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New Car/Review

Subaru Impreza RS, A World Champion for a reason

by Larry Weitzman


Subaru manufactures four wheel drive vehicles only. If you want a two wheel drive car, you will have to buy another make. But four wheel drive adds to the safety, capability and fun of the driving experience. And this Impreza RS is flat out the most fun you can have in a small econo car (or even many larger, expensive cars, for that matter).

The Impreza is Subaru unique. It's exterior design is somewhat un-standard. No wedge shape or lots of chrome. It has a boxy look that has been rounded to soften its impact and a large cabin house with generous windows. A soft, pronounced crease runs down the body line just above the wheel wells. In the RS, Subaru added things like a passive functioning hood scoop and a huge rear wing, similar to the Impreza that won the World Rally Championship three years running. After a week, I have grown to appreciate the subtle nuances. I like the looks.

In comparing just how small the Impreza is, at 172.2 inches in length, it's about 3 inches shorter than a Corolla or a Civic. With a wheelbase of 99,2 inches, it fits between the Corolla and Civic.

Huge driving lights adorn the lower grille with aerodynamic ground effects bodywork and great looking 16X7 inch five spoke alloys are shod with 205/55 Bridgestone Potenzas. This Impreza is all business, serious driving business. Even the engine puts out some real moxie. With its four cylinders, boxer configuration (horizontal opposed like a Porsche), 2.5L, SOHC's and 16 valves, peak horsepower is 165 at 5,600 rpm. Torque is a lofty 166 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm (up 4 lb-ft from last year). This Impreza RS is a genuine pocket rocket.

My test car was equipped with a five speed manual. The clutch is light and the shifter has slick, positive short throws. Acceleration is downright quick. 0-60 comes up is just 8.3 seconds with one run at 7.99 seconds. Passing times from 50-70 averaged 4.9 seconds on the level and going up hill slowed that time to 8.0 seconds. Passing tests were done in third gear. This is by far and away the quickest small car I have ever tested.

But there is more that just elapsed time that makes this RS quick. It's the way it produces torque. Step on the throttle sharply at 1,500 rpm in fifth gear, and the Impreza pulls away smartly without any stumbling. In lower gears, stepping on the throttle at lower rpms will press you back in the seat with satisfaction and a smile. The engine is so silky smooth that I found myself shifting to the next higher gear when I bumped the rev limiter at about 6,500 rpm. I usually chose 4,000 to 5,000 rpm as my shift points.

Even with my harder than normal driving, fuel consumption was almost minuscule. In spirited driving with almost no highway or freeway miles I was rewarded with 24 mpg. The EPA rates the Impreza RS at 22/29 city/highway. In El Dorado County I would expect at least 25 mpg with an easy 30 mpg on the highway.

The four wheel drive system has a center differential with a viscous coupling that in normal driving divides the torque equally between the front and rear axles. The instant wheel slip is detected, power goes "from the wheels that slip to the wheels that grip".

With four wheel drive and wide 16 inch Bridgestone Potenzas, cornering is what this Subaru does best. It goes around the twisties with the grip of a pair of Channel Locks in the hands of Arnold Schwarznegger. Green Valley and Bass Lake roads can be driven at the speed limit without even pushing this RS. The feel is more high tech sports car than econo box sedan. This Subie feels well balanced notwithstanding the road or its condition.

Driving the byways of Pollock Pines and Apple Hill in the snow showed just how unflappable this Subie really is. Traction was incredible and so was the braking. Stepping on the throttle hard will cause momentary wheel spin (less than a half a second) then it hooks up hard and goes forward with ferocity. The RS sports extra large four wheel disc brakes (the fronts are ventilated) with state of the art 4 channel ABS. Nailing the brakes in snow or ice just causes the RS to stop straight ahead. If you need to turn during this maneuver, just point the steering wheel in the direction you desire. It will go there directly. It does feel safe. This car is a blast to drive.

Steering is rack and pinion with engine speed sensing variable power assist. It is very accurate, quick (3.2 turns lock to lock) and feels as if were directly connected to the road. Turning circle is a very tight 33.5 feet. Some may find it a little hard, but it has the best feel of the road I experienced in a long time. It's that good.

The Subie rides on fully independent suspension with struts, coils and control arms up front and parallel links in the rear. Stabilizer bars are at both ends. The RS has sport tuned this set up with slightly stiffer shock valving and spring rates. I like the ride, it is supple and very well controlled. Ponderosa Road was tamed from the washboard surface and bumps. Bumpy corners didn't so much as faze the RS as the rear end stayed firmly planted to terra firma. The ride is smooth and it suppresses road irregularities like a large sedan. The body is vault tight.

On the highway the nimble RS is quiet, very smooth and allows nothing to disturbs its occupants. This thing is truly amazing. The engine does spin at a relatively high 3,150 rpm at 70 mph, but it does not intrude into the cabin.

Speaking of the cabin, you will find the front seats extremely comfortable. They provide excellent side bolsters and almost perfect foam densities. Long trips would be pleasurable. The cloth material covering the seats is not as soft or luxurious as I have found in other small cars, but I rather sit in the seats than look at them.

The rear seats are surprisingly large and comfortable considering the overall small exterior size. There is no pull down of the rear seat backs, a feature I would like to see next year (its nice to fit your skis inside). With its high cab and large windows, rear headroom is excellent with no claustrophobic atmosphere of a small car.

The Subie doesn't have window frames on its doors, reminiscent of the "hardtop" cars of the fifties and sixties. With the windows down and its wide doors, entry is easier than other small cars, especially in tight parking spaces.

The dash is simple. The pod in front of the driver contains a large speedo with a slightly smaller tach to the right and even smaller fuel and temp gauges to the left. The center of the dash houses a small pop open storage compartment with HVAC vents below. Underneath are the easy to use HVAC controls with the sound system beneath. The center console/armrest has a flip out cupholder inside as well as the pop out cupholder located in the dash.

The leather covered steering wheel deserves a mention. It is thick and comfortable with the spokes arranged for easy control. It also has a standard manual height adjustment for positioning.

What's the price of admission for this "E" ticket ride? It is surprisingly affordable. The base price is $19,195 plus the mandatory $495 destination charge. My test car came with six options, four of which related to the sound system. I recommend the monogrammed floor mats at $64 and the keyless entry for $225. The cost of the extra sound equipment was $930 which included a single play CD, $420; a sub woofer and amplifier, $310; a tweeter kit, $100 and upgraded speakers, $100.

The list of standard equipment is impressive and includes power windows, locks, outside mirrors, power four wheel disc brakes, ABS and power sunroof. The only option I would recommend that wasn't on my test vehicle was cruise control ($357). A four speed automatic electronically controlled tranny will set you back an additional $800.

The standard Impreza comes with standard 2.2L four cylinder boxer motor with 16 valves. It produces 142 hp and 149 lb-ft of torque. I would estimate performance just a couple of ticks slower than the RS, but still pretty snappy. The base price is $15,895 in either a two door or four door. Standard equipment includes power windows, power steering, power mirrors, power front disc brakes and power locks. Antilock brakes are not available. Subaru should make this an option.

The Impreza is also available is a cute little sport wagon at $16,295 and $17,995 for the Outback Sport version. The Outback does come with standard ABS which makes it a great choice.

A large selection of Imprezas are available for inspection and testing at Shingle Springs Nissan, Subaru, Kia in Shingle Springs

If Disneyland is not your cards in the near future, the Impreza RS will be a worthy substitute for the "E" ticket fix. But this form of automotive entertainment can be reasonably purchased for everyday and everywhere use.


Price                                   $15,895 to about $20,000 


Front longitudinal engine
rear wheel drive


2.5L Horizontally opposed                165 hp @ 5,600 rpm	
SOHC, 16 valve four (RS only)            166 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm

2.2L horizontally opposed                142 hp @ 5,600 rpm
SOHC, 16 valve four                      149 lb-ft of torque @ 3,600 rpm

front engine
all wheel drive


5 speed manual

4 speed electronically 
controlled automatic


Wheelbase                                 99.2   inches
Length                                    172.2  inches
Width                                     67.1   inches
Height                                    55.5   inches
Weight                                    2890   pounds
Ground clearance                          5.7    inches
Fuel capacity                             13.2   gallons
Tow capacity                              1500   pounds

0-60                                      8.3    seconds
50-70                                     4.9    seconds
50-70 uphill                              8.0    seconds

Top speed					
                                          A theoretical 125 mph at redline in 
                                          5th gear and probably obtainable but 
                                          not advisable unless on a closed course 
                                          which would definitely be less expensive 
                                          to rent than thefines, time cost and 
                                          local judiciary 	

Fuel economy                              22/29 mpg city/highway EPA rating.

                                          My estimate is 25 mpg in El Dorado 
                                          County and 30 mpg plus on the highway 
                                          at legal speeds.