A Manual That's Worth Some Lessons

2007 Impreza WRX Sport Wagon
2007 Impreza WRX Sport Wagon
By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 24, 2006

My wife, Mary Anne, has taken up the clarinet. Her willingness to accept new challenges is amazing. Her passionate pursuit of excellence in chosen endeavors is impressive.

But I wish she would commit to learning how to drive a manual-transmission car, something she has resisted through 37 years of marriage.

I've tried to get the woman to shift gears. But getting her to change her mind is more difficult than getting President Bush to change his.

So, I'm throwing down the gauntlet, offering a spousal challenge for all to see: Mary Anne, if you will learn how to operate a manual-transmission car, I will join you in learning how to play the clarinet.

There, I've put it in writing -- can't take it back.

You supply the clarinet. I'll supply the car. I suggest we start with this week's test model, the 2007 Subaru Impreza WRX Sport Wagon. It's hot, baby! It's ugly as sin. But when did mere physical appearance ever matter to you? You married me, remember?

It's performance that counts, right? Trust me, the all-wheel-drive WRX Sport Wagon, equipped with a five-speed manual transmission, can perform. Clutch, shift, gas, whoa!

Remember that silly 1970s Leo Sayer song, "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing"? The WRX Sport Wagon makes you feel like that. You've just got to get into the rhythm of it -- clutch, shift, gas, clutch, shift, gas. It's like hand-dancing with a car.

I know what you're thinking. You are a respectable elementary school teacher, and there's no way you're going to embarrass yourself by climbing into a car that looks like something driven by a teenager on steroids.

Look, just because the WRX Sport Wagon is ugly doesn't mean it's embarrassing. It's ugly in an inoffensive way, even with that goofy air scoop atop its hood and that upside-down Ford Edsel grille. It elicits gentle smiles, not ridicule. Think of it as a homely, but talented and precocious child.

Besides, it's a compact wagon -- really a hatchback with four side doors. You can put all of your teacher stuff in it. If you flip down the 60-40 split rear seats, you get nearly 62 cubic feet of space. You can carry all of the "No Child Left Behind" teacher manuals ever published in that cargo bay.

Still not convinced? Check this out: The WRX Sport Wagon comes with what Subaru calls "symmetrical all-wheel-drive." That means power is transmitted from the car's engine to all four wheels at once. That gives you better traction than regular all-wheel-drive, which shifts power from wheel to wheel -- "from the wheels that slip to the wheels that grip" -- as needed.

To transfer power in the WRX Sport Wagon, all you have to do is clutch, shift, and push the gas pedal. That's it. The all-wheel-drive system works automatically.

Okay, Mary Anne, I know. You're thinking of that first WRX I brought home in 1993. It not only was bereft of good looks. It lacked amenities. It didn't even have a sound system. It was just a car with a hot-rod engine, a steering wheel, manual gearbox and four wheels, a Walter Mitty mobile designed for weekend racetrack fantasies.

You hated it. Not only did you refuse to learn how to drive it, you took one ride in the front passenger's seat and refused to enter the car again.

But don't hold that experience against the current model. It's still a bit noisy, but it's substantially more comfortable than its predecessors. For example, the tested up-level version of the WRX Sport Wagon comes with heated leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, power windows and locks, a power moonroof, and a sound system that includes Sirius Satellite Radio.

Trust me, you'll like this one. You'll want to drive it. You just have to give it a chance. So, what about it, Mary Anne? You want me in your band. I want you in my car. Do we have a deal?

© 2006 The Washington Post Company