2008 Subaru Impreza WRX Road Test Review
Second gear. Alarmed, you spare a glance at the instrument cluster. The speedometer indicates you're driving 65 miles per hour in a residential district. You grimace and sheepishly, carefully apply the brakes. You're driving a station wagon, the 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX, and you've been lulled by its apparent innocence. A few seconds ago you stepped on the gas, and a moment later the turbocharger kicked-in, there was a muscular zip from the transmission, and then you thought, This feels too fast... But this is bound to happen when they dress in functional clothing what is essentially a race-car.
The WRX has a long-standing reputation for affordable handling and performance. The car is born and bred for rallying, and the Subaru World Rally Team races a version which they then hand to the consumer with few substantial changes. The Subaru flagship consumer model is the WRX STI, a turbocharged all-wheel drive performance-tuned little monster producing more horsepower than we want to discuss. The WRX, a step down, is still a rally car, but its styling has been softened into something youd enjoy if you love fast cars but wish to look like a responsible adult.
This year's wagon has more interior space, and can fit a tall driver and three passengers, all of whom have leg room. It has 19 cubic feet of luggage space, or 44.4 cubic feet of cargo space when the 60/40 split rear seats are folded flat. The increased cargo space results from a redesigned rear suspension which together with a longer wheelbase gives a softer, more comfortable ride. The new suspension reduces road noise, and wind, road, and engine noise are low enough for comfortable conversation at highway speeds. Highly refined stability control, with power and braking precisely monitored and controlled at each wheel, gives excellent maneuverability and control in bad weather, on bad roads, and in emergency avoidance situations.
It has earned five stars in frontal crash tests, five stars in front-passenger side impact tests, and four stars in rear-passenger side impact tests. In severe frontal impacts a safety pedal system folds both the clutch and brake pedals forward to help reduce injury to the driver. The WRX uses the Subaru Ring-Shaped Reinforcement Frame Body Structure, along with front and rear crumple zones, to maintain integrity of the passenger compartment in collisions, dispersing collision forces away from passengers. The result is survival through many kinds of severe side impact collisions. For more information, see http://www.drive.subaru.com/Sum06_WhatsInside.htm.
The standard Subaru Advanced Frontal Airbag System deploys the driver's side airbag according to proximity to the steering wheel, as measured by sensors in the driver's seat track, and the front passenger airbag deploys only if the front passenger seat is occupied, and according to whether the system senses that the passenger is a child or an adult. Front seat head and chest side impact air bags, as well as side-curtain airbags, are standard.
Seat belts in all positions have three-point restraints, including the center rear position (as of 1 September 2007, this is standard in all new cars sold in the United States). Shoulder restraint height is adjustable in all outboard positions; front seat belts have electronically controlled pretensioners and force-limiters, and front seats have active head restraints (unless optional performance seats are installed). A LATCH child safety anchorage system secures appropriately equipped child seats in the left and right positions of the back seat. For more information about Subaru's implementation of the LATCH system, see http://www.drive.subaru.com/OnLineX_LATCH.htm.
The WRX wagon, then, isn't just a rally-bred toy, it's spacious, comfortable, and useful, and it takes safety seriously. What it lacks, in typical Subaru fashion, is luxurious appointment. The interior trim and dash are hard plastic. The seat controls are unpowered. The seats are upholstered in cloth. They are, however, comfortable, and to our minds this is more important than luxury.
The base WRX comes with automatic climate control, remote keyless entry, an 80-watt 4-speaker AM / FM stereo with a single-CD-MP3 player, and steering wheel audio and cruise controls. XM Satellite Radio is optional. The premium package includes ten speakers, a 100-watt stereo system with a six-CD-MP3 player, and heated seats. With the Navigation / Satellite package, Sirius Satellite Radio is included along with a very nice GPS navigation system. The navigation system includes auxiliary audio and video inputs and an integrated vehicle information display, which is mounted high on the dashboard for easier visibility. (Be aware, however, that opting for the navigation display means the DVD/CD-MP3 reader accommodates only a single disc.) Sensibly, display of movies or games is disabled while the vehicle is in motion, as is fiddling with the more involved controls of the navigation display.
So the car's interior is, though not luxurious, well-appointed and featureful. The exterior styling is another matter. Our drivers argued over its resemblance to station wagons. To be fair, it doesn't really look like a station wagon -- it is sleek, and much shorter than real station wagons of yore -- but the new WRX wagon looks much more wagon-like than previous versions. We hear that WRX enthusiasts are disappointed by this resemblance. The Premium Package includes a spoiler and under-spoilers, and side trim and a sports grill can be added. One of our drivers insists it be called a hatchback.
Let's talk more about driving. Except as an option available with the Premium package, the WRX has a 5-speed manual transmission. We have to confess that our drivers' shifting skills are all rusty. Until those skills returned, each of us produced embarrassing, bouncy lurches upon gear change. Once we remembered how to find the clutch sweet spot, and how to sync engine and transmission, shifting became more smooth. Trained, skilled rally drivers, we're sure, fare much better.
Steering is responsive and has a good feel, not too heavy, with good feedback. The car goes where it's pointed, though there is a little bit of understeer in hard turns. As to oversteer, we did not experience it, but we have read reports that if you take your foot off the gas in a hard turn, understeer can vanish suddenly to be replaced a feeling that the car might be about to fishtail, which can be startling to a non-professional driver. This process is called lift-throttle oversteer. We hear that the WRX remains controllable when this happens. This car feels very agile, and handling is excellent overall.
The mild understeer and lift-throttle oversteer are interesting, as all-wheel drive full electronic stability control is provided by the Subaru Vehicle Dynamics Control system, standard in the WRX. In order to keep the car pointed in the direction the driver intends, this system constantly and rapidly adjusts torque and brake force distribution to each wheel according to changing driving conditions, and the Subaru engineers have put so much attention into the system that we can only assume the presence of some under- and oversteer is quite deliberate. They are, we are given to understand, one of the means by which professional race car drivers feel the limits of the cars they drive, and they normally drive at exactly those limits.
And the WRX Hatchback is a drivers' car. It sprints zero to 60 miles per hour in under six seconds (a little longer than last year), and hits the quarter-mile in 14.4 seconds at 95 miles per hour (a little slower than last year). It uses a turbocharged 2.5 liter flat-4-cylinder engine producing a peak 224 horsepower at 5200 rpm, and peak torque of 226 ft-lbs at 2800 rpm. The horizontally opposed (or Boxer type) engine has a low center of gravity, and is mounted low in the car's chassis. This drops the car's overall center of gravity, and the arrangement of the various parts of the car's drivetrain is designed to balance the car's weight over its wheels to improve its stability and handling. The peak torque of this year's WRX occurs much earlier than in the previous model, providing more consistent power over a broader range of engine speeds. The car accelerates well at highway speeds in higher gears, making passing easier.
We mentioned a redesigned rear suspension. Previous models used MacPherson strut suspension in all corners; the new model keeps the old front suspension but uses a redesigned double wishbone suspension in the rear that intrudes less into the cargo area, thereby providing more cargo space. The suspension has been significantly softened, and though it's more comfortable, the car rocks a bit more on uneven roads and in hard turns. We still think it's an improvement. We prefer to keep our teeth in our mouths when traveling damaged roads.
Overall, the 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX Hatchback is comfortable, spacious, safety conscious, has a good cargo capacity, and has convenience features we like. It's meant to appeal to a broader market, and we think it qualifies as a CarParts.com. For those of you who are nineteen at heart, please remember to drive it carefully. It's fast, and the police know all about it.