Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor
Certain things lose value when placed in a different context. Snow shovels are must-haves if you live in Minneapolis, but they're a lot less useful for those who make their homes in San Diego. That frayed security blanket that was so crucial when you were an anxious toddler is not nearly as essential now that you're a relatively well-adjusted adult.
The value of the 2009 Subaru Impreza 2.5i wagon is similarly context-dependent. For those who live in places where rain and snow are constant companions, this Subie is a compelling pick, for one reason: It features standard all-wheel drive. If you frequently tangle with the wet or the white stuff, you know that all-wheel drive is invaluable in these environments, offering improved traction that helps keep your vehicle's wheels safely glued to the road. The Impreza is one of only a handful of economically priced wagons to offer this feature, and it's one of the most affordable of the bunch.
However, if all-wheel drive isn't a priority, the Impreza becomes a lot less special. Certain commonly offered amenities -- such as keyless entry and ignition and fully integrated Bluetooth -- aren't available with this wagon. Fuel economy is more important than ever these days, and the Impreza's lags behind that of others in this class. With all-wheel drive out of the equation, choices like the fun-to-drive Mazda Mazda3 wagon and the fuel-efficient Mini Cooper Clubman are superior alternatives.
Nonetheless, for value-minded shoppers in wetter or colder climes, it's hard to top the 2009 Subaru Impreza. Just like that trusty snow shovel, the Impreza is indispensable when the weather gets rough.
The Impreza 2.5i is motivated by a horizontally opposed 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that's good for 170 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. We liked this wagon's engine note so much that we occasionally found ourselves turning off the radio just to savor that mellifluous rumble. The "boxer" four offers useful low-end torque, but the Impreza 2.5i will never be described as quick -- in track testing, our wagon went from zero to 60 mph in an unexceptional 8.2 seconds. Speed demons may want to consider stepping up to the more powerful GT or WRX.
If you're driving in rain or snow, it's especially important that your car doesn't disappoint when it comes to braking. A solid performer in this area, the Impreza stopped from 60 mpg in a respectable 122 feet. Stops were consistent, and its brakes exhibited almost no fade when punished at the track, though pedal feel was a bit squishy for our tastes.
While not class-leading, the Impreza's driving dynamics are agreeable enough. We noted that even on dry roads, this all-wheel-drive wagon felt planted around corners. Of course, the downside of all-wheel drive is compromised fuel economy, so the 2009 Subaru Impreza lags behind its rivals in this area. EPA estimates for the 2.5i are an unimpressive 20 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined.
The Impreza's cabin is spacious, especially for those in front. The driver and front passenger enjoy generous headroom, and legroom is among the best in the compact-wagon segment. Rear-seat room is satisfactory for this segment, but foot space is a bit cramped.
Seating is reasonably comfortable, though we noted that the seat bottoms in both the front and rear rows feel somewhat unsupportive. While the height-adjustable driver seat helped us find an amenable driving position, the tilt-only steering wheel could use a telescope function. Wind noise was minimal, but on rougher stretches of freeway the tires emitted a low-frequency rumble that proved somewhat intrusive.
The layout of the 2009 Subaru Impreza 2.5i's instrument panel is pleasantly predictable. Controls are exactly where you'd expect to find them and easy to manipulate. The three-knob climate-control setup may be generic, but it scores top marks for user-friendliness. Storage nooks in the Impreza aren't especially accommodating, however. Each of the bins of the front doors can hold little more than a water bottle, and the bin found just under the wagon's center armrest is also cramped.
If you like to shift your own gears and appreciate the convenience offered by a navigation system, it's worth keeping in mind that this technology is available only on Impreza wagons with automatic transmissions. You should also know that the Impreza's navigation system is DVD-based, whereas many choices in this segment now offer hard-drive-based navigation systems with additional functions like MP3 storage capability. Other common features such as keyless entry and ignition are missing from the Impreza's options list. Moreover, while Bluetooth capability is available, this feature isn't fully integrated -- the microphone must be purchased separately.
The Impreza boasts more than 44 cubic feet of maximum cargo room, which should be adequate for most. However, those seeking optimum cargo capacity in a compact footprint will be better served by the Toyota Matrix, which offers an impressive 62 cubic feet.
Design/Fit and Finish
The Impreza's unassuming sheet metal isn't as sporty-looking as the Pontiac Vibe or Mazda 3, but its clean lines will likely satisfy most shoppers. We liked the three-tone color scheme of our test car's cabin, but there was more hard plastic than we'd have liked. The seat fabric in our model had a texture similar to that of a sweatshirt worn inside-out. We found it unattractive, and imagine that it would become even more unappealing with wear and tear.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2009 Subaru Impreza 2.5i offers all-wheel drive and decent cargo capacity at an affordable price. It's an ideal companion for drivers on a budget who frequently face rain and/or snow.
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