The "WRX" honors Subaru's dominance in the World Rally Championship racing circuit. The "TR" designation - Tuner Ready - is a new entry level WRX model with some of the design cues of the high-performance WRX STI model, but without the price and intensity.The TR does away with the six-disc CD unit, WRX seats, fog lights, ground effects and spoiler. The owner can put the $1,000 saved into performance modifications and a stereo upgrade.
This is a good slot for Subaru because there are few direct competitors. The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution has much more power than the TR, and the others don't come with all-wheel drive.
The Volkswagen Golf and Golf TDI is the most cross-shopped car. Others include the Honda Civic Si, Acura TSX and RSX, Mazda 3 and Audi A4.
The easygoing thrum of the "boxer" four-cylinder engine lopes along in stealth mode until you grab a gear and hit the accelerator. The engine is turbocharged and intercooled for 230 horsepower versus 300 in the STI. The TR will do 0-60 mph in just under six seconds, the STI in 4.5, according to Motor Trend.
All-wheel drive, a sinewy sport suspension, high-performance brakes and 17-inch tires keep it stuck to the road.
The Impreza WRX is Subaru's best seller and now there are five models to choose, including the midrange WRX ($25,620), limited sedan and wagon ($28,120 and $29,120) and the STI ($33,620).
A defining personality trait of these WRX Subarus is their simplicity. They are simple to enjoy. If something's not necessary, it's not on the car. For example, the big hood scoop actually feeds air to the turbo intercooler.
But simple doesn't mean cheap or budget-cutting.
The chassis has aluminum front suspension links and quicker steering ratio steering. Drivers can rotate the steering wheel from lock to lock in 2.7 turns, down from three turns last year. The disc brakes are larger, too, with four-piston front calipers (an upgrade from two pistons) and, instead of a single piston, dual-piston rear calipers.
The 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine replaces the 227 horsepower, 2-liter, four-cylinder. The new engine has variable valve timing that puts more power in the low- and midrange speeds.
That helps get the car moving more quickly off the line while waiting for a breath of turbo boost.
The all-wheel drive system monitors traction and sends more power to the wheels with better traction. The system is compact, and the added weight isn't much of a drag on fuel economy, which is 20 mpg around town and 26 on the highway.
Peak performance requires 91 octane, however.
Also simple is the five-speed manual transmission, instead of six in the STI and many high-performance sedans.
But the gearing gives good pull in all gear ranges, though finding the correct slotting of the gears took practice. The motion from one gear to the next can't be rushed.
The interior is simple to the point of seeming low-tech, but it all works with convenience and comfort, such as sightlines for the driver to how the radio and air conditioning are adjusted.
The WRX TR might be intended as a performance "fixer-upper," but I expect many users will just peel and eat, right off the showroom floor.
2006 Subaru Impreza WRX TR
Body style: Subcompact, all-wheel-drive five-passenger sedan or wagon
Engine: Aluminum, turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder with horizontally opposed cylinders with variable valve timing; LEV certified
Horsepower: 230 at 5,600 rpm
Torque: 235 at 3,600 rpm
Transmission: five-speed manual; optional four-speed automatic
Acceleration: 0 to 60 mph, just under six seconds
EPA fuel economy estimates: 20 mpg city, 26 highway (21/26, automatic)
Fuel capacity: 15.9 gallons; 91 octane recommended
Trunk space: 11 cubic feet
Front head/leg/shoulder room: 38.6/42.9/52.7 inches
Rear head/leg/shoulder room: 36.7/33/52.9 inches
Wheelbase/length: 99.4/175.8 inches
Curb weight: 3,192 pounds
Standard equipment: Remote locking, bucket seats with large side bolsters and integrated head restraints; aluminum pedal pads; three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel and black leather-wrapped shifter knob and hand-brake handle; oversize exhaust tip; height-adjustable driver's seat; four-speaker, 80-watt stereo system with single-disc CD player; air conditioning with filtration system; carpeted floor mats; cruise control; power (foldable) mirrors; fold-down rear center armrest with trunk pass-through; power locks and windows
Safety equipment includes: Front air bags; front side bags; active front head restraints; electronic brake force distribution and anti-lock brakes
Brakes: four-wheel discs; 11.5-inch vented front, 11.3-inch vented rear
Steering: Engine speed-sensing, rack-and-pinion; turning circle 35.4 feet
Suspension: four-wheel independent, MacPherson struts front and rear with stabilizer bars
Tires and wheels: Bridgestone RE91 all-season P215/45 17-inch on alloy wheels
Base: $24,620; price as tested, $25,199
Options on test car: Sound package, $579, includes upgraded speakers and tweeter kit
Warranty: three years/36,000 miles with roadside assistance
The competition: Honda Civic Si, Acura RSX and TSX, Volkswagen Golf and Golf GTI, Mazda 3, Audi A4
Where assembled: Gunma, Japan
PLUSES: A youthful family sport sedan with attitude and simplicity.
MINUSES: Five-speed manual gearbox not as smooth shifting as it could be.
Mark Maynard is driving in cyberspace at [email protected]