SAVANNAH, GA — Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd.'s Subaru automotive unit has been tempting U.S. sports-sedan fanatics for years with the possibility of bringing the Impreza WRX Turbo to this side of the ocean.

It has generated such a faithful fan base largely because of the vehicle's performance on the World Rally Circuit. Rally racing — joining soccer as a sport Europeans revere and Americans ignore — involves tearing over varied terrain, from paved to gravel to occasional river crossings, on roads in often inhospitable climates.

The rally fan base — mostly young men — coincidentally happens to be Subaru's targeted customer base for the WRX.

And the suspenseful Stateside wait to see if the WRX would ever be sold here only fueled enthusiasm. Subaru delayed bringing the WRX to the U.S. for five years, while it struggled to meet U.S. emissions regulations.

The powerful-yet-nimble little Impreza WRX doesn't fail to live up to the hype. Its reason for being is its power-packed (113.5 hp/L!), 2L turbocharged “boxer” 4-cyl. that redlines at 7,000 rpm and generates 217 ft.-lbs. (294 Nm) of torque at 4,000 rpm.

The horizontally opposed, lightweight boxer engine, a Subaru trademark, out-powers the Audi A4 1.8T and the BMW 325xi — both all-wheel-drive cars Subaru has targeted as competitors. In the WRX, all-wheel drive comes standard, and the little 4-cyl. engine with the coffee-can-sized turbo can be paired with either a 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual transmission. Needless to say, buyers who are thinking automatic are looking at the wrong car — and rally hooligans would not take kindly to such a choice.

The automaker finally got the powertrain to comply to 50-state low emissions vehicle (LEV) standards with the aid of more advanced fuel injectors and three catalytic converters.

Drivers most likely will not be tackling terrain of rally racing caliber, but the car's outward appearance supports the myth. The functional hood scoop not only provides cool air for the turbo's intercooler but also has plenty of boy-racer appeal. Other fun — and sometimes functional — design features include a dual-outlet tailpipe, aluminum alloy pedals with rubber grips and silver-painted gauge frames.

Subaru's WRX is the most exciting of the three new Imprezas. The sporty 2.5RS, the TS Sport Wagon and the Outback Sport crossover also are due this spring.

Subaru is discontinuing the 2.2L Impreza L model for ‘02, as well as the coupe bodyshell — promising to elevate the coupe into the premium sport compact category.