It didnt take much from Subaru of America to get a herd of mouth-watering journalists to congregate in Savannah, Georgia, to get a taste of its 2002 WRX sedan. Deposited via charter aircraft at a rally school in Gainesville, Florida, members of the press were soon under the careful tutelage of instructor/racers. Aside from confirming that Gran Turismo can inflate ones estimation of his/her real world performance driving abilities, the instruction helped acquaint us with the limits of the car, mastery of the pendulum turn, as every mock rally stage began with the Jedi-driver showing you how it was done. I did my best to fling the new WRX perilously around an asphalt, a gravel, and a third higher speed course that featured a nasty combination of the two surfaces. In all instances, regardless of the road surface conditions, I found the WRX to be stable, responsive, very forgiving, and seemingly faster than its 227 horse-rating belies. The improved stiffness of the new chassis allows it to wring out every bit of chutzpah from its 227 horses and 217 lb-ft of torque. Finally, one of the English rally instructors (all who seemed to be named Andy, Richard, or Liam) chauffeured each of us through Course 4 as passengers. The Fourth stage was a deeply rutted mixture of sand, gravel, jagged rocks, land mines, and everything but hungry Bengal tigers, and a bunch of other nasty surfaces that have been known to debase a cars undercarriage. After a brief, exhilarating ride that nearly landed my lunch on my Pumas, a change of jock was in order. Driven at the limit by someone who can, I emerged from the WRX, trembling, disoriented, and sweat-soaked but with a newfound respect for the prodigious capabilities of this car when driven at its limit.
A day later, the mob of journalists found themselves on a closed asphalt course, and as though on cue, the heavens parted to soak the roads with rain. The WRXs, now fitted with 17-inch wheel and tire combinations, were coaxed around a higher speed course to greater speeds with each subsequent pass. To say that the WRXs road holding ability, in spite of the wet roads, was confidence-inspiring, would be an understatement. Thanks to the tuned suspension, body roll is minimized and turn-in response is almost telepathic. The power output becomes far more pronounced, as the tachometer eclipses 3,000 rpm with boostsending occupants into a state of gleeful delirium, as all four wheels bear down, ejecting the WRX out of turns. The handling of the WRX so quickly gained ones trust, that journalists, photographers, and Fuji engineers were soon engaged in friendly one-upmanship on the cone slalom course trying to better each others stopwatch figure. While this posturing of manhood transpired, Super Street was well represented at the cookie buffet as we soon made short work of all that was an M&M chocolate chip. It was amidst the throes of this cookie binge that we began to contemplate the evolution of this latest WRX species Subaru.
For years, we have been reading about performance variants and homologation specials such as the Skyline GT-R, Lancer Evo VI, Silvia, Civic Type R, Levin, and WRX that the rest of the world gets to drive. These iconic performance badges are the basis for most of the really insane modified exotics roaming the Japanese expressways. Here in the states, we are left to modify one of exoticas sheepish U.S. export market cousins in an effort to emulate the racier platforms.
This circuitous route to getting behind the wheel of a true Japanese homologation special just got a whole lot shorter. Beginning in March 2001, the American performance car consumer gets to taste the new Subaru Impreza WRX pie.
Since 1993, the Impreza WRX nameplate has been making the rounds on the global stage, forging the badges name in history as one of the worlds foremost all-weather performance cars. Originally conceived to homologate the chassis and drivetrain hardware for the punishment of the world rally circuit, the 2002 WRX continues in this capacity for Subaru. Design considerations have been taken to ensure the new cars success in the competitive U.S. market.
For 2002, the new Impreza WRX features numerous refinements, mostly in the interest of improving safety, ride quality, interior space, and handling over the previous generation Impreza. Gone are the previous Imprezas 2.2L SOHC engine designs, and two-door models. All 2002 Subaru Imprezas, including the WRX, utilize a sturdier, ring-shaped reinforcement frame body structure that enhances chassis performance and safety. The newer, more robust platform employs a hydro-formed subframe and tailor-welded blanks on the B-pillars to improve on the previous chassis torsional rigidity by 148 percent on the sedan. Meanwhile, the interior receives thoughtful touches that lend to the performance image of the WRX. Supportive, fully-adjustable, race-inspired seats, a leather-wrapped MOMO steering wheel, and aluminum pedals are standard on the WRX.
The sedans styling makes no secret of the cars aggressive intentions. This drivers car borrows heavily from the styling cues of the WRC cars. Its widened stance and box flares do not carry over to the turbocharged WRX sport wagon. Subarus trademark, a trapezoidal open-mouth front grill opening, remain from the previous Imprezas, and are now flanked by round composite headlights. The headlights lead into a low lying aluminum hood, conceived for superior driver visibility, through which the intercooler ingests wholesale amounts of air. This compact performance sedan package aims to satisfy the discerning driver who is more concerned with the journey than the destination.
The soul of the new WRX, as with previous models, is the compact 2.0L DOHC turbocharged powerplant that was previously unavailable in the U.S. The units small, light, horizontally-opposed layout contribute the WRXs excellent chassis dynamics and balanced handling. With free-breathing, four-valve-per-cylinder heads, aided by a revised turbocharger and intercooler package, the new U.S.-spec WRX motor yields a stout 227 hp at 6,000 rpm with 217 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. The open chamber, pent-roof combustion chamber design features centrally-located plugs for improved combustion and detonation resistance. From the factory, the WRX churns out 14.5 psi of boost from a turbo compressor that has been improved with larger turbine and compressor rotors and a larger diameter wastegate port. This engine package is good for 247 hp in Japan. Sure, the U.S. model is down a few ponies from the Japan model, but more stringent emissions standards do take a toll on power. The U.S.-spec rating on the motor is down, due to the fact that 2002 Imprezas must meet the stringent 50-state LEV (Low Emission Vehicle) standard. Meeting this standard required the use of three catalytic converters. A pre-catalytic converter is mounted before the turbocharger and begins work during warm-up to help reduce emissions prior to the remaining two converters achieving operating temperatures.
Rest assured, however, that all of the key bottom end and induction ingredients are in place to achieve greater power figures. Backing up the motor, is the proven Subaru all-wheel-drive system. Five-speed Subarus feature a Continuous All-Wheel-Drive system that uses a bevel gear center differential, and a limited slip viscous coupling built into the transmission case. This system yields a 50/50 split of power between front and rear and ensures that the wheel with the best available traction gets the most power. Imprezas equipped with the four-speed-electronically-controlled automatic transmission employ the variable torque distribution all-wheel-drive system. This very advanced automatic transmission integrates an electronically-controlled hydraulic transfer clutch and a planetary gear type center differential that distributes the power between the front and rear wheels.
The 2002 WRXs suspension system has been revised for greater stability, response, and reduced noise and vibration. The front suspension is derived from a MacPherson strut design that features L-shaped lower control arms that attach to the chassis through vibration damping liquid-filled bushings. The improved geometry of the WRX and RS models (which arrive on U.S. shores with a 20mm wider track) provide added stability while quickening steering response. The WRX sedans push the strut position and wheel hub assemblies outward 10 mm to reduce ground contact angles and reduce body roll. The dual link rear strut suspension uses a trailing link and two vertical links per side in conjunction with a stabilizer bar. The rear suspension crossmember is lighter and stronger than those on the previous generation Imprezas.
Four-wheel ABS disc brakes are standard on a WRX package that is truly an all-season performer. The WRX sedan and wagon come standard with 16x6.5 alloy wheels wrapped in 205/55R16 Bridgestone Potenza RE92 rubber. Dealers will offer tasty options that include a wing, body kit, and 17x7 wheels that ride on 215/45R17 tires.
The targeted price ranges from $25,000-$28,000, making the WRX an exceptional value, considering its turbocharged, all-wheel-drive specification. As a basis for further performance modifications, its very likely that the WRX will have no immediate rivals in its price segment. Only time will tell if Subarus perceived sport compact sedan market segment will become heavily contested, but Subaru can be very proud of its first salvo fired with the 2002 WRX.