Take this simple quiz:
Which is more important?
a. leather seats
b. 95 more horsepower
Which do you prefer on an open road?
a. automatic transmission
b. manual transmission
What is a Sunday drive?
b. ditching the family to go to the mountain road that the cops don’t know about
For the few who actually answered “a”, we’re sorry for interrupting your search for Cat Fancy Online - please keep surfing because the following does not apply to you.
For the rest of us who actually like to use cars not just as an appliance but also as a source of entertainment, here’s some obvious news: Subaru likes to make cars for real drivers.
The Subaru Impreza WRX is a favorite of many enthusiasts because the formula works well. Take a standard Impreza sedan that already has an impressive all-wheel drive system, and then add 95 more horsepower, racing seats, performance suspension and bigger tires. The result is an everyday rally car at a bargain price.
Our tester was out to get attention whether we wanted it or not. Bright red paint, body kit (including spoiler), clear lamp lenses, and gunmetal grey wheels were all standard. With the hatchback body, we always looked like we were young and asking for trouble.
There is another way to go with the WRX. As long as it’s not in the even hotter STI package, the WRX can be had in a more sedate four-door body. The hatchless WRX looks almost like a small version of the last generation Toyota Camry. Combine this with a more sedate color like silver or grey, and the WRX will fit in the carpool lane without causing too much commotion.
From the driver’s seat there isn’t much difference between the WRX and any other Impreza. It’s obvious the $7,500 it takes to upgrade from the standard Impreza to the WRX model goes directly into function bits like the engine and suspension. There are no extra controls or extra shiny bits. Just the six-disc audio system and a climate control system used in the lesser models. It all works well and doesn’t look cheap, but its definitely more economy car than sports car.
What is not available on the regular Imprezas is a pair of front racing-style bucket seats. These kept us firmly planted during test runs, but more importantly, unlike true “hardcore” racing seats, these are comfortable over long periods of time. We spent the better part of a day traveling to an event, and our rear ends didn’t give the kind of howl we usually get from a full racing seat.
The standard Impreza starts with a 170 horsepower four-cylinder engine. This is good for an economy car, and would probably be lively drive, but we will probably refuse to drive that car because the WRX spoiled us. The turbocharger Subaru dropped into the WRX give this car a 95 hp advantage over the regular Impreza (it also only weighs about 100 lbs more.)
When running the car hard on straight stretches of road 1st , 2nd, and 3rd gears of the five-speed manual are run through almost as fast as you can shift. The turbocharger is a big par of that. The turbo is already working at 2,500 RPM and is fully engaged by 3,500 RPM.
In the twisties is where the upgraded performance suspension and all-wheel drive really come into their own. We couldn’t find the handling limits of the WRX on any of our test courses, and we tried hard. Because the all-wheel drive system is symmetrical, there is always grip at some wheel, which means any decent driver can feel his/her way into and out of hard corners. Every piece of the road surface is communicated though the steering, which is great for having fun but can cost a little comfort in everyday driving.
Is the ride a little more jarring than most small cars in its class? Yes. Is the harshness worth it? Absolutely.
This is some serious speed that starts at $25,000, but the WRX is not alone in its class. The Dodge Caliber SRT 4 has a similar price and more power, but its front-wheel drive set up can cause killer torque steer. Hardcore aspiring racers will upgrade to the adjustable suspension and 305 hp WRX STI, or the paddle shifters and 291 hp engine Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X. But both of those cars start a few thousand dollars north of $30K.
When it comes to an all-around cheap speed machine, the Impreza WRX is tough to beat. We liked our little Subie, and it will be a sad day when we have to rotate our fleet. It will be tough to trade its power and grip for leather seats and a sat-nav system.