As the new guy here at The Garage, some of you may notice I talk a lot about marketing, or brand managers. They, like accountants, have a lot of say about what we see in our dealer’s showrooms. We all know their job-increase sales, maximize profit. They insist, the numbers do not lie. Maybe, but when it’s an emotional product, the numbers don’t always tell the story.
For any World Rally Championship fan, or a kid who’s played a video game, your lean years were when Subaru refused us its rally-car, the WRX. Our dreams finally came true in 2002, and Subaru sold a lot of cars. Sure, the thing looked kooky, wasn’t what anyone would call refined, but in this modern era, the car dripped character. But the Impreza was a very old design, and it was way past due for an overhaul.Ã‚Â
What Subaru wanted, of course, was a new Impreza that would sell more cars. To do this, the car’s aesthetics lost its funky look for a more generic form. The car became more refined. Heavier. Quieter. Qualities that most people like in a car. On the surface, Subaru’s plan was working. They had, in fact, broadened the appeal of the Impreza, and the WRX. Save for some tweaking here and there, mechanically, the WRX was about the same as it was in the old car.Ã‚Â
The numbers here did not tell the whole story. The hardcore WRX fans were not happy with the look of the car at all. They were not interested in a kinder, gentler WRX. They threatened to hold onto their old generation cars, or worse, switch sides to the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X. In fairness, the Evo X is a little more mellow than the Evo IX, but Mitsubishi did not take refinement to the level that Subaru did.
Proof that Subaru reads the message boards is the revised 2009 Impreza WRX-the car they should have delivered us last year. Better late than never. For this year, Subaru has a goodie-bag for all you WRX fans. Thanks to a larger turbo, larger-diameter exhaust, and low density catalyst, you now get 265hp vs. last year’s 224hp. Suspension bits from the WRX STi, fatter tires and re-tuned suspension damping make for a sharper handling car. My only gripe about the drive train is that it still has a 5-speed manual-it needs six.
From a styling point-of-view, the new WRX took a beating. Too generic. Not aggressive. What was worse, you had to pay extra for the Aero package. Thankfully, this is standard equipment now. When it came to the interior, critics were just as harsh-nothing here to suggest you were driving anything special. A new racier black check pattern covering the seats with red stitching reminds you this isn’t a granola Subaru.Ã‚Â
While the WRX has gotten its mojo back, I think Subaru was equally wise to offer the new for ’09 2.5GT-essentially last year’s WRX with an automatic transmission. While Subaru has broadened the Impreza’s appeal, the hotter WRX and tamer 2.5GT prove the car is versatile enough to please both crowds. According to WindingRoad.com, both models are expected to be priced about the same, in the mid-$20′s. This is important, because the upcoming Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart, which will not be available in a manual, has an expected retail price of close to $28,000.Ã‚Â
I am happy to give Subaru a big thumbs up here for realizing they may not have approached the new Impreza the best way possible. As a car company, they turned on a dime and offered a demanding public a better car. This was not as simple as you would think-all the tame ’08 WRX’s out on 24,36, 48 month leases now-their residuals just took a huge hit for rolling out a much-improved model, and Subaru is going to have to eat that cost. That Subaru was willing to accept that loss to retain its most loyal fans says a lot about the company.