2002 Subaru Impreza Wagon Reviews and Ratings

Wagon 5D Outback AWD

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2002 Subaru Impreza Wagon
John Matras

Subaru Impreza Outback Sport is a subcompact for the snowbelt. Its all-wheel drive will get you home when you probably shouldn't have been out, as well as provide extra traction and handling on wet pavement. It's all new for 2002.

Like the other Impreza models, this year's Outback Sport boasts a new chassis and styling, and a larger standard engine. (See nctd.com for review of the sporty Impreza 2.5 RS and WRX models.)

The Outback Sport's spunky 2.5-liter engine and all-wheel drive push this outdoorsy wagon out of the budget wheels category. Subaru recognizes this by equipping it with features usually optional on entry level models. The price, starting at $18,695, also pushes it well above small wagons such as the Kia Rio Cinco or the Ford Focus wagon. But then, the Outback Sport offers much more. Model Lineup
Subaru has positioned the Outback Sport to appeal to people who are practical or outdoorsy or both.

The $18,695 Outback Sport, like all Subarus, comes standard with full-time all-wheel drive, anti-lock brakes, 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, power door locks and windows, tilt steering column, cruise control, 60/40 split fold-down rear seats, ambient temperature gauge, tachometer, and fog lights. Like a tiny SUV, it comes with a rubber cargo mat in back. Walkaround
The new Subaru styling is striking, particularly the large oval headlamps with the integrated turn signals, combined with the large foglamps just below. It's derived from the rally-racing image Subaru is cultivating for the other Impreza models, but it also works well with the outdoorsy image of the Outback Sport. The Outback Sport stands tall in a parking lot, continuing the humpbacked wagon profile of the earlier Impreza wagons along with the two-tone paint scheme. The new 16-inch alloy wheels are much classier than the nicest full wheelcovers.

The rear hatch has a door handle rather than a key-operated release. And the top of the rear bumper has a rubber pad that will save the painted plastic on the bumper from scrapes and dings while loading gear in back. The standard roof rack will prove useful to people who want to carry bicycles, kayaks, skis or other toys to their respective playgrounds. Interior
2002 brings a new interior to the Impreza Outback Sport. Subaru designers shopped in the better end of the plastics store and it shows in the quality look and feel of the interior. The materials are nicer than what's found in many compact cars. The new interior is not only roomier, but looks it as well, with a two-tone treatment, darker on upper surfaces to reduce reflections and lighter on lower surfaces for visual expansiveness.

Seating surfaces and door inserts have a nice tweedy fabric that's soft and warm. The front seats have wing bolsters on the seatback for adequate lateral support when cornering, but forego high side bolsters on the seat bottoms, allowing easier entry and exit. It's a nice compromise. Power seats aren't available. However, the driver's seat levers up and down to accommodate drivers of different heights, somewhat similarly to the way Volkswagen seats operate; in addition there are the usual recline and fore-and-aft adjustments. The steering wheel also has a generous two inches of up-and-down adjustment, almost double that of the previous-generation Impreza.

Power window and lock switches are located in the armrests; the driver's window switch is lighted, a plus, but having the door lock switch lighted as well would prevent fumbling for it in the dark. The dual map lights are well positioned for easy reading in the dark. The cover cubbyhole on the dash of the previous generation was replaced by a digital clock. A mini-visor over the inside rear view mirror is appreciated when the sun is just in the wrong position.

Rear foot room is limited unless driver and front passenger move their seats forward, although we're aware this is a small car. It's not the widest car, though, and three adult males in the back seat is a tight squeeze. At least there are three full lap-and-shoulder belts, the middle with a retaining guide on the seatback. A retractable cargo cover is standard and removable; with the rear seatbacks tilted forward, there's a maximum of 61.6 cubic feet of take-it-with-you space. How much new camping gear do two people need? Well, there's always that roof rack and under-floor stowage in the cargo area for those who continually browse the Mountain Hardwear catalog.

The cargo area also has a power point, great for inflating rubber rafts or air mattresses. The rear hatch raises high enough that most will be able to stand underneath it without ducking. The cargo area also has its own light and four tie-down hooks. The rear glass has a defroster/deicer standard; a nice touch is the zigzag heating element under where the rear wiper, also standard, rests. Ice buildup here can render a rear wiper useless during a snowfall.

The overall feel of interior, from the quality of plastics used, to the fabrics, to the burnished-metal bezels on the dash and center console give the interior a warmth and richness often lacking in a small car. But then, the Outback Sport isn't a lowball market entrant. Driving Impressions
Experienced drivers notice that there's something different under the hood of the Outback Sport. All Subarus now sold in the U.S. have horizontally opposed engines. In other words, instead of cylinders in a line or in a vee shape, they stick out to either side opposite one another. This has a number of technical advantages, but the most noticeable is engine smoothness. The reciprocating masses cancel the worst of the vibrations.

As a result, the big 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine in the Outback Sport is relatively smooth without power-sapping add-ons such as balance shafts or expensive vibration-damping engine mounts. The Subaru four-cylinder engine isn't the silkiest engine running, and it has its own distinctive sound, but it's quiet at idle and cruise.

Outback Sport's 165 horsepower is more than expected in a subcompact and its 166 pounds-feet of torque is especially useful climbing hills and for producing brisk acceleration around town. The VW Jetta wagon 1.8T trumps it with 180 horsepower, but lacks the outdoors atmosphere, and all-wheel drive, of the Outback Sport, while the new subcompact wagon from Mazda, the Protege5, produces a mere 130 horsepower.

Our Outback Sport came equipped with the four-speed automatic transmission. The shifter is located on the console and requires lateral movement to shift from one position to another, except between Neutral, Drive and Drive3. This makes it easy to select Drive3 when starting out by mistake, then drive around for awhile before noticing you're not in high gear. It's also easy to shift into neutral when shifting out of a lower gear. Familiarization will no doubt reduce these occurrences, and having Drive3 and Drive close together is handy when shifting back and forth in town or in the mountains. Like any automatic transmission, it does sap some power from the four-cylinder engine. A driver of a 1999 Subaru L wagon with a five-speed manual commented that the 165-horsepower 2002 model equipped with the automatic did not feel any peppier than her 142-horsepower wagon. There's a price to be paid for the convenience of the automatic.

One might not expect sports car-like handling from an SUV-like crossover vehicle such as the Outback Sport, but remember that the Impreza's chassis was laid out to optimize its performance in the high-performance WRX and sporty 2.5 RS models. So the basic vehicle has the bones for it. The Outback Sport is responsive and nimble and more stable in corners than the mini-SUVs such as the Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape or Subaru's own Forester, all taller than the Outback Sport.

All-wheel drive gives the Outback Sport a leg up, or perhaps two legs up, on its front-drive competition, on dry pavement but especially on wet roads or gravel, and very especially on snow or ice. Traction control and front-wheel drive are good, but no match for grip from all four wheels. The all-wheel drive is engaged full-time, unlike systems that require activation, and can be used on dry pavement, which some truckish part-time four-wheel drive systems cannot. The editor got a chance to try the Outback Sport in the snow when a winter storm dumped nearly 10 inches on the Eastern Seaboard. All-wheel drive gave the Outback Sport the traction needed to venture out when others were left stranded or struggling. It also helped keep the car pointed in more or less the direction being traveled. It doesn't make the car invincible, but it'll stop in a shorter distance than a heavier SUV.

The Outback Sport has front disc and rear drum brakes fully capable of slowing this car. The four-channel, four-sensor anti-lock braking system will provide shorter stops in slippery conditions, as each wheel can use braking to the limit of traction. That's better than cheaper systems that, for example, include both rear wheels on the same circuit, which can only apply the braking force to the limit of the wheel with the least amount of traction.

The Outback Sport shares a common shortcoming of economical cars, especially wagons: road noise. The sound of the tires on the road surface is transmitted into the cabin, especially in the open rear area. It's not severe but is noticeable. The solutions are to move to a more expensive class of automobile, ignore it, or turn up the radio. Summary
The Outback Sport provides something offered in no other car on the U.S. market: all-wheel drive in a compact wagon at a sub-$20,000 price. More expensive than most of its competitors in this size class, it offers more mechanically along with more features than the others.

The outdoorsy motif is a plus for those who don't want to drive an ordinary car, while the wagon format and standard roof rack provide utility. The Outback Sport will best the boxy and tall mini-SUVs for fuel economy as well. For those who can afford the extra premium over most small cars, the Outback Sport is a little hauler that will get you to the slopes, or anywhere else, on time.

Model as tested
Outback Sport ($18,695)
Basic Warranty
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested
4-speed automatic transmission ($800); keyless entry ($175); splash guards ($150)

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
Outback Sport ($18,695)
Safety equipment (standard)
ABS, all-wheel drive, front airbags, pre-tensioners/force limiters for front seatbelts, 3-point seatbelts for all positions, rear seat headrests, daytime running lights, Uniform Child Restraint Anchorage
Safety equipment (optional)
2.5-liter sohc 16-valve H4
4-speed automatic

Specifications as Tested
power windows w/driver's auto down, air conditioning, 80-watt AM/FM stereo with single-disc CD player, cruise control, digital ambient temperature gauge, variable intermittent wipers, intermittent rear wiper, rear defroster with wiper deicer, floor mats, height-adjustable driver's seat, power door locks, tilt wheel, alloy wheels, 60/40 split fold rear seatbacks, fog lights, roof rack, fuel door release

Engine & Transmission
2.5-liter sohc 16-valve H4
Drivetrain type
all-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
165 @ 5600
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)

Brakes, front/rear
disc/drum with ABS
Suspension, front
P205/55R16 all-season
Suspension, rear

Seating capacity
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear

Fuel capacity
Trunk volume
61.6 cu. ft. (with rear seats lowered)
Turning circle
Towing capacity
Track, front/rear
Ground clearance
Curb weight
3105 (w/ automatic)

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