Review and photos by Brendan McAleer

Looking through some old college photos the other day, I came across a group shot where I’m wearing a Sector 9 longboarding t-shirt. I thought to myself, “That man is now considerably fatter, but I still have that shirt hanging in my closet – it even gets worn periodically.” I flipped over the photo to check the date. 1998. Whoa.

2002 Subaru WRX SportWagon
2002 Subaru WRX SportWagon. Click image to enlarge

And that’s the kind of guy I am. I bought my house not to fix up and flip, but to live in. I knew I was going to marry my wife in a few months of dating her. I buy new clothes out of necessity only and then wear the same jeans all week until aforementioned (and somewhat long-suffering) wife forces me to do laundry.

It should therefore come as no surprise that I’m also a one-car man. When it comes to automobiles I play for keeps. So while I have the good fortune to drive all sorts of interesting metal from week to week, it’s always a relief to climb back into the comfortable, cosseting seats of my faithful old Subaru. Which as it happens, is currently a bit broken.

Previous Final Drive articles have been fond farewells, eulogies to a favourite machine that is either destined to run no more or passing into the hands of a new owner. This one’s a bit different because I have no real intention of getting rid of my WRX anytime soon – I can’t see why I would. It took me forever to get it just right.

I’d like to think some conscientious Japanese line worker took a little extra care bolting things together when she was built. The car left the factory floor as one of the last such machines to arrive in the inaugural North American year for the WRX, and sailed across the Pacific to Vancouver Island. There, in July of 2002, it was purchased by a dentist and spent a quiet, happy, first few years puttering around the winding roads of BC’s capital city.

2002 Subaru WRX SportWagon
2002 Subaru WRX SportWagon. Click image to enlarge

If you’re considering buying a WRX yourself, there are a few things to know about these early cars. While largely well-assembled, 2002 models have been known to have colossal transmission failures, and an abusive driver can quickly bring a car to the brink of implosion. They’re also a bit fussy about carefully managing tire wear, and differentials can be expensive to replace.

Factory fresh, both sedan and wagon versions of the WRX made 227 hp and, with the much-vaunted Subaru Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, were capable of scampering to 100 km/h in the high five-second range. This was stupendously quick for the day, faster than most of the BMW or Audi range (apart from the M and S cars) and was certainly something that Subaru’s PR department shouted about a lot. You may remember the ads, with quick cuts of a fast-shifting Subie snorting along a winding mountain road, then a sudden slo-mo freeze frame while the voiceover says, “That’s the beauty of Subaru All-Wheel Drive.”

Ooh, I wanted one back then. The cravings got worse when I attended a local eighth-mile drag race and lined up my moderately tuned Mazda MX-6 GT against a WRX wagon belonging to a friend. Having recently run dead-even with an engine-swapped Acura Integra, I was pretty confident. The MX-6 was still spinning its front tires as the Subaru hopped off the line and simply blew my doors off.

2002 Subaru WRX SportWagon2002 Subaru WRX SportWagon
2002 Subaru WRX SportWagon. Click image to enlarge

Part of the Subaru’s charm is that it’s, well, a Subaru. My wife is something of an eco-nut, and didn’t even get her driver’s license until she was in her early 20s. She doesn’t really care about cars, preferring cycling, transit or walking, and requires that they be practical tools that can haul stuff safely. How about a four-door wagon? “Okay. What’s that scoopy-thing sticking out of the hood?” Um. Never mind that. Four-door wagon. Look, the seats fold down and everything.

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