Guess what? Subaru doesn't really care if you think the car is ugly. In fact, Subaru doesn't really care what you think because it knows the new Impreza WRX is going to walk on its competition. If there is any.
It's hard to find a car in the current U.S. market that directly competes with the WRX. The $24,350 Integra Type R is really the only car that comes close in terms of power and dynamics. But since pricing for the WRX is yet to be announced (by our press time), it's hard to say if the two are really in the same class. However, we suspect they will be. By the time you read this, those decisions will have been made, so conjecture here is pointless. Bottom line is this: Does the WRX have any competition? The answer, right now, is absolutely not.
Why not? Because no other car in this segment has this much power and torque (227 hp at 6000 rpm, 217 lb-ft at 4000 rpm), no other car in this segment has all-wheel drive and no other car in this segment has won the World Rally Championship.
It was the first-generation WRX's point-to-point, over-the-road skills that made it famous for covering any terrain at insane speeds and the new car is probably even better. It's these talents that make us fall in love at Sport Compact Car and the kind of performance that's been overdue in this market for years.
Forget about outright gs, blindingly quick quarter-mile times and Miata-like slalom speed: While the WRX will probably beat all comers at the instrumented tests we're accustomed to, it's the car's ability to be practical with its velocity that amazes us. As expected, the new chassis thrives on uneven terrain, pot holed roads and speed bumps. Those things are no surprise. What is interesting is that now WRX owners will be able to enjoy pounding through that kind of terrain in a wagon or a sedan. Subaru says about 20 percent of the 10,000 WRXs slated for the North American market this year will be wagons. Now all that extra junk that wouldn't fit in your two-door RS can be thrown in the back of a wagon and carried around at WRX velocity--something that the granola-eating, tree-loving Northwestern Subaru set could care less about.
This brings us to a very good point with the new Impreza platform. Subaru marketers have admittedly taken a step away from that group with this car, claiming the Subaru owner of tomorrow will be predominantly performance-oriented males under 40. In other words, Sport Compact Car readers. It's refreshing to see a performance car in this market that isn't grown from an economy car platform and marketed accordingly.
Dimensionally, the new WRX is both longer, wider and taller than the old RS. The sedan is also 260 lbs heavier. Add another 80 lbs to that figure if you opt for the WRX wagon, which, by the way, doesn't get the flared fenders of the sedan and has a 20-mm narrower track width. That extra pork makes a difference when it comes to things like acceleration, braking and turning--all important performance car priorities. Subaru justifies the extra weight with a sedan chassis that's almost 250 percent more torsionally rigid than the old Impreza. Subaru also claims a 182-percent improvement in bending rigidity. The new body structure is a product of hydroforming technology and construction with tailor-welded blanks. Tailor-welded blanks are application-specific pieces of steel optimized in thickness and material grade for their particular location in the body.
So is it worth it? Does chassis rigidity matter enough to make such a dramatic sacrifice in weight? That verdict will ultimately be decided by the car's performance in the WRC, but with our brief time behind the wheel, the answer is a definite "yes."
At the press introduction, Subaru gave journalists an opportunity to literally beat the car into submission on several specially designed gravel rally stages, which included exceptionally rough terrain for cars with stock suspension and even a few small jumps. Think Subaru has confidence in its product? So do we. The point wasn't to break the cars, but let's face it, with such abuse from hordes of shameless journalists, something was bound to get snapped, bent, worn out or otherwise destroyed. However, nothing did. At least while I was there. That fact alone speaks highly for the strength of the new car. We always knew Imprezas were tough, but this was beyond what even our skewed sense of mechanical empathy would allow. Very impressive.
First impressions were a bit misleading in the gravel, as the car felt exceptionally powerful spinning all four tires in second gear without any problem. We knew it was going to be powerful, but it's the WRX's dynamics that really impressed us. Let's face it; it's now a heavy car, but even with the extra weight, it has all the right moves on less-than-perfect roads. Turn in comes about with slight initial understeer, followed by quick rotation that can be accelerated with a brief lift off the throttle. Once pointed in the right direction, the WRX does the standard, all-wheel-drive rocketship impression out of the hole. The engine is very tractable and an obvious effort was made for mid-range power in the U.S. car. Even as low as 3000 rpm, the flat four's authority over the chassis was striking.
It's fast. So fast in the dirt that the extra weight can quickly get the best of any driver with an ambitious right foot. Be sure you understand the effects of momentum on a 3,000-lb car before taking your new WRX down your favorite rally road.
On pavement, we had a much better grasp on the car's power delivery. No longer was a jab of the throttle followed by explosive wheelspin. Now the car just squatted and hauled ass. For use on the road course, Subaru fitted the WRX with optional 17-inch BBS wheels, which will be offered as a dealer accessory. Subaru says it will leave tire choice up to the buyer (in other words, plan on finding your own 17-inch tires as they don't come with the wheels). We can say with confidence that if you're planning to spend most of your time on the street, the 17s are the right choice.
Around the track, much of the old WRX character shined through. Enter too fast without pitching the car and it understeers predictably and tucks back in line with a quick lift of the throttle. Drive like a lunatic rally driver with rapid inputs and you'll be controllably sideways in no time. Unlike the old RS, however, standing on the gas in the WRX produces an easy-to-modulate, four-wheel drift. Drag the brakes in late and you'll get the same result, even with ABS. This chassis has balance as well as weight.
The only performance estimates available at the time of this writing come from members of the WRX project team from Japan. They said testing of the U.S. car in Japan yielded a 0-to-100 kph (62 mph) time of 6.5 seconds with two passengers. We'll verify those numbers and let you know soon enough with our own testing, but that certainly doesn't sound unrealistic, given the car's power, grip and weight.
New engine, old engine
The heart of the new WRX is Subaru's carry-over 2.0-liter turbocharged EJ20 powerplant that's been powering the WRX since its introduction in the early '90s. However, to meet emissions and earn the rare (for a turbocharged car) LEV status, Subaru has taken several power-robbing liberties with the classic flat four. The biggest change has to be the use of three catalytic converters. Subaru engineers must be serious about quick cat light off, as the first of the three is placed in-line before the turbocharger. However, Japanese WRXs also get the pre-cat, which means one of two things: either Subaru is getting soft in all markets or emissions are now so high priority that this kind of thing is simply a must. We suspect it's the latter.
Moving around to the intake tract, EJ20 fans will notice several other changes. The most conservative is the addition of swirl control valves or "tumble generators" in each of the engine's four intake runners. The tumble generators are basically block-off plates placed just upstream of the fuel injectors, which create a vortex in intake air, promoting cleaner burn and leaner air-fuel mixture during cold-start and low-speed operation. The valves, which look and operate like throttle plates missing one side, open gradually beginning at 3000 rpm to allow intake air to flow freely. A new top-flow, 12-hole injector design is also utilized to allow even further lean-run, warm-up operation. ll barRear : Struts with trailing link and two lateral links, anti-roll bar.
Enough with the emissions; let's talk about what matters. The differences between U.S. and Japanese versions of the engine aren't as great as we had anticipated. The biggest changes center around making more top-end power in the Japanese engine than we get in the U.S. Variable valve timing on the intake valves certainly helps in Japanese EJ20s, as does a larger compressor wheel on the turbo, which is controlled by the ECU to make slightly more than 17 psi maximum boost. American WRXs will fill the intake manifold with a maximum of 14.2 psi, according to Subaru. Both engines use an 8.0:1 compression ratio--something we plan to make the most of with lots of boost, if our plans for a project car come to fruition.
Here's some good news Subaru doesn't want you to know: The U.S. WRX uses the same valvetrain as Japanese and European STi versions of the car. That means a 7500 rpm redline (stock is 7000 rpm) is mechanically safe if other changes have been made appropriately.
With the American-market EJ20, Subaru uses a mass-air engine management system, which utilizes an airflow meter to calculate fuel delivery. This is after several years of bouncing back and fourth between mass-air and speed density systems on its 2.5-liter engine in the 2.5 RS. Mass air systems generally respond well to aftermarket additions in the way of electronic gadgetry, so we suspect the aftermarket will be even more eager to jump on the new WRX.
Ours vs. theirs, old vs. new
Given the abundance of changes to the Impreza's chassis and suspension, we were surprised that struts are a carryover item from the old platform. In fact, WRX project team member Toshio Masuda said that it is possible to use struts designed for the old WRX or 2.5 RS on the new car--something that will thrill aftermarket companies worldwide. Anti-roll bars, however, will not carry over, due to the dimensional differences in the new suspension. One notable suspension difference between U.S. and Japanese WRXs is the front lower control arms. Japanese cars get the very cool (not to mention strong and light) forged aluminum units, while we must make due with steel.
Don't whine too much about the lower control arms though, because we will get the same steering rack as Japanese cars. Slow steering was one of the 2.5 RS' notable chassis shortcomings, relative to the WRX in years past. The new steering rack is slightly quicker at 3.0 turns lock-to-lock instead of 3.2.
Subaru broke no new ground with its conservative torque split for the U.S. market. Identical to the layout used for the 2.5 RS since 1998, torque is split 50/50 front/rear with the new WRX. Splitting that torque is a standard bevel-gear differential and viscous limited slip built into the transmission case. The viscous coupling sends torque to whichever end is spinning faster, adjusting torque split according to grip. The WRX uses the same transmission case as the old RS, but has revised ratios, which are appropriate for the turbo engine's power delivery. The simplicity of Subaru's system is as elegant as always with efficient energy transfer, thanks to a longitudinal engine/transmission layout. A viscous limited slip is standard equipment on the rear differential of all WRXs.
Wheel offset and bolt pattern remains the same on the new WRX as it was on the old RS, which means that finding the unusually high 53-mm offset aftermarket wheels in a style you can stand, won't be any harder than it was before--or any easier.
Subaru has made an obvious effort to increase interior quality in the WRX as well. Thickly bolstered buckets are a serious improvement over the seats in the RS. As is the new 80-watt, in-dash, six-disc CD changer and cassette player. Overall material quality seems much improved, surfaces are more pleasing to the eye and the inside of the car seems to be well screwed together. A Momo steering wheel and leather shift knob are standard WRX equipment. There's also a clever rear seat armrest which folds flat to reveal a trunk pass-through for long cargo items.
Expect WRXs in showrooms shortly after you read this. Subaru said orders for any of the 10,000 WRXs destined for the U.S. can be placed from a link off of its official Website (www.subaru.com).
In addition to the 17-inch dealer accessory wheels, Subaru has plans to expand its current line of aftermarket parts for the Impreza. You'll be able to buy body upgrades, including spoilers and airdams, as well as a sport muffler and possibly even a set of performance struts and anti-roll bars for the WRX.
Talk of an STi version for the U.S. isn't out of the question, according to Subaru, but for now, there are no plans. And that's just as well because it's already as fast, if not faster, than anything else in its price range, especially if real-world speed matters.
For those of you who can't stand the new WRX's bulging headlamp treatment and flared fenders, there's an alternative. Buy something else in this segment--and stare at the Suby's taillights.
|2002 SUBARU WRX |
Engine Code : EJ20
Type : Horizontally-opposed four cylinder, turbocharged and intercooled, aluminum block and heads
Valvetrain : Double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, solid lifters with valve lash shims
Displacement : 1994 cc
Bore & Stroke : 92 mm x 75 mm
Compression Ratio : 8.0:1
Horsepower : 227 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque : 217 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Redline : 7000 rpm
Layout : Longitudinal front engine, all-wheel drive
Transmission : Five-speed manual
1 : 3.454:1
2 : 1.947:1
3 : 1.366:1
4 : 0.972:1
5 : 0.738:1
Final drive : 3.9:1
Differentials Front : Open
Center : Viscous limited-slip
Rear : Viscous limited-slip
Curb Weight : 3,085 lbs (sedan), 3,165 lbs (wagon)
Weight Distribution F/R : Approximately 60/40
Overall length : 173.4 in.
Wheelbase : 99.4 in.
Overall Width : 68.1 in. (sedan) 66.7 in. (wagon)
Track F/R : 58.5/58.3 in. (sedan) 57.7/57.3 in. (wagon)
Height : 56.7 in. (sedan) 57.7in. (wagon)
Front : MacPherson struts with lower L-arm, anti-roll bar
Rear : Struts with trailing link and two lateral links, anti-roll bar
Front : 11.4-inch ventilated discs with two-piston sliding calipers
Rear : 10.3-inch solid discs
WHEELS AND TIRES
Wheels : 16 x 6.5-inch aluminum alloy, optional 17-inch aluminum alloy (dealer accessory)
Tires : 205/55R16 Bridgestone RE92 or 215/45-17 tires (you choose brand and model)
a taste of rally driving by John Matras