Special Coverage

logoNew York Int’l Auto Show

NEW YORK – Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., maker of Subaru cars, has never staged an Impreza launch outside Japan before.

But in a desire to gain recognition for its new compact car, the auto maker is debuting the latest-generation car at the 2007 New York International Auto Show here.

Fuji Heavy CEO Ikuo Mori tells Ward’s Impreza’s sales success last year largely was due to car buyers’ desire for a fuel-efficient vehicle.

But while Subaru’s WRX performance model enjoys high name recognition, the Impreza does not. “Sometimes it seems like the car behind the WRX gets lost in its shadow,” says Tim Colbeck, head of sales for Subaru of America Inc.

Ward’s data shows Impreza sales rose 22.3% in the U.S last year to 41,148 units, with 2007 sales to date up 14.1% to 9,448.

Still, the car trails competition by a wide margin, including the Mazda3, with 94,437 units sold in 2006, and the Honda Civic, with more than 300,000 deliveries last year.

The new Impreza sedan is 4.5 ins. (11.4 cm) longer than the model it replaces, with a 3.7-in. (9.4 cm) longer wheelbase. While width remains the same, 2 ins. (5 cm) have been added to the interior for greater passenger comfort, Subaru says.

Colbeck says at a preview coinciding with the show that the ’08 Impreza is expected to attract new buyers to Subaru, suggesting they will be younger and made up of more woman purchasers than before.

The new Impreza 2.5i is powered by a 2.5L 4-cyl. naturally aspirated engine making 170 hp and 170 lb.-ft. (231 Nm) of torque. Subaru says it has relocated the engine slightly to lower the car’s center of gravity.

A double wishbone rear suspension is used, allowing for improved ride and handling but also a deeper and wider luggage compartment, Subaru says. The car gets a new interior, with a twin cockpit look and faux brushed aluminum trim detail.

The ’08 Impreza will be offered in 4- and 5-door body styles, as will the performance WRX. The 4-door is unique to North America while the 5-door models are 2 ins. shorter than their predecessors.

The WRX gets a new 2.5L turbo boxer engine making 224 hp and 226 lb.-ft. (306 Nm) of torque. It has a sharper suspension and sport seats, Colbeck says, as well as the model’s signature hood scoop. Subaru officials say an STI version will follow soon.

Both the Impreza 2.5i and Impreza WRX offer a stability control system as an option. Pricing for the WRX will begin “under $25,000,” Colbeck says, in the mid-$20,000 range.

Both the new Impreza and WRX go on sale in the U.S. in late summer.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com