Vince Pornelos / Vince Pornelos | April 10, 2008 00:00
Domesticating a beastFace facts. The Impreza WRX is an icon of what a great, affordable performance car should be. Fuji Heavy Industries (parent company of Subaru) turned its back on anything stylish, faddish or hip, and instead focused their industrial might on what lies beneath.
Or at least that's how Subarus used to be, as this is a different WRX than before. Very different.
The fascia, though still aggressive, takes a much more homely appearance, perhaps to compete with more mainstream models like the Civics (European), Focuses and Mazda3s, especially since this new WRX is a hatch (only Australian and American markets will receive the sedan version). Even the trademark Scooby ‘Scoop for the TMIC (top-mount intercooler) has receded into the bonnet; unlike Imprezas of old that flaunted the hood scoop the way men flex their biceps. Personally, I don't find chrome appealing; hence the rear takes a bit of getting used to, with the large, reflective embellishment and chromed tail-lamps. Have the engineers at Fuji Heavy taken a few more lessons in couture?
It's lost a bit of the edginess that endeared past WRXs to its owners and worldwide fans. But before eyebrows are raised, look beyond the styled sheet metal. The great 2.5 liter horizontally-opposed boxer motor is there, turbocharged to the gallop of 227 horses (230 PS) while providing a lower center of gravity. And it's retuned too, producing peak power and torque at earlier notches on the tach than before. The suspension set-up is still an all independent affair (MacPhersons in the front, with new double wishbones in the back for a more pliant ride) while the same, all conquering Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive transmits power to where it can be used the most.
Once you take station behind the wheel and plunk yourself onto that supple (yet supportive) sport seat, you get the plot immediately. Tickle the throttle and you realize the growl is a little softer, yet on an open stretch of road your right foot fills with lead and mashes into the accelerator. Your shifts become sharper with every pull and throw as if it was in your DNA. You begin to take turns a little faster with each pass. It teases you to play with it, taunting you to push each and every last one of those 227 boosted horses to the limit and explore the greatness of its Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive. You trace around other cars, turning them into moving chicanes on the road. You become a part of the Impreza way of thinking where the only phrase flashing on your mental HUD is "FLAT OUT".
Those who have driven the 2007 WRX know it's a great handler, staying planted and true to the tarmac. Jump out of the '07 and into this ‘08 WRX and you realize it's softer and heavier, giving a bit more understeer and bodyroll in the corners, yet still remains planted if pushed the right way (slower speed turn in, exit fast). It's still a lot of fun to blast down the straights, with the boost kicking in beyond 2500rpm. Out of the track and onto the streets, it's apparent that the WRX's clutch is softer and no longer as cumbersome like the previous model in traffic, and ride quality is more pliant over the bad stuff. More usable. More comfortable. More practical.
You begin to realize what this new Impreza WRX is supposed to be: it's meant to introduce more people to the brand. Like what the Cayenne did for Porsche, this new Impreza will be the same to Subaru. Where previous Imprezas were hardcore rally-bred machines, rifles aimed at a specific sliver or target market, this new one is a shotgun meant to hit a wider chunk of the pie. It will no longer be as difficult to justify the purchase of a WRX to a spouse, considering the new qualities that the Impreza has.
Yes, the turboed monster that the Impreza WRX has been was tamed. But keep in mind: it is still an animal, and animals, when provoked, will always pack one helluva bite.