The Search for a new Car

The last car I bought for myself, and also the first car I ever bought, was a 2007 Subaru WRX. I've been driving that car for 10 years. In that time I've gained one wife, two dogs, and an infant. All of those things fit splendidly within the car, as long as each of the others are absent. As my wife and I considered augmenting the set of new additions, it became clear that my little Impreza was becoming increasingly misaligned with our needs. Thus began the search for a new, family, vehicle.

Wherefore WRX

When I purchased my WRX, I had a fairly short list of requirements, spawned from my experience using a '94 Civic in New England winters while parked at the bottom of a steep driveway attached to the house containing the aparment I was renting and making nightly trips to go skiing.. Those requirements were:

  1. Enough power (and traction) to get up a hill in winter

  2. Small and nimble

  3. Auto-dimming rear-view mirror.

  4. Better speakers than my Civic

Those were the three things I cared about, and in that order. The first and second bullet taken together was able to significantly reduce the options available. I quickly ruled out anything over $100k (Lamborghinis, which honestly werent known for being nimble as much as fast), and then ruled-out anything over about $50k (the remaining Porches). At this point, I don't recall why I ruled-out BMW with their X-drive all-wheel-drive options; but it likely came to price. What that left me with was the Subaru Impreza and Audi A4 in the $25k to $45k range. For comparison, I also test drove a new Honda Civic Si, even though I had taken my first rule as requiring all wheel drive.

Honda Civic SiAudi A4 QuatroSubaru Impreza WRXSubaru Impreza WRX STI
Curb weight 2900 lbs 3150 lbs 3239 lbs 3351 lbs
Wheelbase 104.3" 104.3" 99.4" 100"
Length 174.8" 180.6" 175.8" 175.8"
Width 68.9" 69.8" 68.5" 68.5"
Height 53.5" 56.2" 56.7" 56.3"
Clearance 6.1" 5.7"
Engine I4 2.0L I4 2.0L turboflat-4 2.5L turbo flat-4 2.5L turbo
0-60 6.7s 6.5s 5.6s 4.5s
1/4 mi15.1s@93.9mph15.0s@93.3mph 14.2s@97.4mph 13.0s@103.5mph

Civic Si

The 2007 Honda Civic continues to set the bar for the small car segment. Strong on comfort, safety and customization, this is one car that every shopper needs to consider. —Edmunds

I was getting rid of my 1994 Honda Civic, and it seemed like a duty to give its successor a shot. In a lot of ways, I liked the Civic Si. Its 2.0L, 197bhp, engine sat between the base Subaru Impreza (173bhp) and the WRX model (224bhp), but they main drawback was traction in New England weather. The lack of AWD meant it was essentially out of the running before I even tested it.

1994 Civic EX

Audi A4

[A] wider choice of body styles and a well-rounded personality, the Audi A4 is a mandatory consideration for those shopping in the sport-oriented entry-level luxury car market.

[T]he A4 still isn't as razor-sharp as the BMW 3 Series, the extra foul-weather traction afforded by the quattro all-wheel-drive system could justify the trade-off for many drivers. —Edmunds

The Audi A4 looked to be the next best option for all-wheel drive. It was priced a little higher, targetting a more refined market. That meant less performance per price. For example, the A4 2.0L I4 produced 200bhp while a 3.2L V6 produced 255bhp. The WRX, meanwhile, produced 224bhp with its 2.5L flat-four; or 293 bhp when tuned for the STI version.

Subaru Impreza

The balanced nature of the flat-four engine at the heart of the Impreza WRX was attractive, but just part of the larger gestalt of the WRX. The cabin was more spartan than the Audi, but nicer (and everything felt more solid) than the Honda I was replacing.

2006 Subaru Impreza WRX

WRX STI

The remaining question was the STI vs. the WRX. Moving up from the '94 Civic, I was looking for a little bit of niceties, so really it was between the WRX Limited and the STI Limited that I was looking; unfortunately, the STI Limited was in short supply, and wasn't available. Given my experience with the WRX, and how little I used the sun roof, for instance, I probably would have been happier with the STI than the WRX Limited.

2006 STI and WRX

2006 STI or 2006 WRX Limited

Ten Years Later

Ten years ago, the trade-off between marques was biased for driving experience: handling and performance over luxury. If I hadn't had to worry about getting stuck in ice and snow, I would have probably gone for a Lotus Elise (a choice my back might have regretted by now); although when it came down to choosing between the STI and the WRX Limited I went with the posher, but cheaper, WRX.

2006 Subaru WRX in 2015

With a change in situation, ten years later we have different priorities. We're taking longer trips with more people and more stuff. The performance-oriented options are more limited with family-oriented cars. Passenger comfort is more important; given the same options available in 2007, today we would have gone with the Audi; or more likely either a BMW or Mercedes E-Class. While all of those lines still exist today, looking at 2018's options, we likely probably go with the Volvo V60 Polestar.

While I've liked my Subaru, and it has been a surprisingly interesting experience (such as being pulled-over because a cop thought I was the same blue WRX which had blown through a school zone 45 minutes earlier, going the same direction), I'm not beholden to that brand or any other as we start our search for our next car. We have an entirely new set of top priorities, although I still want a car that can pass on the highway and doesn't roll-over as it takes a turn at speed.