The Good: Solid fit and finish, all-wheel-drive security and handling, hatchback looks good and adds space, too.
The Bad: Four-speed auto just doesn’t cut it, a little sluggish off the line, fuel economy suffers in-town.
The Verdict: A great all-around economy car – if you know how to use a clutch.
For those of you who read the site regularly, this car might seem rather familiar. The Impreza Premium, as tested in five-door form, is nearly identical to the Outback Sport we reviewed last June. This shorter review, as a result, will mostly focus on the differences between the cars; for a more complete summary, please check out our Outback Sport post.
Plopping down into the Impreza, it’s not hard to see why Subaru was the only carmaker to see U.S. sales rise in 2008; their cars have reached the highest levels of quality in the econocar segment. Fit and finish inside are top-notch, with soft-touch plastics and smooth lines abounding inside. The doors slam shut with a cast-iron thunk far more satisfying than the tinny sound of, say, the Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart I tested a couple weeks ago.
In large part due to its quality, the Subie’s interior proves a very pleasant place to be. The tan fabric and plastic is a sunny antidote to the charcoal tones all too common in cars these days; for some reason, interior designers in the automotive industry seem to think people want the inside of their car to resemble a well-used pizza oven. (I assume people like the dark colors because they make stains harder to see – but why don’t manufacturers just Scotchguard their cars?)
The interior is reasonably roomy for the segment. The front seats work well for short trips or long ones; the backseat isn’t about to be confused with a Maybach’s, but I was able to cram three medium-size adults into it for a two-hour drive to a New Jersey barbecue. Trunk room is adequate, with 19 cubic feet available behind the rear seats (though don’t count on using more than 3/4 of that if you want to see out the rear window). It proved more than enough for five people’s overnight gear, with room to spare for the plastic-bagged skeleton of a pig. (Don’t ask.)
Mechanically, the Impreza is solid as well – its 170-horsepower 2.5 liter boxer four-cylinder engine moves the car along with verve, if not excitement, and the all-wheel-drive combines with the suspension to give the car great handling for its class. However, all this makes for a heavy compact car – and it proved too much for the four-speed automatic transmission affixed to my tester. The manumatic function just seemed silly, given the scarce number of gears; four speeds just doesn’t cut it in this day and age, when most automatics have at least five, and six is becoming the norm.
As a result, acceleration suffers; accelerating up inclines can be a struggle, especially with the car loaded down, and passing on two-lane roads requires equal parts runway-length straightaways and blind faith. Fuel economy takes a hit, too; while Subaru claims 20 mpg city/26 mpg highway, the car’s trip computer (which proved accurate on the Outback Sport) told me I averaged a craptastic 21.3 mpg over 222 miles. (However, much of that was New York City parking-space-hunting, while the rest was highway driving in a laden car. Expect your mileage to be better.)
But apart from the automatic transmission, there’s little to complain about here. Even when it comes time to pay the piper (or your bank, if you’re found one still giving out car loans – in which case, let me know, would you?), the Impreza treats you well. The base Impreza five-door gives you AWD, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, keyless entry, power windows/locks/mirrors, A/C, cruise control and a CD stereo for $18,690 (with destination charge). The four-door sedan version costs $500 less, but it’s less attractive and less accommodating; the hatchback/miniwagon is worth the extra money.
My tester also had the Premium Package, which brings the car pretty much even in terms of features with the Outback Sport: moonroof, 10-speaker six-disc stereo, fog lamps, leather steering wheel with audio controls, and alloy wheels. Combined with the $1000 automatic tranny and a $249 “Popular Equipment Group” (two cargo nets and an armrest extender), the car MSRP’ed for $21,939.
So which is the better buy – the Outback Sport or the Impreza Premium? In all honesty, it comes down to taste. The only difference between them is whether you want a moonroof (Impreza) or heated seats (Outback). In my mind, the Outback Sport looks better, so I’d probably pick it; but if you like the sun on your face, the Impreza Premium will treat you just fine.
Base Price/Price As Tested: $18,690/$21,939
0-60: 8.4 seconds (manual transmission; courtesy Car and Driver)
EPA Fuel Economy: 20/26 miles per gallon