Subaru Impreza 2.5i Sport Wagon Review

Brendan McAleer
by Brendan McAleer

I don’t get veggie-burgers. If something didn’t actually die for my dinner, I reckon it should at least have been pretty severely inconvenienced. What’s more, a good burger is always bad for you (arterial distress on a sesame-seed bun). So it is with the Subaru Impreza 2.5i Sport Wagon. Why would anyone buy such an entirely sensible vehicle when they could drive away in a full-fat, hormone-injected WRX Sport Wagon? Why indeed. It’s time for a serious sampling of Fuji Heavy Industries Lite.

At first glance, the 2.5i Sport Wagon isn’t what you’d call an appetizing proposition. The Wagon’s snout-mounted upside-down Alfa-Romeo radiator-hole looks decidedly indelicate. At least the 2.5i’s got a more graceful front end than the WRX Sports Wagon, whose hood scoop gives it a nostrilly appearance that only Prince Charles could truly love. The rest of the 2.5i’s body is blissfully free from flared wheel-arches, rear spoilers and other vulgarities. It’s as restrained as muesli.

There aren’t many other external clues differentiating the 2.5i Impreza from its beefcake cousin. In fact, park the 2.5i next to older versions of the same car, and you’d be hard pressed to date the evolution. Yes, every couple of years Subaru fits new alloys and affixes prettier tail-lights to its Imprezas. But that’s the same sleight of hand used by every 17-year-old when pimping out a mid-nineties Civic hatchback. Suddenly, that wacky schnoz starts to make sense; it’s the only easily identifiable (and how) feature in an otherwise humdrum design.

Open the SW’s sashless doors and you’ll discover more blast-from-the-past-ery. Judging from the dubious quality of it’s-a-hard-knock-life plastics deployed throughout the cabin, Subie’s parent must shelter a shopping-bag recycling company under its corporate wing. If you can bear touching the 2.5i’s shiny, not-so-happy control surfaces, all the basic amenities are pleasant and accounted for: A/C, cruise control, in-dash CD, keyless entry, etc. The controls and dials are laid out with all the simplicity befitting their, um, simplicity.

The 2.5i’s front seats are well bolstered beneath their cheap upholstery. The Wagon’s back seats are comfy enough– provided you’ve got rubber femurs. Folding down the rear chairs creates a cargo space large enough to stow both bicycles and battered guitar cases. But let’s be honest: the SW is no wood-panelled ocean-liner of a Vista Cruiser. In fact, it’s nothing more or less than a capacious hatchback, offering the same 62 cubic foot cargo capacity found in my old Mazda 626 liftback. Hey Doc, maybe if I drive the little Subie 88 miles per hour I can get back to 1991.

Great Scott! Cranking over the Sport Wagon’s 2.5-litre boxer engine generates the sort of agricultural noise normally heard whilst perched atop the red horseshoe seat of an antique Massey-Ferguson. Luckily, everything soon settles down to a dull wobble. This is your first clue to the Impreza’s dynamic personality. “Hello!” the offbeat vibrations say, “This is not a normal car.”

Although the 2.5i’s engine is only good for 173hp @ a relatively lofty 6000rpm, the SW musters-up enough twist (166 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm) to take some hoon-oriented liberties with its electronically controlled variable transfer clutch (a.k.a. all wheel-drive). The little Impreza practically leaps off the line– and then strolls to sixty in a shade over eight seconds. Never mind; at full chat, the Subie’s boxer engine roars like a bathtub speedster. It simply begs to be flung into the nearest corner.

Ah yes, corners. The Impreza 2.5i Sport Wagon may slingshot out of turns with less alacrity than a WRX, but at least it does so with equal bravado. With its compact engine mounted longitudinally on the down low, and a sports-tuned four-wheel independent suspension, the SW is a superbly sure-footed, balanced performer. Body roll is minimal, tire adhesion predictable, throttle response enjoyable and braking thank-God-able.

In the rain, driving the Sports Wagon is like playing football on a muddy field wearing cleats— when everyone else is slipping around in sneakers. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Rudyard Kipling’s ride: “If you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs, you’re probably driving a Subaru.”

There are a few quirky quibbles. The Sport Wagon’s clutch pedal action is funny. The shifter has a slightly plasticky feeling (shopping bags again). And… that’s about it. In fact, the Sports Wagon is everything an enthusiast could want in a family hatchback– save good looks, touchy-feely materials and neck snapping acceleration. It’s so multi-purpose, it ought to come with a corkscrew attachment. At a hair under $18k, what’s stopping you?

The WRX Sport Wagon. For another $7k you get better tunes, improved plastics, sportier dials, a roof spoiler and 51 more horses. While the veggie-burger edition is thoroughly justifiable and a lot less unsatisfying than you’d imagine, the red meat iteration is, dare I say it, irresistible.

Brendan McAleer
Brendan McAleer

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  • Richard_inVA Richard_inVA on Apr 25, 2007

    Interesting review. I'd not given Subaru a second glance since the cost, complexity and mass of AWD have little rationale for on pavement use in central VA - until I added a modest towing ability to my selection criteria. Now, the Impreza wagon appears to be the only reasonable choice! I have been concerned, however, that road tests of the Impreza WRX in both R&T and C&D have reported mediocre handling even though the WRX has wider tires than the base model. Curiously, this review cites handling as a plus as do most of the comments that follow!?? To me, handling is THE most important realm of vehicle performance and since my present ride is a Miata, my reference plane is high. Is the Impreza as encumbered by vague understeer and uncommunicative steering as C&D indicates or is it really lithe and nimble as this site suggests?? (note: the numerical test data appear to support the magazine's claims of mediocrity)

  • Alanp Alanp on Apr 25, 2007

    The WRX has great handling. In wagon or sedan trim. The problem with the measured numbers is that Subaru sends out the cars with Bridgestone RE-92 tires which are really pretty poor in traction and grip. Changing to some better tires is all it takes to up the cornering grip to somewhere nearer to .85g and it also shortens the stopping distance significantly. Plus with the AWD you have the ability to use the chassis to the maximum in less than perfect conditions. Just go to any nearby "track" day and watch the WRX's run at silly speeds, especially in the corners. I've got a 2006 WRX wagon, used to have a 2002 WRX wagon and my wife has a 2001 BMW 325i - and the WRX wagons are better handling and of course faster than the BMW. For $12K less..

  • Akear I just wish GM could produce a vehicle 80% as good as the crown.I sat in a Trax at a Chevrolet dealership this weekend and was shocked how cheap it felt. GM does not care.GM - what a disgrace!
  • Akear I like the grill treatment of all Mitsubishi products. It is an interesting and original design.
  • El scotto Some rambling thoughts; Elon is pulling billions in cash out of Tesla. Tesla will be around, Elon won't let them fail. Mitsubishi is an odd place, you can't sell vehicles if you don't have dealers. Out of all the "Automalls" near you, how many have a Mitsubishi dealership? The Agnellis owned Fiat, Fiat got sold to Stellantis. The Agnellis control Exor. How much of Stellantis does Exor own? I really should be drinking beer with Billy Ford and talking Big-10 trash with him. Ford and Lucid should work out a partnership. You want an electric Lincoln? Have Lucid build it and slap a Lincoln name plate on it. BTW, kick Farley's butt to the curb.
  • Akear US contentChevrolet Trax - 5%Honda Pilot - 52%What a disgrace!I glad Consumer Reports panned the Trax, and put it on its avoid list.
  • Akear This is similar to what lazy GM and Ford used to do.