Subaru makes the ultimate Canadian winter vehicles
You don't even have to worry about which Subaru to buy. Just walk into a Subaru showroom, and buy any of their models; you'll be a happy customer. Honestly, I have never come across a Subaru product that was bad.
However, I have always chosen to test a turbo-charged version of each Subaru model I could get my hands on, and the fun factor was thus always very high. This time however, things were different. Not only did I get a basic, non-turbo Impreza 2.5RS, it also came with an automatic gearbox. Things didn't seem very promising.
That impression stayed with me as I stepped inside. The interior looked very boring, and some panels were built from plastics so cheap, even GM cars were beginning to look plush.
The space for back seat passengers is very poor (even if the front passenger is being generous by moving up their seat), and the angle of the backrest is very upright. Couple that with an uncomfortable foam seat to begin with, and your passengers wouldn't like to go on a long drive sitting back there.
However, the driver has nothing to complain about. The driving position is great — all the controls are easy at hand, and even the driver's seat is comfortable. The only annoyance I felt from the drivers seat in the beginning was excessive wind noise, which I discovered was due to the pillarless doors, but after fiddling with the rubber seals a bit, I had it cured.
On the road is where it comes into its own. All Subarus sold in Canada come standard with their all-wheel drive system, and their system is really fantastic. This model had their famed symmetrical all-wheel drive system, which shifts power from front to back, depending on conditions. However I do feel the setup in this car was tuned more for enthusiastic drivers. If you applied power early in a tight corner, the backend will just go out and then you'll have to apply opposite lock to bring it in, while applying power because that is how this system works best. So it seems Subaru's main clients are rally drivers or rally driver wannabes, which is just fine by me.
It is because of this ability to control a car in snowy conditions that puts a smile on my face. If you live out in the boonies, where the roads don't get ploughed often, you need one of these. Not only will you never get stuck, it'll be fun every time you lave your driveway.
However the biggest surprise came on a long highway trip. I thought initially that the 2.5-litre, SOHC, 16-valve, horizontally opposed, four-cylinder engine would be a bit weak with 173 hp and 166 lb/ft of torque. It is only weak if you compare it with the turbo-charged Impreza models. Out on the highway, this non-turbo engine had plenty of oomph. Just gently squeeze the accelerator and it just picks up speed smoothly. If you push it, then it really goes, and sounds good while at it, too. Just be careful how much fun you should include in your trip, because this car does drink quite a bit. A bit more than I was expecting, and that is with taking the all-wheel drive system and the automatic transmission into account.
Regardless of the fuel bills, it was such a comfortable (from where I was sitting), relaxed and confident highway companion, it really made my trip a lot less boring then it would have been.
I just love the way it sits squat on its wheels, and it is confidence inspiring no matter what mother nature is planning on doing. I even like the way the new Impreza looks. In the past, they have been called ugly, but I don't think anyone should say that about the new, revamped 2006 Impreza, especially in the bright red paint finish my test car came with.
It's priced well too, with a base model starting at just $23,495. So it's a sensible buy from all angles. Yes, the turbo-charged WRX model is a lot more fun, but it is also quite a bit more money.
So here is my parting advice, if you don't carry passengers often, and you need a practical sedan to drive around in, buy one of these, and buy it now, in winter, when you'll enjoy your purchase a lot more.