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Subaru's WRX proves to be great value for the money when it comes to sporty performance.
2005 Subaru Impreza WRX Road Test
WRX power won't wreck the budget
By Bill Roebuck
Back in 2002, Subaru tarted up its basic daily driver, the Impreza, based on lessons learned from rally enthusiasts with whom the compact, all-wheel drive sedan was popular. The result was a roomier product line and the addition of the impressive WRX, which boasts a heap of horsepower thanks to its tweaked and turboed boxer-style engine.
Later Subaru made heads turn again with the STi version of the WRX. That model still gets lots of interest from car aficionados, but its 300-hp engine is simply overkill for many drivers. Those who want spirited performance and fast looks may be just as happy with the less-costly WRX itself. It remains a fun ride, even without the STi's pink logos and race-car handling.
All Imprezas were redesigned for 2004. Even the bottom-line Impreza remains fun and competent, though the WRX upgrade offers advantages in both performance and safety.
The exterior of all the Impreza models is similar (the line is available as a station wagon as well as a four-door sedan, though not as a two-door coupe).
The WRX is easily identified with its big hood scoop, which actually is functional, drawing fresh air over the engine's intercooler at speed. A rear spoiler is another visual clue to the its boost in performance over the base models.
Not readily apparent is the fact that the WRX has a lightweight aluminum-alloy hood, versus steel on the other Imprezas. It also has aerodynamic side skirts and rear spoilers that both decrease air resistance and increase downforce.
One thing that makes the Impreza lineup justifiably more costly than its competitors is standard symmetrical all-wheel drive. Torque is applied to the front and rear wheels all the time -- not just when the rear wheels slip, as on some other all-wheel-drive systems. That's great for better control in the rain, in the winter, or on the dirt road to the cottage. All models come with a choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions.
The engine, a turbocharged 2.0-litre in the WRX, provides spirited performance, especially at higher revs. The power boost is significant compared to the other Impreza models, which have 2.5-litre fours. The WRX pumps out 227 hp versus 165 in the non-turbo engine. Torque is 217 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm in the WRX, compared to 166 in the other models.
That 4,000 rpm is a key figure. At low speeds, such as when pulling away from a stoplight, torque seems to lag significantly, probably a nod to improving fuel economy. But it's a bit frustrating when you want to make a quick getaway. Unless you roar the engine to get the revs up, you won't be the leader away from the stoplight.
However, there's no torque steer, thanks to the all-wheel drive. Also, the WRX has a sport tuned, four-wheel independent suspension for improved handling.
Once you're on the highway, the high-performance engine makes you feel like a master of the tarmac. Performance sings when the tach reads 4,500 rpm or more. But you don't reach the engine's full horsepower potential till 6,000 rpm. That's fine for rally drivers, but the average commuter is unlikely to get that experience on local city roads.
At any speed, the WRX feels solid and stable. The low placement of the engine and the transmission allow for equal axle length, maximizing suspension travel on all four wheels. It's a layout that ensures each wheel is firmly planted, thus maintaining neutral vehicle dynamics in both rough and smooth driving conditions.
The front-end facelift for the 2004 model year gave the Impreza a bolder, sleeker and slightly more aggressive appearance. It is more aerodynamic, with oversized, multi-lens headlamps integrated into the design.
For 2005, the WRX gets standard automatic climate control and an in-dash, six-disc CD changer. The 2.5 RS Sport Sedan gets WRX-style lower body trim, seats, steering wheel, and audio system. And the Impreza Outback Sport Special Edition gets a rear spoiler along with interior upgrades.
The brakes work well, showing strong stopping power. A power-assisted four-wheel, four-channel, four-sensor ABS braking system is used and the WRX gets larger rotors on the front than the other models. The front discs are vented and Electronic Brake-Force Distribution (EBD) is standard. This electronically monitors and controls front and rear brake force distribution, helping to reduce stopping distances.
The WRX also has a limited slip differential, which helps to reduce wheelspin when you're trying to take advantage of all that horsepower.
Inside, we found everything right at hand. It's a well-designed cockpit, with easy to use controls and readable gauges and dials. A small moonroof, optional on our manual-transmission tester, is standard with the automatic, but is only available on WRX models.
The WRX has extra-huggy front bucket seats with integrated head restraints, special upholstery, and embroidered floor mats. Aluminum-alloy sport pedals on the manual transmission models add to the rally-car image.
The instrument panel was redesigned for 2004, with the tachometer moved to the centre of the instrument cluster. The instruments are trimmed with aluminum rings for more of that rally-car look. For 2005, Imprezas get a further refining of the interior, with upgraded materials, a new centre console and door panels, and a new, four-spoke steering wheel.
You wouldn't call the interior roomy, but it's comfortable for a car of this size. However, four adults will be squeezed, as the front-seat passengers will have to move forward to give a bit of knee room to those in the rear, who also will find the headroom limited.
Subaru rates the seating capacity at five, but I wouldn't try it. In comparison, a Toyota Corolla is much roomier inside, front and rear. The Impreza's rear seat, though cramped, has three three-point seatbelts and three headrests.
Front passengers are protected by seating equipped with active head restraints and three-point seatbelts with electrically triggered pretensioners and load limiters. Dual front airbags are standard, as are front side-impact airbags for head and chest protection.
Another bonus of the 2005 WRX is the standard stereo, with a six-disc CD changer and a cassette. The system includes two tweeters in addition to the standard four speakers. (Premium speakers are optional in all models.) The stereo performs quite well, with lots of solid sound and little distortion -- except for a few occasions driving around the city when the FM signal got fuzzy. The locations and timing when this happened were completely random, so it may have been a problem with this particular unit, or with the in-glass antenna.
As expected, the windows, locks and outside mirrors are powered. The dual trip odometer is a nice feature to have. An anti-theft security system is optional.
You can expect fuel economy of 11.8/8.0 l/100 km city/highway in a WRX with the manual transmission (the automatic gets 12.2/8.3). The WRX calls for premium fuel, while regular is fine for other Imprezas.
While a made-for-Canada-only Impreza 2.5 TS sedan can be had for $22,995, the WRX version lists at $35,495 (it's the same price for the sedan or wagon). With 10 percent down, you can lease a WRX for less than $500 a month before taxes, especially with a current offer of zero percent purchase financing at some dealerships on remaining 2004 models.
That's not bad for a practical car that will take you from zero to 100 in under seven seconds.
© 2004, Bill Roebuck, CarTest.ca