Did you know that the Japanese name for the Pleiades constellation is Subaru? Subaru's iconic six-star logo is based on Pleiades' six visible stars, the largest one representing the coming together of five smaller companies to form the automaker. And this was reason enough for Subaru to take us on a tour of the Palomar Observatory as part of the press introduction to the 2008 Impreza WRX.
Palomar's franchise player is the Hale Telescope, and the creation of the 200-inch mirror is the most impressive on an amazing list of engineering, manufacturing, and technological feats. After the mirror was made, the optics lab at Caltech spent 11 years carefully polishing away almost 10,000 pounds of glass to create the concave form required. Add an additional two years of finish polishing and aligning on site at Palomar to finally shape the "Big Eye" to the precise form required to see into space. This much refinement was exactly what Hale's Big Eye needed, and Subaru took this same approach as it smoothed out just about every rough edge of the latest WRX.
These smoothed out edges are most apparent in the styling, which has taken a more Euro-spec turn when compared to the outgoing model's J-pop and lock looks-think less Godzilla GT-R and more Main Street Mazda3. Gone is the controversial propellered proboscis, replaced by a more homogenized, innocuous front end. Even the awesomely obnoxious WRX hood scoop we've come to know and love is smaller and less ostentatious on the new model. At least the played out Altezza tails can only be found on the five-door hatchback, while the WRX sedan-exclusive to North America-makes do with traditional red lenses. Visually not much else, save for some aero bits, a rear wing, and exhaust finishers, distinguishes the chart topping WRX from its more pedantic 2.5i cousin, which is a bit of a letdown for label lovers like us.
Another letdown is the motor; shared with the Legacy GT, the Mitsubishi TD04 turbocharged 2.5L flat four spits out 224 ponies worth of game fed through either a new Sportshift four-speed auto or a traditional five-speed manual. Much like cell phones and manga, Subaru saved its best engine for Japan as the JDM version of the WRX-the S-GT comes with a 2.0L turbo flat four turbo good for 250 horsepower.
The new WRX also shares its platform with the Legacy. A new crossmember drops the engine-50 lbs lighter than its predecessor-by 10mm, which is nice when physics come into play. You know, less mass, lower center of gravity, improved handling, all that sort of business. Cornering on the '08 WRX is also aided by the switch from struts to double-wishbones in the rear. An added benefit of the new suspension configuration is the increased cargo capacity. The Subaru Symmetrical AWD is still in place with the addition of Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC). Better handling is nothing without sharp steering, and Subaru addressed this by plucking the steering gear from the outgoing STI with a quicker 15.0:1 ratio.
Alright, so the styling is suspect and the engine and chassis are carryover pieces, but all is forgiven when you slide behind the wheel. The powerband is smooth and linear, much more so than one would expect from a flat-four turbo. The longer wheelbase, when compared to the outgoing model, makes for a smoother ride, and the overall feel of the chassis is nicely balanced for an AWD ride, even allowing for a bit of trailing-throttle oversteer.
The new WRX definitely raises the roof on the house of Impreza performance, but it doesn't feel any faster, mainly because there is less drama in terms of the sensory feedback sent to the driver. The flat fours of the 2.5RS and to a lesser extent, the old WRX, had this endearing mechanical cacophony under full boil. Purists would call it the telltale thrum of a finely tuned, horizontally opposed engine. Funny how Porsche's flat six doesn't make this sound. You know, the new WRX doesn't make this sound either. It's just smoother and more refined, much like everything else on this car.
And while this much refinement allows the Big Eye at Palomar to see far into the sky, it also allows Subaru to reach upmarket with its new WRX. All of this is good, and it does make for a better car, but there's a part of us that longs for the raw, unrefined nature and appearance of the WRX of old.
The Other Imprezas
If the $24,350 WRX is too much cheddar for your cheese platter, for $7,355 less ($16,995 if subtraction baffles you) you can drive off the lot in a brand new '08 Subaru Impreza 2.5i. Of course, you won't get the hotted up turbo motor; instead you'll be forced to make do with a naturally aspirated boxer four with 170 hp. You'll also be that much farther removed from dubage, as the 16-inch wheels are down an inch from the 17s on the WRX. The WRX also gets four-wheel discs, oil cooler, sport-tuned suspension, VDC, and some select aero add-ons.
At the other end of the Impreza spectrum is the upcoming WRX STI, which should debut at the Frankfurt Auto Show in September, just as this issue will be available. If the prognostications are correct, the STI should bow with a hopped-up version of the current 2.5L turbo flat four making 300hp. And if the spy shots we've seen are any indication, it should have a more radical appearance than the standard WRX. Praise Jebus.
That New Car Smell
'08 Subaru Impreza WRX
The Sticker $24,350
Under The Hood 2.5L DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder horizontally oposed turbo
The Power 224 hp @ 5200 rpm, 226 lb-ft @ 2800 rpm
Scale Tipping 3,142 lbs (5-speed manual)
Layout Front engine, AWD
Gearbox 5-speed manual transmission (available 4-speed automatic)
Stiff Stuff Front: independent MacPherson strut with multiply-phase valving and coil springs; Rear: double-wishbone type; stabilizer bars
Rollers 17x7.0JJ aluminum alloy wheels; 205/50R17 Bridgestone RE92A M+S all-season tires
Stoppers Power assisted 4-wheel disc with standard 4-channel, 4 sensor ABS with EBD; 11.6-inch ventilated front and 11.3-inch solid rear discs; dual piston front and single-piston rear calipers
At The Pump EPA 19 mpg city, 24 mpg highway (5-speed manual)
The Pack Honda Civic Si Sedan; Mitsubishi Lancer GTS; Volkswagen GTI
Deep Thoughts Mild show with wild go-all of which leaves a rather plain, vanilla taste in our mouths. We know the car is better than the last generation, but the riceboy in us wants a little more spice in the tofu.