Winter 2008 Forward to a Friend


Driving Impressions: 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX
by Ric Hawthorne, Editor
2008 Subaru Impreza WRX

A COUPLE OF DAYS BEFORE DRIVING THE 2008 SUBARU IMPREZA WRX, I SAW A VIDEO CLIP OF A NEW IMPREZA WRX STI BEING TESTED. I WAS IMPRESSED BY ITS STABILITY IN TURNS. IT DIDN’T DIVE OR LEAN AS MUCH AS I EXPECTED FROM THE NEW CAR’S SEEMINGLY UPRIGHT STANCE. I CARRIED THAT IMPRESSION WITH ME WHEN I WENT TO SUBARU OF AMERICA HEADQUARTERS IN CHERRY HILL, NEW JERSEY, TO DRIVE THE WRX.

Interior
Inside, the interior’s curved styling is similar to that found in the award-winning Tribeca.

I actually drove two WRX models – a white 2007 WRX Limited and a silver 2008 WRX 4-Door. I wanted to drive them back to back to see how different they really are.

A 550-MILE TOUR
The short time spent with the 2007 model was enough to reacquaint me with it. I re-experienced its response to various types of roads and to driver input, and driving it served as the benchmark for impressions on the 2008 WRX.

For a couple of hours, I drove the car on city streets, two-lane roads, and an interstate highway. The roads ranged from newly built and smooth to weather-worn, and they brought out the personality of the 2007 WRX.

Then I traded for the 2008. As I left Cherry Hill, city streets led to Interstate 95, which I followed south through Baltimore, around Washington, D.C., and into Virginia.

The first evening’s stop was within an hour or so of Shenandoah National Park’s northern entrance near Front Royal, Virginia. Up early the next day, I drove 65 miles of the park’s 105-mile Skyline Drive. That took awhile because the speed limit is 35 mph. Curves often were marked slower than that. Such a speed limit might not sound fast enough for the likes of a WRX, but this trip proved extraordinarily satisfying due to the car’s firm suspension and engine response.

VISUAL IMPRESSIONS
Impressions begin with the fact that the WRX is an all-new car. So you’re looking at something you’ve never seen before. The WRX 4-Door has a more sophisticated visual impact than the 2007 WRX. Mostly, that’s because its lines are smoother and more subtle. Its face is more in keeping with other Subaru models, and the rear wing is not as large.

The more you study the design, the more design effort is apparent. For instance, the curves in the front are not dictated by the cut of the hood opening. Also, when viewed from the side, a continuous line is formed by visually extending the rear of the roofline down to the taillight assemblies as they sweep from front to rear.

2007 IMPREZA WRX
2007 Impreza

2008 IMPREZA WRX
2008 Impreza

Inside, the interior’s curved styling is similar to that found in the award-winning Tribeca. I agree with other observers who have pointed out that fit and finish are improved over the previous Impreza.

Instrumentation features slanted red numerals, which produce their own impressions of speed.

Some other things that I noticed inside:

  • A defeat switch for Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC), a new feature for Impreza
  • A handy tray under the center stack, which had a nonskid surface
  • The ease of use of the automatic climate control system
  • An auxiliary jack and power point under the center console armrest
  • Ample room for a person of average size in the rear seat when the front seat is positioned for an average-size driver
  • Taller people have ample headroom
  • There are steering-wheel switches for cruise control and the audio system
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Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park

by Ric Hawthorne, Editor

I had debated the advantages of a few different routes that were within a range of approximately 400 miles from the Cherry Hill, New Jersey, headquarters of Subaru of America, Inc. The trip selection included New Hampshire’s White Mountains, New York’s Adirondacks, “the Grand Canyon of the East” in Pennsylvania, and Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Virginia won, mostly because I’ve spent little time in that state.

Shenandoah National Park

It’s worth going out of your way to travel Skyline Drive the length of Shenandoah National Park. Animals are everywhere – eagles, deer, bears, and so forth. When I drove the park in mid-August, it was the gathering place for thousands and thousands of butterflies.

The views both east and west from the overlooks are spectacular. Time of day affects the colors of the layered mountains and valleys in between. A multitude of trails were easily accessible, and signs direct hikers to a number of waterfalls.

What impressed me most was the quiet. At one stopping place, overlooking a valley, the only sounds were the wind through the leaves and the beep-beep-beep of a truck in reverse somewhere in the valley below – a long way away.

Shenandoah National Park

The park wasn’t crowded at all, even though I drove through it in the middle of August, when you’d think people would be visiting it on summer vacation.

I chose a perfect day to drive through the park. With much of Skyline Drive at more than 3,000 feet above sea level, the air was cool – in the 70s. By contrast, the temperature rose 20 degrees as I descended the eastern slope to return to New Jersey.

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park has a well-documented history, some of which is recounted on various markers and at the visitor center. Hiking, camping, and ranger programs are all available.

Find out more about Shenandoah National Park at www.nps.gov/shen/.

DRIVING
But most enthusiasts want to know how the car drives. How does it feel and sound?

The seats are fine for a full day of driving. They’re not as narrow in the bottom cushion as the seats in the 2007. Seat materials made sliding in and out easy at all the overlooks in Shenandoah National Park. When under way, the cabin seemed quieter than the 2007’s. The most noticeable reduction in noise is due to improved isolation from road noise.

However, the engine’s growl is still there. Starting at approximately 2,500 to 3,000 rpm, the growl is prominent – a typical Subaru snarl.

Whether at highway speed or in stop-and-go, rush-hour traffic, the WRX is easy to handle. I could shift and steer without great effort. I still felt connected to the road, but without having to work too hard. When driven at a “normal” pace, the powertrain is unobtrusive. It doesn’t demand anything out of the ordinary.

That all changes when you push the WRX. Smooth shifting becomes an art. It takes some practice in timing, but the investment of energy is well worthwhile.

When driving the WRX hard, I recalled other performance cars with manual transmissions that were difficult to shift smoothly, even at a normal pace – the M6 of the mid-1980s, Turbo Thunderbird, MR2 Turbo, and just about any Porsche.

The shifter has a familiar feel. It’s direct and promotes a sense of integration with solid machinery.

DRIVING IMPRESSION COMPARISON – 2008 WRX VERSUS 2007 WRX
Driving the 2007 WRX back to back with the 2008 WRX 4-Door provided points of comparison. Here are some observations about the 2008 model:

  • Visibility to the front – the driver has a wider sweep across the front because the car has a lower, better-integrated scoop
  • Visibility over the shoulder and to the right – the driver can see better to the rear because the C-pillar is farther back
  • Visibility through the rear window – nothing is visible under the wing
  • More open interior space, particularly noticeable in the front seat cushions
  • Larger, smoother space for the driver’s legs
  • A much smoother ride, thanks to the longer wheelbase and multi-link rear suspension
  • The same nimble response, with quick and positive power application
  • Similar to the 2007 in being easy to drive under normal driving conditions
  • Less intrusive road noise – more sophisticated
  • Steering column stalks have a more substantial feel – heftier
  • Mileage improvement – when we drove a WRX press car in 2006, it achieved 21.4 mpg through 506 miles; the 2008 WRX hit 27.6 mpg through 551 tough miles

OVERALL
I returned the 2008 WRX after 44 hours and more than 550 miles. During my time with the car, I found some significant differences from previous models – particularly in the areas of comfort and smoother styling – and some welcome similarities in others – especially in terms of performance.

Overall, this new car answers critics who have requested greater sophistication without losing the essence of the WRX personality.