek is comfortable for four, a bit squeezy for five. The rear seat legroom is probably the biggest sticking point. A quintet of tallies isn’t going to like it very much, but the Crosstrek is great for three or four average grown-ups. It’s even better for one or two smaller-statured folks with a big ol’ dog fogging the windows.

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Another happy thing is the way the electric motor bolsters the 2.0 liter engine’s torque delivery and flattens out bandy feeling you often get from CVTs. The presence of paddle shifters to toggle between fake ratios feels really out of place. That’s money that could have gone into making the door panels padded so your elbow doesn’t fall asleep. At least with torque to go, the Crosstrek doesn’t have to wind up the engine so much to make forward progress. It’s a more relaxed way to get to speed, and it makes for a more refined Subaru. One annoyance, a major one, is the momentary hesitation upon taking off as the system fires the engine. It makes the car feel slow-witted, and it doesn’t build confidence when you’re trying to make a quick move in heavy traffic.

The hybrid system makes distinct shudders when the flame is blown out or fired up. You won’t get very far on electric-only, which generally seems to only operate in traffic jams. Subaru says the hybrid will crawl in an electric-only mode, but I found that the engine fired almost all the time when I wanted to move even a few feet. The Crosstrek hybrid is a few software tweaks away from greatness, but that doesn’t stop it from being good. The chassis feels solid, the steering is well-weighted, and the braking transitions from regen to friction very smoothly.

I was surprised to come away from the Crosstrek Hybrid so impressed with it. I’m not generally a fan of hybrids, and one that’s so obvious about what it’s doing SHOULD have put me off. Instead, it was charming. Clearly, I’m not the only one who’s been taken in by this car’s talents. If only all Crosstreks were this good.

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Reader Ride Review: 2015 Subaru WRX Thu, 05 Jun 2014 13:00:08 +0000 IMG_6431 (Medium)

When Eric pulled up in his properly blue WRX, I could see that he wasn’t entirely sure about the idea of letting me drive his car. To begin with, I’d changed the location of the meet three times in the past twenty minutes. Admittedly, that was because I hadn’t been to the Easton Town Center in a few years and the first few places I could think of to meet had been closed or moved — but attentive readers will also remember that this is how Jeremy Irons tormented Bruce Willis in the third Die Hard movie. I was wearing bleach-spotted shorts and, I think, a One Lap Of America T-shirt. Furthermore, I was muttering to myself and shaking my head like a poleaxed goat. I’d just discovered that my wallet had gone missing during an airport run I’d made for a friend. In short, I looked and sounded like a crazy person, and I appeared to have a very strong desire to take Eric’s WRX to the airport for no legitimate reason — which, attentive readers will recall, is what happened to Bruce Willis in the second Die Hard movie.

With a visible effort, Eric smiled and stuck out his hand. “I’m Eric.”

“I’m Jack,” I replied. “We need to take your WRX to the airport.”

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Two hours later, I found my wallet under my Accord’s passenger seat.

Thanks for reading.

Just kidding! Yes, I did find my wallet later — but after a few minutes behind the wheel of Eric’s recently-broken-in “Rex”, I was ready to stop thinking about that and give my full attention to the car. Having driven the new Mk7 GTI just two weeks before this, I was eager to see how the two cars, natural enemies in the marketplace, would compare. Luckily for me, we truly do have the best and brightest among our readers. Eric, a successful young man with an understanding and manual-transmission-capable wife, is an outstanding example. What would Jalopnik do in a situation like this? Test-drive their readers’ “Forza 360″ cars while the far-from-MILFy single parents of said readers serve snacks like the Pin’s mom in Brick?

I’ll assume you’ve read Kamil’s recent press car review of a WRX Premium. This one, too, was a Premium, I think. (Eric will pop in and correct me if I’m wrong, but I am pretty sure this had a sunroof and didn’t have leather seats, which makes it a Premium.) Let’s go immediately to the meat of the matter: the dynamic capabilities of the WRX in the context of the competition.

The Subaru and the Volkswagen were very different cars twelve years ago but now, in 2014, they are united by an approach to ride, handling, and demeanor that can best be described as “adult”. As with the GTI, this new WRX is surprisingly quiet and thick-feeling, its sodden “thump” over every pothole betraying a very modern obsession with the lowest possible natural resonant frequency. The bugeye WRX had thin doors and rattled on the showroom floor, but this sedan might as well be an Audi for all the extraneous noise you get. Since the original Japanese Post Office Leones, badged simply “DL” and “GL” here, and possibly before, every Subaru has had a sort of inherent crappiness, a loose-jointed feeling that there just weren’t a lot of welds in the unibody. If you liked that, and a lot of people did, too bad. Little Rex is all grown up now.

Like the Volkswagen 2.0T direct-injected inline-four, the Subaru turbo boxer uses a small turbo and active wastegate control to keep torque at a consistent plateau through most of the rev range. Unlike the VW, the Subaru retains a fair amount of laggy turbo behavior despite what you see on a dyno curve. It’s much less aggressive on part-throttle than the GTI and a full-throttle run through the gears reveals a laggy hole in the delivery after each shift. Eric’s car is, thankfully, a six-speed manual. Intellectually, I accept the idea that a CVT of sufficient stoutness might be the perfect partner to this stumble-prone boxer, but I also intellectually accept the idea that I could probably manage to copulate with Lena Dunham under circumstances of sufficient provocation, such as danger to my child or an Aventador-sized cash bonus, and that does not stop me from finding both propositions repugnant to the extreme.
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So there’s a little bit of old-school to this car. Throttle-whoosh-shift-stumble-pause-whoosh and let’s do it all over again for the next gear. The GTI has this thing whipped for power delivery, even if the numbers aren’t as good. Eric’s curious about my Accord V6, so I offer to let him drive it. He’s obviously appalled by the fact that the dinged-up coupe contains the remnants of no fewer than four Kid’s Meals, plus a half-eaten bag of cheese puffs, and requests that I just tell him how the Honda compares. Well, it’s got nothing for either of the turbo cars down low, but it has a rush to the top that these tiny puffers can’t match. When the Accord gets going, well, that’s about the same time that the Subaru and Volkswagen are asthmatically blowing through the unimpressive space after the torque plateaus.
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After visiting the airport Departures area and quizzing the service personnel there about the likelihood of their having recently found any missing Couch Jet Age wallets, I decide to misuse the roundabouts and short two-lane couplers between the various parking lots as an impromptu autocross course. This is mostly second-gear work, with brief excursions to third. Here, the turbo is strong and the rush to the next corner is remarkably satisfying. The Subaru’s imperfect power delivery feels a bit more characterful than the electric-motor torque of the GTI. Shifting is no slower despite the four driven wheels, but you still don’t want to rush the synchros the way you would in a Mustang or Viper.
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The brakes are adequate but this is clearly a place where Subaru wants you to spend some extra STi money. Just three or four hard slowdowns from about 70mph to 30mph is enough to lengthen the pedal a bit. Remember, folks, this is a sub-$30,000 vehicle, not an AMG CLS. I’m also not pleased with their lack of ability to stand the WRX on its nose with hard application. Here, too, the Phaeton-ish brakes in the GTI Performance Pack are simply better, more reassuring.

In max-lat-g cornering around a roundabout, the Subaru pushes early and often, with plenty of progressive warning and behavior from the 235-width SportMaxx tires. It’s so predictable that I have no trouble immediately eyeballing the slip zone at approximately 80mph on a freeway ramp, letting the nose wander than rein in with pogo motions of the throttle. Think of a Focus ST, which can step right out on you in a corner if the throttle action is abrupt. Then restrain that to just a suggestion of motion, and you have the GTI. Now dial it back the same amount again, and you have the WRX. I can’t see getting this car to oversteer in any conditions short of a wet racetrack. The driveline feels relentlessly front-biased in all dry-road operation.

This extremely dignified default cornering attitude means that once again the Fiesta ST is going to be a more entertaining drive. Even my Accord feels considerably lighter on its feet and more tossable, due in part to narrower rubber, a lower beltline, less insulation, and a greater degree of power assistance for both steering and brakes. Still, it’s worth noting that this car is perhaps too quick to be tricky by default.

During our drive, I ask Eric why he bought this car. His answer is extremely self-effacing, referring to an old Sentra owned previous to this, the desire to have a little more power, and a preference for manual transmissions. He keeps noting that the vast majority of his experience has been in slower cars, and that perhaps that renders his opinion of his WRX less than credible. To the contrary, I think. I might have been behind the wheel of a Viper TA and Camaro Z/28 a few weeks before driving these four-cylinder model rockets, but the average buyer for a car like this is coming from a Sentra or a Civic or his parents’ old Camry. To satisfy that buyer, the WRX needs to be both fast enough and upscale enough to justify spending what feels like a long ton of money.

When you look at the Subaru that way — as a vehicle that should satisfy aspirational and dynamic desires — I think it succeeds admirably. Between this and the GTI, I’d take, um, the Mustang 5.0. Or possibly an Accord Coupe! But if you are going to spend a lot of your own money on a car that will be your daily transportation, your track rat, and your sanctuary during long trips, it’s hard to offer much argument against the WRX. The Volkswagen is considerably more upscale, more tasteful, more responsive, and probably economical. Against that, the Subaru offers a sedan form factor and all-wheel-drive. On the streets of San Francisco, it just has to be the Mexi-German hatch, but for the snow states, the WRX is the easy winner.

(Disclaimer: This vehicle was provided to us by a TTAC reader who failed to come up with any flights, any five-star hotels, or any free half-bottles of Ketel One. I shouldn’t have to live like this. Thanks, Eric! — JB)

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Capsule Review: 2015 Subaru WRX Premium Thu, 22 May 2014 12:30:50 +0000 2015 subaru wrx (1)

Please welcome Hooniverse editor Kamil Kaluski for his first review for TTAC.

Like much of the Playstation Generation, I spent much of the 90’s ogling over the forbidden fruit from the Land of the Rising Sun: Type Rs, EVOs, WRXs  – fun, reasonably priced, reliable, econobox-based sports cars with great potential. Naturally, I bought a WRX as one as soon they debuted in 2002. Six months later I promptly sold it.

I didn’t hate the original bug-eyed WRX – I was just disappointed by it. The chassis, even with a set of Eibach springs, still rolled and yawed in every direction. The engine had no power below 3500rpm, and then, out of nowhere, burst to life in a boost-filled fury. The gear ratios of the five speed manual transmission made accelerating fun, at the expense of any highway comfort.  The fuel economy would have been poor for a V8 – for an economy car four-cylinder (even a boosted one) it was abysmal.

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If you were to blindfold a past owner and put them behind the wheel of the newest WRX, they’d immediately know what car they were in. Little cues, like the seating position, the shift knob and of course, the unmistakable, off-beat boxer hum, all remind you that underneath the much improved skin, beats the same rambunctious heart. Then again, the window switches seem to be carried over from the year 2002.

Outside of its Corolla-on-steroids looks, the biggest difference in the WRX is the engine. The displacement is back to two thousand cc’s, but there’s now variable valve timing and direct injection. The result is 268hp, which in the days of 300hp+ V6 Mustangs does not sound like much.The real news is the 258lb.-ft. that is available between 2,000-5,200rpm. Now that there’s some torque being made as low as 1000 rpm, daily driving is a lot more pleasant, while cruising on the highway isn’t going to drive you into madness. And it still screams all the way from 3000 rpm up to redline.

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But wait! There is more! For the first time ever, the WRX also manages to get decent gas mileage. With a 6-speed manual transmission, the 2015 WRX  is EPA rated at 21mpg in the city and 28mpg on the highway. My real-world heavy-footed trip down the New Jersey Turnpike resulted in a dash-computer calculated average of 27.7mpg, which I would say is pretty darn good. A CVT is a $1200 option, but really, why bother?

With the exception of a ride that is slightly rough over the worst of northeast’s post apocalyptic winter roads, Subaru has removed any objectionable behavior from the WRX that may be encountered during daily operation. Some may find it to be sprung too softly for serious at-the-limit driving, but Subaru really needed something more than a few horsepower and a big wing to justify the existence of the STI. Overall it’s a nice compromise for the enthusiasts and that incidental WRX buyer who just wanted an Impreza with more power.

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While remaining typical Subaru (that is to say, spartan if we’re being polite), the interior also received some updates. The biggest difference is one that you won’t see: road noise. The 2015 version is orders of magnitude quieter than the boomy, gusty examples previously sold here. More than the crappy fuel economy or the wonky gearing, this was my biggest annoyance when it came to driving long distances in my old WRX.

Head and leg room is abundant for all passengers, even on sunroof-equipped vehicles such as this one, and the manual seats are comfortable and supportive. All controls, with the exception of heated seat buttons, are logically located and easy to use. With small inoperable vent windows, door-mounted mirrors, and thinner than average A-pillars, the visibility all around is excellent.

The radio/infotainment system feels dated. The main display consists of segmented characters, and some information displayed on it may be incomplete. All controls are made via a bunch of small buttons and one knob. There are auxiliary controls on the left side of the steering wheel. There is also a secondary screen higher up on the dash which shares duties with the onboard computer, fuel economy gadget, and a boost gauge. Aux and USB inputs are located in the center console. The climate controls consist of three simple knobs – it might be the most efficient setup on the market, yet everyone else insists on more complex controls. It baffles me.

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Those unimpressed by its lack of evolution should be happy to know that Subaru has managed to refine the coarser elements of past examples, without eliminating any of its character or thrills. With a starting price of just $26,295, the WRX is one of the best performance car deals on the market. And if it looks a bit too sedate or Civic-esque for you, there’s always the hotter, sharper-edged STi.

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Subaru provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

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Subaru: No WRX Hatch For U.S. Market Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:00:39 +0000 Subaru Impreza WRX STi Hatchback

For those who want a Subaru WRX or WRX STi, but prefer the utility of the previous hatchback over the current sedan offerings, they should start breathing again, as Subaru will not be bringing such a beast to the United States after all.

Motor Trend reports that last month, WRX project manager Masuo Takatsu informed that Subaru “received strong interest from the US” for a hatchback variant, citing the 50 percent uptake by the U.S. market for the previous hatch. The statement came as a surprise to Subaru of America, who weren’t expecting anything more than the sedans:

We do not know about, nor do we have, any plans for a WRX hatch. Takatsu San is the product general manager of the WRX, but this is not something he has discussed with us.

One exchange between Subaru of America and Subaru of Japan later gave the final word: No WRX hatch will be forthcoming to the U.S. market, citing cost issues against producing both sedan and hatchback models.

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New York 2014: 2015 Subaru Outback Revealed Thu, 17 Apr 2014 18:21:49 +0000 2015-Subaru-Outback-06

The 2015 Subaru Outback made a stop at the 2014 New York Auto Show as the fifth-generation wagon makes its way to the showroom floor this summer.

Under the bonnet, a choice of either a 2.5-liter flat-4 or 3.6-liter flat-6 will send 175 to 256 horsepower through a standard CVT to all four corners. The Legacy-esque Outback should average 28 mpg from the flat-4, 22 with the flat-6.

As for safety, rearview camera, pre-collision braking and adaptive cruise control make up part of the overall driver-protection package on-offer from Subaru.

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2015 Subaru Legacy Revealed Tue, 04 Feb 2014 07:48:44 +0000 2015 Subaru Legacy 01

The 2015 Subaru Legacy leaked late last night. Not bad, Subie.

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Production-Ready Subaru Legacy To Make 2014 Chicago Auto Show Debut Sat, 01 Feb 2014 08:34:17 +0000 2015 Subaru Legacy Tease

After its worldwide debut as a concept at the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show last November, the Subaru Legacy is ready to show-off its production-ready ensemble at next week’s 2014 Chicago Auto Show.

Though the teaser doesn’t offer much — as teasers are wont to do — it does offer glimpses of the sedan’s thin A-pillar, raked windscreen, and the matching LED lights up front and down back, all part of Subaru’s new design language. Judging by the lightly flared fenders, however, no 21-inch wheels — like those on the concept in LA — will be offered when the Legacy arrives in showrooms this year.

The production Legacy will debut February 6 at the Chicago Auto Show.

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Los Angeles 2013: Subaru Debuts Legacy Concept in LA Thu, 21 Nov 2013 02:24:35 +0000 Subaru Legacy Concept 01

Forget CVTs in WRXs; Subaru has dropped their Legacy Concept at the 2013 LA Auto Show, illustrating the design direction the Japanese automaker aims to take in the near future.

The Legacy Concept has a muscular, masculine appearance, particularly with the wide Taurus-esque grill and sinister LED eyes. Wide flares hug the 21-inch wheels, and the tail lights hammer the point home in aggressiveness.

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Shifting Becomes Variable For 2015 Subaru WRX Fri, 15 Nov 2013 13:00:02 +0000 2015 Subaru WRX

While those who opt for the upcoming 2015 Subaru WRX STi can still row their own, those who prefer to let the transmission do the work may (or may not) be disappointed to find a CVT in their new WRX.

In a leaked dealer document, customers who opt for either the WRX Premium standard model or the Limited with or without the sat nav/Harmon Kardon audio/keyless access triad can either row their own through a six-speed manual or Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT.

Sending the power through the CVT will be a turbocharged 2-liter flat-four, while the STi will utilize a 2.5-liter turbo flat-four and, for those who choose it, launch control.

More details to come when the WRX makes its debut at the LA Auto Show next week.

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Subaru to Unveil Levorg Concept at Tokyo Motor Show Thu, 31 Oct 2013 14:14:06 +0000 Subaru-Levorg-Concept-Teaser-1

A new gold dawn for touring cars is upon us if Subaru is to be believed. Come November, the automaker will unveil the future of the Legacy and Outback at the Tokyo Motor Show: The Levorg.

The sport tourer concept — whose name is derived from legacy, revolution and touring — comes equipped with Subaru’s next-gen EyeSight pre-crash braking system, wraparound LED headlamps, a turbocharged 1.6-liter direct-injection boxer, and other wonderful, ephemeral goodies concept cars usually receive.

The tourer (don’t call it a wagon around the hipsters lest their stretched earlobes snap) has a bit of muscle in its appearance, as well, with sculpted fender flares, a slanted backside, and a round nose with an air scoop ready to direct cold air through the engine for more power.

Subaru will also unveil the Cross Sport Design Concept at the Tokyo Motor Show, a concept with a small body for better seat access and maneuvering through the tight streets of Tokyo and, perhaps in the future, a street near you.

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New or Used? : The Unwelcomed Gift Edition Mon, 28 Oct 2013 12:00:26 +0000 mbeans
I’ve written before for “New or Used?” regarding my ’04 Scion xB 5MT that I (mistakenly) ended up trading in towards my family’s 2013 Outback 3.6R last year. Since then I’ve been driving my wife’s ’06 Accord EX-L V6, now at 105k. It’s a nice enough car to drive, but was never “my” car, if you know what I mean (and I’m sure you do).

Due to my recently starting a new job, the wife has given the go-ahead to look for something new that’s modestly priced. I became smitten with a 2013 VW GTI 6MT and was mere seconds away from signing the lease agreement. I had completed the credit application, indicated the radio stations I like, and then started examining the P&S contract, but got that funny feeling you can get and pulled the plug. I don’t know what it was. Dealer shenanigans. Fee overload. Slight indecision perhaps, as I’m only driving a grand total of 8 miles per day for my new commute. (Do I really need to change cars??) Or perhaps it was the X factor.

The X factor is my father-in-law. Due to age and health he is no longer driving. My mother-in-law recently traded his minty 1986 928S4 to their contractor for some money owed. She is offering to give me his 2006 Cayenne S with 75k miles. I’m feeling pressure from the wife to accept it. I’ve offered to take it and sell it for them, but my wife feels that there is a sentimental thing going on, and they want to see us drive it. I really would have preferred that 928.

Sure the Cayenne a nice car, but again it’s not really “me.” Although I’m 6′ 3″ I like small cars with stick shifts that I can throw around, not heavy pseudo-SUVs that get 12 MPG city/. However, am I crazy to turn down a free Cayenne?? I have concerns because (A) it’s not my kind of car, (B) the Carfax has 3 accidents on it, (C) maintenance costs are going to be crazy. Supposedly the frame is fine, but I know he had more than 3 fender-benders (he should have stopped driving years ago), and we have two small children so I would want to verify that. Also the car has been immaculately maintained. He did pretty much whatever the dealer’s service department told him to do.

Part of me thinks I should drive it for 1-2 years and then trade it towards something I want, while the other part of me would be worried about being stuck with a 10 year old SUV with a bad Carfax. And of course the third part of me (if that’s possible) is sick of driving an automatic.

I’m getting some serious pressure to act on this soon. Any advice from you, along with the best and brightest, would be greatly appreciated.

All best,

Steve Says:

Any gift that comes with strings attached is not a gift. Ever. When family members give you something that you must absolutely positively keep under the penalty of (insert snubbing method here), then what you end up with is a family tie that will bind and gag you and your family. 

I’ll give you a personal example. My MIL is a truly generous person and, one day, she decided to give me and my wife a doghouse. The only problem was that we didn’t have a dog. So about a year later, we have a garage sale. The kid down the street just got a puppy and it just so happened that they were the same folks who Freecycled a trampoline to us the year before.

So what did I do? Well of course! I gave them the doghouse!

My wife goes outside about an hour later, and invariably asks where the doghouse is. I tell her what happened and she tells me in no uncertain terms that my MIL is going to be ticked off to the nth degree.

My response was, “And??? This is our house! Just tell her we exchanged it for the trampoline. If she complains then we know it wasn’t a gift ”

Is your wife an only child? Then take the car if, and only if, it is truly a gift with no strings attached. Thank your in-laws profusely for their generosity either way it turns out, and consider yourself a lucky man. Don’t complain. Not even if it isn’t ‘your’ type of car. Just be a mensch, and when this isn’t such a hot button issue, you can sell it and set up a fund to handle any health issues for your in-law’s. By that time you will also have a better perspective on the security of your new job.

If your wife has siblings, then you can’t keep this car. Don’t even try. Let them know that you hope your father-in-law will live for a long, long time. Then you can do the right thing for everyone.

Research the true market value of the vehicle. Post the vehicle for sale online.  Handle the transaction for your in-law’s. and then finally, thank them for thinking of you and your wife.

As for your desire to buy a stickshift, I’ll let the folks here sort that part of your life out.

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Review: 2014 Subaru Forester 2.5i Limited Tue, 16 Jul 2013 13:00:43 +0000 IMG_2588
Between the A+ report card from Consumer Reports and a last-crossover-standing result for the IIHS small overlap test, even Tommy Callahan could sell somebody a Subaru Forester. “Here comes the meat wagon WEEE-OOO WEEE-OOO and the medic gets out and says, ‘Oh my God’. New guy’s around the corner puking his guts out – all because you wanted to buy a RAV4.”

Factor in some much-improved fuel economy from a continuously variable transmission, and the sales figures are like spank-tra-vision to Subie execs: up by a third year-to-date. Holy shnikes! Is this the year the lovable approach hiking shoe crosses-over from niche product to all-round segment leader? Let’s go camping.

The Fozzie new mug eschews stylish wakka-wakka in favour of an outline that could just as easily be wearing Mitsubishi’s three-pointed star. Not that the Forester has ever been a stunningly handsome machine, but this new one puts me in mind of the grafted-on noses GM once put on all their minivans to bump safety ratings.

But it’s not bad-looking – this is inoffensiveness as a styling exercise. It might not be as cutting-edge as some of the other designs out there, but it looks like it’ll age better than the toaster-shaped original, and there is one extremely exciting visual thing about this crossover: you can actually see out of it.


I’d like to get Sajeev’s scorecard on the Forester’s design, but a closer look at the thing shows all kinds of good news. There’s plenty of greenhouse, and the rear-quarter windows are, well, windows. How rare is that? There’s not too much slope to the rear glass and those are functional roof rails as-standard. Front overhang is maybe a little prow-ish, but rear is good, and ground clearance looks suitably Subaru-ish.

On the Forester’s inside, the eyeball finds less to love. Like the new Impreza, the Forester is much improved over the previous generation, and could be considered mid-pack for interior quality. However, even in this Limited-trim model, there is evidence of some cheapness.


Look at these child anchors for instance. The foam of the seats is exposed when a LATCH tie-down is in-place, and while rear-seat room and comfort is better than that of a Ford Escape, family use is going to cause some unsightly wear.


Using your Forester as a cargo hauler is going to be a mixed bag too. While the way this new, bigger version swallows gear is impressive, the seats don’t fold completely flat, and both seatbacks and the little flap that covers the gap are flimsy and look prone to tearing and/or bending. Even more annoying is the lack of proper cargo area illumination – there’s just a rinky-dinky little lamp on the bottom right that’s about as effective as a birthday candle in the Mines of Moria.


Up front, the Fozzie rates a utility-grade pass for chunky knobs and dials and a centre cargo area with plenty of room for USB chargers or power-converters. Despite this Limited’s theoretically fully-loaded layout, the Harmon/Kardon stereo could have been lifted right out of a Subaru from last year. Or last decade. Or the decade before that. It sounds okay though.


Even with not-much mileage on the clock, the door-cards and centre area on this press-loaner were beginning to look a bit scratched up. The split-level display is a bit odd (why a digital clock face?) and the backup camera is only big enough as an emergency aid. Here again though, the Forester’s rear visibility is so good, you only need refer to it when the trunk is entirely full.


Pop the hood and – hey, an engine! I remember those! Granted, the Subie’s 2.5L pancake-four looks a bit like a plastic facehugger is impregnating an industrial dishwasher, but how rare these days to see a motor in all its unshrouded glory. Look, there’s even an exposed oil-filter! Just think of the smell after spilling gallons of 5W-30 all over the engine manifold – the home-mechanic’s potpourri.

Several important things about this carry-over engine (first introduced in the Forester in 2011, the FB25): it’s chain-drive, not belt and while it retains the same 2.5L displacement and 170hp rating as the old EJ-series options, both bore and stroke are different for very slightly more low end power – 4lb/ft. I do have some concerns about overall longevity with heat-cycling the plastic manifold, and the pool of FB25-powered cars with over 100,000 miles is too small to see if the new design completely dodges the EJ’s headgasket issues (granted, Subaru resolved the bulk of these by 2005, but there are still problems cropping up as vehicles age).


Bigger news on the drivetrain front is the CVT now installed in all automatic Foresters. Continuously Terrible Transmission, rubber-band, motor-boat, whining, fun-sapping, blah blah blah. Nonsense.

While you can still buy a manual transmission Forester – now a 6-speed, huzzah! – the CVT in the base Forester is perfectly fine if you know how to drive it. Turbocharged XT models drive like a fat Nissan Juke (er, that’s intended to be a compliment), and if you’re gentle with throttle inputs and don’t push the thing, you’ll appreciate both the better fuel economy and the smoothness from the naturally aspirated motor.

And trust me, you’re not really going to want to push it. While the Impreza is reasonably fun-to-drive, the Forester is bigger, bulkier, squishier and numb-er. On-ramp acceleration is acceptable, the over-boosted steering is still okay, and the car feels extremely planted in the corners, but a Mazda CX-5 would be a much better choice for driving pleasure. Except for one thing.


This is a mancala board, a popular African game, and it’s also an excellent visual representation of the potholed gravel road I ended up on after taking a wrong turn getting out of Squamish, BC. I’d just driven the Mazda on similar, if drier, roads and my reaction on seeing a few miles of this corrugated surface – with a sleeping baby in the back and in a bit of a hurry to make it to the campsite to get a decent spot – is unprintable.

The Forester, God bless her, picked up her fancy new skirts and just glided across the bumps like a hovercraft. Yes, you expect Subarus to be good off-road in the traction department, but it was still an impressive performance – after the first couple of hundred feet I started aiming for the bigger potholes to see what would happen. No problemo.

Back on the road, some of the less-good things about Subaru DNA reasserted themselves. Anyone nostalgic for the days of frameless windows will love the way the extra-large door-mounted side mirrors impart wind noise like a Sopwith Camel strafing the trenches. Yes, my spur-of-the-moment durability experiment probably caused it, but the mild rattle issuing from somewhere in the dashboard is pure Fuji Heavy Industries maraca.


And yet, as I wound down the curving highway, loaded up with camping gear and family, there’s a lot to like about this car: excellent safety rating, decent power, CRV-pipping fuel economy, lots of utility and even a bit of mild off-roading prowess. All the usual Subaru foibles are there too, but it’s a decent rig. Way to forge ahead, Tommy.

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Review: 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek (Video) Mon, 18 Mar 2013 19:03:01 +0000

Apparently I’m a stereotypical Subaru shopper. I’m in my 30s and live on 9-acres of redwood forest in Northern California where I run a small organic egg farm. My nearest neighbor is a mile away and the closest concrete or asphalt driving surface is a 3 mile trek through the woods. During the winter I value AWD and high ground clearance, not because I need it (my 2005 Jaguar XJ has never been stuck) but like most Americans, I feel safe and secure by having a larger margin for error. I also have a special place in my heart for station wagons. It was therefore no surprise to my neighbors when I drove home one day in the Outback’s little brother, the XV Crosstrek.

Click here to view the embedded video.


If the XV looks familiar, you’re not imagining things, you have seen this body before. This is an Impreza 5-door with off-road body cladding, black wheels and a lift kit. If that sounds like the old Outback Sport, you’re half right because this time Subaru went the extra mile when “offroadifying” (like my new word there?) the Impreza. Instead of confusing shoppers with an Outback and an Outback Sport that have little to do with one another, they renamed the Impreza crossover utility wagon (CUW) for 2013 to end the confusion. In addition to the name change it gets real dirt-road cred an SUV-like 8.5 inches of ground clearance. (The Outback Sport made do with a trifling 0.2-inch height increase vs 3 in the XV.) Subaru’s corporate design elements are all at play on the XV and while it may seem plain to some, it’s unlikely to offend, except for the shocking orange paint our tester wore. (You can get your XV in shades other than orange but regardless of the hue, the wheels are always black.) Instead of the sashless windows Subaru has long been known for, the XV gets standard doors with window frames making them feel more substantial than Subaru models of the past.

Think of the XV as the Impreza’s outdoorsy brother. You know, the one that moved to the country, wears flannel on the weekend but still commutes to a day job in the city. Early crossovers had a similar mission, but demand for a car-like ride has caused the current crop of CUVs to return to car-like ride heights while warehouse shopping excursions demand minivan-like cargo holds. That’s not to say CUWs are “true off roaders,” that much is obvious by the size of the front overhang, long wheelbase and on-road tires. Instead, the mission is to provide an efficient, civilized ride for that outdoorsy brother on the way to downtown and the ability to ford that low-water-crossing on the way to his organic farm.


The XV shares interiors with the $17,895 Impreza from the seats to the soft-touch dashboard. While plastics aren’t as nice as the Outback, they do represent a significant step up from the last generation Impreza and Outback Sport and aren’t out-of-place here. The XV is $1,700 more than a similar Impreza 5-door but when you factor in the standard 17-inch wheels, body cladding and lift kit the cost difference is minimal. Starting at a reasonable $21,995 and ending at $27,290, the XV is one of the best AWD values going. Oddly however, the 2014 Subaru Forester starts at exactly the same price.

The base XV is the “Premium” trim which sports durable fabric seats in black or ivory. Ivory lovers beware, interior color is dictated by exterior color and ivory is only available with black, red, blue and white paint. Limited models spruce up the cabin with leather seating surfaces, single-zone automatic climate control and heated seats.

I found the driver’s seat extremely comfortable on my long commute, but shoppers should spend time in the car before buying as the seat’s don’t offer adjustable lumbar support and the front passenger seat doesn’t offer the same range of motion as the driver’s. I heard a number of forum complaints about the leather seats feeling “mushy” in reference to the padding but my short stint in a dealer provided vehicle left the same impression as the cloth models in my mind. Perhaps there were some early production quality issues? All models feature a manual tilt/telescoping steering wheel with a good range of motion and CVT equipped XVs get attractive shift paddles attached to the wheel, not the column.

Rear seats in the XV are firm and the seat bottom cushions are low to the floor which should be fine for children but can be tiresome for adults on long trips. Because of the XV’s mission as a mud-rut crawler and stream-forder, the door sills are high to prevent water intrusion meaning you have to lift your feet higher than you’d expect to gain entry. That combined with the sloping rear profile made me feel like I had to contort myself more to get in the XV than I had expected, and certainly more than vehicles like the RAV4 or CR-V.  Once inside, headroom proved excellent for my 6-foot frame and legroom was adequate even with a taller driver up front. If you have kids or regularly schlep folks in the rear, pony up for the Limited model, in addition to leather being easier to wipe-up than cloth, it’s the only way to get cup holders in the rear. If you don’t opt for the cow, you’ll be left with only the rear door “bottle holders” which should never be used for drive-thru style sodas.

The XV is only a few inches shorter than the Escape, CR-V or even its cousin the Forester, but the cargo area is considerably smaller thanks to the wagon profile. Our tester’s 22 cubic foot cargo area easily held a foursome’s weekend luggage as long as camping wasn’t on the agenda. While that’s a significant step up from most sedans that XV shoppers may be looking to trade out of, it’s two-thirds the cargo area provided by the Forseter or Escape. Why am I comparing these non-wagons to the XV? Because they are all a similar height and length. How is that possible you ask? Because the XV trades cargo space for ground clearance. Pick your poison.


Infotainment has long been an area where Subaru lags behind the competition and the XV is no different. Because the XV is positioned above the Impreza, things start with the optional audio system from the small Subie. The 6-speaker system features a single CD player, USB/iPod integration, Bluetooth phone integration with audio streaming and a 3.5mm AUX input jack. Limited trim XVs get Subaru’s display audio system with a 4.3-inch LCD touchscreen. The display upgrade also brings a backup camera, improved iPod/USB control, HD Radio and a greater suite of voice commands. For some reason this middle-ground head unit is not available at all on the base trim of the XV.

For $1,200 as a stand alone option on the XV Premium, and $2,000 as a bundle with the moonroof on the XV Limited model, Subaru offers an optional 6.1-inch touchscreen navigation unit. (The moonroof is a stand alone option on the Premium but only comes with the nav on the Limited.) Unless you’re buying the Premium model and want the sunroof, just save the $1,200 and spend it on an aftermarket system. While the unit isn’t as outdated as some systems on the market, the interface is strangely unintuitive, the on-screen buttons are small and the low-contrast color scheme makes it difficult to find what you’re after. On the bright side, perhaps because of Toyota’s minority investment in Subaru, the system uses the same voice command interface as Toyota and Lexus’ current product line including voice commands to control your media device.


Subaru’s fascination with boxer engines and AWD is nothing new, but the 2.0L DOHC engine under the hood is. The smaller mill replaces the old 2.5L SOHC four-cylinder found in the last generation Impreza and Outback Sport.Power drops with the displacement reduction from 170 HP to 148 at 6,200 RPM while torque takes a similar tumble from 170 lb-ft to 145 at 4,200 RPM. The smaller mill isn’t any quieter or more refined than the older engine, but it is 28% more fuel-efficient when equipped with the same manual transmission and a whopping 36% more efficient when you compare the new 2.0L/CVT combo with the old 2.5L/four-speed automatic. EPA numbers for the XV come out to 23/30/26 (City/Highway/Combined) for the 5-speed manual and 25/33/28 for the CVT. On my mixed commute I averaged 29.4MPG over 475 miles of mixed driving, 0-60 testing and soft-road shenanigans.

The three-pedal XV makes the power reduction seem more obvious while the CVT’s infinite ratios help mask the loss in power more than you might think. While AWD is standard, the AWD system is different on manual and automatic models. The 5-speed is mated to a mechanical viscus center coupling that can neither be fully coupled or uncoupled allowing a torque split range from 80/20 to 20/80 (front/rear) and normally apportions power 50/50. The CVT uses an electronically controlled multi-plate clutch pack to apportion power 60/40 under normal circumstances with the ability to completely lock when wheels slip, or when the car’s computer feels like it.


Jack anything up three inches and handling will suffer, even an Impreza. Fortunately, the XV is unusually light at 3,164lbs. In a sea of overweight crossovers, this helps the XV feel more nimble than the usual suspects but it does taker a toll on ride quality with the XV feeling less “polished” than the Outback or the heavier small-CUV competition. On the downside, a light vehicle can sometimes feel cheap, and the XV’s noisy cabin doesn’t help. Being pragmatic, I would rather spend the money on a robust AWD system than sound insulation, but on long trips the noise can be tiresome. Despite the robust AWD system and boxer engine, the XV cuts a very tight rug with 34.8 foot turning radius, something important when you’re trekking off the beaten path.

In general journalists despise CVTs but this is a hatred I have never fully understood. On my daily commute I climb a 2,200ft mountain pass, a perfect demonstration of how CVTs make less powerful cars more drivable. Cars with a typical automatic suffer from the slow down, downshift, speed up, upshift, slow down, rinse, repeat problem on steep mountain passes while CVTs maintain a constant speed and vary the engine RPM as required. Yes, the 2.0L boxer engine is vibration free but unpleasant sounding and the CVT has an uncanny ability to keep the engine at the most annoying harmonic. Even so, if given the choice I would take the CVT over a 6-speed automatic on an engine this small. Bolt a turbo to the 2.0 and I’d want the 6-speed slushbox. Speaking of speeds, all CVT equipped models come with sexy shift paddles that attempt to mimic an automatic transmission but the shifts from one ratio to another feel mushy and slow.

Designed to carve unpaved corners on weekends and paved corners on weekdays you’ll find an inherent compromise in every corner. On true dirt roads, the street rubber (Yokohama Geolander H/T G95A) lacks lateral grip allowing the rear of the XV to feel a little light (in a fun sort of way) and on pavement the tall springs allow the body to roll more than a traditional wagon shopper might expect. Despite the lean, the XV never lost its composure even when pressed to 9/10ths, a place few owners will take their granola-hauler. The always-on nature of Subaru’s AWD system makes the XV feel more confidant off-road than the sip-and-grip systems found on the competition, but there is less of a difference on road. Back on the asphalt, most of the competitor’s systems allow partial lock-up from a standstill thanks to improved electronic systems and honestly the difference in snow performance for most driving conditions is going to be fairly small.

For some reason we expect SUVs and CUVs to deliver a less exciting driving dynamic but we expect wagons to handle like sedans with a tailgate. If that describes you, the XV will disappoint. If however you’re looking for the utility of a crossover with better road manners and a low center of gravity, the XV delivers in spades. There’s just one problem: Subaru’s new Forester is the same price and staring at you from across the Subaru dealer’s lot.

Hit it

  • Subaru AWD reputation.
  • Well priced and well equipped base model.
  • I’ve always been a fan of CVTs for hill climbing.

Quit it

  • Black wheels.
  • The lack of gadgets, gizmos and options is a bummer for my inner nerd.
  • The cabin is noisier than most small crossovers.
  • Not everyone loves CVTs as much as I do.


Subaru provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.3 Seconds

0-60: 8.7 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.8 Seconds @ 81.5 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 29.4 MPG over 475 miles

2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Exterior, Front, Picture Couretsy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Exterior, XV Badging, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Drivetrain, 2.0L Boxer Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Drivetrain, 2.0L Boxer Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Drivetrain, 2.0L Boxer Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, Infotainment, Navigation System, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, Infotainment Nav System, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, HVAC Controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, Dashboard Trip Computer, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, Dashboard and Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, Front Seat Controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, rear door sills, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, Cargo Area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, Cargo Area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, Rear Seats Folded, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 63
Review: Rental Legacy, By Subaru. A Future Writer Story Sun, 17 Feb 2013 12:33:31 +0000

It’s double feature Sunday: Can TTAC’s Future Writers master the tough job of a car review? During Future Writers Week, you chose the writers you want to see again on TTAC. Here is today’s second Future Writer car review. Do you like it? Do tell.

Sometimes the demographic stereotypes for particular car buyers exist for a reason. Being a current legal student that first graduated from that big Colorado university in the People’s Republic of Boulder and will almost certainly become the basic “yuppie”, Subarus have held some appeal to me. The idea of a rugged, capable, different family sedan has piqued my interest for awhile; I nearly purchased a used Subaru several years back, settling on a Volvo when I decided that the comfortable box would be a far greater companion on cross-country drives than the quirky, boxer-engined Subie. However, much of the automotive industry has been on a course of bland convergence since the late-nineties production of both of those vehicles; for Volvos that has meant the demise of the canal-boat-esque 5 cylinder sans turbo found in my old S70, but what does it mean for the Subaru Legacy? Are my stereotypes of Subaru outdated, or should I join the ranks of ex-Boulderites who slowly toil around in a stick-shift Legacy? For better or worse, an impending snow storm in Vail appeared to put a wrench in my cheapo rental car plans for my head-clearing pre-law school semester trip, and Enterprise Rent-A-Car responded with a 7500-mile Subaru Legacy.


Subaru seems to have done something quite incredible with the new Legacy: they managed to make it very ugly but managed to keep it completely anonymous. The front end is simply too busy, with the bottom bumper from a Ford Focus and the ungainly headlights cribbed from a children’s nightmare.

The center grill seems to have tried to emulate the much-maligned grill from recent Acuras, but gave up before meeting the hood. The center box is more appealing, with the rather clean lines even possibly indicative of sporting pretensions, but is still rather forgettable, stemming from wheel arches that everyone and their mother puts on cars these days (I’m looking at you, E90 3-series). The rear end either isn’t noticeable from angles beyond 45 degrees, or looks like a bad adaptation of a rear clip from a copyright-friendly Grand Theft Auto vehicle. Either way, initial impressions were weak, with the Toyota Camry parked next to the Legacy in the rental lot being both better proportioned and more attractive in general; this would become a comparison that would ring with increasing volume in my ears throughout my four day Colorado journey, but more on that later.


I remember getting into a 2012 Kia Sportage and thinking “wow, this is almost there”. Were previous Subarus as dreary inside as the Koreans used to be, I would have had a similar impression with the Legacy; unfortunately, the new car represents a considerable step back in interior build quality. The materials are at best equal to modern Kias, which still tend to be a bit worse than their competition. The Camry in comparison? Still mediocre for the class, but overall more solid and up-to-date than the Legacy. Late model Fords? If you have to ask, then you lack both sight and feel. At least the Legacy is fairly roomy, seeming larger inside than the Camry but if all one cares about is interior space, Chevrolet will be happy to sell you an Impala.

Driving Experience:

After an underwhelming impression on the rental car lot, I would like to say that the Subaru and I had a weekend of bonding, but saying that Pakistan has secure borders would be a more accurate statement. Let’s start with the positive: the Subaru has, despite fairly numb feel, quick steering. Turning into parking lots can be a bit of a laugh, as the quickness of turn-in can allow speeds that cause pedestrians to jump in fright. Exiting that parking lot, however, and the driver enters a world of problems. The power-train, for lack of a more descriptive term, is genuinely awful. The engine is surprisingly slow and hesitant to rev, but it is unlikely that you’ll notice due to how lackluster the CVT transmission is.

To be honest, I have a distinct hatred for CVTs; the unrelenting noise and unnatural feel alone would keep me from ever purchasing one new. I thought the CVT in the Toyota Prius was bad, but anyone who drives a Legacy will be in store for something on another level. The CVT attempts to simulate gears, but simply flat out fails in its mission. When accelerating to 35 from a stop one of two things will happen: either the car will sit at around 3000 rpm and then the revs will completely fall off as it finds another “gear”, and then you’ll start to slow down; or, the care will sit at 3000 rpm and then fail to find said theoretical gear, and then wind down with a noise so vile that the other passengers will begin to laugh.

Other faults? The wind noise is loud, the handbrake can only be disengaged while in drive, the AWD system is dodgy, the ride isn’t composed, and the MPG +/- gauge (which directly correlates to pedal travel, utterly useless) that replaces the coolant gauge becomes a minor disaster when the car begins to overheat (which it will on a spirited drive from Denver to Vail). Although I didn’t track MPG usage for my trip, as with my driving style it would be pointless, the vehicle indicated an overall 27 MPG, which is…acceptable. It is quite sad to say, but if one needs a roomy, AWD sedan, they would be much better served by the used Subaru I passed on years ago. After a long weekend, even I was surprised by the terribleness of the Legacy; to answer my original question of if I should join the ranks of the Boulder Subaru mafia with this entry, the answer is a resounding “no”.

Will Simonsick is a first year law student at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. Over the past five years, he has lived in Philadelphia, Boulder, and Brussels, Belgium, and will be spending the summer outside of Frankfurt, Germany. Family rumor has it that his first word was Chevy. He is currently living in automotive purgatory in a hand-me-down Toyota Prius second generation, remaining wistful for his previous Volvo and W-body Chevrolet.

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Review: 1968 Subaru 360, Owned By Lexus LFA Engineer Thu, 07 Jun 2012 13:33:07 +0000 “Don’t shift!!!!”

I will hear this many times today.

In the many underpowered cars that I had driven up a hill, around a bend, or towards an intersection, a well-meaning friend, instructor, or authority figure in the seat next to me inevitably yelled: “Shift!!”  This was to entice me to stir the stick, and to keep me from killing the engine either outright or in a frenzied over-rev.

This time, it is different. I am in Japan, and I sit in Japan’s first kei-car, a Summer-of-Love generation 1968 Subaru 360. Next to me sits his owner, Chiharu Tamura, and he shouts “don’t shift!!”

Tamura bought this car 4 years ago, for 250,000 yen, which converts to $3,147. Helped by an obscenely high yen, this car is a residual value miracle. When the first 360s were exported to the U.S. in 1961, the price was $1,297. Despite the bargain basement price, the car flopped. It was one of the many disasters brought to us by Malcolm Bricklin, except that his Yugo sold much better – initially. If people would have bought this car instead of the wretched Yugo, they would have doubled their money today.

A Subaru 360 is a car you would not expect from a Chiharu Tamura.

Tamura-san is Deputy Chief Engineer of the Lexus LFA, the $375,000 supercar that shifts effortlessly in 200ms through each of its 6 gears.  The Subaru delivers 20 hp, the LFA at work has 560.

“This car got 66 mpg – in the sixties,” Tamura says. “The secret to high mileage is low weight.”

I need to be very careful with the gears, No-Shift-Tamura keeps telling me. The shift pattern is a simple H. Reverse and First on the left, 2nd and 3rd on the right, that’s it.

Turning into a scenic overlook on our tour, I want to shift into First. Immediately, I am confronted with a now familiar, but this time very forceful “DON’T SHIFT!!!!” This time, don’t shift at all.

First gear has no synchromesh, I am told.

“No problem!” I shout, “I know that from the old Bug!” I go out of gear and into Neutral, pop the clutch, tap the gas, “wrrmmm-brmmm,” and …

“NO SHIFT!!!!” Tamura whispers with a pained look and a hand on the shifter.

I learn that this Subie likes its unsychronized first gear engaged only from a dead stop. While driving, there is a choice of Second and Third, and only with an ichi – ni –san  three-second intermediate pause in Neutral. There is no, zettai iranai shifting from Second into First. Wakarimashita ka?

If Ray LaHood reads this, he will demand that little Subaru for every American – it definitely demands totally undistracted driving. And the transmission must be made from tofu.

This is Japan where they drive on the left and sit on the right. To the left of me on the transmission tunnel are three levers with letters.

The C is the choke. Remember what a choke is for, and your will date yourself. This lever C aids the start of the little 2-cycle engine. When it’s  cold, you slowly feed it back into position while the engine warms up, and you do that with an ear on the engine. When the weather is balmy, as it is now, I simply move the choke back after it has done its job.

The H lever turns the heat on. The engine is air-cooled, and the heat works similarly as that in the VW Bug.

One exception: The heat adjustment is under my seat, somewhere. Did I mention that this car needs your undivided attention?

The F lever  cuts the fuel off. The Subie has no gasoline pump, the fuel is gravity-fed. If you let the car sit with the line open, you end up with a flooded carburetor, or possibly a puddle under the car. To avoid this, pull the effing F lever.

Tamura’s Subaru was a high-grade trim: It had a radio. Car reviewers who love to bitch about the “seas of hard plastic” will have no gripes with this car: The top of the mostly metal dash is covered in a minor pond of vinyl. A little Armor All®, and the naugahyde will stay soft and supple.The GPS is a recent addition.

This is the dreaded shaken sticker, next inspection by May 2013 – living proof that even a car that is 44 years old can pass –  as long as the owner is the engineer of a supercar. This car passed without seatbelts. It didn’t have any when new, it won’t have any when old.

Entering the car through its suicide doors requires the abilities of a contortion artist for a man of my heft.

As we change positions, skinny Tamura slides in effortlessly. Tamura is from a generation where men were men and women were women.

“This car is fine for two Japanese men in front and their women in the back,” Tamura says, and his shift hand bangs into the wallet in my pants.

Tamura drives the Subie only on weekends, I hear.

“So, what do you drive to work, Tamura-san?”

“My bicycle.”

If you can build the world’s most powerful car, you won’t need to buy one anymore, I guess.

Tamura Subaru 360-01- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tamura Subaru 360-02- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tamura Subaru 360-03- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tamura Subaru 360-04- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tamura Subaru 360-05- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tamura Subaru 360-06- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tamura Subaru 360-07- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tamura Subaru 360-08- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tamura Subaru 360-09- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tamura Subaru 360-10- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tamura Subaru 360-11- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tamura Subaru 360-12- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tamura Subaru 360-13- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tamura Subaru 360-14- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tamura Subaru 360-15- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt ]]> 58
Capsule Review: 2012 Subaru Impreza Sport 5-Door Thu, 29 Mar 2012 15:51:09 +0000

Its squat boxer architecture meant a low centre of gravity, and by building in a low rate of roll and very little offset or castor in the MacPherson strut front suspension, the handling was truly revelatory, refreshingly neutral with precise steering…endlessly chuckable. [They]…were willing rather than fast, and there was more grip than the boxer engine…could ever hope to exploit…away from straight roads it still took a genuinely quick car to catch one.

Does this sound like a review of the 2012 Subaru Impreza? You may be surprised to read that the words here describe a car from a completely different country, with a culture and ethos that couldn’t be more different – but a car that may be the spiritual predecessor to the Impreza.

That quote, despite being hacked up to remove identifying details, is from Evo magazine’s retrospective on the Alfa Romeo Alfasud. The Alfasud was a scrappy little hatchback, powered by a fairly impotent boxer engine that was regarded as a supremely fun car with somewhat spotty build quality. Sound familiar?

Unlike the high-end, leather-clad sedan driven by Michael, my tester was a 5-speed hatch and the cabin was decidedly barebones. Black fabric covered the seats and the dash was also adorned in a dark, dour plastic. Subaru interiors have never been spectacular, but this car took it to new levels – while looking for the hood release, I managed to grab a handful of loose dashboard plastic that had a few inches of play to wiggle around. Unfortunately, my camera’s memory card corrupted, but Brendan’s preview drive has pictures of the exact same interior (minus the errant dash trim pieces, hopefully). The Impreza’s seats were too flat and firm for my liking, but the driving position itself is refreshingly old school. You can actually see that the hood exists, and you sit lower than most pseudo-CUV compacts these days.

Subaru decided to trim some weight out of the car in an effort to improve fuel economy (apparently they cut nearly 200 lbs from the car, which makes me wonder how it got so bloated in the first place), but the trade-off is less power compared to the outgoing model. The 2.0L boxer now puts out 148 horsepower and 145 lb-ft, and this tester came with the 5-speed manual gearbox, a rubbery, notchy unit that continues the Subaru tradition of building rubbery, notchy-feeling transmissions.

Any fears that this car would be a watered-down, slowpoke, mass market version of the old Impreza are immediately put to bed once the road opens up and John Law is absent from your rearview mirror. The steering is well-weighted, though hardly a paragon of feel or feedback. But the growl of the boxer is intoxicating, and the chassis communicates so well, it was probably tuned by a marriage counselor. Hit an on ramp in third gear and let the boxer get to its sweet spot around 4,000 RPM and the Impreza is absolutely tenacious, with endless grip allowing it to slingshot out of the corners. Oddly,the brake override system mentioned by Brendan didn’t make itself known during heel-toe downshifts, with chunky winter boots being the biggest obstacle. In a straight line, it’s no speed demon, but let the boxer wind up for just a second and the power is more than adequate for passing trucks or merging on to freeways.Compared to the Mazda3 SkyActiv or the Ford Focus, the boxer feels more robust, but only instrumented testing will determine that conclusively. All that driving yielded 24 mpg in mixed driving – poorer than Michael’s CVT equipped sedan got, but understandable given the chunky Bridgestone Blizzaks (10 percent poorer fuel economy right off the bat), the cold temperatures and the, ahem, spirited driving that the Impreza encourages.

Around town, the main drawback is the firm, unsettled ride. Even though Toronto’s roads are a tough test for any car, the Focus and Cruze feel much more composed than the Scoob, perhaps a trade-off made in the name of driving dynamics. The stereo system could also use a major overhaul, frequently sounding tinny and washed out. The hatchback bodystyle and compact footprint make it great for darting in and out of traffic, and rear seat room is fine for four average sized adults. The Impreza would be a very easy car to live with every day, but then, what current compact isn’t?

Canadian trim levels differ slightly, with the American equivalent of this car being the $20,295 (plus $750 destination) Impreza Sport Premium 5-door with the 5-speed manual. In Canada, the 5-door Sport costs $24,795 plus $1,695 for “Freight and Pre-Delivery Inspection” (our version of freight). So, $26,490 PLUS another $3,443.70 in sales taxes. Nevertheless, Subarus have a loyal following across the country. Independent analyst Timothy Cain’s sales figures for Canada shows that Impreza sales, year over year, are up a fair amount. People here are willing to pay for all-wheel drive, in a hatchback body style, and with Subaru dealers setting up shop in far-flung rural areas a few hundred kilometers away from major urban centers, the brand has established a foothold in snow-ridden areas similar to their strategy in New England. The faithful won’t be disappointed by these new revisions, but other consumers will have to ask themselves whether the higher cost of entry and reduced levels of refinement are worth it to get all-wheel drive, superb handling and the unique character not available anywhere else.

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Review: 2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Limited Sat, 28 Jan 2012 18:15:05 +0000

Some cars appeal to the head. Others to the heart. Judging from the marketing pitches that festooned the corporate-owned, dealer-supplied 2012 Impreza, Subaru hopes the redesigned compact will appeal to both. On the rear bumper: “The most fuel efficient All-Wheel Drive car in America at 36 MPG.” And on each front door: “Experience love that lasts.”* Will the Impreza truly “love you long time”? We went on a date to find out.

The Impreza certainly isn’t a one-night-stand sort of car, especially not when dressed in virginal white. You’re not going to lock eyes across a crowded parking lot, because you’re not going to notice it in a crowded parking lot. There’s no risk of hot-blooded lust, doomed to burn quickly but briefly. Like those of the larger Legacy it resembles, the new Impreza’s lines could have been penned by engineers. Elements that attempt to inject some character, most notably the ultra-wide bi-centric wheel arches, instead come off as clunky.

The new Impreza’s interior styling is similarly conservative to a fault. The curves that bounded across the previous Impreza’s instrument panel? Gone. Some of the materials might be a step up from the previous generation, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at them. Compared to a Ford Focus or even a Hyundai Elantra, my eyes see an appliance, and a dated one at that. Any chance the Limited’s leather seats had of suggesting luxury is obliterated by the dollar store center console and lower door panels that flank them. The black interior that attends four exterior colors, including a lusty red, should help. Beige (mandatory with the other four colors) rarely does an affordably priced car any favors.

Yet, if functionality was the predominant priority, why are the rocker switches for the heated seats located beneath your elbow? A mere afterthought, or did some human factors engineer thinking a bit far outside the box decide that this would make for one-stop-shopping when buckling up? Latch the belt and turn on the seat heater, all in one quick motion! Warm the buns of your partner while you’re at it!

Like VW, Subaru has figured out that a roomy rear seat sells cars. The new Impreza remains about the same size as the old one on the outside, yet there are a couple more inches of rear leg room on the inside. A 2005-2009 Legacy was a tighter fit. Just don’t expect adult passengers to feel much love from the rear seat on long trips: like many, its cushion is mounted too low.

So, after sampling the charms of the exterior and interior, love hasn’t bitten. Perhaps it’s the driving experience? The car’s priorities aren’t promising, as the list appears to have been headed by fuel economy, rarely a Subaru strong suit in the past. To this end, curb weight has been reduced nearly two hundred pounds, to under 3,000. Doesn’t seem light for a compact sedan? Recall that a couple hundred pounds of symmetrical all-wheel-drive goodness is standard in all Subarus…for a few more months. With less weight to motivate, fewer cc’s are required. Last year’s 170-horsepower SOHC 2.5-liter flat four-cylinder engine has been replaced by an all-new DOHC 148-horsepower 2.0-liter boxer. A five-speed manual remains standard, but those who aren’t turned on by a third pedal now get a CVT instead of an antiquated four-speed automatic. The CVT’s wider ratio spread and ability to keep the engine in its sweet spot make for decent acceleration. It’s not quick, but it’s not slow, either. A larger concern: the engine is loud, and its buzz resembles that of a garden variety inline four rather than the oddly appealing burble of a boxer. Your ears won’t find this engine’s sweet spot very sweet. The rubber band effect typical of CVTs is present, but can be avoided by employing the paddles to shift among six fixed ratios. The touted fuel economy: EPA numbers of 27 city and 36 highway, way up from the 2011’s 20/27. The trip computer reported high 20s when I cruised through suburbia with a light foot, low 20s when I got jiggy with it.

Just when all chances of love seem lost, there’s the chassis. The steering provides only modest feedback, but the seat makes up for it. The chassis tells you what it will do for you, and then does it with commendable balance, poise, and agility—that low curb weight paying some clear dividends. The all-wheel-drive system might also deserve some credit, though it’s not being called upon to manage much torque. The Imprezza’s intuitive handling makes it very easy to drive quickly and confidently along a curvy road. I enjoyed driving it far more than its specs and appearance led me to expect.

The flip side of the low weight and communicative chassis: a noisy, at times jiggly ride. Like VW and Toyota, Subaru has placed a bet opposite that of Chevrolet, Ford, and Dodge. If you’re seeking a premium feel in a $20,000 car, look elsewhere.

A base 2.0i with the manual transmission starts at $18,245. The 2.0i Limited with its mandatory CVT: $22,345. If you don’t want all-wheel-drive in your compact sedan, you’ll likely buy a different one. If you do, you have a choice between the Impreza and a slightly larger (but no roomier) Suzuki Kizashi. With a quarter-ton more curb weight to enfeeble a 180-horsepower, 2.4-liter engine, the Suzuki’s no quicker but manages only 23 / 30 in the EPA’s tests. In SE trim with leather, it lists for $26,014. Adjusting for the Kizashi’s additional amenities using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool reduces the gap by $900, but even then there’s a nearly $2,500 difference. While one of the buff books fell in love with the Kizashi in a few days (as touted on Suzuki’s home page), car buyers still haven’t after a few years. There’s likely to be serious cash on that hood—if you can find a dealer with a pulse. Actual transaction prices won’t be so far apart.

[Update: A reader informs us that Mitsubishi recently started offering a non-turbo Lancer with AWD. At $20,990, the 168-horse, 22/29 MPG Lancer SE is priced VERY close to a similarly-equipped Impreza (Premium 2.0i, $21,045 with All-Weather Package). But you're more likely to find rebates and discounts on the Mitsubishi--if you can find a Mitsubishi dealer.]

So the Subaru wins the battle for the head. But the numbers aren’t everything. What about love? Both the Impreza and Kizashi claim to offer it. If you’re turned on by style and refinement, then you’re much more likely to find love in the Suzuki. The way the new Subaru looks, sounds, and feels recalls old style “penalty box” small cars just a bit too much. But if you’re seeking a chassis that talks to you, and that’s a willing dance partner, then the Impreza delivers. A quiet love, perhaps, but they did promise it in small lettering.

*Before you run out and similarly adorn your ride, be warned that Subaru has likely trademarked the phrase for automotive applications.

Dwyer Subaru in West Bloomfield, MI, provided the car. They can be reached at (248) 624-0400.

Michael Karesh operates, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

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Review: 2012 Subaru Impreza Fri, 09 Dec 2011 16:18:31 +0000 It’s the particularly unpleasant sort of weather that Vancouver does best: temperature hovering just above zero degrees socialist, wind whipping a smirr of fine rain up and around uselessly flapping umbrellas and directly into your unprotected earhole, an all-pervading dampness seeping up from the puddled sidewalk and penetrating to the very bone. “Beautiful BC” my chilly posterior; today’s as cold and wet as a Beluga’s swim trunks.

Then again, it’s also perfect weather for testing out a new Subaru.

I’m an early arrival to this event, having popped downtown on public transit past the expected snarls of traffic, and so walk into a nearly empty press room. The usual assortment of items is laid out on the table (if I ever decide to open a lanyard n’ thumb-drive emporium, I’ve got at least a year’s worth of stock) along with a Subaru-branded toque.

A toque. How appropriate.

And how telling. During the power-point presentation, we’re shown a picture of a enormous Subaru badge mostly obscuring a silver previous-gen Impreza sedan. Besides the relief of not having to look at the carved-from-a-bar-of-Lever-2000 shape of last year’s Subie, there’s a message here.

The PR folks explain: Subaru is a brand with strong associations. Mention it and the image immediately springs to mind of a Forester with two kayaks strapped to the roof and interior perfume by wet golden retriever. Either that, or some mud-caked, flared-out STi, flinging quad-roostertails of gravel as it pop-pop-pops through the sharp turns of a forest stage, sandblasting the spots off Bambi and giving Thumper tinnitus.

Impreza? Oh, that’s the cheapest one they make. It’s sturdy, and utilitarian, and about as sexy as a tarp. It’s not particularly efficient or stylish, but those are the penalties you pay if want a small, all-wheel-drive car.

Not any more, so sayeth the Subaru sages. It’s time for the WRX/STi line to get a divorce from the Impreza, freeing the smallest Subie to be lightened and dialled in for normally-aspirated fuel economy. What’s more, it’s also time to shift design – and perception – away from “rugged” to “urban”, and by doing so, hopefully onto more small-car buyer’s shopping lists.

From a styling perspective, the Impreza is already a triumph. Discounting the rally special WRXs – box flares and hoodscoops can be a kind of stylistic panacea – there’ve been about four good-looking Subarus ever: this new Impreza is one of them.

Side-by-side with the old model, the sharp, angular lines of the Impreza go beyond “a breath of fresh air.” Front headlights have a touch of Dragonball-Z anime about them, and the Impreza wears the new corporate creases much better than the slab-sided Legacy. The multi-spoke 17” wheels of this Sport package look great, but are sure to be a huge pain in the ass to clean.

Other than that, few of the styling improvements seem to have generated compromises. Just look at the comparative size of the greenhouses in both cars. While the larger, highly-raked windshield is immediately apparent, you can also see that the belt-line’s come down somewhat, improving visibility. The big fix at the rear is, of course, getting rid of those ghastly clear tail-lights – and dig that rear spoiler – but blindspots haven’t really increased.

Inside, the cabin’s also much better. It’s a conservative layout, but quite pleasant, and the amount of soft-touch plastic has quintupled. I particularly liked the boiled-sweet appearance of the park-anywhere button and the chunky dials on the HVAC controls seem designed for easy use by gloved hands. Seats are comfier too, if perhaps not overly bolstered.

Of course, there’s still plenty of room for interior improvement – this is a Subaru after all. The tiny switchgear for the heated seats is crammed just aft of the emergency brake and tricky to use. The stereo is the old double-DIN setup, and while there’s iPod connectivity, it’s not exactly powerful – I didn’t have a chance to try out the Pioneer audio upgrade. The Multi-Function display with the AWD use read-out (put me in mind of the old XT6) is a bit of fun, but it doesn’t display iPod functions.

Cargo-wise, the hatchback takes top bill-of-lading, with seats folding mostly-flat and transforming your Impreza into a gravel-ready moving van. Better yet, both sedan and 5-door have increased rear leg room from the mildly stretched wheel-base, and the rear door openings are also larger. Fans of wind-noise-inducing frameless windows will probably want to buy a CD of didgeridoo music or something.

Anyone who’s ever tried to cram a rear-facing child-seat in the back of an older Impreza will doubtless appreciate the bigger rear portals, as well as the increased boot-space in both the sedan and hatchback variants. Subaru showed a display featuring three golfbags fitting upright in the back; fair enough, but they more usefully could have provided us with one of those enormous running strollers that are like a sand rail with handlebars. However, a quick eyeball test indicates such monstrosities should fit.

Of the dozen vehicles available for testing, only one had a manual transmission. In the interests of research and science, I Occupied it – everyone else was clustered around for show and tell on the display model.

Here’s what you need to know about the new Impreza in terms of performance: the new, long-stroke, timing-chain-driven 2.0L boxer engine has less power than the old 2.5 lump (down from 170hp to 148hp), but the new chassis is slightly stronger and lighter (by 165lbs). It is also slower than the outgoing model – at least in a straight-line.

Subaru makes a big deal about the CVT-equipped car being actually slightly quicker to 60mph than the automatic-equipped ’11, but let’s face it, the antediluvian 4EAT 4-speed wasn’t doing the previous-gen any accelerative favours. I think that thing was originally developed for use in Hannibal’s Alp-crossing four-wheel-drive elephants.

With the 5-speed manual – tweaked for fuel economy with a taller top gear – you notice the decreased low-end power immediately. Is it a problem? Not really.

It took a little time to get out of the city and onto the leaf-littered and sodden streets that run through the far Western part of West Vancouver. These are narrow little capilliaries, twisting and turning up and down the hilly coastline, looking like somebody spilled vermicelli on the map.

The Mazda3 is the current benchmark for fun-to-drive in the compact segment, right? Well, with this new Impreza, that should hold true right up until it rains.

On these wet and winding roads, this little car is an absolute gem. The steering is heavy and direct. The grip from the all-wheel-drive is phenomenal. New, fatter anti-roll bars do their job, and while I can’t claim to feel the extra bite of having disc brakes at all four corners now, the Impreza stops just fine.

Torque is a bit low, but it’s not a bother to continually shift gears to keep things on the boil. This is essentially the same transmission as the old Impreza, but it has a decent shifter feel. Cost may be an issue here, but a 6-speed with closer ratios would be better, given the very moderate power. Also, heel-and-toers take note: you can rev-match your downshifts, but a new brake-override system is going to trip up fancy footwork.

The little 2.0L lacks the lumpy character of the 2.5L, but it’s got a gruff little growl to remind you it’s a boxer, and as such, it’s fun to wring it out a little. Having said that, you will find yourself wishing for more power, but it’s only because the Impreza is so well-composed: it sticks and sticks and sticks and then very slightly washes wide.

Stepping out of the stick-shift and into a CVT-equipped Impreza, things get a little less sporting, but remain good overall. A continuously terrible transmission is never going to be the enthusiast’s choice, but banish all thoughts of the hair-scrunchie-driveline Justy from your head: Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT is actually quite good.

As there isn’t much twist below 4k from the 2.0L boxer engine (145lb/ft at 4200rpm), ascending one of the local mountains in the CVT-equipped car meant that four thousand revs was where we were hanging out. However, during stop-and-go driving, the CVT was smooth and well-behaved, and the paddle-shifters were actually a bit of fun. Not that it’s an objective term, but the car felt less “motorboaty” than the CVT-equipped ’12 Maxima I drove right afterwards.

The real story in the CVT-equipped car was not so much the transmission, which proved perfectly acceptable, but the way it handled the slushy snow we ran into. If Subaru’s 27/36mpg fuel economy figure takes the disadvantage out of AWD, then here’s the advantage: this is still a car that’s happiest when the weather gets poor.

“You’re going too fast for the conditions,” my co-driver admonished me. I backed off, somewhat abashed, but when time came to swap seats, I happened to sneak a peak at the speedo as she ran through the same section downhill – going even faster. PSA: AWD ain’t gonna help you stop with all-seasons, so slow down and use your road-sense, but the lighter, less-powerful Impreza still handles the white stuff like a tank. Make that a Sno-Cat.

Overall, splitting the WRX from the Impreza is a smart move for Subaru. I’d wager there’s not much buyer spillover from the halo effect of the turbo-nutter models anymore: if you can’t swing the payments on a new WRX, you don’t move down to a base-engined Impreza, you start shopping for a used WRX.

And, unlike the whoopsie-daisy 2008 WRX that missed the mainstream mark somewhat, Subaru has managed to add a touch of broad appeal to their small car, while still keeping it alluring to those with the stars of Pleiades in their eyes. In fact, I’m fairly sure one of the local Impreza club members is going to buy one to replace his TSD-rally-scarred ’07 Impreza sedan (he’s got a kid now).

The Subaru faithful will descend on dealerships with their clipboards and check-lists and comparison data, but they’ll inevitably like this little car, and they’ll buy it. More importantly, folks who were looking at a Mazda3, Civic or Focus might find the Impreza showing up on their radar, and if they drive it, they’ll be surprised at how agricultural it’s not.

As for myself, WRX divorce or not, there’s got to be a way to cram a EJ257 in this thing. Hello, Nordstrom? I’m going to need your largest shoe-horn…

Subaru provided the Vehicles tested, insurance, gasoline, some nice sandwiches, and the aforementioned toque which was bloody useful for the cold slog home.

The 2012 Subaru Impreza. Picture courtesy Brendan McAleer The 2012 Subaru Impreza. Picture courtesy Brendan McAleer The 2012 Subaru Impreza. Picture courtesy Brendan McAleer The 2012 Subaru Impreza. Picture courtesy Brendan McAleer The 2012 Subaru Impreza. Picture courtesy Brendan McAleer The 2012 Subaru Impreza. Picture courtesy Brendan McAleer The 2012 Subaru Impreza. Picture courtesy Brendan McAleer The 2012 Subaru Impreza. Picture courtesy Brendan McAleer The 2012 Subaru Impreza. Picture courtesy Brendan McAleer The 2012 Subaru Impreza. Picture courtesy Brendan McAleer The 2012 Subaru Impreza. Picture courtesy Brendan McAleer The 2012 Subaru Impreza. Picture courtesy Brendan McAleer The 2012 Subaru Impreza. Picture courtesy Brendan McAleer The 2012 Subaru Impreza. Picture courtesy Brendan McAleer 2012-Subaru-Impreza-thumb Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 99
Review: 2011 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Mon, 18 Oct 2010 19:35:43 +0000

Let’s face it, Subarus used to be strange. When I was a kid, Subaru was in the same category as Volvo, Saab, Sterling and anything from France. Once upon a time, when friends rode in your Subie they were intrigued by its quirks and idiosyncrasies. As time moved on though, everything has become increasingly mainstream. Well, except for the French. To prove the point we hit Subaru up for a 2011 Legacy 3.6 Limited.

When the Legacy arrived on my doorstep, I had trouble picking it out from all the other cars on the street. The usual Subaru styling cues are gone and in their place we have some sexy curves, some hard lines, fender bulges and a subdued grille. Sounds good so far, right? Here’s the problem: the exact same description can be applied to the 2011 Camry and Accord. A week after our Subaru tester returned from whence it came, Subaru started a viral marketing campaign for the Legacy called “2011 Mediocrity” on Facebook and YouTube. The campaign is supposed to be lampooning the Camry, Accord and Fusion, but in the end it becomes one of the most ironic commercials ever made. Why? Because the 2011 Legacy is by far the most mainstream vehicle Subaru has ever produced. Let’s dive in and see just how average the  Subaru can be.

Subaru offers the Legacy in three trim levels: base, Premium and Limited, all of which can be had with two engine options, the 2.5L four-cylinder boxer engine, and the 3.6L six-cylinder boxer provided for our review (there’s also the special 2.5L turbo GT trim for upsizing WRX drivers). The 2.5L four packs 170HP while the 3.6L model provided for our review brings 256HP and 247lb-ft of twist to the party (up from the 245HP and 215lb-ft of last year’s 3.0L six). Compared to the competition these power figures are adequate in a middle-of-the-pack kind of way. While the 2.5L four gets an economy-maximizing CVT, the 3.6L engine has to make do with a 5 speed slush-box which is one cog shy of most of the competition. All boxes  checked thus far.

Once inside the Legacy, it is clear this car’s interior was designed to be profitable at the rental car fleet pricing level. Gone are the soft touch plastics previous generations enjoyed and in their place are plastics that look good but feel cheap. Also from the bargain price bin is some of the worst faux wood this side of Chrysler’s K cars. Seriously Subie, who’d you think you were fauxin? Rounding out the mixed bag interior is quite possibly the best almost-metal trim I have seen. Not only does the faux metal fool you, but it seduces you into caressing it on the steering wheel and centre console, yielding satisfying tactile feedback. It’s a pity Subaru didn’t use the same material in the place of the never-seen-a-forest fake wood.

Proving that Subaru knows how to make a vehicle for the average Joe, the fit and finish of the interior is on par with what I expect from GM: haphazard. Adding insult to haptic injury is the feature list of the lesser Legacys (Legacies?). In a world where even Kias come standard with Bluetooth, Subaru makes you either step up to the Limited trim-line or cough up $2290 for the up-level audio package in Premium trim to get the speakerphone. Oddly, Bluetooth isn’t even offered in base models and the same goes for iPod/USB connectivity.

I’d like to say that everything brightens when you turn the Legacy’s key and get out on the highway, but I’d be lying. Gone are the semi-athletic adjectives you could use to describe Subarus of yore. Ten years ago, AWD was an intriguing novelty in a mass-market sedan. Today, an AWD sedan faces more competition and offers less “aint-it-cool” power. For the average person driving the average mid-size sedan, the AWD system of choice really doesn’t matter either. Yes the Symmetrical AWD system Subaru uses is without a doubt superior in terms of feel and function to the Haldex sip-and-grip systems Ford uses, but does Joe-six-pack care? Probably not.

Out on the road the feelings of average continue. Steering feel is slightly numb, road feel is isolated, acceleration to 60 happens in 7 seconds flat and the car stops like your average family hauler. I had hoped for a bit more driving wasabi, but all I ended up getting was vanilla pudding. And the end of the day, the 2011 Legacy drives just like I would expect an AWD Camry to drive, which makes sense because passengers frequently confused the Subaru for a Camry. The only thing unusual about the Legacy these days beats under the hood: the horizontally opposed engines ala Porsche. Sadly when it comes to weight distribution, handling, performance, smoothness, etc. the engine layout no longer provides much benefit compared to the competition. The proof is in that vanilla pudding: in the twisties, the AWD Fusion feels much more planted; much more in-tune with the road than this new Legacy. Sure the Legacy is bigger, but stacked up against the much heavier AWD Ford Taurus, the Legacy still feels heavy and soft despite gaining only 50lbs over the 2009 Legacy.

The 3.6L Legacy’s brother the 2.5 GT is the very proof that Subaru is shooting for the mainstream. The 2.5 GT not only feels better on the road, but with a 0-60 time of 5.6 seconds, it’s significantly quicker as well. Sadly Subaru thought Americans wanted more cylinders instead of more power so the 2.5GT remains a niche model available only with a 6 speed manual transmission. You’d think that the 3.6L would be smoother than the 2.5L turbo 4, but you’d be wrong. You’d think it would sound better, but you’d be wrong again. You’d pray that it would get better fuel economy, but you’d be left wanting.

At $30,015 as equipped, the Subaru Legacy proves that Subaru is capable of giving the American public exactly what they were asking for: a Camry with AWD. You can’t go wrong with putting a Legacy in your garage, especially if you live in the snow-belt, just don’t expect to feel too special behind the wheel. Subaru’s legacy is a company that made quirky vehicles that handled well and stuck out in a crowd, their future appears to be higher sales figures, more profit and mainstream America suited products. How average is that?

Readers who are following TTAC on Facebook were given the opportunity to ask reader questions of the Subaru Legacy. If you would like to ask questions of car reviews in progress, or just follow TTAC, checkout our facebook page. FB fans, here are your answers: Samir S: yes, thankfully it comes in other colors. Dan V: I feel your pain; it’s all about mass-market appeal. Marlon H: Probably not. Brian C: The auto doesn’t hunt as much as it used to. Patrick C: I thought about trying but honestly got too bored. Megan B: I’m sure you know the answer to your first question, second question is yes you can put a rearward facing child seat in the back with a normal-sized human in front. Bill H: Catching air is against the press car loan agreement, sorry.

Subaru provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

IMG_0583 IMG_0578 IMG_0590 IMG_0579 IMG_0582 IMG_0592 IMG_0591 IMG_0587 IMG_0588 IMG_0593 IMG_0586 IMG_0580 A graduate of the Camry academy? (All photos courtesy: Alex Dykes) Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail IMG_0585 IMG_0584

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Review: 2010 Subaru Legacy GT Fri, 30 Jul 2010 16:32:24 +0000

When Subaru introduced the 2005 Legacy GT wagon with a turbocharged flat four, all-wheel-drive, and a manual transmission, it went straight to the short list of cars I’d buy…if I was buying a car. But I wasn’t buying a car. Apparently there were too many like me, for Subaru discontinued the manual transmission the following year, then dropped the Legacy wagon altogether with the 2008s. With the 2010 redesign of the Legacy, Subaru appears to be giving the GT incarnation one last shot. While other Legacies and Outbacks are powered by naturally aspirated fours and sixes, the GT retains the turbo four—and is available only with a six-speed manual transmission. Clearly it was developed for enthusiasts. But will enough enthusiasts return the favor? Should they?

Historically, Subarus have been aesthetically challenged. Handsomely proportioned, clean-to-a-fault designs like that of the 2005-2009 Legacy have been the rare exception rather than the rule. With a hunchback profile dictated by packaging considerations and fussy fender flares that fail to disguise the slabsidedness of the bodysides, the 2010 is no such exception. Some of that old Subaru quirkiness might have redeemed this exterior. But, perhaps still fearing Farago’s pen, it’s just homely.

The interior is a little easier on the eyes, though it might set a record for square inches of silver plastic. Faux timber doesn’t exactly scream “GT,” but together with the leather upholstery it does lend the car a more upscale ambiance than you’ll find in lesser Legacies. Like the light-colored interior of the tested car? Well, only off-black is offered in the 2011.

The Subaru’s interior scores higher marks in functional areas. Ergonomics and visibility from the high-mounted driver seat are both first-rate. Perhaps this is what happens when engineers retain the upper hand. Both strengths are increasingly less common among competitors lately. The moderately firm driver’s seat is shaped for long-distance comfort. The rear seat offers far more legroom than the class-trailing previous Legacy. Cargo space is less generous. Though deep in two dimensions, the trunk is relatively narrow.

The 2010 Subaru Legacy GT’s 2.5-liter turbocharged flat four has been tuned to produce 265 horsepower, up 22 from the old car. Despite the much roomier interior, curb weight is only up about 50 pounds (comparing similarly equipped cars), so the power bump should more than compensate. Except it doesn’t. The Legacy GT might be quick, but it doesn’t feel quick. A triumph of refinement over excitement, boost comes on almost imperceptibly, with none of the punch traditionally dished out by powerful turbocharged engines. Peak power is the same as with the related engine in the WRX, but this is not the same engine. Output peaks 400 rpm lower, at 5,600. More telling, there’s more torque—258 vs. 244 pound-feet—and the torque peak, 4,000 rpm in the WRX, extends all the way from 2,000 to 5,200 in the Legacy GT. Admirable numbers, certainly, but the joy is gone. At low speeds the boxer’s distinctive song can still be heard, and at lower rpm the gradual accumulation of boost dulls throttle responses, but otherwise this engine could be mistaken for a stifled naturally aspirated six.

The shifter doesn’t help matters. It moves easily enough, and its throws aren’t overly long, but it has the cheap plastic-on-plastic feel of a bargain basement joystick. One unusual feature: your current gear is displayed between the speedometer and tach. You know, in case you can’t remember where you last moved the lever.

The new Legacy GT’s handling can most favorably be described as secure and competent. The crossover-high seating position doesn’t help here. Body control is very good, and the amount of lean in turns is acceptable, but communicative steering and quick reflexes aren’t part of the mix. Instead, the Legacy GT impresses with an unexpectedly smooth, surprisingly quiet ride. If a larger rear seat was the company’s first priority with the new Legacy, refinement must have been the second. There’s no hint that this car is related to the STI.

In recent years the Legacy GT has been available only in Limited trim, meaning standard leather, sunroof, and 440-watt harmon/kardon audio. For 2011 the price is up a little, and now starts at $32,120. Not cheap, but the next closest alternative, the Acura TL SH-AWD, lists for over $11,000 more (about $3,700 of which can be explained by its additional features, based on a price comparison run at Not that these cars are likely to be cross-shopped. Aside from its premium branding, the Acura is far more fun to drive at the expense of a brutal ride. Other Subarus might be going mainstream, but the Legacy GT is in a class of its own. It currently has no direct competitors in the U.S.

Between this car and BMW’s similar appropriation, it seems that “GT” now connotes roominess and refinement rather than driving excitement. Neither “grand” nor “touring” suggests agile handling, so perhaps this is a more literal interpretation of the appellation. But then what’s the stick doing in the Legacy GT? The number of self-shifters seeking the new car’s bundle of attributes cannot be large. So the prognosis for the Legacy GT is not good. Subaru might rethink the car, like they did with the 2008 WRX after enthusiasts rejected it. But they’re more likely to send it the way of the Legacy wagon. Don’t want the Legacy GT to go away? Then you’d better put your money where your mouth is and buy one soon.

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data

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Review: 2010 Subaru Outback Mon, 13 Jul 2009 11:15:52 +0000

Back in the late ‘90s, Hollywood unleashed a barrage of light-hearted, cookie-cutter teen movies. The gist: quasi-geek exists just outside the fringe of the high school “in crowd.” He’s intrinsically smart, casually cool, but socially a bit awkward. He's followed by legions of adoring and affable nerds, cast in the shadows of the popular conformists. Inevitably, our geek has his eyes on the prettiest girl in school and a thirst for leaping the social chasm to popularity. Predictably, this is accomplished through a bit of dumb luck, by selling his soul through transformational makeover, and by alienating those who supported him. Allow me to introduce the latest geek-turned-sellout: the 2010 Subaru Outback.]]>

Back in the late ‘90s, Hollywood unleashed a barrage of light-hearted, cookie-cutter teen movies. The gist: quasi-geek exists just outside the fringe of the high school “in crowd.” He’s intrinsically smart, casually cool, but socially a bit awkward. He’s followed by legions of adoring and affable nerds, cast in the shadows of the popular conformists.  Inevitably, our geek has his eyes on the prettiest girl in school and a thirst for leaping the social chasm to popularity. Predictably, this is accomplished through a bit of dumb luck, by selling his soul through transformational makeover, and by alienating those who supported him. Allow me to introduce the latest geek-turned-sellout: the 2010 Subaru Outback.

Not to go off on too Faragonian of a branding rant, contrary to the latest “It’s what makes a Subaru a Subaru” campaign, “it” is nowhere present in the new Subaru Outback. Yes, the usual hardware bits are there. Boxer engine? Check. Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive? Check. But past these binary, objective metrics, the essence of a true Subaru is woefully absent, starting with the styling . . .

I’ll forgive the new Outback’s wacky headlights, weird taillights, and gimmicky body cladding. Let’s face it: the refreshing cleanliness of the last generation Legacy/Outback’s styling was too good to last. But I can’t the turn a blind eye to the Outback’s thyroid condition that balloons the Outback out of the clever off-road-wagon segment it created, square into the congested crowd of bloated CUVs.

Towering more than four inches higher than its predecessor, spanning two inches more across the beam, standing another awkward inch higher off its tires, the new Outback looks—no, is huge. The super-chunk roof rails are grossly exaggerated (until you discover the trick design that allows the crossbars to disconnect and swing 90 degrees to find residence integrated in the longitudinal rails). The rear quarter view screams “Venza!”—which is like shouting “movie” in a crowded firehouse. Curiously, there wasn’t a Tribeca on the showroom floor. Cannibalism avoidance? Either that or the former “flying vagina” was hidden by the swollen Outback.

Inside, hoping—praying—for refuge from the calamity outside, you’re greeted by wide, comfy seats and increased legroom for all five passengers, thanks to a stretched wheelbase and the aforementioned middle aged spread. Despite the front captain’s chairs’ higher hip point, rear toe-room is just as miserable as the old model’s. The 60/40 split rear seatbacks now recline, but the pivot point is too high; occupants feel awkwardly contorted instead of comfortably relaxed.

Oddly, the Outback is two inches shorter than previously, sacrificed in the cargo bay. Fortunately, the height gain and the taller hatch opening collaborate with revised rear suspension packaging (now multi-link instead of a strut) to allow more junk in your trunk.

The Outback helped start the trend toward big/multiple/panorama sunroofs, yet the 2010 model reverts to a classic-sized hole over the front seats only. Probably for the better, as you don’t need more light cast upon the smorgasbord of plastics that muddle the instrument panel.

Gone is the understated and subtle classiness of the previous Outbagacy’s upscale interior bits. Cheezy glitz defines the rock-hard polymers that mimic textured stainless steel on the gaudy and protruding tall center stack (an annoyingly awful new Subaru family trait) and [faux] aluminum on the trim wings spraying out to the doors. Subaru grained and sheened the top shelf of the instrument panel convincingly enough to make you think it’s from Ingolstadt. Nein.

The Outback’s ergonomics couldn’t be further from Audi’s if they were designed by Daewoo. Every button on the Outback’s dash now requires reading glasses, a precise finger and a map. Twin Big Gulps and a swollen armrest bin take precedence over the handbrake, which has been demoted to a tiny button buried left of the steering column amidst a myriad of other tiny, illegible, and obstructed switches for stability control, external mirrors, trunk release, and a bunch of curious blanks. To compensate, the twin steering column stalks are chunkier. Thanks. So much.

My tester was a 2.5i Premium CVT, equipped with Subaru’s standard and most popular engine. Subie’s [allegedly] massaged the 2.5-liter Boxer-4 for improved economy and driveability, but with no marked increase in dyno performance (170 hp/170 ft-lbs). It doesn’t matter. Subaru’s latest gee-wizardry is my good grief: the “Lineartronic” chain-driven CVT.

Rather than expound on what it’s supposed to do, let me tell you what the powertrain really does. It tips in painfully slow off idle, winds in a thrashy tizz up to max horsepower at 5600 rpm and festers there. If there were anything resembling an exhaust note, it might remind you there’s a Boxer under the hood; gone is the traditional Subie burble. Instead, from the minute you start rolling, you’re annoyed by a constant cosmic din of CVT chain noise that the Ford Freestyle’s CVT never had on its worst day, even as an early prototype.

Meanwhile, you’re waiting for acceleration to happen. Wait long enough and you’ll get to sixty miles per hour—even if you can’t quite remember quite how it happened until the morning after. You can slap the squat shift lever into manu-matic mode and flop through simulated gearshifts as if were a really crappy traditional automatic transmission. Appeasing to the lab coats at the EPA, this powertrain combo somehow manages to muster 29 mpg under optimal highway conditions. Color me indifferent; claimed driveability is an epic fail.

Wagonistas of Subaru faith seeking dynamic chassis goodness were exiled when the Legacy Wagon died in ’08. The previous Outback was not exactly light on its feet. While the ground clearance is a boon to adventurers, it’s a bane to roadgoers as exaggerated primary dance moves (roll, dive, and squat) make hustling corners ill-advised. The 2010 is no different.

The Outback’s steering gets a welcomed hydraulic boost at parking lot speeds. But as soon as the sunburst-backlit speedometer needle goes north of ten, the helm goes novicane numb and becomes lethargically slow. Wafting down the boulevard, the ride—especially from the rear axle—has gone all jiggly (in addition to the preexisting harshness). “Plush” does not seem to be a word in the Subaru vernacular. That’s a shame, as they’ve deprived this car of anything resembling fun.

Let’s do the math.

Subaru’s once trademark all-wheel-drive is a “so what” in the market segment the Outback now occupies. The virtues of the Boxer engine are all but diminished to irrelevance by the entire vehicle’s lousy dynamic performance. All of which leaves the 2010 Outback nothing more than an awkwardly bloated carcass of a what used to be an interesting car. But then there’s the other calculation . . .

Pandering to the least common consumer denominator by creating yet another lifeless, overgrown, misguided fashion-trend of a rolling appliance (read: CUV) will guarantee Subaru’s continued sales trajectory. It’s a winning model perfected by its new step-parent Toyota, which makes this revelation of suck all-the-less surprising.

At the end of the stereotypical teen movie, the geek-turned-stud usually recognizes the collateral damages of his foolish ways, and returns with renewed self-confidence, truer to himself, ultimately a better person for it. However, punch-drunk on the elixir of newfound sales popularity, it’s unlikely Subaru will look back—save to fly the bird to its wide-eyed, once-loyal nerds.

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Review: 2009 Subaru Impreza 2.5GT Fri, 20 Feb 2009 19:20:05 +0000 Not a WRX

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.

Not a WRX

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.

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