The Subaru Impreza is an easy car to live with no matter the conditions. Getting in and out is easy. Once inside, it's comfortable and easy to drive. The interior is straightforward and simple and everything is easy to operate. Cargo capacity after the 60/40 rear seats are dropped is excellent.
Yet these cars are highly capable. All-wheel drive comes standard, and the Impreza is our first choice in foul weather or on unpaved roads, assuming, of course, an Impreza WRX isn't available. Indeed, the Subaru Impreza packs in a lot, for its size and price.
The Impreza is an ideal size for running around town while still being comfortable on the freeway with trucks and big SUVs. It's solid, safe, and simple, with the added attraction of all-wheel drive, so it's ready for any road driving condition.
Fuel economy for the Impreza is EPA-rated at 20/27 mpg with manual, 20/26 mpg with automatic.
The Impreza comes in 4-Door sedan and 5-Door hatchback versions. The styling of the five-door is edgier, while the four-door sedan looks more traditional. The hatch is a bit sportier, shorter in overall length, with a shorter rear overhang. Short overhangs suggest better handling and the shorter overall length is useful in tight parking confines. The hatch is also much more practical with its large cargo capacity.
The Impreza Outback Sport comes strictly as a hatch and is set up well for extensive unpaved road travel and carrying wet or muddy gear.
The Impreza has a smooth highway ride and responsive cornering, thanks in some part to its relatively long wheelbase (103.1 inches), and the low engine placement, possible because of the horizontally opposed position of the four cylinders. This lowers the center of gravity and improves the balance, contributing to agile cornering. What's more, the Impreza shares the quick WRX steering rack, with 2.8 turns lock-to-lock, and a tight 34.8-foot turning circle. You can definitely feel it, and it's good. It's sporty.
Out on the highway, there's plenty of speed from the 170-horsepower engine, with 170 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm, to put the oomph behind the acceleration. We found no flat spots in the power or places where it was lacking.
The standard five-speed manual gearbox works well. The optional four-speed automatic works with the engine just fine, including when you have to hammer the throttle to pass trucks on a fast two-lane.
For 2010, Impreza gets subtle styling changes and a new grille, along with some packaging changes and Bluetooth wireless capability. This generation of Impreza models was introduced for 2008.
We like the smooth shape of the Impreza front end, hood and nose. For 2010, there's a new grille with a big chrome vee flying over the dark opening, like a shiny silver bat bursting from a cave. It's nicely done but the v-front isn't original (see especially the overdone Acura).
Impreza models come in four-door sedan and five-door hatch versions. The 4-Door looks like a traditional compact sedan, while the 5-Door gets special styling cues that give it an edgy look.
This is most noticeable in the Outback Sport, which comes exclusively as a 5-Door. Outback Sport's two-tone paint job is designed to suggest a rugged off-road vehicle. One color rims the car, riding like a roller coaster from the level rocker panels up and down over the flared fenders, and wiping itself over the car's blocky rear with its short overhang. A second color reaches up to grab the mostly clear silvery taillamps in a composite shape for which geometry has no word. There's a ding strip on the doors in that other color that according to our notes doesn't add much. Outback has a nice big roof rack, but there's no attempt at elegance in the crossbars. The wheels are boring. The Outback Sport has more ground clearance and slightly taller tires than the 2.5i, but it only amounts to two-tenths of an inch.
The sedan looks less edgy than the hatch. There's still a crease in the side, but the sedan has old-fashioned red taillamps, an understated black valance under the grille, and a dual exhaust: two pipes versus the 5-Door's one.
Curiously, the roofline of the 5-Door is only 0.2 inches higher than the sedan, although the coefficient of drag is 0.34 vs. 0.32 (the Outback Sport is 0.35 thanks to the roofrack).
The sedan is sleeker and better looking, but the 5-Door offers more cargo space (44.4 cubic feet with seats down) even with its overall length (on the same wheelbase) being 6.5 inches less.
Effort and style have gone into the sweeping twin-cockpit design of the cabin in front. The quality of the interior materials is high relative to other compact sedans, though they don't convey high quality or low quality. You can tell for sure that the high-grade plastic is plastic, not always the case on some high-grade cars. The titanium color for the dashboard trim looks nice enough, though.
The tilt-telescoping steering wheel doesn't tilt high enough. At its top position, we couldn't climb into the car feet-first without rubbing our knees against the steering wheel, and our knees are decidedly not that high. Granted, this might be solved by lowering the seat.
On the dashboard above the center stack there's a horizontal window with digital readout for temperature, time, and average mpg (we got 22.2). But it's not readable in the sun, and distance to empty is conspicuously unavailable. The stack itself contains the usual vents with a six-disc CD changer above big easy climate control knobs. There's a nice shift lever behind a cubby and coinholder, and ahead of two cupholders and a 12-volt outlet; between the seatbacks there's a small deep console. The door pockets hold 32-ounce cups. All automatic transmission models are pre-wired for dealer-installed remote starting.
We would have preferred the double-stitched cloth seats in the Outback Sport to be more form-fitting. Mostly the seats should clean up better. The material on the edges is rugged and fine, and it would be nice if the whole seat were made of it. But the wider center part is made of a different material, looking sort of like a pinstripe suit. It might as well be made of Velcro for the way it attracts and refuses to let go of things that commonly float around cabins. Dog owner's beware: On this material dog hair armies occupy and take over like Rommel's Afrika Korps in the desert, despite weaponry against them including high-suction vacuums and duct tape. Try tweezers like we did. Better yet, order leather upholstery.
There's good headroom, front and rear and hip and shoulder room are decent. Rear-seat legroom at 33.5 inches is a pretty slim stat. The rear seatback angles are reclined, and the rear doors open wide, 75 degrees, so ingress and egress is easy. Rearview vision is adequate for a hatchback but by no means great.
Cargo capacity after the 60/40 rear seats are dropped is excellent for a car of the Impreza's size, although not nearly as spacious as a longer Subaru Legacy wagon. With the rear seats dropped, we filled a 5-Door Impreza with a small kitchen table (legs removed), big shop vacuum, a weed whacker, and some boxes. Because the sedan is 6.5 inches longer than the 5-Door, it has a large and deep trunk, big enough for three large golf bags. These cars are small for big dogs, however. Big dogs will like the midsize Subaru Outback more than the compact Impreza Outback Sport.
Our main driving impression of the Subaru Impreza car is that it's the perfect size for running around town while still being comfortable on the freeway out there against the trucks and big SUVs. As a runabout that's not too big and not too small, it's solid, safe, simple, and provides standard all-wheel drive so it's ready for any highway driving condition.
There are two different all-wheel-drive systems on the standard models. Those with the five-speed manual transmission use locking center differential with viscous coupling, that distributes power evenly between the front and rear wheels on dry pavement, and shifts the torque around only when a tire slips. The models with automatic transmission use what Subaru calls Active Torque Split that transfers power based on acceleration and deceleration, as well as slippage. It's more sophisticated than the five-speed system, but if what you're mostly after is traction in snow, either does the job.
The four-speed automatic has four speeds with a Sportshift semi-manual mode that works well. The driver can upshift and downshift using the shift lever. The fact that were a mere four speeds lifted our eyebrows, considering that many transmissions are now five speeds, but we didn't encounter any situations where it felt like the ratios were too far apart, as we have with others.
We ran our Outback Sport hard, city and highway, very little cruising at a mellow and steady 65, and we averaged 22.2 miles per gallon.
Out on the highway, we found plenty of speed from the standard 170-horsepower engine, with 170 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm. We found no flat spots or places where it was lacking. And, as we said, the transmission kept up just fine, when we had to hammer the throttle to pass trucks on a fast two-lane.
The Impreza has a smooth highway ride with responsive cornering, thanks in small part to its long wheelbase (103.1 inches), and now, an engine placement that's even lower than before; it was already lower than the competition, thanks to its being horizontally opposed. The best-in-class engine placement lowers the center of gravity and improves the balance, solid and agile cornering. What's more, every Impreza now uses the quick WRX steering rack, with 2.8 turns lock-to-lock, and a tight 34.8-foot turning circle. You can definitely feel it, and it's good.
Although the suspension on the Outback Sport is described as heavy duty, with 17-inch wheels, it didn't translate into a beefy ride. Nor did we find the sedan's ride to be too soft. The rear suspension is double wishbone, like what's found on many sports cars. Its compact layout allows more room above, in the cargo area.
It's hard to go wrong with any Subaru. They are superb cars, though high-quality engineering means they cost a bit more than competing compacts. Still, the Impreza offers good value, considering its all-wheel-drive. The sedan and the hatch each have their merits. The 170-horsepower engine can handle all the needs of a car like this. The 2.5GT model is easy to drive and very entertaining.
Sam Moses filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Impreza Outback Sport in the Columbia River Valley.