Words and photos by Grant Yoxon
“That the WRX is as quick as many more expensive cars is impressive enough, but it will match them in the corners too. On any surface, rough or smooth – the WRX isn’t finicky about where it goes – the car displays exceptionally good handling and dead-on steering.”
To the average driving public, it’s just an average compact car.
There isn’t much to distinguish it from every other ordinary, almost inconspicuous, four-door sedan. Sure, there’s a wing on the rear deck, but just about every compact with sporting intent has a rear deck spoiler. And the odd looking bump on the hood might attract some curiosity, if only because it seems out of place on this unpretentious sedan.
But those who know – drive by any high school at lunch and watch the heads turn – know that odd looking bump means this is no ordinary small sedan. This is the Suburu Impreza WRX.
And the bump on the hood is a fully functioning hood scoop that feeds cool air directly into an intercooler the size of the radiator in some other small cars. The intercooler sits right on top of the 16-valve 2.0 litre horizontally-opposed engine and cools the intake charge compressed and heated by the Impreza’s 14.8 psi turbocharger.
Those who know – young guys with backward baseball caps driving tricked out Honda Civic coupes or lawyers behind the wheel of Audi S4’s or BMW M3’s – know that little two litre pumps out an astounding 227 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 217 lb.-ft. of torque at 4000 rpm.
That’s V-8 power from four cylinders. To put this in perspective, the Audi S4 with 250 horsepower from a twin-turbocharged 2.7 litre V-6, produces less horsepower per litre than the Impreza WRX. Even 333 horsepower 3.2 litre BMW M3 can’t match the power per displacement ration of the WRX. Only the Honda S2000’s high revving 240 horsepower 2 litre engine can beat the Subaru in horsepower per litre, but it comes up short on torque – 153 lb.-ft. at 7500 rpm.
Some more perspective. The Subaru WRX costs $13,000 less than the Honda S2000, $22,000 less than the Audi S4 and almost $35,000 – the price of another Subaru Impreza WRX – less than the BMW M3.
But can the WRX keep up with this high-priced competition? You bet. With 0-100 km times of between 6.1 seconds (Subaru estimate) and 5.6 seconds (Car and Driver), the WRX will trounce the S2000, stay even with the S-4, but fall short of the ultra fast M3. And given the price difference, it wouldn’t be an embarrassing loss.
Even more perspective is necessary, because at $34,995, the Subaru Impreza WRX isn’t cheap. A base model, five speed 2.5 litre Impreza TS retails for $21,995.
What you get for an additional $13,000 is a race-bred drive train, derived from Subaru’s experience winning three consecutive World Rally Championships, greater stopping power and a stiffer suspension. There are a few additional creature comforts, but not many, as even a base Impreza like the TS is well-equipped with standard features like power windows, cruise control and air conditioning.
WRX models – it is available in both a sedan and wagon body style – are equipped with sporting accessories like a leather wrapped MOMO steering wheel, leather wrapped shift handle, easy to read sport design analogue gauges with 9000 rpm tachometer, drilled aluminum alloy pedals on manual transmission models, comfortable, heated sport seats, aluminum hood and fog lights.
Safety enhancements include front seat side impact air bags, while comfort and convenience is improved a bit with remote keyless entry, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, WRX embroidered floor mats and a six-speaker stereo system with AM/FM, Cassette and in-dash 6 CD player, which, to be honest, I didn’t listen to very much.
If stereo sound quality is important to you, it is very likely the WRX is not your kind of car. Save the extra $13,000 that the WRX costs, invest in a high end audio system and pocket the difference. But if turbo whine and the gritty roar of a flat four under load is music to your ears, the WRX will delight you.
The Impreza WRX is not a luxury sport sedan, even at $35,000. It is pure sport. The money is in the motor.
Below 3000 rpm the boxster-style engine behaves like a normally aspirated 2.0 litre. Let the clutch out easy, press the accelerator and nothing out of the ordinary happens. But as the tachometer crosses 2800 rpm, and the high-pitched whistle of the turbocharger rises above the background of mechanical sounds, there is a rush of power that slings the WRX forward like a fullback charging the line on third and goal.
The engine pulls hard all the way to 7000 rpm. You get the feeling that if it weren’t for the rev limiter, this engine would pull until it blew up.
To avoid the dreaded turbo lag, it is better to rev the engine up to about 5000 rpm and drop the clutch fast. With an all-wheel-drive system that splits power 50/50 between the front and rear wheels and a viscous limited slip rear differential, power goes to the wheels that need it. There is no wheel spin, no tire squeal, no burning rubber, just instant and rapid acceleration.
Even on wet pavement or loose gravel the 205/55 R16 Bridgestone Potenza RE 92 tires have good grip off the line.
That the WRX is as quick as many more expensive cars is impressive enough, but it will match them in the corners too. On any surface, rough or smooth – the WRX isn’t finicky about where it goes – the car displays exceptionally good handling and dead-on steering. Clutch and gear shift work in harmony. Brake and gas peddle are perfectly positioned for heel and toe driving. You can brake hard into a corner without losing the rpm that will rocket you out the exit. Come onto the gas before the apex of the turn and the WRX will reward you with a smooth, controllable four wheel slide. Get into trouble and the large disc brakes – 274 x 24 mm rotors with twin calipers up front, 262 x 10 mm rotors with single piston calipers in the back – will quickly bring back to sanity. Of course, 4-channel 4-wheel ABS is standard.
If performance can be measured by the width of a smile, the WRX is an ear to ear grin.
But beware, horsepower and handling of this calibre is an addictive mixture. The WRX begs to be driven hard and you will comply. But don’t expect to get great gas mileage power shifting at 7000 rpm all day long. You will feed your habit at the premium pump.
Just for the sake of comparison, we took a leisurely drive to Montreal one day, never shifted higher than 4500 rpm, skipped fourth gear all together, and tested the cruise control. One day of conservative driving shaved two full litres per 100 kilometres off our fuel consumption during the three weeks we tested the car.
Subaru has given driving enthusiasts an affordable alternative to luxury sport sedans. Now you can have your fun without paying for luxury items you might not need. But on the down side, $35,000 is a lot to pay for what is, world-class drive train aside, essentially an Impreza.
|2002 Subaru Impreza WRX sedan|
|Price as tested||$34,995|
|Type||4-door, 5 passenger compact sedan|
|Layout||longitudinal front engine/all-wheel-drive|
|Engine||2.0 litre 4 cylinder, horizontally-opposed, DOHC, 16 valves, turbocharger with intercooler|
|Horsepower||227 @ 6000 rpm|
|Torque||217 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm|
|Transmission||5 speed manual (4-speed automatic)|
|Curb weight||1399 kg (3084 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2525 mm (99.4 in.)|
|Length||4405 mm (173.4 in.)|
|Width||1730 mm (68.1 in.)|
|Height||1440 mm (56.7 in.)|
|Cargo Capacity||311 litres (11.0 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 11.6 l/100 km (24 mpg)|
|Hwy: 8.0 l/100 km (35 mpg)|
|Warranty||3 yrs/60,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||5 yrs/100,000 km|