The Subaru Impreza WRX is a blisteringly quick small car that garners notice from even exotic sports car drivers. Subaru's history of rallying comes through with this car's turbocharged engine, racing seats and capable all-wheel drive system. But underneath all of the spoilers and rally-inspired styling, there's a reasonably practical small sedan or hatchback that could serve as daily transportation.
The WRX is based on the last-generation Impreza and shares that model's reasonable amount of room. It comes standard with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 265 horsepower and a five-speed manual transmission only. All-wheel drive, a Subaru hallmark, is standard. Also included are features such as power windows, locks with remote keyless entry, power mirrors, automatic climate control with air conditioning, 17-inch alloy wheels, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, six-speaker audio system with Bluetooth and an iPod connector, split-folding rear seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Going for the Premium adds a big spoiler on the trunklid of sedan models, as well as front fog lights, a power sunroof and a Cold Weather Package that bundles heated front seats, heated outside mirrors and a windshield de-icer. Finally, the Limited model adds HID headlamps and leather upholstery.
The STI is a higher-performance subgroup of the WRX line, and incorporates even more blistering performance and handling characteristics. It gets a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that's been turbocharged to produce 305 horsepower. The only transmission available is a six-speed manual with power being sent through all four wheels with the all-wheel drive system. The STI comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, power windows, mirrors and locks with remote keyless entry, front and rear limited slip differentials, lowered sports suspension, HID headlamps, Alcantara upholstered sport seats and a six-speaker audio system with USB input and Bluetooth. The STI is also available as a hatchback. The STI Limited adds a power sunroof, special BBS alloy wheels and leather upholstery.
The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution offers more advanced driver aids and a sequential shifting automated manual for those who don't want a traditional clutch pedal, but has a harsher ride and costs more when similarly equipped. The Volkswagen Golf R has a much nicer interior that is incorporated into a flexible three or five-door hatchback design and is more refined to drive, but isn't as quick or exciting as any WRX and cost a fair amount of money more. The Audi S4 is similarly quick with a six-cylinder engine but is much more expensive. The Ford Focus ST is spacious inside and comes available with an impressive array of technology not available on the WRX, but it's not as quick and its front-wheel drive configuration puts limits on handling abilities.
For people looking for a machine closely resembling an outrageous rally machine. The powerful engine with loads of turbo boost provides for a thrilling ride while the standard all-wheel drive puts that power onto the road. Few competitors can match its ability to give an exciting drive for a relatively low price, even if rivals are arguably more refined. For thrill seekers who want something with added practicality, the WRX and STI are worth a drive.