Subaru's Road Rocket Cries for a Manual
Slushbox, Turbo Lags
by Jim Bray
Subaru's Impreza WRX is being hailed by many as a legitimate road rocket.
Inspired by the marque's championship rally vehicles, the 2002 WRX' secret
weapon is a turbocharged, two liter four cylinder power plant that cranks out
227 hp and 217 foot pounds of torque.
The result is supposed to be a Really Fast Car - and with its five-speed manual
transmission it probably is. Unfortunately, the Subaru Impreza WRX Sport Wagon
I drove was hamstrung by the optional four-speed automatic transmission and,
off the line, that and a case of turbo lag has turned this projectile into
a bit of a brick.
To be fair, once you get the revs up past 3000 or so, the afterburner kicks
in and you're sent hustling with remarkable abandon. Until then, however, one
is tempted to get out and push.
That's a shame, because there's plenty to like about this car, especially
if you view yourself as any kind of enthusiast.
Maybe the press car I got had seen one too many journalistic Walter Mittys,
but some customer reviews of the WRX I read also mention low end grunt as one
of their pet peeves, so maybe it wasn't just me.
Oh, well. Besides the turbocharged power plant, the $24,000 (approximate base
price) Impreza WRX comes with full-time all-wheel-drive, a very nicely set
up fully independent suspension that imparts wonderful road feel (without excess
harshness) and is eminently nimble, tossable, and predictable. The front suspension
uses lower L-arms with liquid-filled rear bushings and stabilizer bar, while
the rear suspension has parallel links and a stabilizer bar. Steering is rack-and-pinion
with engine-speed-sensing variable power assist, and it has very nice feel.
Subaru has done a really nice job on this suspension and the result is a car
that handles extremely well.
The braking system includes standard discs with ABS and the 16 inch aluminum
wheels are mounted with Bridgestone Potenza performance-rated tires. Subarus are built to be long lasting cars, but eventually Subaru Impreza brakes will need to be replaced. Protecting your investment with high-quality brakes from Parts Geek will keep the braking system performing well.
On the whole, this is an attractive and roomy small station wagon with plenty
of space for luggage or (when the 60/40 split rear seats are folded down),
a bicycle, or just about anything else, within reason. The body style includes
fog lamps, aerodynamic "ground effects" add-ons, a rear spoiler mounted
over the tailgate, and a roof rack.
The front seats are fantastic: they're kind of cup like, in that they not
only have side bolsters but the seat cushion itself wraps around your posterior
to ensure that once you hit those corners your body stays right where it should.
I didn't have a chance to take the WRX on a really long trip, but I suspect
it would be a very comfortable and enjoyable drive.
The driving position is nearly perfect and I really liked Subaru's placement
of the brake pedal: it's farther forward than on most cars I've driven recently,
more on the level of the gas pedal and this facilitates "heel and toe" driving
- though that's wasted with the automatic transmission.
Some of the interior treatment seems a tad cheap, or at least not as up to
snuff as some of this price range's competition. That said, Subaru throws in
pretty well everything you'd expect in this type of car, including power everything,
a six speaker AM/FM/cassette stereo with in dash 6 disc CD changer. The stereo
is okay, but it also doesn't thunder in the manner of some of its competition.
There's plenty of headroom, too, which makes the interior feel cavernous.
Safety equipment includes the usual front air bags as well as front side air
bags, while front passengers get height adjustable, 3 point seatbelts with
pre-tensioners and force limiters. All three rear passengers get three point
The Impreza WRX is EPA rated at 20/27 (manual) and 19/26 with the automatic.
Gas mileage, not surprisingly, goes right into the tank when you insist on
driving the car in the manner for which it was designed - but the same can
be said about any vehicle, and the WRX seemed no worse than its competition
in this regard.
I wish I'd have tried the Subaru WRX with the 5 speed manual transmission,
because the automatic's sluggish performance from a standing start really colored
my feelings for it. If not for that I would have been delighted with the WRX'
combined performance, features and "fun to drive quotient."