Other quibbles concerned the lack of low-down urge and poor lumbar support from the otherwise admirable Recaro-like seats. Strangely enough, our more vertically challenged staff members were concerned by this, but taller drivers didn't seem to notice. Greg Anderson, our six-foot-four-inch-tall online editor, drove the WRX thousands of miles over the Christmas holiday and never whined.
But, as former motor gopher Reilly Brennan noted at the end of a long list of complaints: "Forget all of the nonsense I just wrote. This is a car I've spent nights dreaming of, and it's finally here. And it's fantastic." Indeed it is. Our car came in at a shade over $24,000 with everything you actually need in daily driving, including a standard six-disc CD changer, cruise control, and power locks and windows. We added an aftermarket XM Satellite Radio at a cost of $285 plus a $10 monthly subscription fee, and many of us were glad we did. Just being able to get the BBC World Service's reasoned perspective on the world around us, rather than listening to yet another rabid right-winger on talk radio, was worth the price of admission. Unfortunately, as associate editor Joe DeMatio scrawled, "the tiny buttons and display of the Pioneer XM interface suck big-time."
Also included in the price is serious performance, with a 0-to-60-mph time of just 5.7 seconds allied to a 140-mph top speed. There is some turbo lag, but it sort of enhances the raw, rally-car nature of the beast. You know when you're on it, because there's an explosiveness at about 3500 revs to tell you so.
Yet raw performance numbers don't do the WRX justice. What clinches its status as one of the performance bargains of this (or any) decade is the ability to cover twisty roads very fast, very safely, in all weather conditions. We would wager that on an unfamiliar road that doesn't have long straights, a well-driven WRX would embarrass someone driving a Corvette Z06, a Porsche 911, or a BMW M3.
The steering, as production editor Jennifer Misaros noted, is "perfect, with just the right amount of weight." The handling is terrific, too, if you use lift-throttle oversteer to dial out an initial tendency to run wide in corners. Once you've got the tail slightly out of line and nail the throttle, the Scooby-Doo grips and goes in a nicely balanced drift. Subaru offers an optional performance suspension package--springs, struts, and an anti-roll bar for the wagon ($1500), plus new control arms for the sedan ($1800)--which one of our readers heartily endorsed as a means of banishing understeer. The brakes are pretty good, although the American-spec WRX has two-piston front calipers in place of the four-pot items that the rest of the world gets. Presumably, this was done to help get the car in below the $25,000 price point.
All this entertainment isn't at the expense of civility. The WRX won't be confused with a Buick on the highway, but as Davis said after trekking to New York and back: "Its most astonishing quality is its ride comfort. We expect it to be fast, and we expect it to maneuver with a lot of self-assurance, but we don't expect it to ride like a far more expensive touring sedan. It is really an astonishingly good road car."
Some of our drivers noted that the WRX looks a bit cheap inside (as did our readers), yet nothing broke or fell off in 29,453 miles of heavy service. The interior trim, paint, and alloy wheels all lasted well. It was inexpensive to run for a performance car, with all four scheduled maintenance stops totaling $556.56. The 23-mpg overall fuel consumption was heavier than we expected, however.
So, the Subaru certainly lived up to its Automobile of the Year status. Nothing, but nothing, went wrong with it, and there weren't even any recalls. For people like me--a driving enthusiast who needs practicality and all-season drivability and who doesn't like spending an enormous sum on an everyday car, as opposed to a toy--it's perfect. And it seems that Subaru has found an awful lot of people out there who think the same way.