2008 Subaru Impreza 2.5i

If there's one conclusion the Automobile Magazine office can collectively draw about the 2008 Subaru Impreza 2.5i, it's this: it's no WRX.

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.

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