SEE ALSO: Subaru Buyer's Guide
Most sports sedans emulate road racing cars, with firm, lowered suspensions to lower the center of gravity, reduce body roll, and improve cornering on smooth, or at least reasonably smooth pavement. And this is perfectly acceptable for the enthusiast who doesn't have to drive on poorly-surfaced roads, or in inclement weather. Or try to negotiate steep driveways, large speed bumps, or other front spoiler-crunching hazards.
Subaru's new Impreza 2.5 RS Sedan is different. Primarily known in this country for the hybrid all-wheel drive Outback wagons (and now sedans), Subaru is known in other parts of the world for rally cars. Rallying, as in World Rally Championship (WRC) rallying, is the modern, high-tech but brutal equivalent of the point-to-point races of a century ago, run in all weather conditions, the worse the better, over any and all surfaces from dirt and gravel forest roads to real pavement. The top rally cars are all-wheel drive machines with plenty of ground clearance and suspension travel, capable of dealing with any "road" in any condition. Subarus have been very successful in the WRC, winning the championship three years in a row.
Subaru's WRC cars are based on the Impreza. Street-legal versions are sold in some markets, with up to 275 horsepower in the case of the WRX R-Type STi, which is the basis for the rally cars. U.S. emissions regulations keep that ferocious beast out of the country. Still, the Impreza 2.5 RS uses the same basic chassis, and, while its 165-hp, 2.5-liter engine provides entertaining performance, the chassis is in no way near its limits. The 2.5 RS Sedan is new this year, joining the existing coupe. As I discovered during a recent week with one, the sedan has all of the great character and excellent all-wheel drive handling of the coupe, adding the versatility of a sedan. It is enthusiastic transportation for all roads and all conditions -- no need to keep it in the garage come winter time.
APPEARANCE: The Impreza 2.5 RS Sedan looks the part of a rally car, with a deep, flat front air-dam fascia, large foglamps, and scoops and vents in the hood. But, despite the competition look, there is enough ground clearance to prevent scraping the underside of the front bodywork when dealing with everyday road hazards. The slightly- rounded , three-box body shape is pleasant and innocuous, in contrast to the hood and front fascia. The roofline of both the sedan and coupe is very similar, with only the four body-colored door handles an obvious distinction. The 2.5 RS Sedan has a much lower spoiler on its trunk than the coupe. Alloy wheels and low-profile tires complete the sporty look.
COMFORT: There is no pretense inside of the 2.5 RS Sedan, just honest materials and comfortable accommodations, with more room than might be expected given the car's size. Four large adults on a day- long journey would be pushing the limits of comfort, but for smaller people or shorter distance, it'll do fine. And it's hard to beat a sedan for rear-seat access. The emphasis is on sport and driving, however. Check out the "checkered-flag" cloth upholstery and black-on-white gauges. Supportive, bolstered front bucket seats, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob are made for driving. This is no Spartan rally car, with air conditioning, and AM/FM/cassette stereo, power windows, mirrors, and door locks all included. The only options on my test car were a CD player and floor mats.
SAFETY: All-wheel drive handling and four-wheel antilock disc brakes contribute to active safety. It has dual air bags and side impact protection. The headlights turn off automatically with the ignition.
ROADABILITY: Subaru has learned its lessons in the tough classroom of WRC rallying, and has applied them to the Impreza RS. It has a comfortable amount of well-damped suspension travel, and minimal body motion in hard cornering, a very difficult compromise. The chassis copes with nearly twice as much power in a WRX, and so has no problem in the RS. All-wheel drive (AWD) improves traction in all conditions, not just ice and snow. Subaru has two different AWD systems. Cars with 5-speed manual transmissions have a system that starts with power split evenly between the front and rear wheels, with power then automatically transferred to the wheels that have the best grip. Automatic-equipped Subarus have a system that biases power towards the front wheels, and uses electronic sensors to adjust power to the wheels that can best use it. The manual system, as on my test car, is more performance-oriented, and gives very neutral handling characteristics with great grip. The automatic system gives the feel of a front-wheel drive car, with AWD advantages when needed.
PERFORMANCE: The Impreza 2.5 RS's namesake 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed ("boxer") four-cylinder engine is considerably larger than the 1.6 to 2.0-liter engines of most sport-compacts. Its horsepower rating is near the top of the class, at 165, but it has much more torque than any competitor at 166 lb-ft. Torque is the twisting force that accelerates a vehicle, and it shows in the car's acceleration. The Subaru doesn't have to be revved to high engine speeds to develop useful power, it's available instantly.
CONCLUSIONS: The Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS Sedan is a different kind of sports sedan, and one well-suited to almost any road or weather condition.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 19,295 Price As Tested $ 20,214 Engine Type horizontally-opposed four cylinder, single overhead cam per bank, 16 valves Engine Size 2.5 liters / 150 cu. in. Horsepower 165 @ 5,600 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 166 @ 4,000 rpm Transmission 5-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 99.2 in. / 172.2 in. Curb Weight 2,835 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 17.2 Fuel Capacity 15.9 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular, 87 octane Tires 205/55 VR16 Bridgestone Potenza RE92 Brakes, front/rear vented disc with twin-piston calipers / solid disc with single-piston calipers Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut /independent MacPherson strut Drivetrain front engine, all-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 21 / 28 / 23 0 to 60 mph 8.0 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 16.0 sec Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.36 OPTIONS AND CHARGES CD player $ 350 Carpeted floor mats $ 74 Destination charge $ 495