2004 Review: Subaru Impreza WRX Sport Wagon


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"...it's in a class of its own"

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

It's winter, it's icy cold and raining heavily and driving conditions are unpredictable and exciting in the worst way. I'm driving a high-performance car, but I don't care. That car is a new Subaru Impreza WRX wagon.

Sports cars are usually out of their element when the weather turns bad, but not this one. And make no mistake, despite its compact wagon / four-door hatchback body style, the WRX wagon is as much of a sports car as any two-seat coupe or roadster. .

By now, Subaru's performance credentials should be well-known. A capsule summary: It has been successfully competing in the World Rally Championship (WRC) since 1989, first with Legacys and later, with Imprezas. WRC rules require competing cars to be production-based. They have safety and performance modifications for racing, but are still much closer to a standard production car than those competing in most other international series. The Impreza WRX was and is the basis for Subaru's rally cars. It established quite a reputation in Europe and Asia, and word of it made its way to the U.S. by way of magazines, television, and even video games. Its engine may have made racers happy, but would have been seriously frowned upon by the EPA. But the American market is irresistibly huge, and Subaru has prospered by inventing new vehicular niches. When the newest Impreza made its way here for the 2002 model year, a U.S.-legal WRX was part of the lineup. .

Did the WRX change Subaru's image? Yes, indeed. Before, the idea of a ``high-performance Subaru'' would have drawn a blank stare, or howls of laughter. Now...well, the WRX's record speaks for itself - available in both sedan and wagon form, it's the top-selling Impreza model. As happened with the Outback car/SUV ``crossover'', other manufacturers have started to follow, at least with rally-replica sedans. Subaru has the rally-wagon niche to itself, and the WRX wagon offers a unique combination: seriously quick performance (0 to 60 is a touch over 5 seconds) and the handling to go with that, and the versatility of a small wagon. No need to travel light with this car. .

All Imprezas got a facelift and interior enhancements for the 2004 model year, taking cues from the ultra-high performance WRX STi. I drove the STi when it came out last Spring, and was impressed by its power and handling, but it is a stiff hardcore sports car that is not well-suited for long-distance travel. A drive in an `04 WRX sedan immediately afterwards found it to be much better in the real world, with only slightly less performance and considerably greater comfort. Now, after spending a week in the wagon, I can say that it is my favorite of the trio. Nothing else available in this country combines performance with versatility like the Subaru WRX wagon. .

APPEARANCE: All 2004 Impreza models have bolder front styling, with a sculpted hood that emphasizes new complex headlights that peek from behind triangular covers that have circular inboard sections. The upper grille is an upside-down trapezoid, similar to that of the previous model, but it's now integrated better with a larger lower grille in a flat lower bumper fascia to give a competition-ready look. Outboard fog lamps and faux brake-cooling ducts enhance the rally-ready look. WRX models have a functional air scoop in the center of the hood, which is not found on the non-turbo Impreza 2.5 RS sedan and 2.5 TS wagon. It's larger than the one on last year's WRXes, but smaller than the huge STi scoop, with positive results for visibility. The scoop is also the best way to tell the WRXes from the TS and RS, as they otherwise share bodywork. The sedans have noticeable fender blisters, which are not found on the wagons. If this makes a WRX wagon look less race-ready, it increases its street stealth factor. And at this point in time a WRX is not exactly a high-performance secret. .

COMFORT: If you want sport and utility, here's your car. Sport is foremost. The new front sport seats are highly-bolstered but still easy to get in to, and provide excellent comfort and support. The driver's seat cushion is height-adjustable. The tilt-adjustable sport steering wheel is a genuine Momo, with a thick leather rim made for performance driving. The instrument panel has been revised, and, emphasizing performance, the tach is now mounted in the center of the instrument cluster. The plastic trim on the center stack is a more subdued gray now, and an AM/FM/cassette/6-CD in-dash changer audio system is standard equipment, as are power windows, mirrors, and remote-entry locks. Utility? The rear seat is roomy for the size of the car, and folds 60/40 to make a five foot-long, three-foot wide (between the rear shock towers) storage area. A standard cargo shade hides items behind the rear seat, and the four-door body style aids cargo access and adjustment as well as rear passenger access. .

SAFETY: Passive safety in the WRX is enhanced by its ``Ring Shaped Reinforcement Frame'' chassis structure, which contains the passenger compartment in a safety cage, with front and rear crumple zones. All seating positions have three-point safety belts, and the front airbags are supplemented by side airbags. All-wheel drive, nimble handling, and four-wheel antilock disc brakes with twin-piston front calipers are just some of the WRX's active safety features. .

ROADABILITY: Thanks to a rigid chassis structure and supple, well-controlled suspension, high-performance handling meets good comfort in the WRX wagon. Like the sedan, its suspension is firm, but tuned more softly than the STi's, for great real-world comfort with no sacrifice in street-level handling ability. The sedan's fender blisters really are functional, as the wagon has a slightly narrower front track than the sedan. This makes no real difference in handling. Like all Subarus, all WRXes are all-wheel drive, and manual and automatic versions use slightly different systems. Manual versions use a viscous-coupling center differential. Those with automatics use Subaru's ``Variable Torque Distribution'' electronically-controlled hydraulic transfer clutch and planetary gear center differential. The manual system reacts a bit more quickly and is lighter in weight. Both send power to the wheels that can make the best use of it, and all WRX models have a limited-slip rear differential to further improve traction and handling. Although it will improve traction in slippery conditions, WRX AWD also improves traction on dry pavement, and it works at all vehicle speeds. .

PERFORMANCE: The regular WRX engine is unchanged for 2004, and no changes were needed. If the compact horizontally-opposed turbocharged and intercooled 2.0-liter twin cam, 16-valve engine's 227 horsepower (at 6,000 rpm) and 217 lb-ft of torque (at 4,000 rpm) is overshadowed by the STi's 300 of each, the regular WRX's power is much more accessible. It's strong right from the start, with a very healthy midrange and little fade up near redline. Turbo lag, even with 13.5 lbs of boost, is nonexistent once revs are over 2500 rpm; throttle response is as immediate as a naturally-aspirated engine's, and power delivery is very linear. A five-speed manual gearbox is standard, with a four-speed automatic available. The five-speed is the best choice for performance, with less weight and more and more closely-spaced gear ratios, but the engine's strong torque should make the automatic a functional option for anyone who accepts the realities of today's commute traffic. .

CONCLUSIONS: With turbocharged all-wheel drive sport and the utility of a compact wagon, the Subaru Impreza WRX wagon is in a class of its own. .

SPECIFICATIONS
2004 Subaru Impreza WRX Sport Wagon

Base Price..................................$ 23,995
Price As Tested………………..$ 25,332
Engine Type………………… 16-valve turbocharged and intercooled …………………………………dual overhead cam horizontally-opposed ……………………………….. four-cylinder
Engine Size……………………2.0 liters / 122 cu. in.
Horsepower……………………227 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)………………….217 @ 4000 rpm
Transmission…………………..5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length……………99.4 in. / 173.4 in.
Curb Weight……………………3,165 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower………..13.9
Fuel Capacity………………….. 15.9 gal.
Fuel Requirement………………91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires……………………………P205/55 VR16 Bridgestone RE92
Brakes, Front……………………Vented disc Rear…………………….Solid disc - antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear…………Independent MacPherson strut /
………………………………...Independent MacPherson strut
Drivetrain…………………..… Front engine, all-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 20 / 27 / 22
0 to 60 mph 5.3 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Short-throw shifter $ 345
Turbo boost gauge $ 297
Armrest extension $ 145
Destination and delivery $ 550

Complete specifications on the 2004 Subaru Impreza WRX Sport Wagon and other vehicles are available at the New Car Buyers Guide!

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