After a year with our electric-blue Subaru Impreza WRX, our one regret--other than its leaving our tender embrace--is that Subaru of America didn't bring the car to the United States sooner. What on earth were they thinking to deny enthusiasts one of the performance-car icons of the end of the twentieth century?
Fortunately, Subaru came to its senses and brought us the Impreza WRX for the 2002 model year. A paltry 10,000 cars were allocated for the American market, but so great was demand that the number had to be recast. Subaru sold 18,060 WRXs in an eight-month span. Through mid-July of this year, the company had moved 12,590 WRXs out of total Impreza sales of 21,090. So much for some of our esteemed colleagues in the motoring press who stated that Subaru was taking a risk. There's no risk in satisfying pent-up demand, one fueled by tales from Europe and Japan and Australia about the little Scooby-Doo that could--and has (won a few World Rally Championship titles, that is).
When we assembled for the 2002 Automobile of the Year selection process, the WRX was a no-brainer for our top award. But would the Subaru fare as well in our hands in everyday driving as it did on the roads and racetracks of Michigan? Would slight doubts about build quality show up in the long haul? Would the turbocharged thrills of the 2.0-liter, horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine pale when we started lugging the car around town, off boost, searching for gears?
The answer to all of these questions was that the car never lost its place in our affections. Our Four Seasons WRX was genuinely loved by everyone who drove it, whether going from one side of Ann Arbor to the other or traveling from Michigan to Colorado. We opted for the WRX Sport Wagon over the sedan, because the wagon is a more practical proposition for a staff that has lately been procreating like rabbits, even though the sedan's 0.8-inch-wider front track and 1.0-inch-wider rear give it marginally better grip and handling.
Of course, being paid to nitpick, we did so about various aspects of the WRX. First and foremost, the logbook shows that not everyone was enamored of the bug-eyed looks of this latest-generation Impreza. Overall, we prefer the looks of the old Impreza, although the new sedan appears more muscular than our wagon thanks to its chunky fender blisters.
Plenty of people complained about a lack of interior space. Taller drivers, including design director Darin Johnson, felt that they couldn't slide the seat back far enough for a comfortable driving position. Johnson was particularly worried about squashing his adorable daughters, although this could have something to do with the space-hungry design of modern child seats. When the little critters are old enough to sit on booster seats, as mine now are, the rear seat seems a bit more spacious. But this isn't a car for hauling around four full-size adults, except on short journeys.
The WRX isn't that great for hauling huge amounts of cargo, either, for, although the wagon load bay takes 27.9 cubic feet of goodies with the rear seats up and 61.6 cubic feet with them down, the sloping rear window impinges on the type of things you can carry. Road test coordinator Monte Doran had to discard packing materials for a baby seat he had just bought before he could fit it into the WRX.
Several people complained about the weak-feeling synchromesh on first gear, but founder and editor emeritus David E. Davis, Jr., rebutted those comments: "This car shifts beautifully in any sequence of gears." Some of our WRX-owning readers--who positively deluged us with their reactions--found the shift weak and notchy, however.
Along with our readers, we came to the conclusion that the stock Bridgestone Potenza RE92 tires were underwhelming, but we never actually replaced them. Subaru offers two seventeen-inch wheel-and-tire packages--a $1350 setup with cast-aluminum wheels and a $3035 upgrade with glorious, forged-alloy BBS rims--but we felt that the trade-off in noise and ride quality wasn't worth the gain in grip.