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Variety of body styles and AWD make the Impreza a nice alternative to other mainstream economy cars.
All-wheel drive, scrappy personality, bulletproof reliability record, fun to drive.
Tight rear seat, limited cargo space in wagon with backseat raised, could use more power, no ABS option for L models, a bit pricey.
RS models get carbon-fiber patterned interior trim, a CD player and embroidered floor mats.
The Impreza was originally built to battle the Ford Escorts, Toyota Corollas and Chevy Cavaliers that sold so well to young adults, but a zippy advertising campaign touting the underpowered Impreza as "What to Drive" alienated traditional Sube buyers and turned off the young adults it was supposed to attract. Sales of the Impreza were less than successful, and Subaru scrambled to find a solution.
Wonder of wonders, the company decided to reacquaint itself with its legendary all-wheel-drive system. Subaru emphasizes AWD in every ad, article and brochure you can lay your hands on. Ah yes, "The Beauty Of All-Wheel Drive." This AWD model is available in coupe, sedan, wagon, and Outback Sport format.
Two trim levels are offered with the coupe and sedan -- the base L model and the racy 2.5 RS. Inspired by Subaru's success in the World Rally Championship, the 2.5 RS combines the performance and handling of a race car with the comfort and convenience of a modern Japanese coupe. Additional factory options include a short throw shifter, a titanium shift knob, and a strut tower brace to reduce body flex in corners. Normally only available in the aftermarket, these trick options show that Subaru knows who its customers are and how they like to drive their cars.
For 2001, the Subaru Outback Sport wagon continues unchanged with its aggressive bi-level spoilers and body-colored side mirrors, door handles and side molding. Antilock brakes are standard. Features unique to this version of the Impreza include a heavy-duty four-wheel independent suspension with 6.5 inches of ground clearance, 205/60 R15 M+S tires, splash guards, a two-tone paint scheme, and a rear bumper step pad. The wagon has a small cargo area when the rear seat is raised, partially due to the steeply raked rear window. Drop the seat, though, and there's 62 cubic feet. However, the Outback Sport's rear seat is cramped for taller occupants.
Like most Subarus, the wagon comes with a long list of standard features. Air conditioning, power windows, a 12-volt power outlet in the cargo area, power side-view mirrors, a tilt steering column and a roof rack are all included in the base price.
Overall, we find much to like about the Impreza. We've driven the 2.5 RS, the L Coupe and the wagon, and thoroughly enjoyed them. All Imprezas behave like street-legal rally cars, and they're a hoot to toss around. Fling one into a corner, and it clings to the pavement. Imprezas are a blast to drive hard and fast, and the all-wheel-drive system performs brilliantly on a variety of road surfaces. Each Impreza model is available with an $800 automatic transmission but to take full advantage of the 2.2-liter, 142-horsepower boxer engine, (the 2.5 RS gets the bigger 165-horsepower 2.5-liter motor) we prefer the five-speed manual. Interiors are comfortable (though the side glass feels a bit too close) and steering and braking are communicative.
There is one thing that bothers us about the Impreza lineup, and that's the lack of an antilock brake option on the L model. To get ABS, you must order the 2.5 RS or the wagon. This doesn't make much sense coming from a company touting safety in its advertising.
The Impreza's impressive road manners and clean styling make it an interesting alternative for those looking for something distinctly un-Honda Civic-like. Its full-time all-wheel-drive system also makes it a shoe-in for those needing sure-footed winter transportation. Although we love the performance of the current 2.5RS, buyers might want to think twice about getting one now. A fully redesigned WRX version with a turbocharged engine debuts next year and it should be a real screamer.
Laura's old car was costing her a small fortune every month for gas and repairs. She didn't even want to drive her kids to the park any more. But buying a new Kia Soul changed all that.