Here are two cars: one of which I like, one of which I love. Now obviously, the car on the right is superior in every conceivable way. It’s a boulevard-strafer when it needs to be, a relaxing cruiser when it does not. It’s a 400-horsepower rocket with a comfy seats, a nice stereo and air-conditioning.
Just one problem: it ain’t mine.
This one is.
Don’t get me wrong, reviewing cars is a fun gig. I don’t do it full-time, mind you, but were someone to tempt me away from my day-job with a reasonable pay-scale, I’d leap at the opportunity. You get to drive such a wide variety of stuff – it’s pretty much every gearhead’s dream job.
There are good weeks and bad weeks, from six-speed five-oh Mustang to automatic Scion tC. I drive all this stuff, poke around with the on-board entertainment and then try to write something that’ll appeal to Joe Corolla while still not leaving Biff Project-Car bored to tears. I pick my cars up on Monday, get a sense of them by Wednesday, love ‘em or hate ‘em by Friday, spend the weekend shooting a few pictures, and then off they go back on Monday morning.
And, as I only take two-to-three press cars on in a month, back I go into my car. Every time, it takes just a few kilometres – oh yeah, that’s better.
She’s an ’02 WRX Sportwagon – a Bugeye. By the standards of Hooniverse, pretty tame stuff: all y’all seem to have fearsome wrenching skills and big garages filled with plenty of spare parts. I don’t… have those things.
But that doesn’t mean she isn’t special, at least to me. After all, I picked her up on Valentine’s Day.
She’s never been quite as clean as she was on that first day, flanks as-yet undimpled by dents (Subaru cellulite), bone-stock with 227hp and a somewhat roly-poly suspension. Quick though, and I’d been watching the below advertisements on repeat:
Naturally, I kept the car stock for about three days. Whiteline swaybars were ordered and it went up to Rocket Rally in Squamish (builder of Subaru’s rally cars) for some new exhaust parts and a re-tune. After struggling with the zero-aftermarket support of my old MX-6 GT, the wealth of stuff available to set up a WRX was a revelation. And a chronic addiction.
Three suspensions. Four exhausts. Three dyno-tuning sessions. Finally, I got it right, and here she sits with Konis and RCE springs, sways and end-links front and rear, poly bushings everywhere and the ubiquitous Anti-Lift-Kit: a subframe modification that adds a degree of positive caster.
Underhood there’s a V7 intercooler and “pinks” for injectors – both off a JDM Subaru. A slightly-rare VF-35 turbo off an Australian STI (better spool) rams in air through an APS proper cold-air-intake – more for the sound than anything. Rocket Rally provides the exhaust piping and a Maddad Whisper turns the noise into something approaching a tune.
Lots of other stuff too: some cheap ’04 STi BBS rims I inexpertly re-sprayed myself, strut-bars front and rear – the back one is quick-release for cargo – cowl stiffening from TiC, shifter-linkage all replaced with poly (worth doing and better than a short-shifter), rear subframe lockdowns, 3/16” aluminum skidplates, etc, etc.
Tuning may have been given a bad name over the years, but to me, it’s like buying your clothes off the rack and having them tailored. I might not have the scratch to spec a custom-built 911, but I can certainly get my WRX altered to fit: more boost, but not at the expense of spool, stiffer, but not too low.
The result is a sort of Swiss Army Knife of cars; a jack-of-all-trades. It can haul ridiculous amounts of cargo, or chase down an E46 at the track. It’s phenomenal in the snow, but equally great on a twisty desert road.
Of course, there are drawbacks. The fuel economy is pathetic and it only drinks 94. The turbo lag is a bit silly. The interior has more rattles than a baby convention, and at speed on the highway wind noise levels range from Sopwith Camel to Oops I Fell Out Of My Dirigible.
Still, I love the thing, and here’s perhaps the biggest problem with press cars. It’s not just that they’re sometimes spec’d in funny colours, or nearly always with the automatic, or with some other option (*cough* glassroofMustang *cough*) that I’d never choose. It’s more that you’re having a week’s fling and then passing on marriage advice to other folks based on it; a true connection with an automobile only comes with time.
Climbing back into the Subaru feels like coming home after a week in a hotel. It feels like slipping on a hoodie after spending all day in a too-tight shirt collar. It feels like picking up your battered old guitar after trying everything on the wall at Long and McQuade.
It feels like picking up your pooch from doggie daycare after you’ve spent all week walking somebody else’s mutt.
Let’s go play fetch.