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New Car Review

1998 Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS AWD

by Tom Hagin


SEE ALSO: Subaru Buyer's Guide


Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 19,195
Price As Tested                                    $ 19,690
Engine Type                DOHC 4-valve 2.5 Liter F4 w/MFI*
Engine Size                                 150 cid/2457 cc
Horsepower                                   165 @ 5600 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               162 @ 4000 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                   99.2"/67.1"/172.2"
Transmission                              Five-speed manual
Curb Weight                                     2841 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  13.2 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                      205/55R16
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                    Front-engine/all-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                        Five-passenger/two-door
Domestic Content                                        N/A
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.35


EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            22/28/27
0-60 MPH                                        7.5 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       16 seconds @ 85.5 mph
Top speed                                           110 mph
     * Multi-point fuel injection

When Subaru introduced its new Impreza model to the U.S. in '93, the capable little car was almost immediately written off. "Underpowered," wrote some, while others slammed its unsuccessful advertising campaign.

But Impreza has evolved into a contender in the subcompact category with the help of a power boost, and several years of winning the World Rally Championships with much-modified Imprezas. This week we try a 2.5 RS model - a sort of a rolling tribute to Subaru's racing successes.

OUTSIDE - Subaru has injected real assertiveness into its two-door sports Impreza. As the RS model, the little subcompact gets ground- effects body cladding and a "basket handle" rear spoiler. The Rally Blue paint covering our test vehicle was bright and cheery, especially with its bright gold five-spoke alloy wheels and 16-inch performance tires. The large air scoop atop its hood is non-functioning, and the four air vents beside it are a bit out of place on such a short panel but it looks like the one used on the World Rally cars and adds an additional dash of sportiness. The huge air scoop below the grille is flanked by a pair of small projector-beam fog lights. Both outside mirrors and the bumpers are body-color and a power sunroof is standard.

INSIDE - All '98 Impreza models got a redesigned dashboard and door panels to add to an already attractive interior. The front bucket seats are nicely bolstered and firmly padded, though the bottom cushion is a bit flat. There's a new center console design between the seats, with a covered storage compartment and small slots for holding change. With five seat belts total, Impreza RS is intended to move five, but four makes travel more comfortable. Without a set of rear doors, it's tough for large adults to squeeze into the rear seat, and once in back, two across is the limit. This is true for most two-door cars in its class, however. As one of the top-line Impreza models, the RS is loaded with features. Standard items include air conditioning, variable speed intermittent wipers, power windows and door locks, tilt-adjust steering column, an 80-watt stereo and a 60/40 split rear seat.

ON THE ROAD - Subarus are powered by a unique engine design that is called "flat-opposed" or "pancake," like a V4 with its cylinders brought parallel to the ground. Subaru claims that this layout offers a lower center of gravity, which helps handling, and a lower hood line, which helps visibility. The original Impreza came to our shores with an anemic 110 horsepower 1.8 liter version of this engine, but in RS form it's been enlarged to 2.5 liters and equipped with dual overhead cams and electronic fuel injection. This way, it produces a healthy 165 horses and 162 lb-ft of torque. For the Japanese-market, the Impreza WRX STi III (the production line version of the rally-winning racer) is turbocharged for another 35 horsepower. But even in U.S. form, power is good with plenty available for passing and freeway sprints. The standard five-speed manual gearbox uses the short-throw linkage from the hot-rod WRX, and it's an improvement over the standard Impreza unit. A four- speed automatic is optional. And like all contemporary Subarus, it uses all-wheel-drive, a real benefit on both dry and slippery pavement.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - The Impreza 2.5 RS stays planted to the road with the help of its massive performance tires and suspension settings that are tighter than the standard Impreza L model. It uses a strut-type suspension setup both front and rear, along with coil springs, tubular shocks and anti-roll bars. The ride is firm, and rough or broken pavement makes itself known but the RS version of the Impreza is designed to provide a sporting experience. Cornering instills confidence in the driver, and with the standard AWD system, that confidence extends throughout the seasons. It's mechanical components are too complex to explain in detail here, but there are two different systems based on the type of transmission selected. The car also utilizes variable-assist rack-and-pinion steering, and four-wheel disc brakes with an anti-lock braking system (ABS).

SAFETY - Dual airbags, side-impact beams and ABS are standard.

OPTIONS - Our car had no optional equipment.