Used 1998 Subaru Impreza
Edmunds' Expert Review
Subaru built a solid reputation for itself in the Seventies building inexpensive (and built to stay that way) four-wheel drive passenger cars. The company enjoyed success in the Northeast, Rocky Mountains and Northwest, providing people with reliable transportation that could thwart most attempts by Mother Nature to keep them from arriving at their destinations. Aside from a major rusting habit and offbeat styling, Subarus kept loyal owners happy.
Then Subaru decided it wanted a bigger piece of the auto market pie. The Impreza was originally conceived to battle the Ford Escorts, Toyota Corollas and Chevy Cavaliers that sold so well to young adults. A zippy ad 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 legend. Subaru is concentrating on all-wheel drive cars again, and is emphasizing AWD in every ad, article and brochure you can lay your hands on. Ah yes, The Beauty of All-wheel Drive. The Impreza is available in coupe, sedan and wagon form. Traditional front-wheel drive editions have been banished from the roster.
For 1998, Subaru bestows a new dashboard and revised door panels upon the Impreza. Shared with the Forester, the fresh interior bits appear to have been a lateral revision rather than a true improvement. The radio buttons are still too small, and that was the previous car's only real control layout issue. The base level Brighton coupe has been excised from the lineup, and the racy 2.5RS has been added, sporting a paint scheme and giant wing spoiler meant to evoke the successful rally cars Subaru sponsors in parts of the world where rally racing is a big deal. With the Legacy's larger 25-liter 165-horsepower boxer engine, the 2.5 RS should be a blast to drive, particularly in foul weather.
Lesser Imprezas are a good time, too. You'll keep the zingy 2.2-liter boxer engine revved up. 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. The Impreza is comfortable, though the side glass feels a bit too close. Steering and braking is communicative. There is really just one thing that bothers us about the Impreza lineup, and that's the lack of an antilock brakes option on the L model. To get ABS, you must order the Outback Sport or 2.5RS. This doesn't make much sense from a company touting safety in its advertising.
Overall, we find much to like about the Impreza. We've driven Outback Sport, 2.5RS and L Coupe models, and thoroughly enjoyed them. 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 you've got 62 cubic feet to mess around with. Other quibbles include a cramped rear seat and ugly K-Mart issue plastic wheelcovers on the Outback Sport.
Subaru is aiming the Outback Sport at consumers who would otherwise be considering a Toyota RAV4, Geo Tracker or Kia Sportage. Unfortunately, it has trouble delivering what most folks want in a sport utility. It's not capable of serious off-road adventure, and it doesn't provide a commanding view of traffic. Cargo volume with the rear seat up can't match the Kia or the Toyota for usability. However, Imprezas are a blast to drive hard and fast, and the all-wheel drive system performs brilliantly on a variety of road surfaces.
What's it cost for a fun car with all-wheel drive peace of mind? The L coupe starts at $16,500 including destination charges. Better accommodations will run you as much as $17,500 for an L Wagon with an automatic transmission. Want ABS? Plan to spend another grand on the Outback Sport. As good as all-wheel drive is, the budget-minded compact shopper must ask whether the price commanded by the Impreza is worth it. As much as we like the Impreza, we're skeptical.
Features & Specs
More About This Model
Subaru is ready to release a new Impreza for 1998, and for its debut, they invited journalists to the state of Washington for a ride and drive. Washington, by virtue of its variable climate and the populations zest for the outdoors, is a good market for Subarus all-wheel drive cars, and a natural locale to release a new model thats built for fun. And Subaru made sure that fun was included in the program, with a day at the Seattle International Raceway that proved the Impreza 2.5 RS is more than enough car for the daily driver.
Before we start the engines, ladies and gentlemen, lets take a minute to review the cars appearance. Rally Blue Pearl was the color we chose for our evaluation, because its the same color used on the current rally car, and because most of the test fleet happened to come in blue. The Impreza 2.5 RS heavily exploits the heritage of its sibling, the Impreza WRX, winner of several rallies including two-time winner of the World Rally Championship. The WRX is a production car, but unfortunately it is not available on these shores. Americans have to make do with the 2.5 RS, which we discovered borrows a great deal from big brother WRX.
A large air intake sits prominently on the hood of the RS yet does nothing to cool the engine, and its function was described as "more for appearance" than anything. The scoop probably does more harm than good, because aside from appearance, a brick sitting on the hood would create less drag. Another rally car imitation immediately apparent are gold-colored sixteen-inch alloys decorating every wheel. Say what you will to defend them, but the gold wheels look very standard. For HotWheels. Another appearance imitation is the rear spoiler, which manages to look like it belongs on the RS.
The 2.5 RS is a car that gets attention, but what kind of attention, and from whom? Enthusiasts will appreciate the rally heritage, but we found that police are also interested in the flashy appearance. During our test, the sweep car was pulled over and warned about the questionable speeds of some of the Imprezas on the test loop. That bold scoop and wheels may come back to haunt your insurance rates.
And can the Impreza go? Anything short of rally driving, and the 2.5 RS will suit any drivers needs. The five-speed manual transmission borrows the short-throw linkage from the WRX, and that translates to fun, fast shifting that brings the car up to speed in no time. The 16 valve, DOHC engine puts out 165 horsepower and almost 20 lbs.-ft. more torque than the Outback Sport. This is the largest four cylinder boxer engine Subaru has ever brought to the U.S., and it fits the car nicely. With peak torque coming near the middle of the rev range, freeway passing is a cinch. But we cant help but stare helplessly at the WRX, which takes 300 bhp at 6500 rpm from a smaller engine!
Okay, heres the scoop on the WRX: dont hold your breath. Subaru will maintain their modest performance in the U.S. and concentrate on their real niche: catering to the outdoors, rugged and sporty lifestyle. And safety is a big selling point in parts of this country, especially the regions prone to icy winters. People appreciate ABS with 4-wheel disc brakes as standard items on an all-wheel drive car. Spend a winter in Colorado, and youll understand why. So why the hood scoop and spoiler? Were not sure. But from inside, the 2.5 RS wont fool anyone.
Interior sportiness is limited to a black leather steering wheel and leather-wrapped shift knob, and a sunroof is standard. Otherwise, theres nothing to make you feel like a race driver. In fact, the interior is surprisingly bland. Numerous screw heads are visible, and the entire dash looks and feels cheap. Our test car's passenger-side door-handle plastic popped out nearly unassisted. (Sorry, Subaru, but we popped it back in.) Sure, its plastic, but it feels too much like, well, plastic. Headroom is more than plenty for this 65" driver, but long legs easily get cramped during long drives. The armrest grip handles are worthless for holding on tight, unless you can brace yourself with a bent wrist.
We could have used more ergonomic grip handles with track time on the Seattle International Raceway, where Subaru provided some of their world-class rally drivers for rides in--what else? The WRX. Possum Bourne and Chad DiMarco piloted two Impreza WRX right-hand drive vehicles around the circuit at top speeds, and passengers in either car came away with newfound appreciation for Subaru and life in general.
Also providing service for the 2.3-mile track were several underrated drivers from various driving schools around the country. The 12-turn SIR, with a couple extra chicanes for good measure, proved more than enough punishment for the Imprezas 205/55 R16 tires, though the 2.5 RS itself never felt out of shape. We arent sure whether to credit handling to the drivers or to the cars superb traction, but those tires should not be used in serious racing. Chunks of rubber probably wont fly off under normal driving conditions, but dont take a series of turns at over 70 mph, or youll be spending more than your budget at the local Discount Tire Company.
The Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS is a good car with great built-in safety features that didnt even have to be mandated by the government. As an added bonus, its fun to drive. For other fun-to-drive sporty all-wheel drive cars, the selection is limited. The Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX will get a higher top speed. If youre into safe handling, the front-wheel drive Honda Prelude dials in similar understeer. As a day-to-day transport 365 days a year, the 2.5 RS is an intelligent buy. We expect the price to be very competitive with other sport coupes. But if youre planning on doing any rallying across country safely on dirt roads, wouldnt the WRX be perfect?
Used 1998 Subaru Impreza Overview
The Used 1998 Subaru Impreza is offered in the following submodels: , , , . Available styles include L 4dr Sedan AWD, L 2dr Coupe AWD, Outback Sport 4dr Wagon AWD, RS 2dr Coupe AWD, and L 4dr Wagon AWD.
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