2004-2005 Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS Sedan / TS Sport Wagon
- Sporty, aggressive exterior.
- Good compromise between ride quality and sporty handling.
- Standard all-wheel-drive.
- Good build quality.
- Nicely bolstered front seats.
- Some non-intuitive interior features.
- Rear legroom is pretty tight.
- Fuel efficiency is somewhat of an issue.
- Heavy and pricey for such a small car.
- All the looks of a WRX with not much of the go.
Press Coverage :
The current-generation Subaru Impreza, redesigned from the ground up in 2002, receives a facelift for the 2004 model year. Engine options remain the same, with the base models being the 2.5 RS sedan and 2.5 TS sport wagon. Though upstaged by their WRX siblings, these cars make a great entry-level car to experience the advantages of all-wheel-drive for the first time. The wagon actually costs $1700 less than the sedan. However, the sedan has more standard equipment.
Externally. the RS sedan looks exactly like the quicker WRX model, except for a different wheel design, single exhaust tip and no hood scoop. The TS wagon does not have the flared fenders of the sedan. Cruise control, cloth seats, electric mirrors, windows and door locks and an AM/FM/CD player are standard on both, the sedan and the wagon. The RS sedan goes one step further, adding remote keyless entry and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. A five-speed manual gearbox is standard, while a four-speed automatic is a $800 option.
The 2.5L four-cylinder "boxer" engine is mounted lower than conventional engines and thus gives this heavy car a lower center of gravity. Like its standard all-wheel-drive system, the "boxer" configuration is a Subaru trademark, followed only by one other manufacturer - Porsche. The 2.5L is a naturally aspirated version of the engine that now powers the WRX STi in turbocharged form.
Exterior options for the Impreza RS include a $395 WRX-style rear spoiler and $299 US-spec fog lamps which are much smaller than the older 2002-2003 model fog lamps (while the Japanese-market models retain the large lamps). Interior options include a $520 6-disc in-dash CD changer, a $267 amplifier and a $230 security system. So-called performance options include a $375 performance muffler, a $568 (jeez!) performance gauge pack and numerous interior carbon fiber interior trimmings and exterior decal sets.
Five grand separates the 2.5 RS and the WRX, and here's what we're thinking: If you first test-drive the former, you might question the premium commanded by the latter. Both cars share the same engine speed-sensing rack-and-pinion steering gear, four-wheel-disc antilock braking system, 16-inch alloy wheels, Bridgestone Potenza 205/55 tires, and four-wheel independent suspension tuning with stabilizer bars front and rear. The 2.5 RS does without the WRX's higher-output engine, dual-outlet exhaust and rear limited-slip differential, but otherwise the cars are identical in terms of basic hardware.
Part of the reason that the homely 2.5 RS catches our eyes and puts a smile on our faces is because it's got a great personality. Not only does the horizontally opposed engine emit that characteristic Subaru grumble and vibration we've come to know and adore, but you can also toss the car into a turn and enjoy the same responsiveness and grip that the WRX provides. Oftentimes, it's been said that it's more entertaining to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow, and the 2.5 RS seemingly proves this theory.
Given Subaru's reliability track record and the build quality of our test vehicle, it's safe to say the 2.5 RS is dependable, as well. Unfortunately, what it's not is comfortable for taller adults, especially those with an inseam measuring greater than 32 inches. More seat track travel would solve the problem, and it's too bad because the sport-bolstered seats are otherwise supremely comfortable. There's even enough room in the back seat to tote two adults, thanks to the thigh support provided by the rear bench, commodious underseat foot room and a thoughtfully padded center armrest.
Cabin design borders on stolid, with tasteful metallic-finish plastic bezels and subtle check-pattern cloth seat inserts breaking its somber black monotony. Unlike the WRX, which comes equipped with a snazzy Momo steering wheel, the 2.5 RS uses the corporate Subaru tiller, an unimaginative and oversized apparatus that seems right-sized in the larger Legacy but grossly super-sized in the Impreza. Still, nothing about the interior screams cheap, with low-gloss plastics and soft touch materials littering the joint.
Ergonomically, our major gripe pertains to the stereo head unit, which offers for the driver's inconvenience teensy buttons marked by tiny lettering. Sound quality was judged to be no better than decent. We also took issue, to a lesser extent, with the mounting of the power mirror control on the center console, the fact that the power lock button offers no indication about which way it should be pushed to lock the doors, and the location of the cruise control system activation switch down low on the left side of the dash.
The Impreza 2.5 RS has two unusual features: all wheel drive and a torquey four-cylinder boxer engine (like a V-4, only the cylinders are horizontally opposed rather than slanted). All wheel drive helps the engine, with its strong low-end torque, to provide quick launches instead of simply creating lots of embarassing squealing at the tires. We were never able to get the tires to squeal on acceleration in our five-speed stick-shift 2.5 RS, and that's not because it can't accelerate quickly enough! Nor could we detect any torque steer - loss of steering control under hard acceleration - because all four wheels contribute to acceleration, and because the horizontally opposed engine does not try to wrench itself out of the car. The only drawback to the engine is the loud noise it makes under hard acceleration, but many drivers find that sort of thing pleasant - unlike, say, wind noise.
Of course, many cars have all wheel drive now, but not every setup is equal. We found the Audi TT, for example, to have abysmal performance in the snow. No Subaru can be said to be even average in snow - Subaru knows its primary market, and they make cars that laugh at the white stuff. Not only that, but the heater is probably the best we've ever seen in a car, easily beating our second best. Seemingly within minutes of starting out, you can suffocate in the baking hot air emitted by the Impreza even on very cold days.
The engine produces good power right off the line and all the way to the redline, with a cutoff more subtle than many others (for when the driver tries to push the engine too far). Acceleration is good even in top gear, though downshifting still provides an extra boost. We're impressed by the linear response of this engine at a time when most need to be revved high for maximum performance.
Straight-line performance is impressive, but what about turns? The RS features a suspension tuned to within an inch of its life for incredible handling, yet the ride is quite comfortable. You feel the pavement but are not jarred by it. It's the ideal setup for a dedicated driver. What's more, while some cars - the Volkswagen Jetta/Golf/Beetle comes to mind - seem to lose all traction when you start accelerating hard, the Impreza loses nothing. There's a great feeling of confidence that can't be matched even by cars which do better on handling tests.
The trunk is well designed and spacious. We really did not expect that of a car which seems to have been designed for performance addicts. Then again, we also wouldn't have expected the rear seat room to be as good as it is. The Impreza can be driven as an ordinary family sedan, or as a rally car - your choice.
2002-2003 Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS / TS
2,521 cc / 165 hp / 166 lb-ft / 2965-3100 lbs / 0-60 mph 7.9 sec.
1998-2001 Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS
2,457 cc / 165 hp / 166 lb-ft / 2850-2950 lbs / 0-60 mph 7.8 sec.