The all-beige interior of this economy sedan has all the aesthetic appeal of a hospital room. Jeez, Subaru, couldn't you figure out SOMETHING in here that could be colored or finished in such a way as to give the eye a break from the endless monotony of beige plastic? Well, at least everything is uniformly beige; every piece of plastic is exactly the same shade, and the pieces all fit together well. I suppose those are achievements.
With the Impreza's recent redesign, Subaru hoped to take it into the mainstream, where it perhaps could compete effectively with the Toyota Corolla and the Honda Civic. Unfortunately, in heading into the mainstream, Subaru forgot to inject this base-model Impreza with any of the uniqueness that traditionally has set Subarus apart from Hondas and Toyotas. The only compelling reason I can see to consider this car over Civic and Corolla is the all-wheel drive, which is indeed a big bonus in a car that stickers for only $17,737.
Other than that, the Impreza is uninspiring to drive, with a soggy chassis, a four-cylinder boxer engine that does little to raise your pulse, and a distinct lack of joie de vivre. And its fuel economy ratings aren't that great, either, at only 20/27 city/highway.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
Every time I sit inside this particular Impreza, I'm reminded of the cramped, ugly quarters of my dad's 2003 Hyundai Elantra GLS. The cabin has the same small, econo-car air and already suffers from a dated look, even though the Impreza was redesigned for 2008. There's a square radio, unimaginative swooping plastic dash pieces, basic temperature-control knobs, rental-car quality cloth seats, and a dreadful 80-watt, four-speaker base audio system. I don't think anybody would consider this interior on par with offerings in the Honda Civic and Mazda 3, both of which start at almost $2000 less than the $16,995 base Impreza.
Driving the Impreza doesn't make up for those shortcomings either. Subaru lists our 2.5i's boxer four-cylinder as having 170 hp at 6000 rpm (and 170 lb-ft of torque). Yet even with a five-speed manual, the Impreza has sluggish acceleration and does not feel like it offers 170 hp. And I noticed that the Subaru sometimes idled noticeably rough when the air conditioning was on. I guess the dynamic selling points of the car would be standard all-wheel drive and ABS. If buyers want rear disc brakes, fog lights, and body-color mirrors and door handles, they'll need to opt for the $1500 premium package. At least satellite radio and a touch-screen navigation system are an option - for $3500.
David Yochum, Assistant Editor
Wow, my colleagues Joe and David have pretty harsh critiques of the Impreza's interior. I beg to disagree - at least partly. To me, the dash is well-designed and very clean, with controls that are simple to decipher. The fit and finish is quite good, if not of luxury-car quality, and the dash is definitely not one-tone, with two complementary shades of plastic and a pretty nicely finished brushed metal trim piece separating the two. I agree with Joe that, other than the dash, there seem to be acres of beige on the interior. I don't mind the seat fabric, but the seats themselves are hard and not particularly supportive. The most egregious use of beige plastic is on the manual shift lever. The knob is a molded piece of plastic that simply looks cheap. If Subaru were to install a metal knob on the shift lever, I'd be willing to bet that any impressions of the interior being cheap would change immediately. After all, that's the one piece of trim in the cabin (other than the steering wheel) that your hands are going to be in almost constant contact with.
As far as driving dynamics go, the 170-hp flat-four produces sufficient, if not an overabundance of, power. For those who want performance, there are plenty of other Impreza models to choose from, starting with the new-for-2009 224-hp 2.5GT, the uprated 265-hp WRX, and the top-of-the-line 305-hp STI. Buyers of the base Impreza are likely looking at the car as a way to get four-wheel-drive capability in an economy car, and to my mind, $17,737 is a pretty fair price.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
If you can't say something nice ... Well, I, too, have to agree with most of my colleagues on this one.
The best thing about the turbocharged Imprezas is that they distract you from the inherent weaknesses of the new base Impreza. This is the first non-WRX Impreza I've driven since the new model was launched last year, and I'm pretty disappointed. The interior materials are among the worst on the market today; the seats aren't very comfortable; the speakers are the weakest I've heard in quite some time; and the styling (inside and out) is unimaginative.
If I needed an inexpensive all-wheel-drive car, I'd pick a Suzuki SX4 over this Subaru in a heartbeat.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor