2002 Subaru WRX new car reviews

After years of honing our Subaru Impreza WRX driving skills on the PlayStation Gran Turismo video game, we finally got our chance to sample the real car. Our first impressions behind the wheel were very favorable, as the new Impreza--like the old one--has a comfortable, upright driving position. The seats are well bolstered and supportive, while the beefy Momo steering wheel is a very nice touch. (Hopefully we'll see more brand-name steering wheels in future cars from other manufacturers, too.)

We found the pedal placement good for heel-toe action, while that upright driving position, combined with a low hood and rear trunk lid, give the driver excellent outward visibility in all directions. Gauges for vehicle speed, engine rpm, coolant temperature and fuel level are large and well-placed, but we were surprised that a turbo boost gauge was not present. However, an optional gauge cluster for owner installation should soon be available as part of the Subaru Performance Tuning line.

With a curb weight of 3085 pounds, the WRX definitely feels a bit more substantial than a similarly-sized, but lighter, Civic sedan. (The Civic checks in at about 400 pounds less.) The horizontally-opposed boxer engine and all-wheel-drive grip add to this distinctive feel. The car doesn't feel clunky, but it does have a distinctive "Subaru" characteristic to it.

Power from the turbocharged four is linear and doesn't fall off as the car approaches red line, making encounters with the 7000-rpm rev limiter a common occurrence. The car can be a little slow to respond at low engine speeds, but once everything is moving, the engine comes on strong.

Maybe "strong" is an understatement. On a cool, dry day--no doubt ideal conditions for a turbocharged car--we recorded consistent zero-to-60 runs in the 5.7-second range. (The fact we're located at sea level doesn't hurt, either.) ProSolo-type launches resulted in 5.5-second acceleration times.

The rest of our test session with the WRX was equally thorough, as we sampled a wide range of environments, from dusty rally stages to city streets. We started off at The European Rally School in Starke, Fla., where we sampled the WRX on paved, gravel and dirt stages.

While we'll admit that we're not rally pro drivers, we can say that the WRX was well-behaved in the slippery stuff. We found that the Subaru all-wheel-drive system gives the WRX the combined handling benefits of both front- and rear-drive cars: turn-in was crisp and similar to most other front-drive compacts, while applying extra power at track-out was helpful in getting the tail end of the car to rotate around, just like a rear-drive performance car. Subaru says that the rear roll center has been raised to reduce understeer, putting it close to that of the WRC rally cars. Additionally, the WRX goes like a scalded monkey in a straight line, as all of the car's power can be put to the ground when asked.

While Subaru intended to use the rally school to a demonstrate the Impreza's off-road manners, the event also allowed the car's toughness to show. During the press introduction, Subaru ran close to 100 journalists and executives through the school. The cars were bone-stock aside from sump guards, driver and passenger harnesses, intercom radio setup, and exhaust systems that offered a bit more ground clearance. All cars ran on the stock 205/55R16 Bridgestone Potenza RE92 tires. To be on the safe side, Subaru had technicians and crates of spare parts at the ready: control arms, brake components, engine mounts and so on.

How did the cars fare? After hundred and hundreds of stage miles--with the cars being driven by both rally pros as well as first-timers--the WRX fleet suffered only two punctured tires and not one mechanical problem. Pretty impressive for a fleet of pre-production cars racing around rally courses on stock tires and suspension.

We also sampled the WRX at an autocross, and while it lacked the nimbleness of a Honda CRX or Toyota MR2, it was well composed--especially on the optional 17-inch tires. The car's curb weight doesn't help combat understeer, but the sure-footed grip could be an advantage at ProSolo starts for drivers who don't mind the smell of an overheated clutch. As expected, the WRX feels like an upright Eagle Talon or Mitsubishi Eclipse in this setting.

Out on the road in the real world, the WRX is also well-mannered. The seats keep the driver comfortable, the big trunk is useful for carrying junk, and the subdued styling lets you blend in with traffic. About the only people who tend to give the car a second look are the younger enthusiasts.

Bottom Line

We have been fans of the Impreza since the U.S. introduction of the 2.5 RS. Some may say the scoops gave the Impreza 2.5 RS a cafe racer look, but to us, it is probably the most aggressive-looking car sold in the U.S. since the original BMW M3. After a short delay, Subaru now has the muscle to back up that tough appearance.

While the U.S.-spec WRX doesn't offer supercar performance, it will definitely hold its own in its marketplace, which could be bad news for Integra and Celica owners. Plus, as we have seen with other turbocharged cars, a little tweaking with computer chips and exhaust systems could really wake up things.

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