Just because you need four doors doesn’t mean you can’t drive a fun, sporty car. If you know where to look, you can find a car that will offer the performance and looks of a sports car but the utility of a sedan.
One of the best examples of a sporty sedan is the Subaru WRX. When it first hit U.S. shores in 2002, it was an instant hit among car enthusiasts. Offering superb power and handling at an affordable price, the WRX was the best performance sedan bargain by far. Eschewing luxury features, the WRX was light, powerful and nimble. The fact that 98 percent of buyers opted for the manual transmission says it all.
Now, fast-forward to 2008 and the new generation WRX. The 2.5 liter, 224 horsepower, horizontally opposed 4-cylinder turbo engine and all-wheel-drive system are carried over, but otherwise, the car is almost completely redesigned. A more modest hood scoop and spoiler are still available, but the fender flares and other aggressive styling cues have been replaced by a more mainstream design that, while not distinctive, is attractive. The new version comes as a sedan or a five-door hatchback. The STI higher performance version is available only as a hatchback.
In addition to softening the exterior look, Subaru also softened the suspension a bit. It now has a smoother, more comfortable ride, but at the expense of some performance. Steering is more boosted as well, slightly decreasing steering feel. Added civility also includes a quieter engine, interior and exhaust note.
The interior has been greatly updated and improved, with a nicer-looking dash, improved materials, simple climate controls and satellite radio. The tach remains the center gauge, as befits a sporty car. Rear seat room is decent for a small car, as is the trunk, though the floor is tiered. The rear seats now fold, however, which expands the trunk greatly. Front seats remain supportive with a modicum of bolstering, though not as much as before.
Nonetheless, the WRX remains a fun car to drive. Power is great throughout the rev band, and the five-speed manual shifter and clutch remain a pleasure to use. A ‘hill holder’ feature prevents the car from rolling backward if you’re starting on a hill. Electronic stability control, four-wheel-drive, anti-lock disc brakes and front, side and side curtain air bags make the WRX very safe, and gas mileage is 19 city, 24 highway. With base price at $25,000 including delivery, the WRX is still a performance bargain. As Mark Rodamaker, new car business manager at Lou Fusz Subaru, notes, “The WRX has great styling and handling. It sticks to the road with its all-wheel drive and is a great value.”
Another sporty sedan option is the 2008 BMW 5-series, which is for the driver who wants performance but a little larger car and a big dose of luxury. Performance is first and foremost what BMWs are all about. The balance and handling of the 5-series are second to none. Steering feel and braking are both excellent. The ride is taut and athletic, yet still comfortable. Offered with a choice of three engines, even the smallest engine—a 3.0 liter, inline 6-cylinder with 230 horsepower—offers brisk acceleration. The turbo 6 and V-8 offer 300 and 360 horsepower, respectively, good for 0 to 60 in five seconds. An all-wheel-drive option is available with the 6-cylinder engines. Transmission choices include a 6-speed steptronic automatic or a 6-speed manual. Mileage is 18 city, 27 highway for the rear-wheel-drive, non-turbo, 6-cylinder engine.
In addition to a performance car, the 5-series is also a luxury car. Rich leather covers the mildly bolstered, electrically adjustable heated front seats. Wood trim adds a touch of warmth. The rear seat has its own air vents and a decent amount of room. The trunk is very large for a mid-sized car, and a folding rear seat is available. Technologically advanced features abound, including night vision, active cruise control, keyless entry, navigation and a lane departure warning feature. Safety features include adaptive headlights, dynamic stability control, front, side and side curtain air bags, and crush zone construction.
The gear selector is odd, requiring an explanation before use. The i-drive interface for the radio, ventilation and information systems also requires some explanation and learning. Once preferred settings are selected, knobs on the dash and buttons on the steering wheel can execute most of the more commonly used features. A recent 5-series purchaser told me it’s not as bad as it seems. According to Robert Salzman, salesman at Plaza BMW, “The 5-series offers superior handling, braking, safety and electronics. It’s a phenomenal car.”
Prices for the 528 start about $45,000 and reach around $48,000 with popular options. The turbocharged 6-cylinder 535 starts about $50,000, and the V-8 550 at just over $59,000.
Robert W. Paster is also an attorney in private practice, concentrating in estate planning and probate.