This forum has been a great resource for me, and I wanted to give something back by sharing my comparison between the car I recently gave up, a 2007 BMW 335i coupe with a six speed manual and the sport package, and my newly-acquired WRX base hatch. Itís kind of an unusual exchange to make (some would say a trade-down), so if anyone else is considering such a move and stumbles across this post they might appreciate reading my opinion.
The 335iís strong suit for me was its motor. Chipped or stock, it is a beast. With the twin-turbo configuration you enjoy very strong acceleration just about anywhere in the rev band. The WRX, meanwhile, is definitely peppy once it gets going, but I do find myself stepping on the gas at lower RPMs and discovering I really need to downshift. Iím still used to my BMWís copious low end torque. That said, itís not that big a deal for me, for reasons youíll see below.
(Note: I do realize you can mod the heck out of a WRX and turn it into a loud, angry monster, but Iím not comparing the carsí theoretical potential here, but how they actually are from the factory, and thereís no denying that the BMWís engine is more tractable, smoother and powerful.)
Before buying it, I read reviews which compared the WRXís shifter to a truck or farm equipment. Now, after driving it for a bit, I agree that itís no Honda, but itís really not that bad, and I actually prefer it to the BMWís shifter. The WRX shifter does feel mechanical and a little crunchy to me, but itís not sloppy. The 335iís shifter felt vaguer and more rubbery.
I also have to say that I love that there are (only) five speeds in the WRX, and I donít miss having another gear at all. The BMW had so much torque that I almost always skipped fifth gear, and often skipped third gear. Not the most convenient shift pattern. The power band was so broad that even a 4 speed would have been perfect (and possibly faster in the real world), but that wouldnít fit with the marketing image of a technologically advanced car.
One of the most frustrating things for me with the BMW was getting the power down from a standstill, around a tight turn, or over bumps. I donít race around aggressively, but the BMWís rear wheels, despite the wide rubber, wanted to break free (or were handicapped by the electronics) when the power was enthusiastically applied. The absence of an LSD meant things werenít great whether I had the traction control on or not. In contrast, Iím loving the AWD in the WRX. I donít have to feather the accelerator to get a smooth start. I just go.
As an aside, Iíve often thought that quarter mile times, and maybe even 0-60 times, are somewhat irrelevant for most people who live in congested urban and suburban areas. 0-30 (or 5-30) times might be a better indicator of everyday quickness. Iíve spent a lot of time in a MINI Cooper S, which is a blast to drive (again, when you can get the power down) with its little turbo. Since I spend most of my driving time in well-populated areas at 70 mph or (much) below, the WRXís ability to get the power down at lower speeds is appreciated.
Suspension and handling
Every driver needs to be honest with him or herself about what his or her needs are. Itís taken me a long time to come around on this -- Iíve modified the suspension (generally for the worse) on three of my (former) cars for feel and ďhandling,Ē but I ultimately have to accept that I have a daily commute over potholed urban and cracked suburban roads. I do really appreciate the WRXís forgiving suspension. If I lived in SoCal or Florida, this likely wouldnít be an issue, but it unfortunately I live in the Northeast.
The BMWís suspension was firm -- not M3 (or Cooper S) firm, but still pretty tight -- and it honestly got a little punishing for me if the roads werenít great. The 335i is rock solid on a fast, smooth highway, but not so great on the roads I drive on a daily basis, and I tire of scanning the road for manhole covers to avoid.
Having grown up on Japanese cars, I greatly prefer the WRXís lighter steering. I donít like heavier steering like that in the 335i nearly as much. Yes, the BMW feels more stable and solid on the highway, but for trips around town, it just isnít as much fun for me. Now I can flick the wheel around with one hand in parking lots.
As far as handling goes, the BMW has a better weight distribution and the suspension is firmer, and it does feel like the WRX leans more and wants to plow at the limit. If I donít approach the limit, then itís okay, and I can have fun yanking the WRX around in regular driving. What I canít ignore, however, is the WRXís gigantic turning circle relative to the BMW. I find myself having to do three point turns now on streets that I used to just whip around in the BMW.
Previous reviews of the WRX had led to me expect an interior straight out of a 1991 Corolla. But really, itís not all that bad. Sure, itís not as luxurious as the the BMW, but it isnít exactly industrial grade, and I donít need my dashboard to be soft, and I donít drive around clients and need to show them wood trim. The WRX is louder than the BMW but not horrible, the stereo isnít as rich and the interface can be a little blocky, but thatís the difference between a $25,000 car and a $45,000 car.
I greatly prefer the seating in the WRX for three reasons. First, I prefer the WRXís more upright position and better visibility compared to the BMW coupe. Second, I find cloth seats far more comfortable than leather seats, particularly in the winter. I know itís considered a status thing to have leather, and theyíre likely more durable, but I donít like sliding around or freezing my rear end, and seat heaters do take a little while to kick in.
Third, (and I understand that comments like this generally arenít the sort of thing you see in a car review) the more I learn about how animals are treated in meat and skin production, the more it bothers me, so I feel better trying to minimize my animal consumption.
Iím not going to get into exterior styling, which I consider to be basically personal preference. I love the WRXís looks, and I like the Subaru ďimageĒ better than that of BMW, but I understand that many others disagree and prefer a more prestigious car.
There are a couple of really nice features on the BMW that I'll miss. The BMW xenon headlights are bright, and better yet they aim with the steering, so you have really good illumination on curves. BMW wipers are also pretty good, and they have a rain-sensitive mode which worked pretty well for me. That said, I love having a rear wiper on the WRX hatch for backing out of the driveway. I also got sick of the long, heavy doors of the BMW coupe. Nice for style, not so practical in parking lots or getting kids in and out.
My 335i was an extremely capable car: comfortable, stable, quiet and very fast. It might even be a little too capable -- its limits are so far above those found in (legal) U.S. street driving that if you push it it can quickly get dangerous or illegal. I eventually realized that in my daily driving, I donít need a powerful, luxurious autobahn cruiser, and Iím more comfortable (and have more fun) in a quick AWD WRX. Iím happy I made the switch.