The Subaru Impreza lineup is redesigned for 2008, getting bigger and more refined in the process.
The Impreza powertrain is competitive with anything in the compact class, but some rivals offer six-speed automatics that improve fuel economy. The Impreza’s fuel economy is on par with other all-wheel-drive compacts, but it suffers compared to front-drive rivals. If fuel mileage is your main concern, the Impreza is not the best choice among compacts.
All-wheel drive adds handling stability and traction on slippery roads, however, and we found it kept us safe on a snowy ski trip. Even a minor wreck costs more than a tank of gas.
The Impreza also has a handling advantage versus several competitors. Advanced suspension geometry, a platform built to host the high-performance WRX models, and a low center of gravity thanks to the boxer engine all add up to crisp handling with little body lean in corners. And yet, the Impreza also offers a comfortable ride.
Inside, the Impreza is nicely appointed, with a look and feel that would be appropriate for a car costing thousands more. The gauges are easy to read, and there is plenty of storage space for small items. The front seat has enough head room and leg room for tall drivers, and visibility is good to all corners. The back seat is impressive for a compact car, with enough leg room for tall passengers provided the front seats aren’t set too far back.
The Impreza sedan has a decent trunk, but buyers looking for more utility will want to choose the hatchback. The hatchback’s rear seats are split 60/40 and fold flat to open up a useful cargo area with a flat load floor.
In short, the Impreza is a lot of car for the money, and its standard all-wheel drive makes it an excellent choice for buyers who want an extra measure of security and stability in inclement conditions. The Subaru Impreza WRX and WRX STi are fun, fast and well built, with standard all-wheel drive and overall performance that’s rare in their class. A redesign for 2008 hasn’t significantly diluted the character and enthusiasm that have made the WRX so appealing over the years. The new models just raise the bar on comfort and refinement.
The 2008 Subaru Impreza has grown up compared to the last model. The width is the same, but the wheelbase is 3.7 inches longer on an all-new platform. Overall length is also up by 4.5 inches for the sedan, but is actually down 1.7 inches for the hatchback. The hatchback’s length is taken out behind the rear wheels. Where the last model had a more squared off wagon shape, this one has a raked hatchback shape.
The Impreza gets a completely new look for 2008. The front end changes from Subaru’s somewhat controversial horse-collar shape to the new corporate design that is short and wide. The shape of the grille flows into a pair of cat’s eye-style headlights, and its basic shape is repeated below the bumper in an air intake that is flanked by fog lights. The outline of the grille leads into character lines on the hood. The whole effect is more organic and flowing than most cars these days.
The sides of the car are largely uncluttered, except for bold BMW-like shoulder lines that run from the front wheelwells to the taillights. The fenders are slightly flared at the wheels, again lending an organic, flowing shape.
Perhaps most important, the Impreza now has fully framed door windows, which reduces interior noise and the possibility of leaks. Reviewers have complained about Subaru’s frameless windows for years.
The Impreza sedan ends with a high trunk line, a fairly generic rear end design, and red taillights.
Hop in the front seat and you find the Impreza is nicely appointed. The dash and center console have lots of plastic, but it doesn’t feel cheap. The overall feel would be appropriate for a car costing thousands more, but one of our test cars did have a couple of raw surfaces with rough edges and an annoying squeak from the cargo area.
The hooded instrument pod features a large central speedometer flanked by a tachometer and the fuel gauge. The gauges are black with white markings, red needles and raised silver rings. The gauges are easy to read and the overall look is pleasing.
The center stack has a vehicle information center with the clock, outside temperature indicator, and trip computer information set in a hooded area at the top of the dash. The radio is right below that, followed by a pair of air vents, and finally three easy-to-use climate control knobs.
With the optional navigation system, the radio controls are integrated along the sides of the nav screen. This makes some of the controls small and a bit hard to find, but it shouldn’t be a problem after a few weeks. We found the screen hard to read with polarized sunglasses on and hard to read during the day with the headlights on.
Small items storage is quite good. The glove box is of a good size. The center console features two cupholders and a deep center console to store CDs and life’s little trinkets. There is also a small change tray in front of the cupholders, and the front of the console has an open tray to set cell phones and the like.
Inside, the Impreza has plenty of room for a compact car. On the whole, there is more room than the last model. Even tall drivers should find enough head and leg room. Visibility to all corners is also largely unobstructed.
The back seat is quite impressive. It has good leg room with all but the tallest occupants up front and toe space under the seats is good if those front seats need to be set farther back. Rear head room is excellent. The only minor complaint is the fact that the seat bottoms are fairly flat, meaning long trip comfort may suffer.
Fuel economy is generally good. At an EPA-estimated 20 mpg City and 27 mpg Highway, the Impreza isn’t nearly as fuel-efficient as the Honda Civic, which gets 24/36 with an automatic transmission, but it is slightly better than the AWD Toyota Matrix, which is EPA rated at 20/26 mpg.
The Impreza offers two versions of Subaru’s Symmetrical All Wheel Drive system. Models with the manual transmission have a viscous coupling locking center differential that splits power 50/50 front to rear. Models with the automatic use an electronically managed continuously variable transfer clutch. Both versions of the system transfer power to the wheels with the best grip. Both also provide a measure of all-weather security that gives Subaru an advantage over other makes. That was proven in Colorado, where all-wheel drive gave the Impreza stable handling on snowy mountain roads.
The Impreza also has a handling advantage versus several competitors. The Impreza hosts the performance-oriented WRX and WRX STI models, and the base models benefit from the built-in handling prowess needed for the top models. In addition, Subaru’s flat boxer engines can sit lower than other engines, allowing for a lower center of gravity and therefore better handling.
Get behind the wheel, and you find the Impreza’s steering and handling are crisp, and there is little lean in corners. Still, with standard 16-inch wheels and soft suspension settings, the Impreza is not twitchy or harsh riding. The new double-wishbone independent rear suspension helps both handling and ride quality, and we never found the Impreza uncomfortable. These are enjoyable cars for people who like to drive.
The brakes provide worry-free stops and good pedal feel. They come standard with Electronic Brake-force Distribution, with apportions braking power to all four corners. We recommend buyers opt for the electronic stability control system, which is included in the Premium package and comes with Brake Assist. The Subaru WRX has always been a blast to drive, and the all-new 2008 model won’t disappoint. Long-time automobile enthusiasts who haven’t driven something really new in the last five or six years might be amazed by the performance in these moderately priced small cars, and all aspects of it: acceleration, handling and braking. Yet this WRX is more a complete package than ever. Even the super-quick STi is much easier to live with for daily driving. Hardcore sport-compact enthusiasts might lament this new-found civility, but mainstream buyers will find it much easier to embrace.
The refinement is apparent from the first turn of the key. Where the old STi had almost the hollow, reverberating sound one expects inside a stripped-out race car, the 2008 sounds more like the typical family sedan inside, except for the more aggressively tuned exhaust tone. And it’s not just a reduction in engine noise. All WRXs now have windows framed into the doors, rather than a door structure that stops where the windows start sliding out. All models are fitted with a full undertray that smoothes airflow beneath the car, and we suspect there is more sound insulating material than ever. Road and wind noise have been reduced considerably at all speeds.
We are impressed by the Impreza. With alloy wheels, plentiful interior room, and a thoughtfully designed interior, the $20,000 sticker price for our test car seemed like a deal. Standard all-wheel drive adds all-weather security, and Impreza’s fine ride and handling make it a worthy choice for anyone looking for a small, well-built car. The Impreza 2.5i hatchback and Outback Sport models offer a lot of utility with their big cargo capacities. The Outback Sport looks more expensive but is loaded with popular options. Choose any model: When it snows or rains heavily, these Subarus are class leaders.
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