Car reviews - Subaru - Impreza - WRX range
Fantastic value for money, strong engines, remarkable road-holding, improved styling for WRX, big handling improvements, choice between automatic and manual for STI
Room for improvement
WRX should have a six-speed manual, automatic STI misses out on many trick features, STI can be confused with WRX, interior looks cheap, WRX seats need more support
8 Sep 2010
SUBARU’S WRX is the best performance bargain in the country, delivering performance unmatched b y anything near the $40,000 mark.
It has always been good value, but the new wide body makes it even more appealing, with pumped-out wheel arches giving it aggression missing from the previous model and instantly boosting its street cred.
The wide body set-up brings another benefit: improved road-holding.
The front and rear tracks have grown 35mm and 40mm respectively, giving the car a greater footprint. Tyres are also wider by 10mm.
This all helps to improve the road-holding of the WRX, which was already top notch.
A test drive on slippery tarmac and dirt roads near San Remo, near Phillip Island, revealed just how good the WRX is – and fun.
Hit the starter on the WRX and the exhaust – the same system as the STI – booms into life, loud and deep at idle.
The WRX engine is still as strong as ever, delivering huge torque at 2500rpm, allowing the driver to enter a corner a gear too high without problem.
It revs out well enough, but there is little point going past 4500rpm because there is so much meat down lower in the rev range.
The sheer acceleration is so impressive that you forget you are in a $40,000 car. It goes like something far more expensive.
The gearbox might be slick, but, frustratingly, it is only a five-speed, and we found ourselves going for the non-existent sixth cog several times.
It is just plain silly that almost every new car, some at half the price, is available with a six-speed manual.
With just five gears, the engine buzzes along at 2600rpm when are sitting on 100km/h. A sixth gear would not only make it a bit quieter in the cabin, but also cut fuel consumption as well.
The comfortable seats are not all that supportive, especially when you consider the kind of cornering G-forces this car can achieve.
Subaru is not great on design, and the interior, which is largely unchanged apart from a few details, still looks ordinary. The swooping lines of the dashboard look odd and yet the interior also manages to appear a bit cheap. Still, for this money, you can’t expect too much.
The WRX has remarkable grip, even slippery and loose surfaces. Anyone who doubts the benefits of all-wheel drive should take the WRX for a run on dirt.
Subaru has sorted the WRX’s suspension and has found the right balance. It is firm, but not overly harsh. The body roll that spoiled the model introduced in 2008 is long gone and the new car is happy to change direction quickly and go just where you point it.
The steering wheel can tug if you hit a pot hole while cornering and accelerating, but the WRX is generally a remarkably good drive.
It is so much fun that it would not matter what it looked like, but thanks to the new wide body, it now looks much more like a serious performance car.
Australian STI fans will also be excited about the prospect of an STI sedan after the 2008 model was launched as a hatch only.
You do have to wonder how owners of existing STI hatches would feel. They spent $60,000-plus on a car with an exclusive wide body, which is now available with a car that costs $40,000.
Of course, the STI brings a lot of mechanical improvements, but an STI hatch looks identical, barring some minute details, to a WRX hatch.
The STI sedan is differentiated by a huge rear spoiler, but should a WRX owner fit such a spoiler (you watch them) they will have a car that looks almost exactly the same as an STI.
If you pay $20,000 more, we are tipping you would expect a little more visual differentiation.
That said, the STI’s level of performance belies its $60,000 price tag. It is simply stunning.
Well, the manual is stunning. The automatic is not as sharp as the manual, missing out on a front limited slip differential as well as the electronically-controlled centre differential that has been a key reason to buy an STI over a WRX.
It also makes less torque, but it is no slouch either. The automatic works well enough when left to itself. The manual mode is fun, and the paddles a well designed and intuitive, but it will not hold a gear if it gets near the red line.
We were only able to test the STI manual on the Phillip Island race track – not that we are complaining – so we will have to wait to see how it handles pot-holed roads.
On the track, it amply demonstrated that it is considerably better than the previous model (which we also tested on the track). The last model was brutally fast, but the suspension let it down.
It leaned in bends, putting all the load on the outside wheel. The AWD system would scrabble and pull and push as it tried its best to maintain traction, but it was unsettling.
It was probably a bit more comfortable, but this is a performance car and needs to handle sharply.
Subaru listened to the feedback and come up with something that is far more composed and happier to change direction. It feels far crisper and much more like the Mitsubishi Lancer EVO which easily beat it in direct comparisons. That contest will be a lot closer this time around.
The STI managed 220km/h at the end of the straight at Phillip Island, which is not bad, but it is the corner speed that is so remarkable thanks to its remarkable grip.
It takes some seriously bad driving to unsettle it too. The strong brakes held up well for most of our session but were starting to show some sign of fading at the end of a hard couple of hours.
The STI works best when driven smoothly, but some real fun can be had by throwing it into corners.
The tricky centre diff controller is great fun to play with on the track, where the difference can be felt, but such changes are unlikely to be noticed on the road.
As for the engine, it is predictably muscular, much like the WRX in that it doesn’t need to be revved hard to deliver, but more impressive all round.
This is a seriously powerful engine that also sounds great, with its wonderfully lumpy boxer note.
The six-speed manual is a well-designed gearbox with easy selection, even under pressure on the track.
It is great to be able to choose between the STI hatch and sedan. No doubt there are packaging benefits with the hatch, but the STI sedan has always been the most popular. It was the also the one that was made famous by rally driver Colin McRae.
As an owner of an STI sedan (a 1998 two-door version used for motorsport), I am pleased to see it made available again, and also happy Subaru has fitted it with that big rear wing.
They should make those iconic gold rims available with blue cars, just like McRae’s, but we are told you can even order them.
Subaru has moved on from gold wheels, but the latest refinements show it can still produce an STI that can perform remarkably well on the race track.
It has also produced a WRX that not only does the business, but looks the business too.
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