Car reviews - Subaru - Impreza - WRX range
4 Dec 2008
AUSTRALIA is such a strong market for Subaru – especially for the Impreza WRX – that the factory in Japan has produced a sharper version specifically for the Australian market in response to calls from local enthusiasts that the previous model was “too soft”.
Only 15 months after introducing the third-generation WRX hatch to lukewarm reviews, Subaru Australia has this week launched the sportier 2009 model year update with a big boost in power, revised steering and a stiffer suspension package in a bid to reclaim its credibility.
At the same time, the company has finally released the long-awaited sedan version, which should ensure a large increase in sales because the previous-generation sedan was the bodystyle of choice for more than 90 per cent of WRX buyers.
Not that Subaru needs much help in Australia as it is still on track to post an 11th successive year of record sales here despite the market downturn.
The arrival of the WRX sedan completes the Impreza line-up and the good news for buyers is that, while offering more performance, Subaru Australia has been able to hold its pricing – at least for the next four months – so both the MY09 sedan and hatch are now on sale at the original launch price of $39,990.
Engine performance takes its biggest leap in the long and gloried history of the WRX thanks to the fitment of the same turbocharger used on the STi version, allowing boost to be increased from 78kPa to 92kPa, as well as a bigger exhaust and catalysts that are claimed to flow 30 per cent better.
What this means to the right foot is that power has increased by 15.4 per cent, from 169kW at 5200rpm to 195kW at 6000rpm, while torque rises by 7.2 per cent, from 320Nm at 2800rpm to 343Nm at 4000rpm.
Not coincidentally, the new outputs for the 2.5-litre flat-four engine are the same as those for the high-performance 2001-2005 model WRX STi, but are still some way short of the current STi’s 221kW and 407Nm (via a cranked-up turbo with 103kPa of boost).
In an apparently retrograde step, the WRX goes back to a five-speed manual gearbox instead of the six-speed unit that has been fitted to the WRX hatchback since it was launched here in September 2007, but Subaru Australia technical chief Derek Ashby claims this is “the transmission of choice for the WRX” with its viscous coupling centre differential, 20kg lighter weight and close-ratio gearing.
To cope with the extra power, both the mainshaft and first gear are now hardened, while a clutch slave cylinder anti-dump valve has been fitted to protect the driveline from shock loading when the clutch is dumped aggressively.
The extra power has certainly produced the desired improvement in acceleration, with the 0-100km/h sprint now taking a claimed 5.3 seconds – half a second faster than the superseded model.
At the same time, fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions have been reduced, down from 10.7 to 10.4L/100km and 252 to 247g/km respectively.
The other major changes have taken place with the suspension package, which has been completely retuned with the aim of producing the sharper, more aggressive handling and steering response as previous models.
This includes the fitment of thicker stabiliser bars front and rear, stiffer springs and the fitment of STi top strut mounts. The sock absorbers have “significantly” increased rebound rates at the front to minimise roll and improve turn-in, while the rear damping bump rate has been increased with the aim of improving grip.
The final ingredient in the handling package is the replacement of the previous Yokohama 205/50 tyres with wider 225/45 R17 Dunlop SP Sport 01s.
Adding to the sporty image, Subaru now specifies red brake callipers that show up nicely through the seven-inch ten-spoke alloy wheels.
Visually, the MY09 WRX is easily spotted from the front as it now features the metal-look plastic appliqué spanning the width of the grille and incorporating the Subaru badge that features across the rest of the Impreza range, including the STi.
There is also a WRX badge on the new mesh grille insert, the aforementioned red brake callipers and, of course, the bespoilered boot on the new sedan variant.
Inside, the seats and steering wheel get distinctive red stitching, while the front seats are embroidered with the WRX logo.
For the first time, WRX owners can option their cars with leather upholstery and sunroof ($2500 together), satellite-navigation ($2990) or a combination of all three ($5490).
Technical and feature specifications are identical for the sedan and hatchback models, while the six-speed STi remains unchanged for 2009 because there has been “no negative feedback” from customers about the STi variant.
Subaru Australia managing director Nick Senior said that the new WRX and the sedan had an enthusiastic response from fans when it appeared at the Sydney motor show in October.
“We had an amazing response to the vehicle from enthusiasts, who welcomed the changes,” said Mr Senior.
“And that has been reflected by the interest in our retail network – we have been inundated by enquiry and our website hits have spiked.”
Mr Senior said that, although the sedan overwhelmingly dominated the model split for previous generations (about 95 per cent), he expects that the balance for the third-generation model will ultimately settle at around 50-50.
He forecast that the arrival of the sedan and the extra performance would help boost WRX sales in Australia from the current level of about 80 per month to between 120 and 150 per month.
Subaru Australia expects that, while the traditional WRX buyer will go for the sedan, the hatchback will continue to attract new, female and younger buyers.
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