Rally-racing and Subarus are as closely woven together as the Gore-Tex fibres that make up the clothes of the people who buy them.
If youre not aware, rally-racing is to normal road-racing what downhill mountain biking is to the GranFondo: big knobbly tires, lots of mud, plenty of spectacular crashing.
In fact, the very name of the high-performance versions of the Subaru Impreza is taken from the World Rally Championship: WRC becomes WRX. These road-going rally cars have been Canadian favourites for more than a decade, but theyve actually been around for even longer than that.
Subaru was already rallying their Legacy mid-sized car in the early 90s, and having some success in doing so. However, when the new Impreza came out around the same time, the smaller car was a better fit for the tight, winding rally stages.
We got the Impreza as a four-door sedan, two-door coupe or hatchbacky sport wagon. Japanese buyers got the option of a turbo-charged four door rocket with 237 horsepower and all-wheel-drive. Released in 1992, it was a smash hit.
Meantime, something called the STI was built. These were special versions of the standard WRX even more like the rally-racing cars that were stacking up victories with drivers like Colin McRae at the wheel. Subaru Technica International (STI) has an official colour thats a bit odd for such a barrel-chested racer: cherry-blossom pink. Still, with power now in the 250hp and up range, the STi versions were nothing to be laughed at.
In the latter half of the 90s, special-edition cars became all the range, and heres a rule-of-thumb if you happen to be looking at one of these right-hand-drive JDM imports on our streets today: the more letters after the name, the better. Therefore, a WRX is good, a WRX STI is better, and a WRX STI Spec-C RA-R is just about the best thing in the universe.
With three rally titles under their belts, Subaru built probably the best WRX of them all: the 22B. You might never see one of these in-person as its so rare, but its as close to the rally-cars as Subaru ever made anything, with huge fender flares and enormous foglight housings. Its also a very pretty car, in a muscular way, and we all know how rare it is for Subaru to actually make a good-looking car.
Then, in 2002, Subaru finally brought the WRX to America, and by extension, Canada. The cars were based on the new Impreza with its odd round-headlight front-end, but it sold very strongly, with high dealer demand. Moreover, and unlike some of its more expensive German competition, the WRXs continue to hold their value very strongly today as theyre mechanically quite tough.
Of course, there are some issues, as with any car. With a Subaru, youre spending your money on the powertrain, so the interior tends to be a bit plasticky, and they get very rattly with age. My personal vehicle is a 2002 WRX wagon and its a bit like driving around inside an all-wheel-drive maraca.
Later WRXs (2006 and onward) got a 2.5L engine as compared to the 2.0L in the early cars. Neither option is really what youd call fuel-efficient, but the 2.5L has considerably better low-end response. After the body-style change in 2008, 2009 models got a 265hp engine upgrade thats even quicker than it feels.
While the STi remains the king of the hill with 300hp, a six-speed transmission and all sorts of clever differentials, the WRX is the better high-performance bargain, and nips at the more powerful cars heels all the way down the dragstrip. Not that the dragstrip is really where these machines do their best work unless theres been a gravel spill.
Going forward, Subaru has just launched a concept WRX at the New York auto show, and its very good-looking. Better yet, its still a four-door, making it a practical family choice for the driver who still wants a quick car from time-to-time. Sure, your commute might not be a winding dirt road through a Scandinavian forest, but Subaru will certainly sell you a car thatll make it feel like one.
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