2008 Subaru Impreza WRX Review

Hi, everyone.  Below is my review of the 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX 5-door I had for one night in July.  I would appreciate your feedback.  I haven’t edited it yet.  Initially, I am guessing it is too long.  I plan on using it as a writing sample soon.  Thanks!

Update – 12/10/2007 @ 7:25 PM PST: I’ve made some slight revisions.

Update – 12/11/2007 @ 7:30 AM PST: I’ve made a few more changes.

Update – 12/18/2007 @ 12:54 AM PST: I made some small changes.

2008 Subaru Impreza WRX – An Appeal to the Masses

You can’t please all people all the time.

Enthusiasts’ reactions to Subaru’s latest sport compact have varied from wishes that its designers be shot to praises that the boy-racer look had been shed.  With the 2008 Impreza WRX, Subaru believes it can win the hearts of the general public and enthusiasts alike.  Could the latest iteration of this rally-bred icon appeal to both the person looking for a solid-performing commuter car and the person looking for a capable autocross or track day pocket rocket?  Subaru hopes the 2008 WRX is the answer people who want one or the other—or both—are looking for.

Being the owner of a 2004 Impreza WRX Sedan, I have subjected my ‘Rex to the “double duty” mentioned above.  It delivers me from the perils of Southern California commuting to get me to and from work without breaking a sweat.  When exercised at a track such as Buttonwillow Raceway, it holds it own with cars costing thousands more (read: Nissan 350Zs, stock WRX STIs and Mitsubishi Evos).  I confess the car isn’t in the same state it was in when it left the dealer’s lot.  To go along with the mild modifications that have been added over the years, I should also mention the chips in the paint of the front bumper and hood, the two—at the last time I checked—small cracks in the front windshield, and other scars from the battles it wages daily just so I can put in my eight hours.  I think I represent one of the multiple types of people Subaru is targeting.

The WRX is aiming high by trying to be all things to all people.  Can it reach as high as Pleiades, the star cluster Subaru is named after?  Or does it fall miserably short?

It doesn’t look that appealing

These are the words that might be uttered by members of the general public when they see the new WRX for the very first time.  These words are also a huge understatement to those who detest the new ‘Rex.

Starting with the body, people can’t help but to think of the other vehicles the new Impreza looks like.  The new-for-2008 hatchback body style resembles the popular Mazda3—too much for some.  The Toyota Corolla and Kia Rio sedan are members of the select company the redesigned Impreza sedan is now associated with.  Based on a shortened-version of the Legacy chassis, the wheelbase has increased 3.7 inches.  Overhangs are shorter than the previous model’s.  The 5-door is shorter than the previous Impreza sedan and wagon.  The new sedan has conversely grown larger than its predecessors.

At the front, critics are quick to point out the “smile” the car greets onlookers with—something that definitely would not strike fear in the new WRX owner’s competitors at a local autocross or at the track.  The much-criticized front grille looks like that of a Chrysler and features an unexciting egg crate look.  Concerned by the negative feedback the grille received when the new car bowed at the 2007 New York Auto Show, Subaru scrambled to design a sport mesh grille that will be offered at dealerships when the new car hits showrooms.

Moving away from the identity crisis up front, the confusion ensues at the rear.  The rear of the new 5-door, which features clear LED taillights and an overly conspicuous chrome strip visually bridging the gap between the taillights, looks completely different from its sedan counterpart.  Not willing to be outdone, the WRX sedan has dual exhaust tips compared to the hatch’s single tip on the right.  Design consistency—something the previous Impreza sedan and wagon had—would be nice.

Perhaps it’ll taste better than it looks

The appeal of a vehicle is not limited to its looks, however.  Like many vehicles on the market today, the new WRX is a can of alphabet soup.

Leading off, veterans ABS (anti-lock braking system) and EBD (electronic brake-force distribution) are back for another season.  Working together, they ensure the vehicle stops without drama.  Pedal feel could be improved, but remained consistent when the car was subjected to a moderate workout on a canyon road.  At the track, a distance of 121 feet was needed to bring the vehicle to a standstill from 60 mph.  While occupants’ eyes won’t fear being relocated from their sockets, braking ability is decent given the car’s all-season shoes.  Daytime running lights (DRL), which make the new WRX more visible during the day, are another returning feature.

When ABS and EBD are unable to prevent things from going wrong, passive safety measures such as the standard fare of airbags (supplemental restraint system, or SRS) have been improved to protect the driver and passengers.  Key additions include side-curtain airbags and a sensor located on the driver’s seat track to detect the distance the driver is from the steering wheel before airbag deployment.  Also present are a front passenger seat sensor to detect the weight of the front passenger to modulate airbag deployment and seat belt pretensioners and force limiters.  A LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) child restraint anchorage system is in place to support compatible child safety seats.

Put these all together and you have the only current small car to earn the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) “Top Pick” award (Note: The Impreza 2.5i with VDC was tested).  The Impreza received “Good” ratings—the highest on IIHS’ scale—in the frontal, side, and rear-impact crash tests for both the driver and front passenger seating positions.

New for 2008 is SRS (not to be confused with the airbag system) Circle Surround Automotive audio enhancement.  These untrained ears didn’t hear any discernible improvement in sound quality because of it.  Chalk another one up to the marketing folks who are trying too hard to wow the consumer.

Also new to the Impreza is Subaru’s tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).  Monitoring the tires in one minute intervals, the driver is notified if a tire’s pressure drops below its safe level of operation.

Rounding out the lineup and also in its rookie season (standard on the WRX and Outback Sport, optional on the 2.5i) is Subaru’s take on stability and traction control, Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) with TCS (Traction Control System).  The enthusiast crowd need not worry as VDC can be fully disabled when fantasies of driving at “maximum attack” are being fulfilled.  Left on, slight lift-throttle oversteer can still be coaxed when the car is being driven hard while still providing some peace of mind should the driver run out of talent.

It’s what’s on the inside that counts

Having finished our soup and the typical marketing-speak served with it, further examination of the car uncovers many of its new strengths.

The ergonomics of the new car’s interior has improved in some regards and in others, still leaves much to be desired.  Take the dashboard and center console for example.  Inspired by, if not a smaller copy of, the Subaru Tribeca’s dual cockpit layout, the fitment of panels is excellent.  Plastics still abound, but they are of a slightly higher quality than what was used in the pieces found in the old car.

Visibility is excellent, especially for the new 5-door.  Looking over the hood, the integrated hood scoop no longer plainly obstructs the driver’s view.  Because of the side-curtain airbags, the A-pillars are thicker than those of the outgoing car; looking into a turn during spirited driving will be slightly affected.  In order to see everything surrounding the vehicle, the new car’s side mirrors are larger than ever and its blind spots are minimal.

Now that serving as a people-mover is a higher priority, the Impreza’s growth is evident in many areas.  The headroom offered is abundant.  In the event that the car’s activity requires the use of a helmet, the driver and any passengers will have room to spare, regardless of their heights.  Wind and road noise has been reduced thanks to the addition of window frames.  Rear legroom has increased greatly thanks to the longer wheelbase.  Average-sized passengers need not fear entering the rear confines of an Impreza any more.

The rear seats in both the hatchback and sedan are organized in a split 60/40 folding arrangement.  Worries about snowboards and other objects no longer fitting through the rear armrest pass-through are a thing of the past.  With the seats folded down, the cargo volume of the hatchback is a little less than the previous generation’s wagon because of the 5-door’s D-pillars.  That being said, the amount of actual “usable” cargo volume is nearly the same as the old wagon, especially since the new rear double wishbone suspension eliminated the need of obtrusive rear strut towers.

Ingress and egress has improved, too.  The rear doors that now open 75 degrees make it a lot easier to load large objects through the rear doors (this applies more to those who choose to go the sedan route).  There’s no need to worry about forcing a new TV or other toy and its bulky packaging into the rear seats because of restrictive door angles.  Hatchback owners will be pleased with the simple button to open the hatch and the interior grab handle that can be used to shut it.

The driver’s life has been made easier with the addition of several new features.  An electroluminescent instrument panel is clear and well-organized with the tachometer featured in the center.  The placement of the radio and HVAC controls allow for easy operation.  The tray area in front of the shifter is now illuminated and “rubberized” so the driver or front passenger will always be able to not only see a mobile phone or portable music player (which would be connected to the standard auxiliary audio input), but also know any device stored there won’t move around.  Steering wheel-mounted audio buttons are available with the premium ($2,100) and navigation packages.  Wheel-mounted cruise control buttons are standard.  And here’s the kicker, the steering wheel column is now telescopic, in addition to being tilt-adjustable.

With so many things going for it, what could go wrong?  The answer is plenty.  For some, these things may be minor typos on an otherwise impressive résumé.  For others, they may be glaring oversights.  The former group may consist of enthusiasts while the latter may include more members of the general public.  The driver’s window is still limited to one-touch auto-down functionality.  And the front passenger window?  There’s still nothing automatic about it.  There are more beverage holders, but they’re better suited for slender bottles than cups.  Imagine the disappointment of some new WRX owners when they find out they won’t able to drop a Big Gulp into the “cup” holders.  Bluetooth functionality is available as an add-on accessory only on navigation package-equipped models, a mere $4,100 option.  Xenon HID headlights aren’t even available as an option.  Neither is a keyless start feature.  The disappointing thing is both HIDs and keyless start are available on WRXs sold in other regions of the world.

These shortcomings keep the new WRX from being a great commuter car.  More importantly, by not being an exceptional commuter car, the WRX may not be able to win over prospective buyers also considering the Mazda MAZDASPEED3, Honda Civic Si, Mini Cooper S, and other sensible, fleet-footed sport compacts.

A quicker grocery getter?

Disappointment flooded the hearts, minds, and words (vocal and typewritten) of many enthusiasts when they learned the new WRX would have nearly the same power numbers and transmission setup of the previous version.  Using a Legacy GT-based 2.5-liter flat-4 (H4) engine with a Mitsubishi TD04 turbocharger (peak boost: 11.9 psi), the new powerplant makes 224 horsepower @ 5,200 RPM and 226 lb-ft of torque at 2,800 RPM.  The only difference on paper is that the new engine’s peak horsepower is available 400 RPM sooner and peak torque is available 800 RPM sooner than the old one’s.

Mated to the new motor is Subaru’s venerable 5-speed manual transmission.  An electronically-controlled 4-speed automatic transmission is available for those who unknowingly want to suck more life out of their new ‘Rex.  The lack of a 6-speed manual is disappointing to many, but time behind the wheel reveals five is fine.  Rowing through the gears is still a delight, but the stock shifter—with its long throws—could be improved.  Anyone looking to put the new ‘Rex through its paces should seriously consider installing a short-throw shifter.

The result of this partnership is a sprint from 0 to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds, which was the same time achieved by its predecessor.  In the quarter-mile, the new car is two-tenths of a second slower than the old one needing 14.5 seconds @ 94.4 mph (old car: 14.3 @ 95.5).  Racing for pinks—not on the streets, but at your local drag strip naturally—would not be a good idea with this car.  On the street, turbo lag is almost non-existent.  However, the turbo’s “punch” feels weaker (read: less fun) because of more linear acceleration thanks to the ample usable torque.  So the new car is worse, right?

Would the new WRX’s handling prowess redeem it in our handling tests?  A team is only as good as its weakest link.  Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive and new rear double wishbone suspension came ready to play.  The 17-inch all-season, mud and snow-rated Bridgestone Potenza RE92A tires the car rides on did not.  Grip around the skidpad was measured at 0.81g (0.82g for the previous car).  The new, lighter (45 pounds to be exact when comparing the new hatch to the previous sedan) ‘Rex was able to weave through the slalom at 67.7 mph—a 3 mph improvement over the previous car.  Wait a second.  Does this mean the new car is better?

As many have suspected from early photos of the car shown turning, the new car is softer than the old car.  When push comes to shove, body roll is the result.  There’s a ton of it.  However, we mustn’t forget the old car was a pendulum in its own right.  Utilizing struts on all four corners, the previous car’s suspension had a huge amount of travel.  The better to rally race with Subaru wanted you to believe.  Fact: An all-strut setup is easier to service when time is limited, such as during the service times allotted during a rally.

The new Tribeca-derived rear double wishbone suspension ensures the rear tires maintain a good relationship with the driving surface.  On a twisty canyon road, the new rear suspension didn’t make the car handle significantly different from the old car.  As to how the new rear end will handle the demands of rally racing, results will have to wait until 2008 when the Subaru World Rally Team and Subaru Rally Team USA campaign their WRX STI and WRX-based, respectively, rally rockets.

Remaining at 15.0:1, the steering rack allows the car to be confidently oriented as desired by the driver, despite an off-center steering feel that is slightly sloppier than before.  Understeer still rears its ugly head when the car is being pushed, but the tires can probably be blamed for that.  The replacement of the rear limited-slip differential with an open diff and addition of VDC thankfully didn’t manage to sap all the fun when carving one’s favorite corners.

To hold the driver and front passenger in place, the WRX comes with standard sport bucket front seats.  The seatback side and seat bottom thigh bolsters seem smaller than those belonging to the old car’s seats (excluding the WRX TR model), but they still hold those participating in all the thrills just as well as before.

Will it fit the bill?

So what’s the verdict?  It really depends on what the prospective WRX buyer’s needs are.  If you’re looking for the best performance car for $25 to $30 thousand, you should look elsewhere.  If you’re looking for the best commuter car for $25 to $30K, guess what?  You, too, should look somewhere else.  If you want a decent, but not great, commuter car that is a very good, but not dominant performer, the WRX may be the right car for you.  Even though its claws have been trimmed, the ‘Rex still has most of its bite.  The final question is: Does it have enough for you?

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About USCTrojan4JC

God Follower, husband, father, USC Trojan alumnus, Mazda employee

2 responses to “2008 Subaru Impreza WRX Review”

  1. banilla777 says :

    is the turbo really still the td04? the one i test drove looks more like a leggy with the direct connection to the tmic and plastic intake manifold.

  2. gunnerman says :

    honestly turbo-lag is awesome because of the hit you feel. on the evo VIII it was really hard. It felt about the same on the IX. althought i rode in a IX once. I guess u should feel something when hitting almost 20psi. go figure.

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