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Subaru Impreza WRX (2002)

SEE ALSO: Subaru Buyer's Guide

by John Heilig


MODEL:  Subaru Impreza WRX 
ENGINE: 2.0-liter DOHC turbocharged horizontally opposed four 
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 227 hp @ 6,000 rpm/217 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm 
TRANSMISSION:  Five-speed manual 
WHEELBASE: 99.4 in. 
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 173.4 x 68.1 x 56.7 in. 

I've noticed as I've gotten older (er, matured) that I like bigger cars. I was weaned on sports cars and small cars and I guess they'll always hold a special place in my heart. But as I get older I appreciate the comfort and conveniences offered by larger cars. I never thought I'd ever like a Cadillac or Chevy Suburban, for example, but I find those cars comfortable and with room to move around.

This week's tester is not a big car. It is the Subaru Impreza WRX. It is a four-door sedan, a compact four-door sedan. It has a little pep to it and a lot of performance, and it makes me forget my big car predilections and makes me want to fall in love with small cars again.

The WRX is powered by a 2.0-liter horizontally opposed DOHC and turbocharged four-cylinder engine that is based on Subaru World Rally Championship (WRC) car. It drives the wheels through a five-speed manual transmission and Subaru's All-Wheel Drive system. With 227 horsepower it has more poop than the standard Impreza, which has a 142 horsepower 2.5-liter boxer four.

Inside, the driver and front passenger sit in form-fitting extremely comfortable seats that reminded me of Recaro seats, again a rally-inspired design. They offer excellent side support in the kidney and shoulder area and have comfortable headrests. These are the kind of seats you enjoy sitting in because they hold you nice and tight. That works well with this car because it is the type of car that begs to be driven hard in corners, on winding roads, and in all situations.

The WRX is a sporty version of the Impreza, which in itself is not a shabby compact car. This is truly a fun car to drive. It has all the power accessories -- windows, door locks, mirrors, etc., that's you'd want in a big car.

And it has some nice touches. Besides the seats it has a Momo steering wheel, good instrumentation, sportier trim on the doors, special floor mats, and special upholstery throughout.

We drove the WRX through some miserable weather. We had snow, ice, schmutz, and junk on the road from a series of storms, but with Subaru's famed All-Wheel Drive with Variable Torque Distribution we were able to handle everything with no problems at all. The steering wheel gave us a good feel for what was happening.

The WRX has a sport-tuned four-wheel independent suspension that gives a compliant ride, smoothness and excellent handling. The front suspension features a Subaru-optimized MacPherson strut layout, and the rear uses a redesigned dual-link strut arrangement.

On the styling side, this certainly doesn't look like your father's Subaru Impreza either, with a huge hood scoop staring at you from whatever angle you look at the car. It's a dominant presence from the driver's seat as well as from outside the car. You know when you look at this car that it's a performance car from the start. You recognize it when you sit in it and when you start driving it.

The WRX would probably qualify as a sport coupe if it only had two doors, but it has four so it's a sport sedan. It is a good, solid vehicle in the Subaru tradition. We drove it on all kinds of roads, Interstates, my favorite winding roads, on snow and ice-covered roads. It's the kind of vehicle that did everything we asked it to do on all these roads. It did it comfortably and with a little bit of sport style.

My wife felt it was too small. As we get older she also appreciates larger car. But if you're looking at a car to have some fun in at a reasonable price, and you live in an area of the world where the roads are not as nice as they could be, this might be a car to consider.