Subaru Impreza WRX owners are a pretty fanatical lot. They love their cars for their funky body styling, spunky turbocharged engines and athletic handling that would shame many pricier sport coupes and sedans. Yet reading message boards about the redesigned 2008 WRX, you'd think Subaru has made the biggest business blunder since the introduction of New Coke.
The uproar mostly has to do with Subaru's approach. For this new Impreza, Subaru is hoping to attract a wider customer base. It improved the quality of the interior, softened the suspension tuning for a better ride quality and took a more conservative approach toward styling.
Unfortunately, Subaru enthusiasts think that it softened the suspension too much and sanitized the styling to the point of pure blandness. So has the WRX truly lost its mojo? We tested a 2008 WRX hatchback to find out.
Like the previous Subaru Impreza WRX, the 2008 version has plenty of get-up-and-go. Our test car skedaddled to 60 mph in just 6.2 seconds and flashed through the quarter-mile in 14.6 seconds, quicker than cars like the Honda Civic Si. Braking was similarly solid, with a stop of 123 feet from 60 mph.
Swapping gears with the five-speed manual's gearshift is pleasant enough, with a fairly precise run through the gates and an easily modulated clutch pedal. Enthusiasts will likely also dig the turbocharged flat-4's healthy growl. Sadly, fuel economy isn't impressive, with EPA ratings of 19 miles per premium gallon city, 24 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined. In our time with the car, our admittedly heavy feet resulted in a combined figure of 18 mpg.
Anyone who has driven the previous WRX will be most disappointed in the new version's softer suspension tuning. Although the window sticker states under standard features "Suspension: Sport-Tuned," it could've fooled us. Perhaps they meant "sport" in the same light as lawn bowling or badminton.
In an attempt to win over folks who might've deemed the previous car's underpinnings too stiff, the chassis guys went too far the other way. Take on a twisty road and you won't feel the buttoned-down composure you'd expect, but rather an abundance of body roll. As a result, this compact sport sedan doesn't inspire much confidence, nor does it feel all that sporty. Perhaps the assembly line routed the WRX engines into the standard Impreza by mistake? We're not sure. On the upside, the WRX does deliver a compliant ride on pockmarked city roads and during high-speed cruising. But we think most shoppers would trade this for better handling.
The WRX's well-shaped sport seats offer solid long-distance support as well as ample side bolstering, though the latter is of questionable value given the car's lack of cornering prowess. A tilt and telescoping steering wheel and height-adjustable driver seat allowed a wide range of staffers — from 5-foot-5 to 6-foot-3 in height — to find an ideal driving position. And the WRX's relatively high roof line means tall folks can ride comfortably; we had a pair of 6-foot-1 staffers seated one behind the other with ample headroom and without knees touching the seatback.
At speed on the freeway, the WRX offers a quiet ride, with wind and road noise well muted. Hard acceleration brings a strong growl from the engine compartment, but as mentioned before, we imagine that enthusiasts will take delight in the sound. We certainly did.
The climate control knobs are located rather low on the center stack, but apart from that, most controls in the Subaru WRX are a snap to use. The navigation system features a simple interface and high-mounted screen. It's nice that there are steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, but the small, similar-shaped buttons take a little acclimation before they can be operated without a glance.
Should you choose the hatchback version of the WRX (like our test car), you'll find generous cargo capacity. With the split rear seats up, there are 19 cubic feet available (about the same as a Cadillac DTS). Flip them down and it expands to 44.4 cubes. Our test car was fitted with the optional cargo tray, a grippy mat with a lipped edge, which proved ideal for keeping things from sliding around. Stowing a couple of golf bags or a large suitcase back there is no sweat. Thanks to the roomy cabin and tall greenhouse, securing a rear-facing child seat in the back is also a snap.
Design/Fit and Finish
Even though it sports a hood scoop, 17-inch alloy wheels and spoilers fore and aft, the latest WRX still manages to look rather tame. That undesired effect is due chiefly to the generic grille and bland body styling. The upshot is that the WRX is more invisible to Johnny Law while cruising the interstate than its harder-edged, extroverted STI sibling.
The cabin is much more attractive than the exterior, with a sweeping dash design, tasteful faux metallic accents and solid build and materials quality throughout. A large tach sits front and center, emphasizing the WRX's feisty performance.
Who should consider this vehicle
Those who value straight-line gusto and the all-weather grip of all-wheel drive but don't care much about athletic handling may want to check out the 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX. Everyone else should consider the worthy rivals shown below or just wait until next year, when Subaru is slated to firm up the WRX's suspension and give it more power to boot.