Since its introduction in 2008, the current version of the Subaru Impreza has been high on my list of recommended cars, largely because of its commitment to safety (standard all-wheel-drive, standard antilock brakes, and, as of 2009, standard electronic stability control) and easy-to-drive nature. 2009 sees the introduction of a new version of the Impreza, the 2.5GT, with more power and creature comforts. So does more Impreza mean a better Impreza? Read on. $27,690 base/as tested, EPA fuel economy estimates 19 MPG city, 24 MPG highway.
First Glance at the Impreza 2.5GT: Getting the Scoop
The 2.5GT is a new addition to the Impreza lineup (which also includes the 2.5i, WRX and STI). In many ways, it picks up where last year's WRX left off, with the same 224 horsepower turbocharged engine and the same anonymous styling. (The 2009 WRX, meanwhile, has moved on to bigger and better things, with more power and a fancier body kit.) The 2.5GT is also the only choice for Subaru hot-rodders who can't drive a stick -- it comes exclusively with a 4-speed automatic transmission, while the WRX can now only be had with a manual transmission. Price-wise, the GT sits between the WRX and the king-of-the-hill STI, mostly because the 2.5GT comes with a bunch of nice-to-haves that are extra-cost options on lesser Imprezas.
Like the 2.5i, the Impreza 2.5GT is available as a 4-door sedan or, for $500 more, a handy mini-wagon. From the front, the 2.5GT is distinguished from the 2.5i by a gigantic hood scoop (link goes to photo). The scoop sticks out like a sore thumb against the 2.5GT's dull-but-sensible styling, but it actually serves a purpose; it feeds air to the engine's intercooler (a device that works with the turbocharger to boost the engine's power output). Out back, you can tell the two versions apart by... well, nothing, save the GT badge. Styling-wise, the Impreza 2.5GT is a complete snoozer, though with so much horsepower under the hood, stealth styling isn't such a bad thing.
In the Driver's Seat of the Impreza 2.5GT: More of the same, better or worse
The 2.5GT's interior is similar to other Imprezas, and as with other Imprezas I have a love-hate relationship with it. I love the easy-to-read gauges and simple layout. Take the climate controls -- most automatic systems are controlled by a forest of indistinguishable buttons, but the Impreza uses three simple dials with "auto" detents for fan and airflow. Wonderful! Touches like these are part of the reason I often recommend the Impreza for younger, less-experienced drivers -- less distraction equals greater safety. But I hate the cheap-looking plastic-covered door panels. Even the Wal-Mart-grade Chevrolet Aveo5 gets a little fabric on the doors. The Impreza offers adequate room both up front and out back, but the trunk, with its inclined floor, leaves something to be desired.
Equipment-wise, the 2.5GT gets everything the 2.5i does -- power windows, locks and mirrors, A/C, and cruise control -- plus an automatic transmission and all the goodies from the 2.5i and WRX's Premium Packages (alloy wheels, automatic climate control, 6-disc CD changer, fog lights, glass sunroof, heated seats, and a heated grid that keeps the windshield wipers from icing up). Compared to an Impreza 2.5i with those features (except heated seats, which aren't offered on the 2.5i), the 2.5GT costs a whopping $6,500 more, though it's still $500 less than a comparably-equipped WRX. Oddly enough, satellite radio and GPS navigation, optional on other Imprezas, aren't offered on the 2.5GT.
On the Road with the Impreza 2.5GT: The safety you need, the power you don't
The 2.5GT is powered by a turbocharged version of the 2.5 liter four-cylinder engine found in the Impreza 2.5i. Compared to the non-turbo Impreza 2.5i, the GT produces an extra 54 horsepower and 56 lb-ft of torque -- but, like most turbo engines, it doesn't really start to cook until above 3,000 RPM. Power for passing and hill-climbing is fantastic, but there's little advantage around town. The GT not only uses more gas than the 2.5i -- I averaged around 20 MPG, compared to 24.6 in the last 2.5i I tested -- but it requires premium fuel. And the GT's old-fashioned 4-speed automatic doesn't help matters. Many of the Impreza's rivals use 5- and 6-speed automatics, which generally boost both fuel economy and acceleration.
The GT's suspension is set up for a ride-and-handling balance mid-way between the 2.5i and the WRX. In character, it's definitely closer to the WRX; with the right moves it's possible to get the tail to slide around a bit, which can be a lot of fun if you're expecting it but quite frightening if you aren't. The ride is soft and compliant, just like the 2.5i, which makes it comfortable for cruising or commuting but problematic in the curves -- if a series of bumps sets the Impreza's suspension rocking, it makes it difficult to keep all four wheels planted firmly on the pavement. That said, with all-wheel-drive and electronic stability control both standard, the Impreza keeps a better (and safer) grip on the road than most of its rivals, especially when the weather turns bad.
Journey's End: Impreza's a great car, but don't buy this one
It's a funny thing with me and Subarus -- the more they cost, the less I like 'em. The Impreza GT is a nice car, but is it really worth $6,500 more than an Impreza 2.5i? Not in my book. The 2.5i may trail the 2.5GT by 54 hp, but it's still got more get-up-and-go than most compact sedans, plus it gets better gas mileage than the GT (though worse than most of its rivals), and it uses cheaper 87-octane gas. And now that the 2.5i comes with standard electronic stability control to complement its standard all-wheel-drive system, it's a safer bet than ever.
It's hard to compare the Impreza 2.5GT to other vehicles, because so few compact sedans offer all-wheel-drive. Still, it's worth keeping in mind that for the same price as the Impreza 2.5GT you could get a mid-size Mazda 6i Grand Touring with electronic stability control and leather seats, and still have enough change left over to gas it for six months.
What if you want to go fast? Then forget the 2.5GT and go for the WRX, which looks better and has significantly more power. Can't drive a stick? Then try Mitsubishi's comparably-priced Lancer Ralliart, which gets a 237 hp turbocharged engine, all-wheel-drive, and a sophisticated six-speed twin-clutch automatic transmission.
Bottom line: The Impreza 2.5GT misses the mark. The extra equipment and extra performance as compared to other Impreza models don't justify the higher price and running costs. The Impreza 2.5i and WRX remain high on my list of favorites. But the Impreza 2.5GT? Skip it. -- Aaron Gold