2008 Subaru WRX automatic
2008 Subaru WRX automatic. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Haney Louka

Discuss this story in the forum at CarTalkCanada

Find this vehicle in Autos’s Classified Ads

Photo Gallery:
2008 Subaru Impreza

Winnipeg, Manitoba – The local Subaru dealer here handles the press cars and calls me whenever a new one arrives. I was thrilled when I found out the latest tester for me to get my mitts on was the new-for-’08 WRX sedan. Since the last car to come through, a 2008 Legacy GT wagon, was saddled with an automatic transmission, I just had to know: was the force-fed flat four in this WRX mated to a stick?

Talk about an emotional roller coaster. Alas, the World Rally Blue WRX tester had just two pedals in the driver’s footwell. Not only that: the slushbox in all Impreza models, including the WRX, is a four-speed automatic. Disappointed, I told Frontier Subaru to keep it.

Of course, I was kidding. Mostly.

I have certainly been looking forward to getting my hands on Subaru’s pocket rocket sedan ever since the announcement was made that it would be redesigned for the coming model year. The old model, while always entertaining, was desperately in need of a revamp to make it more consistent with 21st-century expectations.

2008 Subaru WRX automatic
2008 Subaru WRX automatic. Click image to enlarge

But an automatic? A four-speed slushbox? In one of the most entertaining sedans this side of 35 large? Heresy! Fortunately, it’s only members of the hard-working automotive press that are being deprived of a proper manual gearbox with which to extract the full potential of Subaru’s turbocharged boxer engine. We drove a pre-production press car, about half of which were shipped to Canada with the automatic. But production versions will be mostly sticks, which is more in line with what the WRX’s market demands.

But enough about the power-sapping automatic – for now.

There is a lot to report about this new performance sedan from Subaru. The price, for starters, is now $32,995. That’s down a welcome $2,500 from last year. Standard equipment now includes side curtain airbags and Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC), neither of which was available in last year’s model.

The new car rides on a wheelbase that’s 95 mm longer than before. It’s also longer overall and taller than last year’s car, yet curb weight has been trimmed by 27 kg.

2008 Subaru WRX automatic
2008 Subaru WRX automatic. Click image to enlarge

In terms of overall looks, the car has certainly grown up. It looks more substantial thanks to its smoother lines, but in the transformation it has also lost some of its character. Where the word “quirky” could often be found describing Subarus of yore, the new car tends clearly toward the generic end of the spectrum. Though that’s not entirely a good thing, if it’s a broader appeal that Subaru is eyeing, it’s just the ticket.

It’s the base Impreza that suffers most from the lackluster visual statement, because at least the WRX is dressed in appropriately sporting garb. There’s the functional hood scoop for starters, that’s large enough to swallow a footlong sub. Ground effects, a rear spoiler, dual exhaust, and 10-spoke, 17-inch wheels ensure that there’s no confusing the WRX with standard-issue Imprezas. I’m not normally a fan of such styling by appliqu�, but in the WRX, it works.

2008 Subaru WRX automatic
2008 Subaru WRX automatic. Click image to enlarge

If the passenger cabin were more becoming of a $33,000 car, I would be even happier about the WRX’s value proposition. At nearly $13,000 more than a base Impreza, it deserves more upscale, softer-to-the-touch dash materials. The dash is, after all, constantly within reach and view of the driver and front passenger.

At least the seats are supremely supportive and designed to keep occupants in place while exploring the WRX’s substantial cornering abilities. The thick-rimmed leather-wrapped steering wheel is the ideal instrument with which to experience the responsive turn-in and substantial feedback that gets channeled back to the driver. And the climate control system works without being overbearing, a marked improvement over other recent Subarus I’ve driven.

As with all Subarus, all-wheel drive is standard-issue on the WRX. Automatic-equipped models get a system that uses a multi-plate transfer clutch to manage fore-and-aft power distribution, while cars with the five-speed get a centre differential with a viscous coupling.

2008 Subaru WRX automatic
2008 Subaru WRX automatic. Click image to enlarge

The 2.5-litre boxer engine’s output numbers are unchanged from last year, at 224 hp and 226 lb-ft of torque, but a new intake manifold, turbocharger, and intercooler allow for a broader torque curve and lower engine speeds to generate peak power.

Ah, power. That’s what the WRX is all about, isn’t it? Sure, the suspension is firmer and the brakes are capable of more clamping force than other Imprezas, but who can resist that turbocharged rush of power that pushes everyone back in their seats? That’s where I have trouble with the whole concept of a WRX with this automatic transmission.

If it were a good self-shifter, like VW’s DSG gearbox, I would be able to excuse Subaru for sending so many our way. But it’s not. It’s an average four-speed slushbox that, unlike the five-speed auto in the Legacy GT, doesn’t particularly like being shifted manually. At least the five-speed gives a throttle blip on manual downshifts. It makes the WRX more of – dare I say it – an appliance. The transmission simply isn’t consistent with the car’s mission.

2008 Subaru WRX automatic
2008 Subaru WRX automatic. Click image to enlarge

There are other imperfections: the dash rattles and the windows operate extremely slowly at an ambient temperature of five degrees (what happens at minus 20?). The sound system is tinny (no upgrade is offered) and the trunk hinges impede cargo space.

On the one hand, kudos are due to Subaru for updating the WRX and still managing to implement a drop in the sticker price. Despite a few shortcomings, the new car is more attractive and easier to live with than last year’s model.

Pricing: 2008 Subaru WRX sedan automatic


  • Click here for complete specifications

Related articles on Autos


  • 2008 Audi A3 2.0T
  • 2008 Volvo S40 T5 AWD

Crash test results

Manufacturer’s web site

Connect with Autos.ca