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Second-hand: Subaru Impreza

In reality, it offers much more than the formulaic front-drive economy car that everybody else builds. It also means a used Impreza will likely cost more than a similar-vintage Corolla or Sentra.

  • Choosing a car at dealership. Thoughtful grey hair man in formalwear leaning at the car and looking away

So you’re at a party and the chat turns to a favourite topic, cars. Without warning, a guest gets up from the sofa and pronounces, Charles Manson-like, “I am a total Subaru disciple.

I will never buy anything else until I die.” What is it about Subarus that arouses such cultish attachment? For one thing, it’s a car company that definitely sambas to the beat of a different drummer. It’s a strict adherent of the horizontally opposed (boxer) engine that offers some nifty benefits, including a lower centre of gravity, good second-order balance and longitudinal orientation – ideally situated for all-wheel drive.

Subaru only cobbled together its first automobile in 1958. But it was a fast study. Subaru was the first Japanese maker to unveil a front-wheel-drive car (1965) and the first in the world to engineer a four-wheel-drive passenger car in 1972.

The Impreza debuted in 1993 as a replacement for the tried-and-true Loyale. With the eventual demise of the subcompact Justy, the Impreza became Subaru’s entry vehicle.

Reader Brandon Bayer characterized the car this way: “The uninformed think it’s a Corolla- or Sentra-class vehicle and wonder why it’s so expensive. Don’t tell everyone how great these cars are!”

CONFIGURATION

The Impreza arrived in two forms: a four-door sedan and five-door wagonette – which bore a passing resemblance to the Wayne’s World AMC Pacer (most excellent!). A two-door coupe was added in 1995.

The big selling feature of the Impreza, like all of Subaru’s cars, was the optional all-wheel-drive system (actually two distinct systems, depending on whether the transmission was manual or automatic).

For the first three years, buyers could get a simpler, cheaper front-drive-only model; eventually, Subaru made all of its North American models AWD-only.

The Impreza would soon benefit from a larger engine to cope with the added bulk of four-wheel-drive hardware. The original 110 hp, 1.8 litre SOHC four-cylinder was supplanted in 1995 by an optional 2.2 L flat four that put out 135 hp.

Eventually, this motor became standard, and the 165-hp 2.5 L four became the performance option in the Impreza 2.5RS. All the engines, like much of the oily bits, had trickled down from the larger Legacy.

The interior was well appointed for a small car but, well, small, particularly in the back seat and cargo area. The front seating won accolades from owners for their supportive design.

The instrumentation and controls were first-rate.

ON THE ROAD

The early cars, equipped with the small 1.8 L boxer and AWD, were sluggish and uninspiring. Highway velocity came up in 12.3 seconds. Find an early front-drive Impreza with a stickshift and expect to hit 96 km/h in a more respectable 10 seconds.

Actually, that became the performance standard in subsequent AWD models equipped with the larger engine. The exception was the 2.5RS, which could hit highway speeds in just over 8 seconds if hooked up to the manual transmission.

The RS could chase Acuras and VWs – and catch them, at least in the rain, thanks to its all-wheel drive. The Impreza had an uncanny ability to keep all four tires firmly planted with just the right amount of torque at each wheel as required, delivering rock-steady handling and precise steering at every turn.

While not the fastest, it was the easiest to drive at its limits. “When the car is driven aggressively, it is outstanding,” read one posted e-mail.

The manual shifter was applauded for its snick-snick toggle action, as was the inherent smoothness of the boxer engine. On the other hand, relatively short gearing meant the car was not the quietest highway cruiser, although the noise level was tolerable.

WHAT OWNERS REPORTED

“I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t drive a Subaru,” wrote an owner of a ’95 Impreza.

As if the benefits of a torquey flat-four engine and all-weather AWD are not enough to sway consumers, here’s one more: sterling reliability. People who have reduced their car-buying experience to switching between (arguably) the two most reputable brands – Honda and Toyota – should likely include the Impreza on their shopping list.

“It has been extremely reliable, and I have had to do no repairs on it since I got it 145,000 km and seven years ago,” crowed one owner on the Internet. Similar boasts abound.

While admiration for the car runs high, not everyone has had a glitch-free ownership experience.

The air conditioning system has been known to fail (particularly in more southern climates), a few have reported odd electrical problems and the darned hubcaps keep flying off, likely due to all the aggressive driving Impreza owners like to engage in regularly.

In addition, some noted the less-than-stellar fuel economy the all-wheel-drive models return: typically 13 to 10.5 litres/100 km. But this goes back to Bayer’s comment about the Impreza resembling a typical econobox.

In reality, it offers much more than the formulaic front-drive economy car that everybody else builds. It also means a used Impreza will likely cost more than a similar-vintage Corolla or Sentra.

But then you wouldn’t be invited into the secret society if you drove a Toyota, would you? Last word goes to this affirmed Subaru lifer: “Ever notice if you see a Subaru in the rear-view mirror, it reads U-R-A-BUS?” We would like to know about your ownership experience with the following models. Please note the deadlines: Chevrolet Lumina APV/Pontiac Trans Sport (1990-96), by Mar. 20; Jaguar XJ6/XJ8 by April 3. Send your comments to Mark Toljagic, 2060 Queen St.

East, P.O. Box 51541,Toronto. M4E 1C0. E-mail: toljagic @ passport.ca.

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