Impreza: While most of the Impreza was gifted with all-new or partially redesigned components for the 2008 model year, the 2.5-liter boxer four-cylinder that lives under the hood was given a pass. It survives largely unchanged from the previous generation Impreza, albeit with a slight bump in horsepower and torque. Power is up to 170 hp at 6000 rpm, torque climbs to 170 lb-ft, and the torque peak has fallen, from 4400 rpm to 4000 rpm. It all adds up to a slightly more usable, slightly more pleasant version of an already fantastic powerplant. The boxer revs smoothly and produces power in a fairly linear fashion, and it suffers from none of the odd throttle calibrations that plague Subaru's non-STI turbo engines. As a result, gearchanges come smoothly and easily, and the five-speed manual's linkage is still nicely direct, if a little rubbery. With the windows closed, you hear little of the characteristic boxer wuffle, and while we're sad to see the old car's raucousness go, highway cruising is nevertheless calm and sedate. Our only real complaint is with the Impreza's thirst: 20/27 EPA city/highway.
Lancer: Unlike the Impreza, the Lancer gets an all-new engine to go along with its all-new face. Gone is the familiar iron-block, 2.0-liter four from previous Lancers; in its place is an aluminum-block, 2.0-liter DOHC four-cylinder. It spits out 152 hp and 146 lb-ft of torque, it sports variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust camshafts, and it while it can grow a bit buzzy at higher rpm, the whole package is nevertheless smooth and torquey. Our test car was equipped with Mitsubishi's optional CVT, complete with magnesium shift paddles that live behind the wheel. This transmission offers the choice of six different "gears," and it "shifts" relatively smoothly, but the five-speed manual is still more entertaining. (Happily, it also offers a slight bump in fuel economy-the manual-equipped Lancer achieves a 21/27 city/highway rating. It's not fantastic, and barely betters that of the Subaru, but we digress.)
The Lancer's new mill doesn't have the spunky charm of the Impreza's powerplant, but it gets the job done well enough. The same goes for the Lancer's available five-speed manual transmission; the Subaru's isn't quite as conventional in its throws or synchronizer feel, but it's definitely more fun. Chalk this win up to the Subaru, because while its parts aren't fresh off the drawing board, they work together better.