In our June 2007 issue, we brought you breaking news about the brand-new 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX. Now, after having driven one of the first examples in the United States, we can safely say that Subaru will be selling boatloads of these $25K wonders. On paper, the new and improved Impreza sounds like a real winner. A new body, a revised torque curve, a different 2.5-liter boxer four and, most importantly, a new double-wishbone rear suspension design. However, in the real world, the updated WRX delivers so much more.The first point of conversation for any longtime WRX fan is the new exterior design. Aiming for a more general audience and to boost sales of the non-turbo Impreza 2.5i model, Subaru gave the WRX a more subdued, generic body style. Gone are the bug-eyes, bulging fender flares and massive jutting hood scoops. In their place is a more mainstream look, complete with an intake duct for the top-mount intercooler that finally doesn't flap around at freeway speeds. We have to admit, the new WRX looks much better in person than in photos, but we'll reserve final judgment until we see what the aftermarket does with it.
Regardless, we have concerns beyond sheet metal on our minds here at SCC. Yes, the new interior design and plastic quality is much improved, giving Subie fans that much more ammo to call out the 'cheap' interior of the old Lancer Evolutions VIII and IX. Perhaps most importantly, a 60/40 fold-down rear seat and a set of framed doors have finally been added. But we seriously doubt you'll spend much time staring at the grain on your center console when blasting through a switchback, because you'll be having too much fun driving this Subaru.
The 2.5-liter turbo engine produces the same rating of 224bhp and 226lb-ft of torque, but the curve has been shifted to the left, using a new intake manifold, turbocharger, and top-mount intercooler-taken from the Legacy 2.5 GT. Peak horsepower comes on 400rpm earlier, while peak torque comes on a very welcome 800rpm sooner. This means stronger acceleration out of turns and the ability to make peak boost (11.9psi) sooner. Driving the new WRX over the desert back roads of California, we found the gear ratios perfectly matched, the engine more responsive than even the last-generation 2.5-liter turbo motor and definitely much more fun to drive than the original 2.0-liter turbo. STI versions aside, this is the best engine to have appeared in a USDM Impreza WRX. Only time will tell how the semi-closed deck block will respond to aftermarket turbo, exhaust, and intercooler upgrades.
The 2008 WRX continues to make use of a viscous center differential, splitting the torque distribution 50/50 between the front and rear wheels. The stock 205/50R17 Bridgestone RE92 all-season tires still fail to impress us with their dry weather performance, but a set of 'real' tires and wider wheels are only a single purchase away. The steering has been sharpened from a ratio of 16:1 to 15:1, but the rubbery feel in the five-speed shifter still has us thinking urethane shifter bushing. But these are mere niggles in the back of an aftermarket mind used to tinkering.
The longer wheelbase and double-wishbone rear suspension, supposedly added for larger interior space, add a completely new feeling to the WRX. No longer is there a slight floating feeling at turn-in, traditionally followed by intense and immediate understeer. Weight transfer feels slightly faster and the new WRX takes a set much quicker through transitions than the outgoing model. The rear end feels planted and secure, allowing the front to do its job without having to wait for struts and lateral links at the rear to recover and respond. Now you point, it turns, and the car just scoots.
What does this all mean for the enthusiast? For the same price, you're going to get a WRX that's faster, more comfortable and offers a better starting platform for any tuned machine. Hell, girls might even want to ride inside the thing now. Our recommendation for the first round of upgrades is a 'proper' set of wheels and tires, shifter bushing, front anti-roll bar, and a well-matched set of dampers and springs. After that, mix in a turbo-back exhaust, ECU flash, non-chrome grille, and paint the clear taillights a darker shade. Any more and you're into the arena of turbo swaps, STi manifold conversions, full bodykits, racing seats, etc. After that, you're on your own. We hear rumors that the upcoming STI variant will be absolutely demonic. And, after sampling 'just' the WRX and experiencing firsthand how capable that model really is, we can't even imagine how fast the STI will be.