2002 Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS

Review Notes: 2002 Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS
Gas mileage 22-29 mpg
Clearly Superior In: Handling, standard all wheel drive, incredible heat
Above Average In: Engine "grunt"
Needs Work In: Gas mileage

The Subaru Impreza is a car with a strong personality in a segment where most cars are not especially distinct. With all wheel drive as a standard feature, the Impreza is naturally popular in the snow belt, but the high-performance WRX version and the 2.5 RS make it an appealing option everywhere. All wheel drive does not just help in snow; it increases traction on acceleration regardless of pavement.

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. We never put the fan over "2," and invariably ended up moving the mix knob to the middle position. That kind of heat will be welcomed in northern climates, and can put an end to warming up the car.

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, even with the WRX's turbocharged engine. There's a great feeling of confidence that can't be matched even by cars which do better on handling tests.

For 2002, Subaru has addressed most of our complaints on previous models. The interior no longer looks or feels cheap, and the three nonfunctional hood scoops have been removed. The clutch is easier to use, and is one of the smoother and easier ones we've tested. We like the mechanical feel of the shifter, as well. Even wind noise seems to have been reduced.

While the interior is generally attrative, with large, useful gauges on the black and silver instrument panel and center stack, there are a few annoyances. First, there are no coin holders, and one of the cup holders is precariously placed over the stereo and climate control. We found it annoying to have a cruise control button as well as a mini-stalk (we liked the mini-stalk for its ease of use) - the button has to be pushed each time you restart the car. The mirror controls should probably be lit, since it takes a while to find them at first (they're in the center console). The stereo controls we just find hard to use and inconvenient. Some may also find the large number of blank switch covers to be annoying, if they do not order all the optional accessories which presumably would fill those voids - our vehicle had six blank plates.

As long as we're listing gripes, we should add that gas mileage, rated by the EPA at 21 city/28 highway, was lower for us. You pay a price for performance. At least it takes regular grade.

We did like the depressions in the center console which served as our shaver and EZPass holder, but could also hold a cup and, well, something else. We also liked the easy-to-use climate control, which can be worked with gloves on.

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.

The Impreza RS offers a hard-to-beat package of capable, confident handling, a decently sized interior, and creature comforts. While it's especially ideal for the Snow Belt, drivers everywhere will appreciate the Impreza's unique features and wonderfully easy-to-control handling.


2002 subaru impreza 2.5 rs car reviews