Apart from the boisterous WRX STI, the finger-in-the-air attitude is gone, replaced by a 2008 Subaru Impreza trying to put its finger on the pulse of the mainstream market.
In the 1990s, not too many Americans paid attention to the Subaru Impreza unless they followed the World Rally Championship or had Gran Turismo loaded in their Sony PlayStations. But that all changed with the release of the U.S.-spec 2002 WRX. Here was an all-wheel-drive sedan or wagon with sport coupe-slaying performance, a budget-friendly price and plenty of aftermarket tuning potential. Japanese performance car enthusiasts rejoiced.
Now, six years later, the fully redesigned 2008 Subaru Impreza has arrived. One would think it's time for those Subie fans to hire a DJ, blow up "Rex!" balloons and get out the chips and dip. But one might be wrong. For the third-generation North American Impreza, Subaru corporate has a slightly different plan -- an Impreza for the masses.
Not surprisingly, the 2008 Impreza is bigger. The wheelbase has been extended almost 4 inches for both the sedan and hatchback body styles to increase rear seat legroom. There's also more interior width for passengers and, thanks to a switch to a compact double-wishbone rear suspension design, a wider cargo space.
Subaru has also upped the quality of the interior design and materials, made changes to reduce wind noise, improved the ride quality and added new features like a navigation system. All well and good, we say. A more controversial aspect, however, is the car's exterior styling. Not because the new Impreza looks bad in a Pontiac Aztek sort of way, but because it doesn't look like, well, a Subaru. The slightly goofy but possibly endearing style of the previous Impreza (including all three of its fascias) has been replaced by a sanitized-for-your-protection front end and an uninspiring profile.
Underneath the new skin is some familiar hardware. Once again, the all-wheel-drive Impreza has a horizontally opposed 2.5-liter engine that's normally aspirated in 2.5i trim levels and turbocharged in WRX and WRX STI models. Slight adjustments were made to improve power delivery, but apart from the STI (which gained 12 horsepower) overall horsepower and torque specs are pretty much the same. Subaru has also largely carried over the previous six-speed manual, five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions. With just four cogs to work with, the automatic tranny lags behind a few rivals that offer five or even six speeds.