Versus the competiton:
If Mazda boasts “zoom, zoom,” Subaru should lay claim to “hold on.”
Subaru is the Japanese automaker known for initiating the craze to crossovers. It produces a lineup of sedans, wagons and sport-utility vehicles that since 1997 all feature all-wheel-drive.
So, Subaru has gained a reputation for being a vehicle that provides sure-footed motoring in foul weather–a winter necessity like boots, gloves, window scraper and snow blower.
Subaru spokesman Mike Whelan bangs his chest and proclaims: “All-wheel-drive is a shield that we proudly carry.”
OK, when you’re a hired company pitchman, you get carried away at times. But in riding AWD into battle through snow, sleet, rain and even sand, Subaru left itself vulnerable to those who viewed its vehicles simply as workhorses.
Impreza, Subaru’s subcompact offering, has been redesigned for ’02 and expanded to include a high-performance WRX rendition.
AWD may be a shield, but Subaru’s new WRX designation for the turbocharged subcompact Impreza is the weapon that goes with it.
The Impreza WRX, modeled after Subaru’s rally car, means that while your typical Subaru still goes in the snow, any WRX high-performance version scoots like a sprinter when the roads are dry and/or twisting. WRX makes the Impreza a car for any season and any reason.
WRX was introduced last spring as an early ’02 addition to the lineup and is helping serve its intended purpose. It’s getting younger people and driving enthusiasts–not just empty-nesters looking for security on the long drive to visit the grandkids–into showrooms.
We tested the new-for-’02 Subaru Impreza WRX sport wagon. Thanks to designers, the wagon looks more like a sport sedan with such touches as the back window glass wrapping around the sides to cover the rear roof pillars, body-colored plastic ground effects and a tailgate spoiler that further hides the wagon underneath.
An aluminum alloy hood with an integral scoop to feed cool air to the turbo intercooler and fog lights contribute to the sportiness.
And, of course, it comes with the Subaru shield, AWD.
What makes the WRX special is its 2-liter, 227-horsepower, turbocharged 4-cylinder derived from Subaru’s World Rally Championship and SCCA Pro Rally Group rally cars.
With full-time AWD, Subaru is known for function. With its 227-h.p. turbo 4 and sports-tuned suspension, the WRX adds fun to the equation. Before WRX, Subaru was known for practicality; with WRX, it’s known for performance.
Subaru is preaching the same lesson that Audi has gotten across to enthusiasts with its Quattro AWD system, that AWD lets you hold the road in sharp corners and tight turns and gives sedan or wagon a sporty personality as well as all-season security.
One of the chief reasons consumers have turned to sport-utes is f or go-anywhere, any time AWD. One of the reasons automakers are adding crossover vehicles is that consumers enjoy the security of AWD, but don’t like the truck-like ride, handling or mileage of truck-based SUVs.
Subaru is an alliance partner of General Motors, which bought into the company to gain access to its AWD technology. We hope Subaru will be called upon to contribute to GM’s small-car strategy because GM has treated small cars as necessary evils for the budget-minded that contribute little to the company coffers.
However, the first joint-venture vehicle from the alliance will be a seven-passenger AWD crossover due out in the 2005 calendar year. GM and Subaru will get a version, with the GM division chosen to market the machine to be made public.
What about small cars? Well, Bob Lutz, GM vice chairman and future-product guru, salivates when Subaru WRX is mentioned in conversation. Stay tuned.
WRX gives Impreza a different set of driving dynamics without taking away from its first-and-foremost function as an AWD wagon. Still practical, but with the added benefits of more precise handling and predictable stability.
The Subaru philosophy has influenced others. GM and Toyota, for example, teamed up to bring out the Toyota Matrix and Pontiac Vibe for ’03 in sporty (Matrix XRS and Vibe GT) and AWD versions.
“They’ve joined the bandwagon,” Whelan said.
With the arrival of the WRX early last year, Subaru sales rose to 186,000 units for the year from 176,000 in ’00. The forecast is about 195,000 for ’02.
The long-term target is 250,000 sales in 2005, a goal that will require more product, beginning with a redesigned ’03 Forester sport-ute (which shares the a platform with the Legacy) this month followed this fall by a new Baja, an AWD, four-door, car-based pickup/sport-utility hybrid. The Baja, derived from the Legacy/Outback platform, will be built at its plant with Isuzu in Lafayette, Ind., where Legacy/Outback are produced.
Capacity will be increased to ensure a supply of up to 25,000 Bajas annually.
Baja is a modernized version of the Subaru Brat, the subcompact truck with a pair of plastic seats in the cargo bed that allowed Subaru to claim it was a passenger vehicle and escape the 25 percent duty on imported trucks.
Baja’s design concept is similar to the Chevrolet Avalanche, a full-size truck with four doors and a small cargo bed. The rear seat and bulkhead fold to expand the cargo area and transform Baja from a four-passenger vehicle to a two-seater. Subaru calls it the Switchback system. GM calls it a midgate.
Other changes include a facelift for the Legacy/Outback in July for ’03 and an all-new Legacy/Outback for ’05.
Base price of the WRX tested is $23,495. Except for automatic ($1,000), it comes fully equipped (power sunroof not offered). Air conditioning; AM/FM stereo with cassette and in-dash CD changer; power windows/locks/mirrors; 60/40 split back rear seats; cruise control; keyless entry; tilt steering; front/side air bags; four-wheel anti-lock brakes; daytime running lights; 16-inch, all-season tires; and floor mats are standard.
Noteworthy items include wide, cozy seats with good side support for long-distance and/or aggressive motoring; lots of little storage areas including under the rear cargo floor; user friendly sight/reach lines for controls; decorative aluminum alloy pedal covers, and considering full-time AWD, the mileage rating–20 m.p.g. city/27 m.p.g. highway–is tolerable.
A few drawbacks: Mirrors are a tad too small, and the rear cabin a little tight.