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For the past decade, while Subaru's U.S. efforts have been aimed at going for upscale, outdoorsy folk, the automaker has been building a solid performance image in other countries, backed up by its top performance in World Rally Championship (WRC) races throughout the 90s. Although Subaru originally entered rally racing more than ten years ago with a car based on the Legacy, it wasn't until the introduction of an Impreza-based car in 1993 that Subaru quickly fought its way to the head of the pack, bringing down Ford and other long-running top European rally forces with three Championship wins.
From the start, the last-generation WRX was a car very closely related to the actual WRC rally car. It was known to have near-supercar performance at a bargain price, and the WRX gained an especially strong cult following in the U.K., where high-performance Subarus are now affectionately termed 'Scoobies,' and also in Japan. It probably would have found a similar following in the U.S. as well, but our regulations' emissions and otherwise kept the race-bred WRX out of the U.S. market.
Here at last
Finally, after years of harassment by enthusiasts and automotive journalists, Subaru has dealt with those issues and is bringing the new WRX to the U.S. market. The WRX is the second product, after the 2.5RS introduction more than two years ago, to help mold a new performance image for the automaker. Ultimately, we were told, Subaru wants to have a two-sided marketing approach, with practical, outdoorsy, near-luxury products on one side, and performance-oriented products on the other side. Instrumental in this strategy, the WRX is being rolled out first among much fanfare, followed by redesigned versions of already established Impreza models.
Subaru gave us a special preview drive to experience the new WRX in Georgia and Florida, where we spent two days feeling out the WRX on highways, back roads, a race track, and of course, a real rally course, just to prove that the WRX stands up to its race-bred heritage. From the ear-to-ear grins on my face after running a dusty rally course in the WRX with a professional driver onboard, yes, it does.
2002 Subaru Impreza WRXEnlarge Photo