Kamis, 05 Juni 2008

Subaru Impreza 2.5i Sport Wagon Review

By Brendan McAleer

I don’t get veggie-burgers. If something didn’t actually die for my dinner, I reckon it should at least have been pretty severely inconvenienced. What’s more, a good burger is always bad for you (arterial distress on a sesame-seed bun). So it is with the Subaru Impreza 2.5i Sport Wagon. Why would anyone buy such an entirely sensible vehicle when they could drive away in a full-fat, hormone-injected WRX Sport Wagon? Why indeed. It’s time for a serious sampling of Fuji Heavy Industries Lite.

At first glance, the 2.5i Sport Wagon isn’t what you’d call an appetizing proposition. The Wagon’s snout-mounted upside-down Alfa-Romeo radiator-hole looks decidedly indelicate. At least the 2.5i’s got a more graceful front end than the WRX Sports Wagon, whose hood scoop gives it a nostrilly appearance that only Prince Charles could truly love. The rest of the 2.5i’s body is blissfully free from flared wheel-arches, rear spoilers and other vulgarities. It’s as restrained as muesli.

There aren’t many other external clues differentiating the 2.5i Impreza from its beefcake cousin. In fact, park the 2.5i next to older versions of the same car, and you’d be hard pressed to date the evolution. Yes, every couple of years Subaru fits new alloys and affixes prettier tail-lights to its Imprezas. But that’s the same sleight of hand used by every 17-year-old when pimping out a mid-nineties Civic hatchback. Suddenly, that wacky schnoz starts to make sense; it’s the only easily identifiable (and how) feature in an otherwise humdrum design.

Open the SW’s sashless doors and you’ll discover more blast-from-the-past-ery. Judging from the dubious quality of it’s-a-hard-knock-life plastics deployed throughout the cabin, Subie’s parent must shelter a shopping-bag recycling company under its corporate wing. If you can bear touching the 2.5i’s shiny, not-so-happy control surfaces, all the basic amenities are pleasant and accounted for: A/C, cruise control, in-dash CD, keyless entry, etc. The controls and dials are laid out with all the simplicity befitting their, um, simplicity.

The 2.5i’s front seats are well bolstered beneath their cheap upholstery. The Wagon’s back seats are comfy enough– provided you’ve got rubber femurs. Folding down the rear chairs creates a cargo space large enough to stow both bicycles and battered guitar cases. But let’s be honest: the SW is no wood-panelled ocean-liner of a Vista Cruiser. In fact, it’s nothing more or less than a capacious hatchback, offering the same 62 cubic foot cargo capacity found in my old Mazda 626 liftback. Hey Doc, maybe if I drive the little Subie 88 miles per hour I can get back to 1991.

Great Scott! Cranking over the Sport Wagon’s 2.5-litre boxer engine generates the sort of agricultural noise normally heard whilst perched atop the red horseshoe seat of an antique Massey-Ferguson. Luckily, everything soon settles down to a dull wobble. This is your first clue to the Impreza’s dynamic personality. “Hello!” the offbeat vibrations say, “This is not a normal car.”

Although the 2.5i’s engine is only good for 173hp @ a relatively lofty 6000rpm, the SW musters-up enough twist (166 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm) to take some hoon-oriented liberties with its electronically controlled variable transfer clutch (a.k.a. all wheel-drive). The little Impreza practically leaps off the line– and then strolls to sixty in a shade over eight seconds. Never mind; at full chat, the Subie’s boxer engine roars like a bathtub speedster. It simply begs to be flung into the nearest corner.

Ah yes, corners. The Impreza 2.5i Sport Wagon may slingshot out of turns with less alacrity than a WRX, but at least it does so with equal bravado. With its compact engine mounted longitudinally on the down low, and a sports-tuned four-wheel independent suspension, the SW is a superbly sure-footed, balanced performer. Body roll is minimal, tire adhesion predictable, throttle response enjoyable and braking thank-God-able.

In the rain, driving the Sports Wagon is like playing football on a muddy field wearing cleats— when everyone else is slipping around in sneakers. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Rudyard Kipling’s ride: “If you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs, you’re probably driving a Subaru.”

There are a few quirky quibbles. The Sport Wagon’s clutch pedal action is funny. The shifter has a slightly plasticky feeling (shopping bags again). And… that’s about it. In fact, the Sports Wagon is everything an enthusiast could want in a family hatchback– save good looks, touchy-feely materials and neck snapping acceleration. It’s so multi-purpose, it ought to come with a corkscrew attachment. At a hair under $18k, what’s stopping you?

The WRX Sport Wagon. For another $7k you get better tunes, improved plastics, sportier dials, a roof spoiler and 51 more horses. While the veggie-burger edition is thoroughly justifiable and a lot less unsatisfying than you’d imagine, the red meat iteration is, dare I say it, irresistible.