2002 Subaru Impreza WRX
Media test the 2002 Subaru Impreza WRX at PMG Tevchnologies proving grounds in Blaineville, Quebec, April 26, 2001. Click image to enlarge

Words and photos by Grant Yoxon

Turbocharged 2.0 litre turns up the power

It’s been the talk of the discussion boards for months. Visit just about any North American-based web site where four-cylinder compact performance is discussed and the initials WRX come up again and again.

While most North Americans might tend to think of Subaru as a manufacturer of safe, solid, if somewhat unusual all-wheel drive sedans and wagons, anyone who follows World Rally Championship (WRC) racing – the Formula 1 of rally racing – has been aware of the wild Imprezas (some with as much as 280 horsepower) that Subaru has sold in Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Europe.

Conversation on the boards followed a predictable pattern – why not here and, if ever, when? Subaru’s competition-inspired Impreza has been one of the most talked-about cars to never be sold in North America. Its reputation is legendary. Well talk no more. The Impreza WRX – with a 227 horsepower, turbocharged 2.0 litre four – is here.

Arriving in showrooms and parking lot test drive clinics across Canada in April and May, the Impreza WRX sedan and wagon top the line-up of an all new, completely re-designed Impreza for 2002. Completing the Impreza line-up are a 2.5 litre RS sedan, TS Sport Wagon and an Outback Sport.

In late April, media were invited to PMG Technologies in Blaineville, Quebec, just north of Montreal, to test drive the new Impreza WRX. PMG Technologies is a research and development facility with a 6.4 kilometre high-speed, high-banked parabolic oval, a 6.9 kilometre low-speed asphalt circuit and a 9 kilometre off-road course, as well as other testing areas.

2002 Subaru Impreza WRX
2002 Subaru Impreza WRX
2002 Subaru Impreza WRX
2002 Subaru Impreza WRX
2002 Subaru Impreza WRX
2002 Subaru Impreza WRX
2002 Subaru Impreza WRX
Click image to enlarge
© Autos Communications Inc., 2001

With much anticipation, a colleague from the Ottawa Citizen and I travelled to Blaineville with thoughts of blasting around that high-banked oval behind the wheel of the legendary WRX. Well, it was not to be. Instead Subaru had set up a tight slalom course on an asphalt surface inside the oval, much like what people attending the test drive clinics will enjoy.

There were five or six WRX models, both sedans and wagons, automatic and standard transmissions. On first glance, these cars don’t make a classic sports car statement – racy they’re not. In fact, they look like someone had decided to hotrod the family sedan by adding on big tires, fender flares, side skirts, rear spoiler, a humungous air scoop and equally humungous fog lights.

Rally fans may take offense at this characterization, because that’s what rally cars look like. And if you come up against one of these at a stop light this summer, you would be mistaken to laugh. Because when the light turns green, it will take about three seconds to wipe the smile off your face.

That’s about how long it takes the turbo to spool up and send the Impreza WRX rocketing by you on its way to low six second (as claimed by Subaru), high five second (as recorded by Car and Driver and the Detroit Free Press) 0 – 60 mph time.

Needless to say, I never got the WRX any where near 60 mph at Blaineville. In fact, I never got it out of second gear on the tight slalom course, although my passenger claimed I hit 80 k/h in second coming out of the final turn.

And even then, I only felt the rush of the 14.8 p.s.i. turbo coming into the short straight section at the end of the course, just in time to hammer the brakes and bring the WRX to a quick and effective stop. The Impreza WRX is equipped with ABS and twin-piston calipers and 290 mm x 24 mm (11.4 inch) discs up front and single-piston, 262 mm x 10 mm (10.3 inch) discs in the rear, and they do an excellent job.

While the sight of an Impreza WRX will instill fear in the heart of anyone still driving a pushrod V8, the turbocharged 2.0 litre four is no torque monster, at least down low. To let this little engine work its magic, you need rpm and lots of it.

You also need the manual transmission. The automatic just isn’t as flexible, or as much fun to drive, than the manual shifter.

Below 3000 rpm, the WRX is no more exciting than your average grocery getter, but pull the revs up and the WRX is ready to rock. Peak torque – 217 lb-ft – is reached at 4000 rpm, although Subaru says that 80 per cent of peak torque is available at just 2200 rpm. But my seat of the pants impression was the more revs the better. In fact, the best start out of the gate on the slalom course with the five speed transmission was achieved by holding the rpm at 4000 and dumping the clutch.

Shift into second too soon or lose rpm in second and you very quickly lose any momentum built up. As one of the professional drivers on hand demonstrated to me, the quickest way around the slalom involved downshifting into first gear when the revs dropped too low for accelerator alone.

The quickest way around also involved using the Impreza’s low centre of gravity, sure-footed all wheel drive and much stiffer chassis to the maximum. All 2002 Imprezas ride a new platform that’s been strengthened with a hydroformed front sub-frame, ring-shaped body reinforcements and new construction techniques that provide greater rigidity without adding weight. For example, a new welding process makes it possible to construct the b-pillar from two thicknesses of steel instead of six, providing the same level of side impact protection from a lighter structure. The Impreza’s cage is not only stronger – Subaru claims 147 per cent more torsional rigidity and 82 per cent greater flexual rigidity than the previous Impreza – it is safer.

On the standard transmission car, the all-wheel drive system splits power 50/50 between the front and rear wheels. A limited-slip viscous coupling transfers power between front and rear. Automatic transmission cars feature a more-advanced Variable Torque Distribution all-wheel drive system, which uses electronic sensors to detect wheel slip and direct power where it’s needed.

Standard equipment on the WRX and all 2002 Imprezas, includes power windows and door locks, tinted glass, elliptical multi-reflector headlights with auto-off, air conditioning, AM/FM CD system, tilt-adjust steering wheel, three point seatbelts with pretensioners and force limiters in front and height-adjustable anchors in all outboard positions, child restraint anchoring at all three rear seating positions and four-wheel, four channel, four sensor anti-lock brakes.

Sedans have a 20 mm wider front track, a light and illuminated safety handle in the trunk and a distinctive wide front fender. Wagons have a 60/40 split folding rear seat, a trailer harness connector and grocery hooks in the cargo area. Outback and WRX wagons have a cargo area cover, a rear cargo tray and a 12 volt cargo area power outlet.

Additional equipment on WRX models includes keyless entry system, a leather wrapped MOMO steering wheel, drilled aluminum alloy pedals on manual transmission models, side ground effects and a premium six-speaker audio system with in-dash six CD changer.

Non-WRX Imprezas – the RS Sedan, TS Sport Wagon and Outback Sport – are equipped with Subaru’s 2.5 litre, SOHC four-cylinder, 16 valve engine, first introduced on the 2000 RS. This engine produces 165 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 166 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm.

The TS Sport Wagon starts at $21,995, while the Outback Sport has an MSRP of $26,395. The RS Sedan with manual transmision starts at $26,995. MSRP for a manual equipped Impreza WRX is $34,995, while the automatic is $36,195.

To find out more about the Subaru Impreza WRX, visit www.wrx.ca.

Connect with Autos.ca