Less Attitude, More Space On the road, the WRX rides smoothly and quietly, but we'd gladly give up some of that refinement in return for some of the old car's attitude. By Josh Jacquot, Senior Road Test Editor Date posted: 07-22-2007 224-hp 2.5-liter boxer four - Five-speed manual or four-speed automatic - All-wheel drive with stability control So you want the big news with the 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX? It makes the same power but is lighter, roomier and still rips to 60 mph in just 5.9 seconds. This is a rare combination. These days, every new model weighs more than the one before, and manufacturers keep adding power to compensate. Subaru has done exactly the opposite. Through the same clever engineering that brought the WRX to the U.S. in the first place, the Japanese carmaker has minimized the weight of this more spacious, all-wheel-drive WRX to retain its head-snapping acceleration. But it's not all roses. The new WRX is marginally slower in the quarter-mile than the car it replaces — 14.5 seconds at 94.4 mph vs. 14.3 seconds at 95.5 mph. The chassis setup is also noticeably softer and there's no shortage of body roll. On paper, it sounds as if the WRX really hasn't changed, but the WRX we loved for its finger-in-the-air attitude is gone, replaced by a WRX with its finger on the pulse of the mainstream market. Stretch It Out The WRX five-door lacks much of the Mazda 3's shapeliness, but it still looks better than the sedan. This will be the basis of the factory-built rally cars. Probably the most notable change to the WRX is a 3.7-inch-longer wheelbase. Just two body styles are available — a sedan and a five-door hatchback. Subaru expects the sedan to make up 80 percent of WRX sales. The overall length of the five-door hatch has been reduced by 2.0 inches (to 172.8 inches), while the length of the sedan has increased 4.5 inches (to 180.3 inches). This means the five-door has shorter overhangs — a key trait for responsive handling. We're told that both the world- and U.S.-spec rally cars as well as the WRX STI version due early next year will all use the five-door body. There's a new double-wishbone rear suspension to replace the struts used in the rear of the old car. In addition to adding camber control during cornering, the new suspension packages more efficiently and creates more passenger and cargo space in both body styles. The 2.5-liter flat-4 power plant has only minor revisions for 2008. Some of the overall weight savings have come from a lightweight intercooler (which also flows more efficiently), and a new, lighter plastic intake manifold. The exhaust system is also lighter. Subaru's Active Valve Control System and swirl valves in the intake manifold remain. Power delivery is improved, as peak power of 224 horsepower comes 400 rpm earlier at 5,200 rpm, while peak torque of 226 pound-feet arrives 800 rpm earlier at 2,800 rpm. Peak boost is 11.9 psi. The five-speed transmission has less aggressive ratios in 1st through 3rd gears, but the final drive is shorter: 3.90:1 instead of the former 3.70:1. The majority of the weight savings comes from a redesigned body structure, which is 45 pounds lighter yet retains the same rigidity as the previous car. Subaru engineers tell us the suspension pickup points have been beefed up to improve ride control. Our five-door test car weighs 3,167 pounds, only about 4 pounds heavier than the last Mazdaspeed 3 we had on our scales. And the Mazdaspeed 3 doesn't offer all-wheel drive. Legroom, Plus Doors With Frames Front seats have big bolsters and an integrated headrest; they're a little wider than necessary but still get the job done. The big payoff for a longer wheelbase comes in the rear seat, where legroom is improved. Larger door openings and rear doors that open to 75 degrees also add to the new Subie's usability. The doors also have framed side windows — a first for the Impreza — that help quiet the interior. The steering wheel now incorporates buttons to operate the cruise control and the audio system. A navigation system is now available, while an MP3 jack and inputs for external video and audio sources are now standard in the center console. Side curtain airbags are now standard equipment, as are front seatbelts with electronically triggered pre-tensioners and force limiters. The driver-side front airbag also deploys with a force adjusted according to the seat's proximity to the steering wheel, a nice feature for smaller drivers. The front seats are heavily bolstered and utilize an integrated headrest, but are designed for wider butts than ours. Overall interior material quality is an improvement over the previous car, but is still marginally behind some of the Japanese competition. How's She Drive? The 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX is fast, yet it doesn't shred back roads like it used to. We never cared much about the WRX's lack of amenities in the past since it was always a huge kick in the ass to drive. Forgiving a spartan interior design is easy when a car is tossable in the corners. But where the old car was tossable, the new car is simply soft. Our tests show that the new car is about equal to the old car around the skid pad, with a 0.81g result vs. the former 0.82g. It's faster through the slalom, averaging 67.7 mph vs. the former 64.7 mph. It also stops from 60 mph in 121 feet — an improvement over the last WRX TR we tested, which stopped in 135 feet. Despite a better slalom number, the softer chassis calibration compromises the WRX's once-healthy appetite for shredding back roads. As a driver's car, we found it less inspiring. Off-center steering response isn't as immediate — something Subaru readily admits, as it says it's after a linear ramp-up in reaction, even though the steering ratio remains the same at 15.0:1. We loved the old car's commanding bite while bending it into a corner and its willingness to adjust its line in the middle of the corner. Now we feel less like we're driving a rally car and more like we're driving a Camry. And there's understeer. Plenty of it. Part of this comes from Subaru's new Vehicle Dynamics Control, a system for stability and traction control. Although it can be disabled, its presence in an all-wheel-drive package has forced the elimination of the car's limited-slip rear differential, which had substantially improved the cornering attitude of the previous WRX. The brake pedal feels soft, and if you plan to use left-foot braking, be sure not to overlap with the throttle, as the pedal action goes rock-hard and unresponsive. The engine has impressive boost response and midrange punch, but it runs out of steam fairly early. Revving it to redline requires patience in 3rd, 4th and 5th gears. Enthusiasts will find more reward by upshifting early and getting into the meat of the power band in a taller gear. But It's So Much More Refined A bold design and new materials improve the quality of the WRX's interior; tachometer is in the center of the instrument display where it belongs. The new rear suspension has given the five-door a very roomy hatch area that retains its 60/40-split folding rear seat. The load floor is flat and wider than before. The same extra space can be found in the trunk of the sedan, which Subaru tells us can now carry three tour-size golf bags. Are all the rally fans who bought the old WRX now wearing goofy pants and packing their Callaways everywhere they go? We're not so sure. The exterior, too, is softened. The old hood scoop that poked aggressively through the aluminum hood is now smoothed into a less angry steel hood. And since the Impreza is wearing its fourth new nose in six years, we think it's safe to say Subaru is still looking for the perfect corporate identity with the new snout. The overall design lacks shape and simply isn't as chiseled and aggressive as the old WRX. The Impreza also now has an incline start-assist feature, which holds brake pressure for about a second to simplify uphill starts in models with a manual transmission. This is truly a valuable feature that we've come to appreciate in much more expensive cars. Get Yours Soon A new double-wishbone suspension affords a wider cargo area; 60/40-split folding rear seat comes in both sedan and five-door. The 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX is also more expensive. Our test car, which includes only one option — the $2,100 Premium package, which adds an upgraded stereo, heated seats, mirrors, a windshield wiper de-icer and an aero package — has a bottom line of $27,595. With stripped models starting at $25 grand and fully loaded models pushing $30,000, the WRX isn't a bargain-basement proposition. This could affect its success, because Mazda and Mitsubishi have joined the field since the WRX was first introduced six years ago. In fact, Mitsubishi is rumored to be introducing a model that will slot nicely between its Lancer and Lancer Evolution to compete directly against the WRX. In others words, Subaru doesn't own this market anymore. Still, the new WRX offers a fairly unique combination of utility and speed. It might be softer and might have lost some of its attitude, but you won't be ripping to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds in your mother's Camry anytime soon. The WRX five-door lacks much of the Mazda 3's shapeliness, but it still looks better than the sedan. This will be the basis of the factory-built rally cars. MSRP of Test Vehicle: $27,595 What Works: Improved utility; interior quality; boost response. What Needs Work: Engine runs out of steam early; soft suspension with lots of body roll; sleepy styling. Bottom Line: Softer than before but still capable, the WRX has gone mainstream. Second Opinion Premium package option includes a 100-watt audio system with a six-disc CD changer and MP3/WMA capability; there's an MP3 plug and RCA jacks for audio/video input in the center console. Edmunds.com Associate Business Analyst Loren Wong says: As the current owner of a 2005 WRX with ProDrive suspension and wheels plus a turbocharged 2.0-liter that's been chipped, I've had high hopes for the new Rex. And now I can say that the new WRX does everything better than its predecessor — but not by much. The new car drives much like the old car, and that's no bad thing. The WRX has always had a way of making its driver feel connected to the hardware, and rowing through the gears and carving the corners with the '08 WRX is still a delight. Of course that's because almost all of the '08 improvements don't affect anything an enthusiast might feel. To satisfy the general consumer, Subaru has made the WRX a better daily driver. Compared to my '05, the new car's interior fit and finish is better, the visibility is fantastic, there's more usable space and the cabin is much quieter. (Thank you, door frames.) But options that might make life truly grand with the new Rex are missing, like high-intensity headlights (long offered on the WRX everywhere except in North America), Bluetooth functionality and keyless start. This 2.5-liter flat-4 with its Mitsubishi TD04 turbocharger feels fantastic, and there's usable torque everywhere. The punch from the turbo doesn't feel as strong, though, so it's easy to think the acceleration is less thrilling. I was initially disappointed that there's no six-speed, but now I think the five-speed is fine. Maybe the WRX might not be the best at anything, but it does everything well. Subaru's first foray into the unknown — reaching a mass audience instead of a narrow enthusiastic one — is an experiment to say the least. But it's not one gone totally wrong, since this is still a car that a hard-core Rex guy like me can enjoy — or turn into something that will let me slide it like Solberg. Performance The engine's top-mounted intercooler is more efficient; both the intercooler and the new plastic intake help minimize weight. 0 - 30 (sec): 1.9 0 - 45 (sec): 3.7 0 - 60 (sec): 5.9 0 - 75 (sec): 9.1 1/4 Mile (sec @ mph): 14.5 @ 94.4 30 - 0 (ft): 31 60 - 0 (ft): 121 Braking Rating (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor or Very Poor): Good Slalom (mph): 67.7 Skid Pad (g-force): .81g Handling Rating (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor or Very Poor): Average Db @ Idle: 45 Db @ Full Throttle: 74.6 Db @ 70 mph Cruise: 66.8 Acceleration: Launching the WRX well is a trial-and-error procedure. Impressively, its clutch is up to the task -- it took launch after launch with little complaint. We found the best procedure was to rev the engine above 5,000 rpm and begin engaging the clutch very quickly with engine speed climbing. This keeps the engine from bogging. You know you've got it right when the wheels spin slightly, the engine stays on boost and you're in 2nd gear instantly. Braking: Subaru WRXs traditionally have soggy brake pedals and the new car is no different. There's adequate power, but the pedal feel is never inspiring. Handling: The WRX remains soft, with less roll stiffness than many cars in its class. Despite a quicker steering ratio, its off-center steering response doesn't match the old car's precision. Overall, grip is about the same and transitional prowess is improved. Handling: The WRX remains soft, with less roll stiffness than many cars in its class. Despite a quicker steering ratio, its off-center steering response doesn't match the old car's precision. Overall, grip is about the same and transitional prowess is improved.