2002 Subaru Impreza Sedan Reviews and Ratings

Wagon 5D WRX AWD

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2002 Subaru Impreza Sedan
John Matras

Subaru has an all-new Impreza lineup for 2002. Value-oriented models are gone, replaced by high-performance models. Headlining this exciting lineup is the WRX, one of the most exciting new models from anyone this year, especially for rally fans. Though based on an economy car, the WRX is a factory hot rod that combines turbocharging, four-wheel drive, rally breeding, and attitude.

The all-new Impreza lineup for 2002 includes an updated 2.5 RS four-door sedan and a 2.5 TS Sport Wagon. Also based on the Impreza is a new Outback Sport wagon. The WRX is available as a sedan and a sport wagon.

The WRX is currently one of the hottest tickets on the automotive scene. Part of what makes it so hot is its 227-horsepower turbocharged engine. Knowledgeable rally enthusiasts have been lusting for this type of car for years. The WRX began in Japan in 1993 as a homologation special, a limited-production model built to satisfy production requirements for the World Rally Championship. Hugely popular in Europe, the WRC is a series of races run on all types of roads, often unpaved, and in all kinds of weather. Subaru's turbocharged all-wheel drive is particularly well suited to for driving flat out on gravel roads at night. Rally-prepared Subarus have been available in Japan and Europe for several years, but the WRX is the first that meets U.S. emissions requirements. Model Lineup
The 2002 Impreza model lineup is composed of five models. A WRX sedan and wagon, an RS sedan and a TS wagon. Also available is the Impreza-based Outback Sport wagon (see separate review of the Outback Sport at NewCarTestDrive.com).

Like all Subarus, they feature all-wheel drive.

Except for the WRX, all Imprezas are powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 165 horsepower. The engines feature Subaru's horizontally opposed cylinder layout, which lowers the hood line and the center of gravity.

WRX models are powered by a turbocharged and intercooled 2.0-liter engine that generates 227 horsepower.

There is a choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, the latter with Subaru's advanced Variable Torque Distribution AWD.

The 2.5 RS comes with an extensive list of standard equipment, including an 80-watt AM/FM/CD audio system, air conditioning, power locks and mirrors, cruise control and leather-wrapped steering wheel. Walkaround
Subaru has looked after the details in updating the Impreza line. The windshield is flanked by specially shaped moldings that direct rainwater over the roof rather than onto the side glass, which is flush in the sedan's conventional greenhouse. All Imprezas have new easier-to-open door handles.

Large taillamps flank a trunk opening that extends down to the rear bumper. The trunklid has been carefully sculpted, a small lip added to the trailing edge. The rear bumper cap wraps all the way to the rear wheel openings and is contoured for a sporting effect. The rear of the car is highlighted by "SUBARU" spelled out across the rear. The WRX gets a large "WRX" badge on the lower left side and a dual-outlet exhaust under the rear bumper.

The overall effect of the body styling is very dramatic, particularly in dark blue, similar to Subaru's rally team colors, with the fender flares dramatically catching the light. We also saw the car in silver, and the car will be offered in standard plus two special colors, but the blue is our favorite.

The WRX presents the striking appearance of too much machine for the wrapper, bulging out at each fender, its engine reaching for more cooling air through a prominent hood scoop. These features are expressions of the rally heritage of the WRX. The WRX sedan is distinguished by its blister fender flares that permit a 20 mm wider front track. (The 2.5 RS is distinguished by the same fenders as the WRX.) The WRX Sport Wagon has wheel openings with raised lips, as do the 2.5 TS and the Outback Sport. Bridgestone Potenza RE92 all-season performance tires size 205/55R16 are fitted on 16x6.5-inch alloy wheels.

Rallying inspired the huge oval headlamps and the large round fog lamps set in the cavernous lower radiator opening. Small scoops around the fog lamps are indeed functional, channeling cooling air toward the front brake disks. The scoop in the light-weight aluminum hood directs air over the turbo's intercooler. Turn signals are integrated into the big headlamps. It's all finished with a distinctively contoured rear deck; the rear fenders almost form fins. Interior
Subaru has gone to significant lengths to make the enthusiast driver feel at home in the WRX. Most obvious are the rally-style front seats, with large side bolsters intended to keep driver and passenger in place during hard cornering, and the Momo sport steering wheel. Momo is also wheelmaker to Ferrari and other exotic carmakers, so the wheel bears the Momo logo in its center, rather than Subaru. The shifter and handbrake handle, lever-style between the seats, are covered in black leather.

The seats are covered in a black flat-weave fabric covered with black dots; it's not an avant garde fashion statement, but it will do its job without offending anyone's finer sensibilities. Front seat side-impact airbags are standard, as are three-point front belts with electrically triggered pretensioners and force limiters. Just about everyone should be able to get comfortable in the WRX, which has tilt wheel and a height-adjustable driver's seat. The pedals are sporty-looking aluminum alloy with rubber grips.

The gauges are positioned under a semicircular pod on the dash, the speedometer centrally located with the tachometer off to the right. We'd prefer their positions to be swapped, as they are in Japan and Europe, as it just looks sportier to us. The audio and HVAC controls are in a silver-colored panel above the console. The audio controls have been moved above the ventilation controls and include a standard 6-disc in-dash CD-player and logic control cassette player. The right side of the dash proves a large glovebox can coexist with a passenger-side airbag.

The rear seat is roomy for a subcompact. The curve of the C-pillar means you'll need mind your head when getting in, but toe room under the front seats and reasonable headroom for anyone under six feet means an endurable ride for most adults. Though the rear has three-point seatbelts and headrests for three, these are better suited for larger children than grownups, as the Impreza lacks the width to accommodate three sets of adult male shoulders side-by-side. The rear seat's contour, though not as aggressive as the front seats', confirms the two-passenger suggestion.

Power windows, central locking and air conditioning are all standard, as are a rear defroster, power mirrors, overhead maplights and, so you can remember what you're driving, "WRX"-embroidered floormats. In fact, there are no factory options, though ground effects moldings, a rear spoiler, and 17-inch wheels and tires will be available as dealer or port-installed options. The trunk is roomy, and there's a pass-through behind a rear-seat armrest, but the Impreza still has old-fashioned hinge arms for the trunk lid that take up space when the lid is closed. Driving Impressions
The Impreza WRX is an absolute hoot to drive.

First of all, it's got lots of power. As mentioned, its turbocharged and intercooled 2.0-liter engine generates 227 horsepower, which delivers strong motivation to a 3,100-pound car. And there's nothing like a generous dollop of horsepower in a compact chassis to twist the excitement dial over to the right.

Upon starting it up we were able to sense the familiar and friendly Subaru vibrations, a distinctive feature of a horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine. The controls are light and the pedals well spaced; there's little to suggest in its mannerisms that the WRX is anything but an ordinary Impreza.

A glance at the instruments reveals that it seems to rotate the speedometer with remarkable ease. Brisk acceleration is almost casual, the driver finding that the car arrives at the speed limit much sooner than usual. But slam the pedal to the floor: the WRX just grips and goes. The engine never gets loud, never gets raucous, but does sound like a very serious Subaru, one that's been spending a little extra time in the gym.

Look under the hood and you'll see the intercooler sitting atop the engine like a crown. It cools the intake charge after it is compressed and heated by the turbocharger. The turbocharger is tucked behind and to one side of the engine. An unusual feature is a catalytic converter between the engine and the turbine. There are two more cats in the exhaust behind the turbo. The engine features dual overhead camshafts with four valves per cylinder, and solid lifters for reliable high-rpm operation. Indeed, the WRX engine reaches its power peak at 6000 rpm and is redlined at 7000 rpm.

Gear ratios on the five-speed manual gearbox are well matched to the engine's torque curve, with second gear good to the high side of 60 mph. The shifter is quick and accurate and the transmission always willing to go to the next gear.

This car is extremely stable. All-wheel drive eliminates any hint of torque steer under hard acceleration, a mode we constantly found ourselves in. The suspension has been well tuned to reduce understeer, the tendency for the front of the car to push toward the outside of a turn. When driven very hard, the WRX responds appropriately and enthusiastically to an enthusiast driver's input. Subaru has learned the hard lessons of world-class rallying well.

Around town, the ride quality is firm. The short 99.4-inch wheelbase and sports suspension make a luxurious ride impossible. Textured pavement generates noticeable road noise in the cabin, but the WRX never feels harsh.

Wind noise is almost nonexistent. And the standard audio system sounds greet.

We drove the WRX over some rough roads, the kind they use for special stages in rallies. Along with some race instructors, we beat the WRX like a living room rug over a clothesline and it never shook or shuddered, much less fell apart like it should have done. We came away impressed, not only that the Impreza wasn't shedding parts, but that it felt as solid as chunk of concrete. That bodes well for its long-term durability, as well as for the other Impreza models, which are built on the same solid chassis.

Big disc brakes quickly bring everything back to a more sedate level of activity. Four-wheel disc brakes are standard, with big 11.4-inch front rotors and twin-piston front calipers. Four-channel/four-sensor anti-lock brakes are also standard.

The WRX is quite firmly packed with technology, so it's a little heavier than other subcompacts. According to Subaru, the turbo, the all-wheel drive, the fully independent suspension, and the chassis were all put on a gram-by-gram diet. The chassis was made as light as possible, with competition in mind, using tailor-welded blanks (essentially, thicker metal only where it's needed). Still, the WRX weighs in at over 3000 pounds, though Subaru notes that it has a better power to weight ratio than even the sporty Audi S4.

The Impreza 2.5 RS can be considered WRX Lite. With 165 horsepower and, just as important, 166 foot-pounds of torque on tap, it will suck the headlamps from the 120-horsepower Mitsubishi Lancer OZ, the 130-horsepower Mazda Protege, and the Ford Focus ZX3. More potent competitors include the 160-horsepower Acura RSX and the 180-horsepower Volkswagen GTI 1.8T. While the Subaru benefits from all-wheel drive, these other cars muddle through with front-wheel drive. Best of all, it comes with the same spirit as the WRX, only with a few ponies less for more affordability. The same spirit comes in subcompact wagon form in the 2.5 TS Sport Wagon. Both the RS or TS cost about $5,000 less than a WRX, and they are likely less expensive to insure than the powerful WRX. Summary
Enthusiast drivers are lining up three deep for the Impreza WRX, with waiting lists at dealerships and fan websites set up even before the car was introduced. It's a phenomenon similar to, if not perhaps to the scale of, the original Mustang or the 240Z. Driving a preproduction model at a press long lead, we were photographed by the passenger of an Acura Integra GS-R. Certainly Subaru dealers have never experienced anything like this, so buyers may encounter dealer markups.

Subaru says the usual demographic analysis doesn't fit the WRX. Instead they're looking at psychographics, which means that if you want a car like this, you want this car, regardless of your age, gender or income level: If you have to ask why, you won't understand the answer. We see the WRX appealing to enthusiasts who aren't necessarily eager to impress the neighbors but do enjoy driving a very capable automobile. Certainly there's nothing like it on the market today. The line forms to the right, just behind me.

Model as tested
WRX sedan ($23,995)
Basic Warranty
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
2.5 RS ($18,995); 2.5 TS Sport Wagon ($17,495); WRX sedan ($23,995); WRX Sport Wagon ($23,495); Outback Sport ($18,695)
Safety equipment (standard)
3-point seatbelts in all five seating positions (front w/pretensioners & force limiters), 4-channel/4-sensor ABS, dual front airbags, rear seat headrests, Uniform Child Restraint Anchorage, internal trunk release (on sedans)<P>
Safety equipment (optional)
2.0-liter dohc 16V turbocharged/intercooled H4
5-speed manual

Specifications as Tested
air conditioning, sport-design seats, height adjustable driver's seat, Momo leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel, leather-wrapped shifter and parking brake handle, rear center armrest with trunk pass-through, floor mats, tinted glass, AM/FM 80-watt stereo with logic control cassette and in-dash 6-disc CD changer, power locks, power windows, cruise control, fixed intermittent wipers, rear defroster, keyless remote, remote trunk and fuel door release, dual overhead map lights, dual vanity mirrors, center sun visor, alloy wheels, fog lights

Engine & Transmission
2.0-liter dohc 16V turbocharged/intercooled H4
Drivetrain type
front-engine, all-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
227 @ 6000
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)

Brakes, front/rear
disc/disc with ABS
Suspension, front
Suspension, rear

Seating capacity
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear

Fuel capacity
Trunk volume
Turning circle
Towing capacity
Track, front/rear
Ground clearance
Curb weight

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