Subaru cannot be accused of selling this whine before its time. The whine comes from the Mitsubishi turbocharger attached to the flat-four "boxer" engine mounted in the Subaru Impreza WRX. Along with the intercooled whine comes a whopping 227 horsepower in a car that in many ways could pass for a harmless econobucket. But not many econobuckets will do 140 miles per hour or do 0-60 in less than six seconds. But the WRX will, and that is why it is a car that American performance and rally enthusiasts have panted over for several years now, asking when it would finally clear federal regulations and show up to tear up US soil. This is not the Subaru you will find driven by folks out searching for antiques on Sundays, or the tweedy-country-minimalist set who have made all-wheel-drive Subarus an object of cult-like affection.

It is a Subaru that gets a knowing nod from young drivers and rally types. Usually, if these folks saw one of these at all, it was in a magazine, and the car was often airborne off a bump in some forest road or skidding around a sharp, sandy corner, spewing dirt and rocks. Now, they can own it in all its relatively simple yet aggressive glory. From the outside, there is not much to tell you that this is no ordinary car. The only traits that give it away - besides the WRX badge that the knowing will pick up on immediately - are its oversized headlights, bug-eyed fog lamps mounted low in the fascia, and the hood scoop that bulges like a muscle and, get this, actually works. It feeds the air-to-air intercooler to keep a hot power plant from getting too hot.

I first drove a hot Impreza rally car a couple of years ago at Pocono Raceway and came away just awed. I drove it on the road course there and on the backstretch of the Winston Cup triangle and the experience put me among the legion hoping that Subaru would bring it here. That car had uncomfortably stiff, narrow racing seats, a firmer-than-normal-for-Subaru brake touch, and a paralyzing 5-point seat belt. Perfect.So it was interesting climbing into the street-legal WRX with that old vision dancing in the memory.

Remarkably, Subaru has replicated the look - if not the brutal feel - of those racing seats. These are firm, with high ridges to hold the hips and broad bolsters to hold the torso up the sides. They may feel a bit hard when you first sit in them, but in a long drive, and in sharp cornering, their support is welcome.

Because you sit low, you feel as if your legs are almost flat out in front of you in what is truly fine legroom for such a small car. In the rear, legroom is only adequate and three people do not fit comfortably on the bench seat.

The interior is relatively spartan, but to me that feels like a good thing; goes with the car's attitude.

All the buttons and dials are big and easy to use and that, too, is a good thing. You don't want to be distracted if you are driving this thing hard.

And hard driving is what Subaru had in mind when it built the WRX.

It's got a very stiff chassis and suspension: an independent strut/control arm, coil spring and antiroll bar setup in the front, and strut/trailing links, coil springs and antiroll bar in the rear. It makes for a stiff ride on back roads and a hard ride on the highway, but that's the price you pay for performance.

The all-wheel-drive system is anything but intrusive as torque is split 50-50 front and rear. This means that if you choose to correct the plowing of understeer with a bit of induced oversteer, it's there for you.

Want to kick out the rear end on a sandy corner? Go for it.

Need to power through a wet, slippery curve? Go for it.

Feel the need for straight ahead speed? Go for that, too, as 227 horses thump and whine beneath the hood.

The only bad thing to be said about this powerplant is the distinct turbo lag that burdens it in rolling acceleration. If you're cruising at 50 at 2,500 rpms and want to shoot out to s someone, you'll sense the frustrating delay until the tach creeps up around 3,000. From there on, it's a veritable rocket, but it's too bad getting there is burdened by that turbo lag.

The 5-speed manual transmission in this test car proved to be a magically tight, quick-click operation and the feel of quick downshifts was downright exciting. A four-speed automatic transmission is an option, but I cannot imagine anyone going that way. It's not what this car is about.

I know that it is typical of Subaru, but I would like to see the brakes (hey, nice billet touch on the foot pedals) firmed up. These were not as spongy-soft as encountered in the new Outback recently, but they still had too much pedal travel and too much squishiness for a performance car. It's a Subaru trait that ought to be designed away in the future.

Couple the front discs with rear drums, as Subaru does in the WRX, and add that spongy feel, and this is one place the car loses some of its essence. Stopping it was adequate, no better.

On the plus side, Subaru, even while keeping the overall car fairly spartan, does a nice job of adding standard goodies. At no extra cost you get front and side air bags, air conditioning, a 6-CD changer, keyless remote entry, and power windows.

It used to be that if you wanted an all-wheel-drive, cost-effective performance car from Subaru, you had to build your own using aftermarket parts. Now, you can go straight to market and, at $25,000, this is a good buy.

Nice touch: The orbiting, in-dash balls that are vents. They can be easily moved to direct airflow wherever it is needed, from defrosting side windows to crossing drafts of warm air across the cabin.

Annoyance: The scoop taken out of the center console beneath the hand brake. I know it's there so you can get your fingers around the brake handle, but why leave one side of it open? It's deep enough that a fourth side would not keep your hands out, but would turn it into a useful bin.