There's something forgiving, even therapeutic about grafting a station wagon rear onto a performance car: The back absolves the sins of the front. Here comes rowdy, there goes sensible. If the motto of the mullet haircut is "business up front, party in the back" -- well, that's the Subaru Impreza WRX wagon, only in reverse.
The WRX is one of the leading purveyors of the whole "pocket rocket" mentality that has long challenged the idea that to have fun, you need (A) a sports car, (B) a V-8 engine and (C) preferably both. Through the magic of a turbocharger -- essentially a fan, driven by exhaust gas, that forces the fuel mixture into the engine under pressure -- a four-cylinder engine can make V-8 horsepower.
The Subaru Impreza comes in three basic flavors -- the regular Impreza, the speedy WRX, and the beyond-speedy WRX STI, which has 300 horsepower and boy-racer styling that can get a little tiresome. The regular WRX, with 224 horsepower, makes a lot more sense; it's cheaper, lacks the STI's log-wagon ride, but still has more than enough performance to add excitement to the daily commute. The STI only comes as a sedan, but the WRX is offered in sedan or wagon trim.
The wagon is, I think, the better-looking choice, not to mention the more practical one. It's also ideal for the teenager who tries to convince mom and dad that buying a station wagon, for goodness' sakes, is a commendably sober, conservative choice for a 16-year-old. Sort of like when I tried to convince my father that all I really needed when I was 16 was a car with a six-cylinder engine, when all my friends were coveting V-8s. The idea got a little traction until he realized the six cylinders were under the hood of a 1967 Jaguar XKE. Game over!
The test car was a 2007 WRX Limited, which adds leather upholstery, heated front seats, a power sunroof and a few other features to the regular WRX. With all models, the engine is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder. The test car's transmission was a very smooth-shifting five-speed manual; an automatic adds $1,000. Fuel mileage is rated at 20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway, premium gas preferred.
As is every Subaru, the WRX is all-wheel-drive. The WRX suspension is firm, and the ride is taut, but it doesn't beat you up, even on long trips. The bucket seats are excellent -- the WRX Limited is a far better highway car than you would suspect. Rear seat room is rather cramped for adults, especially if tall front passengers have their seats pushed back.
Handling is just excellent, brakes are firm and progressive, and the torquey engine provides plenty of punch. The WRX Limited wagon weighs about 3,300 pounds, but feels lighter on its feet. There's a moderate amount of road noise from the P205/55VR-16 radial tires, but it isn't excessive.
The WRX wagon starts at $24,495, with the leather-clad WRX Limited starting at $26,995. With shipping and a few options, the list price of the test vehicle was $29,109, a little heady for a car that starts out life as a $17,995 Impreza wagon. The level of utility and performance the WRX Limited wagon offers is substantial, though, but whether or not it justifies that substantial price is up to you.