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2008 Subaru Impreza WRX review

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2008 Subaru Impreza WRX Review & Road Test

“Very quick, very comfortable and no doubt, very reliable. The new Impreza WRX is a superbly well sorted urban rocket with styling that won’t attract those unmarked devils”

Model tested: 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX five-door hatch (a four-door sedan version is available in the US and we should get it last quarter 2008)

Fast, but well mannered, a car for 24/7

Styling is still an issue

CarAdvice rating:

Options: None

By: Anthony Crawford

I’ll be honest, I’ve never really been into the styling of the previous generations of the WRX despite having enormous respect for what Subaru has achieved over the years with this iconic car.

I first drove a WRX back in 1994, the year I put my first television series on cars together. The show was called Behind the Wheel and was hosted by James Morrison (yes the muso and self obsessed rally driver), Dick Johnson and Kevin Bartlett on the Ten Network. It was the first WRX released in Australia and this was the car I wanted to star in the opening sequence.

I only drove the car for ten minutes or so, but that was enough to wonder, how on earth Subaru could build a car with such phenomenal performance and sell it for less than $40,000!

I’m absolutely certain I was smiling like a Cheshire cat when I blasted up Warringah Road in Sydney’s northern Beaches, at a velocity which had me speechless at the time.

If that wasn’t enough, minutes later, the WRX annihilated two chicanes down the road, without a hint of body roll, something quite foreign to all but Ferrari and Porsche steerers at the time.

At that stage, I’m pretty sure I pulled over on the side of the road and began dialing as many mates as possible, to preach to them the new book of revelations. That’s the Subaru WRX edition. I was stunned!

Mind you, I don’t recall a single luxury item in the car but that didn’t matter one iota. I was already working out what the monthly payments would be, and whether the bank would lend me the money.

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You don’t buy a WRX for its good looks. Do you? It’s a high performance package for a bargain basement price, which most punters with a half decent job can afford.

Initially, I wasn’t a huge fan of the new styling but I didn’t hate it like the hard-core mob that were slamming it, left, right and centre. I was more sitting on the fence and hadn’t made my mind up.

The thing is, I was tired of that menacing, overly aggressive WRX look, as it was a bona fide cop magnet and surely put off those over thirty corporate types, who also lusted for a performance hit at the right price.

More power, more torque and just as quick as any previous generation car (except 2003-2005 due to the gearing, but only by 0.1 of a second) the 2008 WRX stays true to form as a high performance car for a price exactly the same as when it was released back in 1994.

But at $39,990, punters these days get a lot more for their money. A whole lot more.

If quick is your thing, then you’ll be a grumpy sod if 0-100km/h in 5.8 seconds doesn’t put a great big smile on your face. And just for the record, that time blitzes an Alfa Romeo GT ($69,990) Renault Megane Sport 225 Turbo ($42,490) and Volkswagen’s revered Golf GTI ($39,990). I think I'll keep going with this. The new WRX will also out drag a Lotus Elise ($69,990), Honda S2000 ($72,590) and HSV’s VXR Astra ($42,990). I could go on, but it may get embarrassing.

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It’s not just the straight-line acceleration performance either.

I drove several laps of the eleven-kilometre “twister” we use to sample handling dynamics with cars in the ‘go fast’ class, and grip and stability in and out of bends, is downright prodigious.

Steering is quick and power assistance is perfectly weighted which encourages some very fast corner-to-corner driving.

With a turning circle of just 10.6 m, U turns and inner city maneuvering won’t be an issue. By way of comparison, that’s better than a Mini, Mazda RX-8 and Mercedes Benz SL sports.

And whereas the ride quality in earlier generation cars could be summed in a one word “harsh”, the 2008 edition offers a remarkably comfortable ride, even over poor road surfaces.

And when it comes to speed bumps – you can ride over those at 20km/h in complete comfort. Even those nasty little metal bumps, popular with shopping centre management, are dispensed with, without any harsh effect through the cabin.

Is there a price to pay on the performance side for such a level of ride quality? Not really. There’s more body roll that I would have expected, but it doesn’t seem to affect the car’s performance in any way.

What does impress me about the new car is how smooth the drivetrain is. The engine delivers linear power from first to fifth, so there’s none of that ferocious turbo boost which used to kick in at around 3000rpm and scare the bejesus out of Nanna.

While there’s still a slight notchiness with the gearshifts, particularly from first to second, it’s only slight and doesn’t impede too much on fast shifts. Despite this small gripe, little effort is required to move the five-speed shifter.

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While six speeds are better than five in a world where we now have eight speed autos, it’s certainly not a deal breaker. It would have been useful to have that extra ratio on a long trip, where the car could stretch out and relax, while providing slightly better fuel economy than 10.6 (combined) if that’s possible.

With increased levels of performance you don’t expect to go from four-piston brake calipers on the front wheels - to just two. Initially I was thinking cost cutting and there may be a little of that too. But I can’t fault the stopping power on the 2008 car. The brakes are superb as is the pedal feel.

My colleague Alborz runs a worked 2003 WRX as his daily drive when he’s not road testing press cars. He talked about the potential of brake fade going from four pots down to two. But I’m telling you straight, several runs down my bend-to-bend test route produced NO brake fade whatsoever!

In fact, it’s better than that. The REX will now stop in 39.6 metres from 100km/h and that’s 5.3 metres better than the previous generation car, which had four pots. That’s on a dry road. In the wet, the difference is even more pronounced, with the car coming to a stop in 43.5 m against 52.7 in the last of the second generation WRX. Enough said.

It’s a similar story with tyre width and profile. That’s been reduced from 215/45 on the 2006/2007 editions down to 205/50 Yokohama Advan in the new car. Mind you, it’s not all about tyre width but more to do with as much tyre contact with the road as possible.

In real world driving, the reduced width Advans performed flawlessly, so wider is not always better. It’s also worth mentioning at this point, that German carmaker Audi, generally fit lessor width tyres than their prestige counterparts, due mostly to the innate level of grip provided by their quattro four-wheel drive system. That same rational can be applied to Subaru with their constant All-Wheel drive system.

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Inside, it’s still not in the same league as the Golf GTI but it’s an improvement, which I would rate as 6 out of 10. Not enough soft touch materials or quality plastics though. Subaru can do better in this department, just take a look inside a Liberty or Tribeca and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

It’s not that you miss out on any of today’s luxuries, that’s just not so. Climate control air con, fast glass all round along with power door mirrors, fully adjustable sports leather steering wheel with audio and cruise control buttons, leather gear shift knob, in-dash six-CD stacker with MP3 and auxiliary input for your iPod (that’s a plus),

Xenon lights with washers, Remote central locking with Alarm with motion detectors and dark privacy glass, round out the A-list inventory.

The sports seats are Porsche 911 style and are equally as comfortable. They are a new design by Belgian company Pullmaflex, specialists in seating suspension and lumbar systems.

What’s great about the hatch body style is the practicality aspect. Easy access to shove bikes, surfboards and even prams. There are also tie down hooks and a decent cargo blind that’s a cinch to use and remove, if you have to.

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The rear seats fold virtually flat, so collecting your flat screen LCD TV, (that’s after you see the David Jones credit department and plead to have your credit limit raised by three grand) is easy.

I forgot to read the press kit before I drove the WRX in that horrific peak hour battle one morning, only to be stuck creeping inch by inch up the spit hill. It’s always a concern when you have robotic auto transmission drivers, who move their cars to within millimetres of your rear bumper on a steep incline, completely oblivious to the fact that you are driving a manual.

The joy of discovering Subaru has employed Hill Start Assist on all manual Imprezas, is one reason to buy this car over a competitor. When you are in first gear with the clutch in, you won’t roll back as you release the brake and accelerate. The system brakes the car for a second or two, allowing you enough time to complete the maneuver. Brilliant.

The WRX like all Imprezas, has gained a five-star crashworthiness rating with ANCAP and comes loaded with the full compliment of both active and passive driver safety aids.

Dual front, side and curtain airbags are standard fitment. Constant All-wheel drive is supported by Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC), ABS brakes, Brake Assist and Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD).

“It’s hard to believe you can buy an all wheel drive car with this level of performance, practicality and kit for under $40,000”

CarAdvice overall rating: How does it drive: How does it look: How does it go: Specifications• Engine: 2.5-litre DOHC four-cylinder boxer with intercooled turbo• Power: 169kW @ 5600rpm• Torque: 320Nm @ 2800rpm• Transmission: 5-Speed manual• 0-100km/h: 5.8 seconds• Max speed: 209km/h• Fuel tank capacity: 60 litres• Fuel type: minimum 95• Fuel consumption (combined): 10.7-litres/100kms• Turning circle: 10.6 m• Warranty: three years, unlimited kilometres• Weight: 1355kg (Tare Mass)• Built in: Japan• CO2 emissions: 252g/km

Complete STi review in May.

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