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Car reviews - Subaru - WRX - range

Our Opinion

We like
Performance, value, handling, steering, grip, high-speed poise, cabin layout, seat comfort, practicality, space, attitude
Room for improvement
Lots of road noise, no external boot release, no reversing sensors, heavy handed styling, no centre armrest, no rear airvents, confounding Bluetooth connectivity

Gallery

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Subaru logo14 Nov 2014

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

Price and equipment

TWENTY years and nearly 38,000 sales later, there’s a new WRX in Australia. No more Impreza no more hatchback just a turbocharged three-box, four-wheel drive sedan.

We’re the third-biggest market globally for the series so this fourth-generation iteration of the former ‘90s rally icon is important stuff for its maker, Fuji Heavy Industries.

Why no five-door variant? Apparently less than one-in-six WRX buyers went for the hatch, rendering it financially unviable for this generation. Fair enough.

Still, this remains an Impreza variant, because the Subaru small car is clearly present. Look beyond the WRX’s boyracer bits and you’ll find the same roof, front doors and bootlid.

So what’s new besides an all-new body that’s around 40 per cent stiffer, a heavily revised platform with stronger suspension properties and a completely overhauled interior?The biggest difference is the downsizing of the drivetrain by 500cc, to a 2.0-litre horizontally opposed ‘boxer’ four-cylinder turbocharged engine, driving all four wheels via a six (rather than five) speed manual gearbox and viscous limited-slip differential (LSD). Plus an auto is available for the first time in a decade.

Other changes include quicker-ratio electric rack and pinion steering (14.5:1), appreciably stiffer springs and wider anti-roll bars – with the promise of flatter cornering tempered by claims that the ride has also improved – and brakes with 140 per cent less fade than before.

Pitched directly in hot-hatch central, the entry-level WRX manual from $38,990 brings AWD of course, as well as seven airbags, stability control, anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brake-force Distribution and Brake Assist, Hill Start Assist, reverse camera, fog-lights, cruise control, LED daytime driving lights and auto headlights.

It also features front sports seats, climate control air-conditioning, Bluetooth audio and phone streaming, a leather-clad steering wheel, a central touchscreen display and 17-inch alloys shod with Dunlop SP Sport tyres.

Being a WRX, there’s also the expected bodykit with spoilers front and rear.

But the lack of parking sensors is a bit rich.

Buyers can stump up another $5000 for the Premium, bringing dusk-sensing LED headlights, electric sunroof, leather seats, a powered driver’s seat, push-button start, satellite navigation, better audio and rain-sensing windscreen wipers.

Interior

While the exterior is a rather heavy-handed mishmash of old and new (why can’t Subaru replicate the crisp and distinctive ‘California’ style of the 1993 original?), the WRX’s interior is a far more cohesive effort despite a couple of surprising omissions.

Let’s begin with the sheer size of the car – it’s bigger and roomier than ever before, aided by deep side windows, a commanding driving position and a 25mm wheelbase stretch over the previous edition.

People expecting soft expensive German surfaces need to think again. The WRX is as much a celebration of Japanese affordability as it is about towering all-weather turbo performance.

In this context, the dashboard is just about perfect. Quality durable surfaces, sprayed black, with just enough techie trim to feel urban-Tokyo cityscape industrial.

The Blade Runner feel extends to the 3.5-inch top-central console display (for data such as turbo boost pressure and fuel use), while a larger audio/multimedia screen below is topped and tailed by simple yet functional climate controls. Typical Subaru.

As such, the driving position is spot on, enhanced by an excellent seat offering ample adjustment for optimum comfort, chunky three-spoke wheel, handsome analogue-meets-digital instruments that glow red or white, the prerequisite alloy pedals and a gear lever that’s positioned just so.

The WRX fits like a glove. What’s changed is the level of technology, but the humble, practical and reliable Impreza origins work a treat. It’s all part of the charm.

Omissions? No backseat centre armrest or rear airvents is a bit disappointing, but the bench provides sufficient space and support for adults. It’s all really a sea of hard black plastic, but the Subaru isn’t pretending to be anything more.

We’re still mad about the wagonoid shape from the first and second Impreza generations being dropped seven years ago but in the new WRX’s defence the boot is bigger by a sizeable 40 litres to 460L, the rear seats fold down to allow cabin access, and a space-saver spare lives beneath the floor.

Note the lack of an exterior boot release is very annoying – almost as much as trying to establish a Bluetooth phone connection for the first time.

But nothing beats the shocker that awaits when you first cop a look and feel of the ignition key. Skinny and insubstantial, it would shame a 1995 Suzuki Baleno.

Engine and transmission

What do you expect for $39K? Turbo efficiency? V8 performance? AWD tractability? The WRX gives you all.

Subaru’s boffins have slashed 500cc from the 2.0L twin-cam boxer, but have still managed to eek out 2kW and 7Nm more power and torque respectively. That’s quite an efficiency achievement.

With direct-injection, ‘dual active valve control’ and a twin-scroll turbo working in unison, the capacity fall has not harmed the icon one iota.

Indeed, from the moment you tickle that throttle, the boxer’s guttural rumble turns into a roar, matched by a strong yet clean surge forward in the best WRX manner.

Nothing seems wasted as the torque just flows through to each wheel with effortless ease. Whether in teeming rain or bright sunshine, the Subaru’s performance is instant, accessible and satisfyingly punchy. And at all times the driver feels part of it.

Beware though. The loud exhaust will piss off your neighbours at night, even when just idling.

When we first drove the original 20 years ago, there was something new and thrilling about how light yet planted the Impreza turbo felt as it powered off the line, thrummy at idle before letting rip through the rev range.

Subsequent WRXs felt heavier and more laboured even though they clearly became faster, but this one bounds ahead again without breaking a sweat.

Don’t expect a quiet cruise though. 100km/h in sixth sees the tacho sitting at 2400rpm, so it isn’t quite as relaxed on the open road as you might hope. Throw in tyre rumble and the ever-present grumble from the DIT Boxer and the Subaru won’t lull you to sleep.

The well-calibrated manual gear lever feels solid and well oiled as always, without the fragile crunchiness that blighted previous ‘boxes. The same applies to the clutch.

The drivetrain as a whole feels more direct and linear. After seemingly scores of ultra smooth and refined hot hatches defined by the Golf GTI, there’s something visceral – almost obscene – about the WRX’s loutish athleticism.

Bravo, Subaru.

Fuel economy? It’s supposed to be considerably more economical, but ours shot way past 11L/100km being thrashed about. As we’re measuring smiles per gallon here, the WRX is certainly no worse than most comparable and more normal hot hatches.

Ride and handling

Considering all the safety legislation that has to be met nowadays, the WRX’s ability to dart between corners at speed and then carve right through them with barely the need to slow down is quite astounding.

Wearing 235/45 R17 rubber, the Subaru feels glued to the road. Driven hard on damp curvy rural roads, the car’s poise and control over a variety of surfaces remains one of the series’ fortes.

And we’re just as impressed with the tight and responsive steering it brings a free-flowing agility that belies the dumpy styling. Sharp and surprisingly possessive of feedback and feel, the WRX is a pleasure to pilot along your favourite twisty bends.

Furthermore, big new brakes do their thing with unflinching forcefulness and reassuring consistency. That hasn’t always been the case in previous turbo models.

Finally, even the ride quality is commendable though firm all the time, there isn’t the underlining hardness that can blight hot hatches.

Minus points include a propensity for road rumble to permeate the cabin, a big turning circle and the fact that the chassis is always up for a blast, turning you into a potential hoon every time a corner beckons.

Safety and servicing

A five-star ANCAP crash-test rating applies to all Subarus sold in Australia.

While all WRXs are subject to a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty with three years of roadside assistance, Subaru’s importers Inchcape now offer fixed-price servicing for three years or 75,000km.

For the WRX manual the recommended scheduling is every six months or 12,500km, with prices varying from $305.95 to $542.66. The CVT’s servicing costs are slightly less overall.

Verdict

What a surprise. Or is it?That first WRX of almost 21 years ago redefined small-car performance and value, at a time when so-called ‘hot hatches’ – Peugeot 205 GTI and 306 S16 aside – were pretty much non-existent in Australia.

For the iconic Subaru, things have since gone full circle. There’s nothing like the WRX for the money and it once again sets a high watermark for what the car does so uniquely.

Please don’t buy a VW Golf GTI, Renault Megane RS, Ford Focus ST or any other fast small car before trying the pseudo Impreza in drag first.

Rivals

1. Volkswagen Golf GTI, from $41,490 plus on-roads
Where it’s at in the hot-hatch world – light, agile, refined, efficient, fun and comfy, the evolution of the segment icon is a towering feat of engineering briliance. But for some maybe perfection has become dull…2. Renault Megane RS 265 Cup, from $43,990 plus on-roads
The new nose isn’t as nice, but there is no denying the RS’ sheer unadulterated driver focus, backed up by real hatchback practically offered by the still-stylish coupe silhouette. This one’s hardcore yet still sweet.

3. Ford Focus ST, from $38,290 plus on-roads
Big, brash and ballsy, the German-built Focus sits somewhere between the ultra refined laser-like silkiness of the Golf and the rebel-rouser agility of the animated Renault Sport. The Ford’s a fab effort.

Specs

Make and model: Subaru G4 WRX
Engine type: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo flat four petrol
Layout: AWD
Power: 197kW @ 5600rpm
Torque: 350Nm @ 2400-5200rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
0-100km: 6.0s
Fuel consumption: 9.2L/100km
CO2 rating: 213g/km
Dimensions: L/W/H/WB 4595/1795/1475/2650mm
Weight: 1424kg
Suspension f/r: MacPherson struts/double wishbones
Steering: electric rack and pinion
Price: From $38,990

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