Nor is it supposed to be. Long before racers bolted on turbochargers and stripped every non-essential piece from the car (making it a verifiable rally weapon), the Impreza was little more than a boring econobox - not the focal point of The Fast and The Furious.
Subaru may move more WRXs or STIs off the lots than base Imprezas, but in today's market - where folks are downsizing, looking for select features and finding the pursestrings are drawn tighter than before - there's room for the 2.5i model. At just a little more than $17,000, the Impreza offers an alluring equipment list.
The main highlight, of course, is Subaru's Symmetrical AWD system - a feature not found on most (if any) compact cars, let alone one at this price point. $17k will buy a Ford Focus that reads my text messages, a Civic with a split dashboard, or an Impreza that can go almost anywhere. True, most drivers will not use the system on a daily basis nor exhibit the need for four driven wheels on a daily driver. But for those in areas prone to nasty weather, it's a godsend - and one typically offered only on SUVs or expensive sedans.
For all intents and purposes, the AWD lets drivers experience the benefits of traction control without having to pay extra for it. We had the chance to launch our Impreza, equipped with the standard five-speed manual transmission, on some tricky dirt surfaces, including a washboard corner and some stretches of lose gravel. Where most cars would sit and spin their front wheels, the Impreza simply dug in, clawed through the predicament, and went on its way.
The manual transmission, however, is something Subaru needs to work on. Sure, the shifts are long (again, it's not a WRX), but the Impreza begs for a tall sixth gear. The 2.5-liter boxer-four produces 170 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque, enough to move the car along just fine in most driving scenarios. On the highway, however, the motor revs at close to 3200 rpm while cruising at 70 mph, helping to explain the Impreza's thirst for fuel. Fuji Heavy Industries predicts a 20/27 mpg city/highway rating, although I was seeing something closer to 23/27 mpg. That's better than expected, but it's not stellar - and it's certainly something a sixth cog would help.
Aside from its powertrain, there's little to draw attention to the Impreza - particularly on the exterior. The styling, all-new for 2008, isn't unattractive, but it won't steal the spotlight, either. While most of the exterior is shared between the sedan and hatchback models, the sedan gets rather frumpy aft of the rear doors. The LED taillights found on the hatchback are nowhere to be found, replaced by lights that, at best, are simply anonymous.
The interior is similarly inoffensive, but boring as well. Designers tried to liven things up with a colored band that appears to wrap across the dashboard, but our Impreza's interior was a sea of beige - beige plastics, beige cloth, beige headliner, beige flooring, etc. We're not asking for a SoHo lounge, but Subaru could stand to make the car's interior slightly more inviting.
That said, once inside, it's not uncomfortable. The seats are supportive for long hauls, while most controls are well positioned. Fit and finish for most surfaces is fine, but we're perplexed at the use of coarse plastics on the shift knob and steering wheel, the two places drivers touch most often.
We're also scratching our head at a few other quirks in the Impreza's interior. Yes, it comes standard with power locks and windows, an MP3/WMA-compliant CD player, and side-curtain airbags, but rear cupholders, in addition to a rear armrest, only appear on higher trim levels. That's a shame, as there's plenty of space for rear-seat riders; why not give them some basic creature comforts so they can enjoy it?
We also have some complaints with the Impreza's suspension tuning. In the pursuit of daily-driver comfort, the 2.5i is very lightly sprung, which, over most broken Michigan road surfaces, delivers a smooth ride - and copious amounts of body roll. It's nothing too obtrusive in mild city driving, but in harder cornering, the car wallows.
Sure, a WRX, or even the new-for-2009 2.5GT, solves the suspension problem and adds the extra power of the turbocharged boxer four. However, will people looking for a basic Impreza stomach not only the extra cost of the trim package, but of the 91-octane fuel the turbo mandates? I'm not sure they will. Besides, so long as they make "it's not a WRX" a personal mantra, they'll find the Impreza 2.5i a competent compact car.
Engine: 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder
Horsepower: 170 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 170 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual (opt. four-speed automatic)
L x W x H: 180.3 x 68.5 x 58.1 in
Legroom F/R: 43.5/ 33.5 in
Headroom F/R: 40.3/ 37.5 in
Trunk room: 11.3 cu. Ft.
Curb weight: 3064 lb
EPA Rating (city/highway): 20/27 mpg
Base price: $17,640