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Car reviews - Subaru - Impreza - WRX range

Our Opinion

We like
Retained $40K price, sedan styling, improved performance, mid-range responsiveness, lower fuel consumption and emissions, excellent ride, AWD grip, front seats, interior refinement, solid feel, framed door glass, large side mirrors, rear-seat access
Room for improvement
Suspension float over undulations, poorly-placed and hard centre armrest, dull steering, lack of engine bark, low-rev performance

4 Dec 2008

WHEN Subaru Australia managing director Nick Senior boldly declared at the national media launch of the upgraded MY09 Impreza WRX that “the king is back”, it was not only the scribes he was talking to but the passionate WRX fans that have been quite vocal in condemning the third-generation model for being too soft.

These people may not be huge in number, but they have helped make the ‘Rex’ the icon it has become in Australia, and the enthusiasts at Subaru Australia share their passion for all things WRX. Privately, they thought the latest version was a bit soft, too.

It says something of the influence of the Australian operation in Japan that we sit here, only 15 months after the launch of the new generation, with a considerably reworked model. As it proved with the Tribeca restyle, Fuji Heavy Industries in Japan can turn things around quickly when it needs to.

In an admirable turnaround, which will be seen by some as an admission they got the original wrong, they have given the WRX a big increase in power and considerably retuned the suspension, while also applying it all to the sedan. A program like that would take three years for a big company like Toyota.

But has it all been worthwhile? Will the new WRX placate the hardcore enthusiasts and restore its reputation?

As one of the media outlets to have been critical of the third-generation model when it was released, GoAuto welcomes the improvements, which have undoubtedly made it a better car overall.

This writer at least likes the balance that Subaru has struck between handling and ride, between sportiness and comfort, between raciness and usability, between garishness and individuality. And we suspect that we are in the majority of potential customers.

However, we doubt that the hardcore Rex will be totally convinced by the suspension, which is still on the soft side of the scale, the subdued exhaust sound or perhaps even the looks.

Over a variable and testing route over country roads, mountain passes and dirt rally roads, the new WRX sedan – which varies from the hatch only in having a boot – displayed a tremendous range of abilities.

It accelerated hard, cruised quietly and effortlessly, provided excellent comfort over long stretches, coped with horrid corrugations, put the power down without fuss, steered nicely on the throttle and never felt like it would do anything unexpected. It is a very fine and very fast car indeed.

What it failed to do is show the sort of character that we suspect the hard men are looking for – that distinctive old flat-four burble, a barking exhaust, a jarring of the ribs as you clip a rock on the apex, a feeling that the body is tied to the road by an invisible wire.

If you fancy yourself as Petter Solberg, this is still not the car for you, but then you would have an STi and a raft of aftermarket goodies that would have the desired affect (while possibly compromising safety systems like the ESC and ABS, but that’s another story).

While Subaru indicated that the suspension tune is considerably harder and more aggressive than before, the driving experience revealed that it remains on the soft side, which reveals itself not so much in cornering as floating over undulations, where the rear-end even feels a little softer than the front.

It certainly provides a comfortable ride, though, even over rough road conditions, with none of the harshness you might expect from low-profile performance tyres and no incidence of hitting the bump stops.

And there is no shortage of four-wheel drive grip, which was demonstrated in conditions as diverse as corrugated dirt roads and Winton Raceway, where the extra responsiveness to steering input was most appreciated.

The familiar 2.5-litre turbocharged flat-four ‘boxer’ engine is very smooth through the rev range and sings really sweetly between 3000 and 4000rpm, where its 26kW extra power and 23Nm more torque is most evident, but there is not much action at lower revs.

Although there is 7.2 per cent more maximum torque, the torque curve really only starts at around 2400rpm, begins to be felt through your right foot somewhat higher than that and ultimately peaks at 4000rpm (1200rpm higher than before).

A close-ratio five-speed manual gearbox means that the WRX pulls a relatively high 2600rpm at 100km/h, but the engine and interior are so quiet that it does not feel revvy.

In terms of looks, the good news for Rex fans is that the new sedan version looks more ‘traditional’ than the hatchback, which caused such a fuss when it first appeared and has remained a sore point with enthusiasts.

Like the hatch, the sedan features framed door windows for the first time and the resultant feeling of solidity when you shut the door is welcome, as are the high-speed auto electric windows.

A solid boot shut quality also underscores the overall feeling of quality with the Impreza and contrasts with many other tinny-sounding modern sedans, both small and large, while Subaru’s dust sealing for the engine bay, interior and boot all coped superbly with the long sections of dry dirt roads.

As with the hatchback, we like the huge wing mirrors on the sedan, but not the long-throw gearshift or the lack of a coat hook. And, while the door armrest is well-placed and padded, the hard centre console lid is placed too far back.

Getting into the back is a breeze, thanks to the high and flat roofline, and once inside there is sufficient leg and headroom for all but the tallest passengers, plus well-placed grab-handles.

Front-seat occupants will love the well-shaped, supportive and comfortable sports seats, which also look great in black with red stitching, while the driver gets a nice matching steering wheel and metal-look surrounds for the simple instruments and control dials.

Overall, the third-generation WRX has certainly been improved over the overly soft original, with an admirable balance now between ride and handling, while the sedan’s looks should please the purists. It may not be the king any more, but for most people the new WRX will be quite hardcore enough.

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