Review: 2008 Subaru Impreza

I was excited to drive the all-new 2008 Impreza 4-door sedan. Recently, a friend of mine had driven WRXs and STIs through the frozen tundra of the Yukon Territory of Canada. He raved about it’s performance, on-snow driving, and how fun it was to rally those cars through breathtaking scenery. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have the opportunity to take it through such dramatic landscapes, nor was I driving the sport-packed engines of the WRX or STI.

Subaru Impreza

The introductory price of my Impreza was $17,000 and includes a 170-hp engine that is unfortunately under-powered. With such a rich heritage of rally car champions, getting into a Subaru and feeling the sluggish, unresponsive weight of the throttle disappointed much more than when driving an even more under-powered car but from a lesser pedigree. And as I remembered from driving Imprezas past, the seats were firm and uncomfortable. The final negative was the car looked and felt very cheap inside. The first glance around the cockpit revealed plastic-looking and feeling levers, knobs, and dash panels that aren’t inappropriate for an entry-level car, but again, with such a rich heritage of making great cars, it was disappointing to see how cheap this Subaru was. Continue reading Review: 2008 Subaru Impreza

Review: 2007 Tribeca

The Subaru Tribeca is one of those cars that garner three reactions. 1. Surprise; “I didn’t know Subaru made a SUV”. 2. Disdain; “Wow, that is one funny looking car”. and 3. Confusion; “Yeah, I don’t know how I feel about it. It’s kind of weird.” While, only 1/3 the responses were outright negative, it’s hard to find people who just love this vehicle.

Subaru Tribeca B9

To look at it, you’re going to either love it or hate it. It’s incredibly unique shape, curves, and features make it stand out like few other $30,000 cars do right now. However, that uniqueness is the main problem people have with this car. Personally, I’m not a big fan of the rear 1/3 of the car. The front is pretty unassuming, but from behind it always has reminded me of an alien head. I think that Subaru would have had a real winner on it’s hand if they hadn’t handicapped themselves by giving it such unusual styling which people could disagree with. However, the 2008 model addresses these issues and it looks much better. But this review is about the 2007, so let’s get back to that.

Continue reading Review: 2007 Tribeca

Review: 2006 Subaru Outback 2.5 i Limited

My first experience with station wagons came as a result of watching, over and over again, National Lampoon’s Vacation (the original and still my favorite). Clark is taking the kids across the country with aunt Edna strapped to the roof of the family truckster. Big, green, with wood-paneled sides; I feel this car is the quiet, true winner of Most Under-Whelming Car of All-Time. Leap forward 20 years and the wagon has seen some serious change, both in performance and public image. At least in the Northwest, Subaru’s Outback is synonymous with greatness, featuring one of the largest cargo areas in the way-way back, lots of leg room in the rear seats, and standard all-wheel handling. It’s somewhere between rally car and family truckster, with a dash of mountain-biking cool thrown in for good measure.

2006 Subaru Outback Wagon

I’ve heard in Texas people don’t really care about Subarus, but in Oregon, these are the cars people drive. As someone who’s grown up mountain biking and snowboarding, for the past 15 years my friends have driven pretty much every possible configuration of Subaru wagon made. And each year, they get a little nicer, a little more refined, and a little more revered in “adventure sport’” lifestyles. Myself, I’ve always appreciated the Outback’s tall ride height, its stock use of roof racks and fog lights, tight turning radius, and its ability to drive through any road condition I could throw at it. This test car came with all of that goodness included.

Inside you find the 6-disc, in-dash CD changer, steering wheel-mounted controls for almost everything, the largest moon roof I’ve ever seen outside the Outback’s Forester brother, and overall the most headroom, foot room and shoulder space found in a car I’ve driven. It was very nice to have four passengers and not have to adjust my seat to make room for three people in the back. With my seat the maximum distance from the pedals, I often have to shorten up to be fair to those not driving, but not in the Outback. That monster moon roof gives lots of light to fill the cabin and create giant views of the sky. It had several different automatic settings, tipped open, slightly open, halfway open, and all-the-way-strap-the-kids-in-we-don’t-want-to-lose-one open. At all settings it only returned slight wind noise and minimal cabin drafts, something I appreciate.

Despite all of these refinements and niceties, I did notice some downsides. One of which was a truly touchy volume knob on the stereo. From 0 (silent) to 1 on the indicator made a large jump, and often I wanted much quieter than what 1 offered. It felt odd to use large increments for the volume, as I’ve known many people to be very picky about the exact level of sound they want coming out of the speakers. And at stoplights, even at level 1, the radio was loud enough to warrant having to raise your voice to speak over it. Small annoyance, but one that should have been addressed in R & D.

Another small annoyance was the car’s inability to normalize cabin temperatures. Using Auto on the climate controls only made the fans click on to High and blow the crap out of your face. Closing vents just made it blow harder. And when I tried to adjust it manually, I could never get it to change in an increment that would come close to the temperature I wanted. There were several times when the only solution was to open the windows and let the outside air normalize the inside of the car. Even when it was a nice 72 degrees outside, I had a hard time getting that temperature inside. Very odd and annoying.

While driving, this car handled pretty much as expected. Like a larger wagon. However, it certainly didn’t get any of the WRX’s raw sportiness. This Outback had the same engine as a similar Impreza I got to drive a while back, and the extra weight found in the Outback made itself obvious. There was plenty of power to get around town, and even to pass, but there was absolutely none of the thrill of driving that other Subarus I’ve driven provide—with or without the turbo. On the highway though, it was a solid, comfortable car that made you forget all about it. With nothing really to distract you, good or bad, it gave me plenty of room to focus on the inability to exactly control the stereo volume or climate control.

At the end of the ride, I felt like the Outback held few surprises. It is a good-sized car and you are awarded plenty of space inside as a result. It has nice features, and in the right part of the country, it has a sexy allure to it. However, it doesn’t look like a sports car, nor is it overly luxurious to drive. But it doesn’t try to be either of those. Instead, it’s a practical car, giving practical mileage and power output. It has lots of room to get you wherever you need to go, and an all-wheel ability to get there regardless of driving conditions. For those who love the outdoors, it’s a symbol of the lifestyle. For those who want attention, or to make up for other deficiencies, this car has nothing to offer. I would gladly drive it and would be happy owning it, but I knew that before I got in and drove it for the first time. 3.5 stars.

Quick Review: Subaru Forester 2.5 XT

I’ve said in the past that I drive a Honda Accord Wagon, so to some people, I have the automotive taste of a 75 librarian. However, I still appreciate a fun and exciting car as much as the next guy, but I can’t deny my love for wagons.

2006 Subaru Forester XT

The craziest thing about this car is that it really doesn’t feel like a wagon. There were several times that I turned to look behind my driver’s seat just to make sure that this car was as big as I remembered it, and that it hadn’t changed into a small coupe while I wasn’t looking. It’s not the sexiest car in the world, nor is it the fastest, but this car is a crazy blend of a daily usability and suprising agility.

It all comes down to the turbo. When this car is low in the revs, it’s exactly what you would expect, but once that turbo kicks in, you swing by even the most aggressive of city drivers.

I didn’t have this car for long, nor did I really get to take it up in the hills and play, but I just kept thinking how hard it would be to keep the foot out of the pedal as I raced up old roads with mountain bikes on the top. It’s almost a bad blend; SUV style usability, complete with racks for top mounted items, and a drivability that would throw them right off the top.

I thought this was a fun car, and would love a longer weekend with it.

Quick Review: Subaru B9 Tribeca

Subaru Tribeca

Let�s get it right out in the open. This car looks weird. It is far from elegant and beautiful, far from sleek and sexy, far from what you even think of when you think of Subaru. To put it simply, it�s sort of homely. With that said however, I can�t go so far as to say that it�s ugly, or hideous.

If you look at the right pictures of it, it looks sort of like a mutated CR-V, or a RAV4, slightly stretched and a little higher off the ground. From other angles, it looks more like a Honda Odyssey or some other as-close-to-a-minivan-without-actually-being-a-minivan-thing that you can get. In my opinion, it�s the backend that�s the most unforgiving, like some sort of alien Cyclops.

Once inside, it plays the same story over again. Not an especially elegant interior, but not necessarily offensive either. It feels a little over-designed actually, and in some cases, there are some things that are so different that you almost feel that they made it unique just to be different, not to be better. The dials are easy to read, but not always presented in an intuitive fashion, the temperature controls are nice with integrated temp displays inside the rotating temperature knob, and the navigation system has a touch screen.

Once on the road though, it is very unexceptional. It brags about a 250 hp engine, and a larger displacement than even the WRX gets, but when you put the foot down, it goes all the way to the floor and you really can�t tell. I had three passengers in the car with me, we stopped at a red light and at green, I floored it. Nobody noticed that I was trying to hotrod it, nobody noticed that I was �driving fast.� Maybe that was because I wasn�t driving fast, I wasn�t even accelerating fast. I wasn�t even making a lot of noise. I have to say, it really drove like a small, underpowered/anemic SUV rather than the $38,000 Subaru that the sticker on the window claims it is.

I�m sure the Tribeca will find an audience. The presence of the Baja proves that people will buy anything with a Subaru badge on it, and this is a utility vehicle. However, it is in no way even close to a �sports� utility vehicle. With it�s Subaru off-road handling, I�m sure it would be great in the snow and bad weather, but I think this car will find itself picking up the kids from soccer practice in the rain before you see mountain bikers and snowboarders tossing their equipment onto the top while they head out for some extreme sports.

Would I buy it? No. Would I drive it? Yes. Although, I can already hear the cackles and laughs, the jokes and the sneers.