Mar 052012
 

Note, the following review was originally written May 5, 2011.

I didn’t actually set out to drive a Subaru today.

No, I started out with the intention of driving the new Buick Regal Turbo with the 6-speed manual transmission. Since I am one who likes fast sedans, I wanted to see if the Regal is as slick and sporty as they claim. Moreover, I wanted to see if the shifter is as bad as Car & Driver made it out to be. Since GM is a huge waste of time, though, it became clear pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to be able to do that. I won’t get in to that story here, though, since you clicked to read about another car entirely.

After leaving the third Buick dealer of the morning, I was at a loss. My plan was ruined, but I still wanted to drive something. So I meandered up the highway to see what other dealerships I could stumble across.  A small Subaru dealer was the first one that piqued my interest. I chatted up the sales lady for a few moments and told her of my interest in a quick sedan with a manual transmission. We walked around the lot for a while, looking for a Legacy, but as fate would have it none were to be found.

What we did find was an Impreza 2.5i Premium equipped with a 5-speed manual. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but as I read the equipment list, I realized that this was quite a bit of car for the money. I said as much to the sales lady and, having heard those magic words, it didn’t take her long to toss me the keys.

The Impreza sits in the small sedan spot in Subaru’s lineup, in direct competition with cars like the Mazda3, Honda Civic sedan and Toyota Corolla. Of those, though, only the Mazda3 comes close to it in horsepower (with its optional 2.5-liter motor) and none of them offer all-wheel-drive. On that ground alone, it stands out. When you look at the options and standard equipment, though, you start to get an idea of what a value this car is.

The 2.5i Premium version that I was driving came with 16-inch alloy wheels, a moonroof, a six-speaker stereo and a complete iPod and USB stereo interface with Bluetooth and voice control. Of those bits, only the moonroof was optional. The window tag indicated that I could drive off the lot with it for just over $20,000. Although a similarly equipped Mazda3 is priced comparably, that is with the smaller, less powerful motor and no AWD.  As far as value, there is no comparison.

So the question is: does the driving experience live up to the same example?

The first thing I noticed when sitting in it was how different the clutch is from the Hondas I am used to. There is very little travel in the pedal and it engages almost immediately. That made for some jerky starts the first few times, but once I got acclimated, things started to get a little smoother. The shifter, too, was not to my liking.  Although the throw is short, it has a way of feeling long, notchy and a little sloppy. Given the quality feel everywhere else in the car, I was expecting better.

Speaking of feel, the seats were comfortable and supportive, but not what I would call sporty. The dash was simple and easy to read and the radio and climate controls were all within easy reach. The gauge cluster does not include an engine temperature gauge, which I found disconcerting. When it comes to overheating, I would rather know that it’s coming than suddenly see a warning light out of the blue. Although most people probably won’t be bothered, this kind of oversimplification of the driving experience is a big deal for me. I don’t want to be treated like an idiot by my own machine and I would hesitate to buy a car that does so.

The interior is all well appointed and comfortable. There is ample room in the back for adults of reasonable size, even with the driver’s seat in my normal driving position. The trunk is not cavernous, but it will easily swallow a couple suitcases or sets of clubs. If I had to use a single phrase to describe the feel on the inside of the car it would be “quiet confidence.”

And that theme carries over to the driving experience as well. The car is quick enough, but not fast. Other road tests have found that the Impreza takes about 8.2 seconds to hit 60 miles per hour and that felt about right to me. Although that may seem slow, consideration has to be made for the extra weight and power drain of the AWD system. It doesn’t feel slow, though. Rather, under acceleration it feels as though the car is pushing itself – nay, willing itself – with urgency to the speed you want to reach. There is something visceral about the flat-four boxer engine that I can’t quite put my finger on. Whatever it is, though, I like it – even without the turbo of its bigger siblings.

Where the AWD system really shines is not in straight-line speed, but in corners. There, it provides lots of reliable, confidence-inspiring grip. The suspension, which kept the car very stable in the corners, also soaked up nearly every bump I could find on my test road. All the parts work seamlessly together and I suspect the Impreza would be equally at home in poorer conditions than the sunny day on which I drove it.

As a package, it all fits nicely with my earlier assessment. The Impreza is, simply, quietly confident. It doesn’t shout about its power, shriek around the corners or slam over bumps. It doesn’t grab you with its seats or thump at your chest cavity with its stereo. Rather, it goes about its business to the best of its ability without constantly making you aware of its presence.

While that may not sound like the most exciting car in the world, it is, I think, what many people want and need from a vehicle. Too often, manufacturers overcompromise in an attempt to make a car that does everything for everyone. In most cases, that results in cars that are dull to drive, too expensive, cheaply made or embarrassing to be seen in – or some combination thereof. Subaru, however, has hit on a near-perfect formula with the Impreza 2.5i. While it’s probably not the car for me, it is the car for many, many others.

It’s a pitty it took me until 2011 to figure that out, as 2012 will see the introduction of an all-new model.

Figures.

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