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PERFORMANCE | 9 out of 10
“too softly sprung for its task”
“the STI has quick but rather lifeless steering”
Car and Driver
“the power in the WRX comes on almost instantly”
“four speeds isn’t a lot for an automatic these days”
Although the new 2008 Subaru WRX sees modest improvements in engine responsiveness, several reviewers criticize the WRX for being too softly sprung and lacking the steering feedback that makes such a performance car especially fun to drive.
The 224-horsepower, 2.5-liter horizontally opposed "flat" four-cylinder engine in the 2008 Subaru WRX gives the small sedan or hatch plenty of satisfying power, whether with the five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. However, it’s best enjoyed with the manual.
“The WRX is basically the middle between the regular Impreza and the WRX STI, the latter of which is an uncompromising fire-breather that’s modeled after Subaru's championship rally car,” says Cars.com.
“A new intake manifold and turbocharger and a lighter, more efficient intercooler result in a significant change in how the boxer’s thrust is delivered,” reports Automobile, regarding the WRX’s turbocharged, horizontally opposed four-cylinder. Autoblog notices the effect of the improvements, which bring peak torque 400 rpm lower than before and reduce lag. “As soon as you tickle the right pedal and ease out the clutch, the WRX leaps off the line. Driving around in any gear, as long as you’re not lugging the engine, the WRX just feels much stronger and more responsive.”
The 2008 Subaru WRX STI has an edgier, high-performance demeanor, thanks to the high-boost, 305-horsepower version of the 2.5-liter. It’s only offered with the six-speed manual, and a number of suspension and chassis improvements give it extremely capable handling and good vehicle dynamics for driving on racetracks or curvy mountain roads; yet the STI, surprisingly, is refined enough for daily driving.
The Autoblog reviewer continues to explain that the more powerful STI lacks the WRX’s drivability. “The STI engine reaches its maximum of 290 lb-ft at a much higher 4000 rpm. Of course, at some point the STI will run away and hide from the WRX, just not in regular driving.” Extracting the power, he notes, “requires revving the engine in a manner likely to attract unwanted attention from ticket writers.”
“Acceleration is good below 2500 rpm,” CNET remarks of the WRX, “but above that it becomes incredible as the turbo spins up and the car gets its peak 224 horsepower.”
Each of the three transmissions offered on the WRX and STI line garner more complaints than compliments from reviewers. Cars.com, also making note of the four-speed automatic, where most vehicles now have more gears, contends that the WRX’s five-speed manual has ratios that are too far apart. Edmunds, meanwhile, opines that the six-speed manual in the STI has “rather short gearing and doesn’t change gears quickly,” which negatively affects acceleration tests.
Most reviewers comment on the WRX’s steering—or rather, its lack of steering feel. “The WRX’s weakest handling attribute is its steering,” claims Cars.com, “which is low on steering feedback and doesn’t snap back to center when coming out of a turn — without help, that is.”
“A new control-arm rear suspension replaces the strut-type setup, and while it offers both greater composure and wheel control, it also feels a little too softly sprung for its task,” states Automobile. “The car is tuned to deliver mild understeer at the limit, and although the steering rack offers decent feedback, it’s also slightly overboosted, artificial, and prone to kickback.”
“Push a bit harder and the conversion of the Impreza’s rear suspension from struts to a double-wishbone layout instantly makes sense” for the STI, advises the Edmunds reviewer, who explains that its greater suspension compliance actually enhances stability and grip. “Even at sub-puking cornering speeds on our drive through the mountains with the family aboard, the positive effects of the new STI’s longer wheelbase and wider track are readily felt as excellent steering precision, a lack of pitch and improved driver confidence — not to mention no carsick companions.”
Bringing all the power to the pavement (or lack of it) is a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system, aided in the STI by a sophisticated array of rally-bred components aimed to give the driver more control in a varied range of surfaces and conditions. “The STI driver can let computers run the subsystems or he can take full control,” notes Car and Driver. “Subaru supplies dials and buttons to vary the stability-control intervention, throttle response, and center differential, each requiring thorough perusal of the owner’s manual to fully understand.”
“Multiply out the STI’s pushbutton dingleberries, and there are 81 possible combinations. Only a tush as highly calibrated as Subaru rally-team driver Petter Solberg’s could tell them all apart,” attests Car and Driver. Edmunds dispenses similar advice: “But honestly, there might be more settings here than you could possibly use, and engaging the manual diff on the pavement could break stuff—really expensive stuff.”
In time spent driving both the WRX and the high-performance STI, TheCarConnection.com’s editors find the new models to be slightly less satisfying, all out, on the track as the former versions. But in nearly all other types of real-world driving, the STI in particular makes tremendous gains in drivability and livability.
“This is both a blessing and a curse: you cover ground faster than you would in the old car but with less effort and involvement,” remarks Automobile.
The 2008 Subaru WRX provides very impressive—and in the case of the STI, awe-inspiring—performance, though its thrills might not be quite as overt as the previous version's.