COAL: 2004 Subaru WRX Wagon – The Strange Case of Dr. Subie Wagon and Mr. WRX


1 - 2004 Subaru WRX Wagon

“I learned to recognize the thorough and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both.”

– Robert Louis StevensonThe Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde


Despite our best intentions we all have a little Mr. Hyde in us and nothing brings it out like driving. My wife Debbie is the sweetest person on earth, but when she’s behind the wheel her Hyde can be revealed by the most minor and unintentional automotive slight. That’s how my kids learned to swear when they were still in booster seats.

My Mr. Hyde takes a slightly different form. Normally I’m fairly cautious and conservative behind the wheel, but put me on a rural twisting two-lane and my Hyde imagines himself a world class rally driver. For the past twelve years I’ve been living out my fantasies in a 2004 Subaru WRX wagon. Luckily, it’s also a car my inner Jekyll can appreciate.

2 - 2004 Subaru WRX Wagon

Jekyll – The WRX is a small but practical family wagon. There’s enough room in the back seat for a young family. With the 60/40 split fold down rear seats and optional roof rack for the Thule box, cargo space is maximized. The 2.0-liter engine returns good, not great, mileage.

Hyde – The WRX uses a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder boxer engine making 227 horsepower with 217 lb. ft. of torque. The turbo boost is 13.5 lbs., but you won’t feel it until about 3,000 rpm so slam your foot on the drilled aluminum alloy go pedal. You’ll be spending a lot of time between 3,000 and 6,000 rpm as you actively work the five speed manual.

Jekyll –Full-time AWD keeps us safe in the Winter and assures we always get where we’re going.

3 - 2004 Subaru WRX Wagon

Hyde – Sport-tuned fully independent suspension and a limited slip rear differential means grip you can use, baby.

Jekyll – The black dimpled seat material is ugly but durable.

Hyde – Incredibly supportive bolstered front seats.

Jekyll – A six-disc CD player.

Hyde – The tachometer is front and center like a proper sports car.

5 - 2004 Subaru WRX Wagon

Jekyll – 5 mph impact absorbing bumpers!

Hyde – MOMO leather-wrapped steering wheel!

Jekyll – Brembo brakes with ABS.

Hyde – Brembo brakes with ABS.

Living in New England in the 1970’s gave me a front row seat at the birth of Subaru culture in the United States. Subaru gained a reputation for being funky, practical and durable (eventually) and it appealed to a certain type of individual like my friend Kathi. She won her first Subaru – a red 1600 GL AWD wagon – as a prize in the Vermont Miss USA pageant. The car was funky and practical if not yet durable.

4 - 1978 Subaru GL 1600 AWD

Nonetheless it was an early harbinger of where Subaru was headed in the United States.

Fast forward to the year 2000 or so. I had slowly become aware of the success Subaru had been experiencing for several years in the World Rally Championships using a modified Impreza they called the WRX (World Rally eXperimental). Capitalizing on its racing success, Subaru introduced a rally inspired Impreza WRX model to much of the World (an entirely different type of Subaru), but it was not sold in the United States. The US automotive press began clamoring for Subaru to give us the WRX and in 2002 Subaru finally complied. The car was an instant success and I wanted one. It rang all my bells. Rally heritage and handling, and a wagon option to boot. In 2004 I took the plunge and bought the second new car of my life.

6 - Scoobies in a Subie

Twelve years and 170,000 miles later I still have it. For most of those years it was my daily driver and our family’s default vehicle for long trips. It logged a lot of round trips between our home in Maryland and Ohio (visiting family) as well as many Vermont trips (skiing in the winter, hiking and biking in the summer). It’s now my older son Josh’s daily driver and virtually as reliable today as it was a decade ago.

So what’s it like to drive? It’s an incredibly capable sports wagon that accelerates faster and handles better than the super cars of my youth, but still with the overall refinement of a 1977 Subaru Brat. If it weren’t for the performance and sport-tuned exhaust, you might assume the engine and transmission were sourced from a tractor. Don’t get me wrong, I like it a lot. Around town it’s the closest thing I’ve ever owned to a pickup and the perfect family transporter, but under the right circumstances it becomes a different creature entirely.

It was late winter, 2005. I had been traveling all week and flew home on Friday evening arriving at the airport around 11 PM. My wife and kids met me at the airport and I took the wheel for the all night drive to Vermont. At 6 AM the next morning I made the left hand turn off of Route 4 near Killington onto Vermont Route 100 for the final forty-mile leg to Sugarbush. My wife and older son remained asleep but my younger son Peter, 11 at the time, had just awakened and would be an active participant in the upcoming adventure. I’ve driven this winding and lightly traveled stretch many dozens of times and every turn has been logged in my DNA. Formerly fatigued, I suddenly felt infused with energy – Hyde took over. We didn’t see another car for the entire stint.

Let’s just say the drive was unconstrained and enjoyable.

That’s the duality of the WRX experience – some days it’s all Jekyll…


… and other days it’s all Hyde.

Last Week – 1995 Mazda MX-3 – Sometimes The Right Car Just Finds You, Meet Lillian I and Lillian II

Next Week – “In 522 miles turn right.