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LA show: Next Subaru ‘Rex’ ready to rumble

Go Rex: Subaru's new WRX is headed for Australia in March.

Downsized 2.0-litre engine and CVT auto on offer in new, more nimble Subaru WRX

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Subaru logo21 Nov 2013

By RON HAMMERTON in LOS ANGELES

THE all-wheel-drive beast known to car fans as ‘Rex’ is on its way in its 2014 form, wrapped in a more extreme sedan body and armed with the latest 2.0-litre blown direct-injection four-cylinder boxer engine and an even more limpet-like chassis.

Subaru’s fourth-generation WRX was finally revealed at the Los Angeles motor show today where it is sharing the limelight on the Japanese car-maker’s stand with a concept version of the next-generation Liberty.

The WRX hatchback – which accounted for less than 18 per cent of sales in Australia – is gone, possibly replaced by the awkwardly named Levorg sports wagon being displayed at the rival Tokyo motor show held in parallel with the LA car expo this week.

Instead, the WRX badge will be applied exclusively to the all-wheel-drive, turbocharged boxer-engine sedan that has Impreza at its core but with major revisions including mostly fresh sheetmetal including bulging mudguards and a pronounced snout. Only the roof, front doors and boot lid remain from the Impreza, along with bits and pieces in the cabin.

Car fans will be pleased to know that the more powerful flagship STI version is alive and well and expected to land in the public domain at the Detroit motor show in January.

In Australia, which is the second biggest market for Subaru’s WRX after the United States, the new model will hit showrooms about the end of March and be followed about a month later by the STI. Prices are yet to be announced.

For now, Subaru is only talking about the basics of the WRX sedan that comes with a smaller 2.0-litre direct-injection boxer engine in place of the 2.5-litre unit of the current generation.

Despite the downsizing, the turbo engine produces slightly more power, up from 195kW to 199kW at 5600rpm in the US-spec version at the show, along with an extra 6Nm of torque, to 343Nm.

Subaru Australia cautions that the final specification for the local model has yet to be confirmed, so it could vary a kilowatt or two in the final production version.

The manual WRX is expect to bolt from zero to 100km/h in about 5.5 seconds – similar to the current model – while the CVT is said to do the dash in 5.9 seconds as it is a little slower off the mark.

The reason the car is no faster in the dash than the previous model is that it is about 20kg heavier, thanks to greater body reinforcement and more equipment.

However, Subaru product planners say the key focus in the new-generation car was on handling, and they assure Rex fans that the latest model will be substantially faster through curves and around the race track.

For all markets, the ‘Rex’ finally gets a six-speed manual gearbox, replacing the five-speeder, and – shock horror – the optional continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic lifted from the Forester GT.

But Subaru says that before hardcore WRX fans poo-poo the thought of a CVT, they should know that this CVT is not your average slurring unit but a specially developed sports CVT – called Sport Lineartronic – that offers up to eight “speeds” and a slick manual mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel.

The car-maker says the result is an automatic transmission with an “amazingly responsive” manual-shift mode and sharp shifting response.

The CVT has three modes – I (Intelligent), S (Sport) and S# (Sport Sharp) – so drivers can select the most efficient driving style, the most frantic or something in between.

Although the current STI has been offered with an automatic transmission in Australia, the WRX was exclusively a manual car, and for Subaru, that means it hopes to pick up incremental sales with the new CVT.

The company expects about 20 per cent of new WRX buyers will opt for the CVT, at least at first.

In a first for Subaru, the WRX gets Active Torque Vectoring that can brake the inside front wheel when powering in a corner to minimise understeer.

The trademark symmetrical all-wheel drive remains a key feature, with a theoretical slight bias of power to the rear wheels. The manual model retains its viscous coupler centre diff, but the CT version gets an electro-mechanical via Variable Torque Distribution.

The new WRX is 40 per cent stiffer in the body thanks to numerous braces at key points, while the chassis has also been modified in almost every component to deliver a 35 per cent improvement in lateral stiffness of the suspension.

This has allowed the engineers to stiffen up the springs and stabiliser bars, front and back, for a flatter and yet less jolting ride with 20 per cent less body roll.

The body is roughly the same size as the previous generation, with identical width (1795mm) and height (1475mm), but an extra 15mm in the length (4595mm).

The biggest change is underneath, where the wheelbase has been stretch 25mm to provide more legroom and enlarge door openings for easier access.

Somehow, Subaru designers have squeezed extra shoulder and hip room out of the body, especially the back seat that is designed for three.

Like the Impreza, the bottom of the A-pillar has been moved 200mm towards the front for a slicker silhouette, with the extra space being filled by a new quarter window. This, along with lower window sills and side mirrors shifted to the door panels, is said to have improved forward visibility.

Boot space is bigger and more flexible, thanks to 60:40 split-fold rear seat backs. A space-saver spare tyre will be offered in the US, but the Australian spare has yet to be announced.

The WRX gets 17-inch alloy wheels with 235/45 tyres, with the wheels finished in gun-metal grey. At the front and rear, LED lights are used for the first time in the form of low-beam headlights, daytime running lights across the top of the headlamp clusters, and taillights.

Chassis changes include electric steering that has been given a sharper steering response, as well as revised suspension geometry that Subaru claims has raised the cornering limit to new levels – a key goal of WRX engineers.

No Australian fuel economy figures have been released yet, but the smaller engine and six-speed manual and CVT transmission should deliver improvements, despite the weight gain.

Inside, the WRX gets a trendy flat-bottomed sports steering wheel, while sports seats are finished in black – as is almost the entire cabin – apart from red contrast stitching and red highlights in the gauges.

Subaru has gone out of its way to lift the cabin ambience, with more soft-touch plastics and faux carbon fibre trim elements that are are reminders of the WRX’ s rally heritage, along with metallic finishes around the controls.

Subaru has retained a traditional dual-gauge instrument layout, intersected by an LCD display with with digital speedo and other information, while a new colour display atop the dash displays a range of selectable driver information aids for thrill-seekers, including turbo boost pressure.

Standard equipment includes a Harmon/Kardon audio system and, for the first time WRX, a reversing camera.

The Australian version will get a less fussy honeycomb grille design than the American car, but they both get flash chrome WRX badges on the sides, just at the back of the squared off front mudguards, along with pronounced side sills, rear diffuser flanked by dual pipes and a boot-lid lip spoiler.

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