Friday, November 23, 2001

Whatever images the phrase “shot out of a cannon” conjure up, apply those to sitting behind the wheel of Subaru’s Impreza WRX sedan. Accelerating from a stoplight isn’t exactly like taking a ride in a centrifuge, but it’s as close as you’re going to get for a vehicle priced under $25,000.
Quick? Oh yeah, and then some.
After a turn around the block and given some time for your heart to stop racing, the first question: how can this possibly be a 2-liter engine? After all, it generates 227 horsepower and 217 pounds-feet of peak torque. It goes from stop to 60 miles-per-hour in less than six seconds. That’s in the same company as the Mitsubishi V6 Eclipse and Audi’s TT turbo.
But, a 2-liter 4-cylinder engine is what it is.
An earmark of Subaru, this four-banger has horizontally opposed cylinders and 16-valves. It’s turbocharged as well. The “boxer” engine’s low center of gravity helps sharpen handling too. Passing engine output to all four wheels is a slippery 5-speed manual transmission. A 4-speed automatic is available, but where’s the fun in that?
Impreza’s all-wheel-drive is designed for poor road conditions rather than serious off-roading. There is no 4-wheel low for getting down and dirty. Despite the extra weight AWD adds and the extra energy it requires, fuel economy is still decent. The Environmental Protection Agency rates its city mpg at 20 and its highway at 27.
Although its wheelbase is just a hair over 99-inches, the WRX’s ride is quite civilized. Turning on a dime, it handles spectacularly. Its size permits it to be parked in spots larger vehicles have to pass up. The 4-wheel disc brakes feel strong and stopping distances are rather short. The WRX is the basis of the Impreza World Rally Championship and SCCA Pro Rally Group N rally cars, and it feels every inch of it.
Nothing about the WRX’s looks belie its over-the-road prowess. Small, unpretentious and Spartan in its styling, the WRX looks like any other sub-compact on the road. Large round headlamps, blistered-fenders and an optional rear deck spoiler are its most defined styling characteristics. Narrow A- and C-pillars do little to hamper visibility. It’s coefficient of drag is 0.33 not bad for WRX’s rather block-like design.
Even less complicated inside, the WRX keeps things simple. Without the clutter of high-tech gizmos, it’s easy for the driver to pay attention to the business of driving. The gauges are large and readable. All the controls are well-placed for ease of use. The seats are contoured, providing more than adequate support.
Space is a bit stingy throughout, but noticeably so for rear seat passengers. Subaru touts this as a 5-passenger sedan, but four is more realistic in most situations.
Wide door openings provide easy access to the cabin, but rear seat passengers will find the quarters tight once there. A low lift-over makes loading and unloading the trunk a snap and its capacity is about average for a subcompact. Everything in my test WRX seemed carefully screwed together and all the interior pieces fit snuggly, but overall the interior had an inexpensive feel.
When it comes to bang for your buck, the WRX has no peers. This is a driver’s machine and turns a mere jaunt to the grocery store into an exhilarating experience. However, it’s not just a lot of horsepower packed into a little box. It has the handling and braking power to back it up.
Would I send my kid off to college in one? No way, but I would certainly go visit him in one on the weekend.
Base price of the Impreza WRX is $23,995. Standard features include dual front airbags, ABS, power windows/door locks, cruise control, remote keyless entry, AM/FM stereo/cassette with 6-disc in-dash CD player, dual power outboard mirrors and rear defogger. My test WRX also had the 17-inch aluminum wheel package at $3,035. Adding the $525 destination charge brought the price to $27,555.

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