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WRX: An Emperor of Rally Cars

Whoever came up with the expression "high intensity," must have had Subaru's Impreza WRX in mind. It's totally frustrating to take this limber powerhouse onto a paved city street and know that underneath it's straining to show its true talent.

FORGET FREEWAYS. This special edition Impreza that Subaru calls a "premium sport compact," was bred with a solid purpose in mind -- to leave lesser competitors choking on its dust in an all-out, East Africa Safari kind of run where a rear slide around a hairpin turn on a narrow mountainous road barely breaks stride.

This is a turbocharged sports sedan designed for pure, unadulterated rallying. It spells "competitor" from the truly functional, hunky air scoop, to the sculptured rally seating that keeps you virtually welded in place even when almost airborne, to the cat grip of its permanent all-wheel drive.

This is the kind of vehicle that single-handedly could coax a rally racing circuit back to life in the U.S., where it wallowed for years in obscurity, condemned by too little hype and too many fenced barricades separating its power from the people.

That's a far cry from other countries where the sport, imbued with near magical mystique, is almost enshrined.

FOR THOSE WHO DISDAIN buying anything but American vehicles but want an emperor of rally cars, there's a bit of a saving grace for this product of Subaru's parent, the decidedly Japanese Fuji Heavy Industries. About a year ago, General Motors bought a 20 percent interest in Subaru and presumably will have the sense to leave well enough alone and let it continue to do what it does best -- compete as street legal top billing on the world's rally circuit, going fascia to exhaust with the Audi A4 Quattro and BMW 325 ix.

Subaru teased the Yanks a few years ago by bringing a right-hand drive version of the WRX to the states and letting a privileged few shuttle it cross-country a few times. That was it. Nearly everyone with a yen for the daredevil sport who saw it just went nuts.

The 2002 sedan iteration, with a 2.0 liter, aluminum alloy engine, pumps out a solid 227 horsepower and a long torque curve building to 217 lb./ft. at 4,000 rpm, to make it a nimble racing machine that lives up to that earlier temptation. On the optional four-speed automatic, the all-wheel drive's variable torque distribution (or VDT) sends more power rearward to adjust for a weight transfer there. That's neat for keeping it at its level best.

Word is that individual buyers can still order this sports sedan at the $24,000 list. But with only about 10,000 slated for the U.S. market the first year, that could change as the March rollout day for delivery gets closer and someone decides to make a little extra profit or auction off a place in line. That's happened before with hot wheels.

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