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Our main driving impression of the Subaru Impreza car is that it's the perfect size for running around town while still being comfortable on the freeway out there against the trucks and big SUVs. As a runabout that's not too big and not too small, it's solid, safe, simple, and provides standard all-wheel drive so it's ready for any highway driving condition.
There are two different all-wheel-drive systems on the standard models. Those with the five-speed manual transmission use locking center differential with viscous coupling, that distributes power evenly between the front and rear wheels on dry pavement, and shifts the torque around only when a tire slips. The models with automatic transmission use what Subaru calls Active Torque Split that transfers power based on acceleration and deceleration, as well as slippage. It's more sophisticated than the five-speed system, but if what you're mostly after is traction in snow, either does the job.
The four-speed automatic has four speeds with a Sportshift semi-manual mode that works well. The driver can upshift and downshift using the shift lever. The fact that were a mere four speeds lifted our eyebrows, considering that many transmissions are now five speeds, but we didn't encounter any situations where it felt like the ratios were too far apart, as we have with others.
We ran our Outback Sport hard, city and highway, very little cruising at a mellow and steady 65, and we averaged 22.2 miles per gallon.
Out on the highway, we found plenty of speed from the standard 170-horsepower engine, with 170 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm. We found no flat spots or places where it was lacking. And, as we said, the transmission kept up just fine, when we had to hammer the throttle to pass trucks on a fast two-lane.
The Impreza has a smooth highway ride with responsive cornering, thanks in small part to its long wheelbase (103.1 inches), and now, an engine placement that's even lower than before; it was already lower than the competition, thanks to its being horizontally opposed. The best-in-class engine placement lowers the center of gravity and improves the balance, solid and agile cornering. What's more, every Impreza now uses the quick WRX steering rack, with 2.8 turns lock-to-lock, and a tight 34.8-foot turning circle. You can definitely feel it, and it's good.
Although the suspension on the Outback Sport is described as heavy duty, with 17-inch wheels, it didn't translate into a beefy ride. Nor did we find the sedan's ride to be too soft. The rear suspension is double wishbone, like what's found on many sports cars. Its compact layout allows more room above, in the cargo area.