I replaced my 1995 Eclipse GSX with a 2002 WRX for a DD about two weeks ago. I thought I'd share some impressions of the differences between the cars. I had owned this Eclipse for about 2 years and a 98 GSX for about a year before that one. I own and have owned a few more true sports cars than the Impreza, but I won’t be comparing the WRX to those here.
What initially attracted me to DSMs were the looks and the AWD. In my opinion, the 2g Eclipse/Talon is one of the nicest looking cars that Japan has ever made, whether it was Mitsubishi or Chrysler who did the styling, it doesn't really matter to me. Being a DD in Colorado, I also like to have AWD in case I need to drive through our occasional snow storms. FWD works, but AWD makes it actually fun (as you guys know). Initially, I didn’t care if the car I was looking for was turbocharged or not. I wasn’t looking for power. Having come from a 92 Integra GS-R, I was used to beating the snot out of an engine to get it to move. After having driven the Eclipse for a while though, I really came to appreciate the torque of a turbocharged engine (if not the fuel economy).
In general, DSMs are not well built for long term use. They were fairly complicated and seemed to be made from a lot of parts relative to other cars. They rattle from the sunroof, rear hatch, dashboard, and various other places. The suspension is all double wishbone, which means wheel location control is pretty good and the ride is impressively subtle for the kind of handling that the car is capable of, but it also means there are alot of bushings to go bad, and they do, and you can hear it going over bumps in the road. There's always something electronic that isn't working. The engines in these cars are the same basic unit used up until the Evo 9. Iron block and Al heads make this a very robust unit. Tuners squeeze out amazing amounts of power from the engine. Stock it comes with a Garret T25 turbo that was rated at 200bhp and 215ft-lb. Like the Impreza, the GSX uses a 50/50 F/R torque split LSD transfer case and has an LSD rear end. It weighs a little more than the impreza but the weight distribution is about the same.
Exterior – This is subjective, of course. To me, the Eclipse is just so well proportioned and sleek (unless you’re looking at the rear end). It’s what all sports coupes of the 90s should have looked like. Great proportions and great lines. It sits low and wide and looks fast just sitting still That rear end is where the stylists dropped the ball, it’s just an abrupt ending to an otherwise great story. It served the aerodynamics well, though; it had a Cd of 0.29. The WRX (mine’s a bug-eye wagon) is cool looking, but not what I’d consider pretty. The thing I miss is the low stance.
Interior – The interior of the Eclipse is styled much more simply than the Impreza. There’s a couple of big sweeping curves of plastic that make up the dashboard. It's very similar to the 2nd gen Toyota MR2 dashboard. There’s a boost gauge and an oil pressure gauge that the Impreza doesn’t have. In general I like the style and contours of the Impreza’s dashboard more than the swoopy curves of the Eclipse. The Eclipse shifter is up relatively high near the steering wheel, easy to reach and can be shifted without hitting the arm rest. It takes a little getting used to the wrist shifting that you have to do with the WRX. You basically sit on the floor in the Eclipse and the roof is within a couple of inches my head, I like the feeling. The Impreza feels like and SUV in comparison, you sit high up, even in the lowest position. There’s what seems like a foot of headroom. The Impreza’s seats are far superior to the power leather buckets in the Eclipse. The Eclipse seats have less bolstering and support, although they do have more adjust-ability with bottom cushion, bolster, and lumbar adjustability. The back seats in the Eclipse are a joke. There’s literally no leg room. The rear seats do fold down though, making for a space large enough to carry my bike (with the wheels removed from the frame). The Impreza’s a Cadillac in comparison space-wise. And those stupid horn buttons at 10 and 2 instead of using the center fo the sterring wheel is really frustrating.
Drive Train – The Eclipse’s shifter is notchy and the throws are long. The Impreza’s shifts are much shorter and more direct. The Eclipse drive train whines noticeably during deceleration. The clutch travel in the Eclipse is about double that of the Impreza and it’s softer too. The Impreza feels more connected to the driver and is more rewarding to operate. The Impreza feels more robust in general, although I’m still getting used to the resistance through the drive train, the Eclipse rolls backwards on hill much more easily than the Impreza. During driving on slippery roads, the LSD in the Eclipse locks up more easily than the Impreza, oversteer is easier to induce in the Eclipse.
Steering-The Eclipse has a quicker rack, which I like, the Impreza has a lot more steering feel, which I like more.
Brakes - Both are excellent. The ABS in the Impreza is a little less intrusive and subtle.
Engine/acceleration – The T25 on the Eclipse is a little turbo that spools up fast. It provides a very entertaining push in the back at midrange engine speeds. Unfortunately, the little turbo is out of breath by about 5500 RPM. After that, there’s not much thrust left. The engine revs very freely and even with the anemic top end, it’s fun to rev. It’s also very smooth, having the balance shafts and all. The Impreza is much different. The revs build noticeably more slowly and the torque delivery is much more linear than the Eclipse. At first, the Eclipse feels like it’s faster, and in normal driving, it probably is, but once the revs build, the Impreza has much more thrust and it’s clear why it’s about a second faster to sixty. The Impreza engine isn’t ever smooth, but it does make a cool growl and you can feel the engine through the steering and chassis.
Chassis and suspension –The Eclipse has a very refined ride, relatively. It feels soft driving down the road compared to the Impreza. Road imperfections are soaked up more easily. There’s a lot of noise as you’re doing it though. Even with the softer ride, the cornering is very flat. The car understeers at turn in if you cook it, but once you get it set, it’s pretty neutral. The Impreza feels much stiffer in both suspension tuning and chassis rigidity. In cornering, you can really feel the difference in the CG. The Impreza resists turn-in noticeably more and half way through the turn, just before and during application of power, the rear end of the Eclipse stays better planted. This surprised me considering all the praise that the Impreza gets for it’s handling out of the box. This is kind of the opposite of what I’ve noticed on slippery roads, strangely. This is why I attribute the dry behavior to the CG and the slippery behavior to the LSD.
Like most cars, there are tradeoffs. Overall though, despite some of my preferences of some of the Eclipse’s aspects, I’m really much happier with the Impreza. It’s much more solid, fells more confident in all weather conditions, and I know it will last much longer. When I went from the Integra to the Eclipse, it felt like I was putting an extra layer of isolation between myself and the road, now with the Impeza, it feels like that layer have been removed again.