COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO When it arrived on American shores in 2001, the WRX erased a sizable chunk of Subaru’s Grizzly Adams-and-granola image with its hot performance, and its low price and recognition from video games such as the Gran Turismo series gave the car immediate street credibility.
Below you’ll find our ‘Driven’ review of the 2006 Subaru WRX from the October Automobile Magazine, followed by more impressions and information that we didn’t have room for in print.
For 2006, the WRX undergoes a whole host of tweaks and revisions, including a visit to the plastic surgeon to tack on Subaru’s new corporate nose, first seen on the B9 Tribeca. The result is somewhat subtler here and not unattractive. Other exterior changes include new side spoilers as well as a redesigned hood and newly standard seventeen-inch wheels.
It is under the skin, though, that the WRX has received the most compelling makeover, and while the lighter, aluminum front lower control arms are notable, the 2.5-liter turbo four is what really gets our blood pumping. The previous 2.0-liter unit had absolutely no go until the turbo kicked in, but the bigger engine, with increases of only 3 hp and 18 lb-ft of torque, improves immensely in that area, turning fifth gear into more than a tool for noise reduction and making the automatic transmission–available only on the new, upmarket WRX Limited–a legitimate option. The 2.5’s turbo is also much more progressive than that of the old engine, allowing for more precise throttle control and, with the freshly tightened steering, more accurate car placement, attributes we found most helpful while blasting up and down Pikes Peak. Larger brake rotors gripped by red calipers increase the WRX’s stopping power and eliminate much of the previous car’s brake-pedal mushiness.
This latest WRX is now a real alternative for people who don’t want to or can’t afford to pony up the bucks for the Mitsubishi Evo-fighting WRX STI–which itself gets aero tweaks and a revised all-wheel-drive system for ’06–but still desire something with performance and personality. It also is more refined and easier to live with on a daily basis. Even Grizzly Adams would approve. Erik Johnson
On sale: Now
Price range: $24,620-$28,190
Engine: Turbo 2.5L
H-4, 230 hp, 235 lb-ft
Subaru has stretched the WRX lineup at both ends with a base model, the TR, as well as the top-of-the-line Limited. The TR was conceived, according to Subaru, as an “entry-level” WRX, a way to drop the admission price to the WRX club–as if the regular car wasn’t already one of the world’s leading performance bargains–and give tuners a Subaru they could really sink their teeth into.
The WRX TR is essentially a regular Impreza 2.5i with a turbocharger, beefed-up brakes, seventeen-inch wheels, quicker steering, and a sport suspension with some aluminum (instead of steel) members. In order to pay only $24,620 for this WRX–$1000 less than the mid-level model known simply as the WRX–you forgo automatic climate control, sport seats, foglamps, a six-disc CD changer, some exterior trim pieces, and a leather-trimmed steering wheel, shift knob, and parking-brake handle. Those items are standard on the WRX, and for an additional $2500 you get the $28,190 WRX Limited with a moonroof, heated leather seats, defrosting mirrors, and a wiper de-icer.
The cabin is a pleasant place to spend time–even 1300 miles’ worth of time–with generally decent materials and good fit and finish. Some of the knobs and switches that have carried through from the 2002 WRX don’t meet the high standard set by the Subaru Legacy (which was totally new for 2005), but nothing is woefully chintzy. Everything is laid out within easy reach, though we do wish there was a better place to stash cell phones than the ashtray–this is a vestige of the four-year-old design. The car boasts some mighty comfy seats: four- and five-hour shifts in the saddle were accompanied by nary a whimper from our backs or backsides. Our only complaint is a radio tuning knob on the top-level audio system that makes stations slide by so quickly that you can’t stop before you’re listening to 50 Cent instead of Frank Sinatra.
THE DRIVING EXPERIENCE
On the freeway, the WRX is stable at high speed and not easily diverted from the intended path, but it suffers from excess wind noise. (On our long flog across Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska, we also learned that the cruise control can’t be set above 92 mph.) In manually shifted WRXs, the clutch is hard to modulate for quick shifting–you really need to take your time to keep the shifts smooth. We also discovered that it’s sometimes annoyingly difficult to put the gearbox into first and reverse. Most of the time, however, the five-speed manual is unobtrusive, if not as slick as a Honda’s or a Mazda’s.
On the outgoing car, very few people opted for the automatic transmission. We understand why: people choose autoboxes for the convenience of disregarding their transmissions, but with the old 2.0-liter engine doing its best impression of an emphysema patient in the low range, that wasn’t an option. Subaru expects many more takers for the automatic in the new car, as the new 2.5-liter powerplant now has some low-end grunt. The smooth-shifting four-speed autobox isn’t as quick as the five-speed stick, but if it’s a sporty experience you’re after, a lever labeled with a “D” won’t be on your wish list anyway.
We can’t help but love the WRX’s increased refinement, but at the same time we lament the loss of some of its wild-child flair. (We’re hoping that some of that rough-around-the-edges character may still be present in the stripper TR, but Subaru didn’t have any examples available for us to test.) And while the WRX may no longer represent four-wheel-drive anarchy, it still offers tons of fun at a considerably reduced price.