Let's focus on the positive first. The WRX, available as a sedan or wagon, has a turbocharged engine that provides up to 14.8 psi maximum boost. It helps give the powerplant its 227 hp at 6,000 rpm and 217 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. Needless to say, with this kind of power under the hood, the WRX is best defined as a pocket rocket. I had no problem when I needed power to pass slower drivers.

However, the five-speed manual transmission leaves much to be desired. Shifting is trucklike, stiff, and awkward. The clutch has a long travel time, making smooth shifting an exercise in patience. And the aluminum clutch, accelerator, and brake pedal look sporty, but my feet spent more time slipping off than staying on them. The rubber grips on the pedals are basically useless if it's raining or snowing.

Gearing aside, the WRX rides on a tight, sport-tuned four-wheel independent suspension with MacPherson struts up front and dual-link struts in the rear. The rear roll center is raised 33 mm, said to improve cornering and stability. A ring-shaped reinforcement frame ties together side sills, center pillars, and roof supports for a strong structure that's said to be stiffer in bending and twisting strength than previous models. And, with regard to ride and handling, the WRX passes with flying colors. Tight turns took little effort, and the WRX glided over imperfections in the road. For stopping power, four-wheel disc brakes carry twin-piston front calipers with 11.4-in. rotors. ABS is standard.

The continuous all-wheel-drive system, a staple for Subarus, has a bevel-gear center differential and a limited-slip viscous coupling built into the transmission case. The system splits engine power 50/50 between front and rear wheels. Slipping up front shifts power to the rear, and vice versa, so wheels with the most traction get the most power.

The sedan gets its looks from the Impreza World Championship Rally Car, evidenced by a functional hood air scoop, ground-effects side molding, and dual chrome-tipped tailpipes. On the inside, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and chrome-edged instrument panel, audio controls, and vents all continue the sporty theme. But, the overall feel of the interior is cheap, especially evident in the tinny sound when shutting the driver and passenger doors, not to mention the lack of any heft to them. Not having door frames adds to the far-from-luxurious door feel.

But, the WRX comes with a pretty impressive array of standard features including an in-dash six-disc CD player with six speakers, power door locks and windows, daytime running lights, cruise control, and air conditioning. Base price is $23,995, and with destination charges the final tally is $24,520. If Subaru could smooth out the gearing and beef up the interior, it might be worth the price.

Sherri Koucky