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MOTORNET: Old Dog, New Tricks

Old Dog, New Tricks

SCOOP MOTORNET with Karl Ferguson
Images by Neil Mackenzie -

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How do you give an existing car that's generally well respected, but no longer the new kid on the block, a new lease of life? Simple really. Take the most popular model and put a bigger engine in it.

Car makers have been doing it for decades, and Subaru is no exception. The good news for punters is that the Subaru Impreza has just got better with the introduction late last year of the new RS hatch, which sports the 2.5 litre motor of the latest Legacy. In truth, the 2.5 RS has been available as a sedan for two years, but the hatch has proved the perennial favourite of the Subaru set.

And for good reason. One of my early work cars was a 1995 Subaru Impreza 1.8 litre 4WD. It was popular with staff and management alike for its good handling, sporty looks and practical interior. It was also red, which helped. What it didn't have, was a lot of grunt.

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These days, the slightly asthmatic 1.6 and 1.8 litre engines are off the menu in favour of bigger variants, and the 2.5 litre incarnation of Subaru's flat-four cylinder 'boxer' engine is the best yet. It provides plenty of low to mid range torque and while not the most frugal engine in the world when it comes to fuel consumption, it still produces good economy figures.

Just be careful though if you think this smaller sibling of the Legacy will provide scintillating performance akin to a WRX. Although it sports the same engine as the Legacy, it is down on power (thanks to restrictive inflow and exhaust tracts) by nine kilowatts or 112kW versus the 121kW of the Legacy. The good news is that torque is much the same as the Legacy at 223Nm. NZ Autocar (November 2004) recorded a 0-100km/h performance time of 8.55 seconds for a 'green' example - which is not bad, but not quite in the same league as some other hot hatches on the market. Neither is it quite as quick as the bigger Legacy.

But it's still good fun to drive and a huge improvement over some of its smaller engined predecessors. Good overall weight balance, grippy tyres and of course 4WD combined with the extra power make the Impreza a lot of fun to punt through your favourite stretch of twisty stuff. It may not have the 'seat of your pants' performance of the WRX, but in a way, it's more rewarding. It's easy to drive, with flattering mannerisms and an excellent driving position. Feedback to the driver when approaching the limit is consistent, and although the front wheels can scrabble for traction when pushed hard, it never feels anything but safe and secure.

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Externally, styling has changed little but is what we have come to expect of Subaru and the Impreza still makes for an attractive looking car. Inside, the interior better reflects the rest of the range and feels modern and well put together. There's good head and legroom and enough room for four. Standard equipment includes cruise control, semi automatic air-con, a single disc CD player, alloy wheels, sports body kit and remote locking with immobiliser - pretty impressive kit by anyone's standards.

Perhaps the Impreza’s greatest challenge is that at a fraction under $35k, it's smack bang in the middle of some pretty competitive territory. For example, it is line ball with the more powerful and larger Honda Accord. Having said that, with winter approaching, you can’t beat four-wheel drive and in that respect the Subaru has many of its competitors beat hands down.

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