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Car reviews - Subaru - Impreza - WRX sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Strong performance, road grip, sharp handling
Room for improvement
Actually slower than before, thirstier, lack of rear-seat legroom

3 Mar 2006

EVERYTHING is not quite as it would at first seem with Subaru’s new 2.5-litre Impreza WRX.

For a start, the performance. Even though the power and torque figures might not really reflect it, you would think that raising engine capacity by 25 per cent couldn’t help but have some positive effect on performance.

Not so, according to Subaru’s figures, which give the new WRX slightly slower acceleration to 100km/h than its 2.0-litre predecessor and, to add insult to injury, quote it as notably more thirsty.

Where the previous Rex was capable of squirting to 100km/h in a claimed 5.7 seconds, the new, big-bore version takes 5.9 seconds. And while the 2.0-litre consumed premium unleaded fuel at a rate of 9.6L/100km, the 2.5 gulps down 10.9 litres every 100km.

The new engine picks up the same 99.5mm x 79.0mm bore-stroke dimensions as the powerplant used in Forester and Liberty, upping power from the 2.0-litre’s 168kW at 6000rpm by a measly kilowatt, but producing it at a lower 5600rpm, and raising torque from 300Nm to 320Nm at the same 3600rpm.

The configuration is the same as before: alloy boxer crankcase, belt-driven twin overhead camshafts each side, four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing and sequential fuel injection – but the engine does pick up a drive-by-wire throttle that seems to come without the driveability problems found in some other systems.

So what’s to be gained by stepping up the engine capacity by so much, and the power and by so little?

Subaru says the gains are to be found in improved in-gear acceleration, brought about by the easier, lazier production of torque. But, in a performance sense, that’s about all.

The quoted acceleration times are slower than the last model, which in 2003 got a variable valve timing system, plus shorter gear ratios, to up power, torque and on-road punch.

So what is the new 2.5-litre WRX all about?

Well, it certainly trumpets loudly Subaru’s bold new front-end styling, which continues the company’s propensity in recent years to present the odd visually challenged design.

Recently we’ve had the droopy-fronted Tribeca SUV which will be going to market here shortly, while the current-shape Impreza was derided at its 2001 introduction, largely because of its messy-looking front end (refined in 2003).

The new Subaru look is certain to bring similar reactions.

Particularly in the WRX, which also has its air-gulping bonnet scoop (albeit now a little smaller) the controversial new three-part grille with its down-at-mouth centre opening (said to be aircraft inspired), plus the profusion of nostrils, slots and other apertures to make the whole thing look quite messy.

Messy, but at least quite distinctive - although apart from being a bit longer and, with the new bonnet scoop, a little more aerodynamic, there’s not much else that visually identifies the 06 WRX.

There are new Xenon headlights, seven-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels, alloy floor pedals and new graphics for the instruments, but from anywhere except the front, only dedicated trainspotters will find it looks much different.

So it’s back to the driving.

From the start, it’s noticeable that the 2.5-litre WRX has a bit more horizontally opposed thrum than the 2.0-litre. This is probably partly because the engine is bigger, but is also contributed to by a new, throatier exhaust with a single big-bore outlet that apes the proliferating aftermarket WRX systems.

It’s also noticeable that the ‘06 car gets an improved gearshift, although the five-speed box and its super-low 4.444:1 final drive ratio remains the same.

This latter fact makes the WRX’s virtually unchanged acceleration figures even more puzzling, particularly with the overall weight up by just 20kg.

Questions on how the WRX’s famed ability to bog down from a standing start if not handled with care and compassion are affected by the bigger engine are greeted with seemingly more responsive behaviour. Which you’d have every right to expect.

The extra 20Nm of torque contributes a subtle something, although it’s amazing to think you’d have any worry about turbocharged bogging-down with such a size increase and such low transmission ratios.

The 2.5-litre is better, but it’s not the squirming, dizzying experience you might have expected, and although the bigger exhaust contributes something, aftermarket dudes need have no concern that the company is going to steal their WRX business.

That said, there are still not a lot of cars around that will touch a well-driven WRX.

With its terrific all-wheel drive grip helped by a torque-sensing rear differential, firm but fair suspension (minor changes include the adoption of aluminium lower suspension arms, but only on sedan WRXs), nice sharp, well-weighted steering and strong, all-ventilated disc brakes with ABS and EBD, it’s still a car that will slingshot rapidly from corner to corner, and grip astoundingly well on loose or greasy surfaces.

Snatching gears from the five-speed transmission is a quick, efficient business that only requires a little care with the quick-grabbing clutch.

Impreza interiors have improved dramatically since 2001, but there’s still a big shortage of legroom in the back seat and, in the WRX, you only get a central ski port rather than a split-fold rear seat.

The seats are pretty good, and height-adjustable up front although there’s no adjustable lumbar support and a (Momo leather) steering wheel that can be reset on the vertical plane only.

The gear isn’t too bad, with front, front side and full-length curtain airbags, climate-contral air-conditioning and cruise control all standard. The 20006 WRX also inherits the always frustrating but entirely sensible alarm system with the keypad that must be punched every time you enter.

The turning circle remains pretty large at 11 metres kerb to kerb – 600mm more than other Imprezas – and the fuel capacity at 60 litres is only just adequate (although better than the Evo IX Lancer’s 55 litres).

If you hoped that a significant engine size increase would transform the WRX, then the 2.5-litre is certain to depress. It’s almost unbelievable that quoted acceleration figures are slower, and a great – but not unexpected – disappointment that the fuel economy has taken a dive too.

At the end of it all, what you get is a slightly more refined WRX with better lights, new wheels and a potentially polarising new front-end look. And a $1000 price increase.

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