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Driven: Subaru’s new $38,990 WRX cheaper than ever

Wield the knife: The new Subaru WRX is cheaper than the original 1994 version, at $38,990 plus on-roads.

Fourth-gen Subaru WRX arrives with more bang-for-buck to tackle upstart rivals

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Subaru logo25 Mar 2014

SUBARU Australia has made a significant move on the pricing of its all-important WRX performance car, reducing the cost of entry to a level cheaper than both its direct predecessor and the trend-setting 1994 original.

Launching in Australia this week, the fourth-generation all-wheel-drive performance version of the Impreza sedan storms into showrooms with a starting price of $38,990 plus on-road costs. This is $1000 cheaper than the outgoing model, as well as the now 20-year-old genesis model.

Of course, the bang-for-your-buck performance car landscape is a little different now than it was in 1994. Back then, Subaru sought to conquer the dominant Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore V8 muscle cars, as well as the rally-bred Mitsubishi Lancer GSR.

Now, Subaru competes with a host of turbo-four sedans and hatches such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI (from $41,490), Ford Focus ST ($38,290), Lancer Ralliart ($39,990) and Skoda Octavia RS ($36,490), although the Commodore SS from $41,990 remains a legitimate rival.

The $38,990 opening gambit nets the WRX manual, with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) costing an extra $2000. The more richly equipped WRX Premium starts at an unchanged $43,990, or $45,990 with the CVT.

Any new WRX launch is crucial for Subaru, both from a sales perspective and from the image boost each version brings. Australia is the world’s third-biggest market for the ‘Rex’, with more than 37,600 delivered over the past two decades.

The new version, now a sedan-only proposition, brings a downsized 2.0-litre horizontally opposed ‘boxer’ four-cylinder turbocharged engine matched to an all-wheel drivetrain and a new six-speed manual gearbox with a 12 per cent shorter stroke (and an extra ratio over the old one), or an all-new CVT automatic available across the range.

The defunct WRX hatchback – which accounted for less than 18 per cent of sales in Australia – could in time be replaced by the awkwardly named Levorg sports wagon displayed at the Tokyo motor show last November.

Despite the loss of the hatch, Subaru Australia managing director Nick Senior claims the company “can see sales growth potential with WRX”, down to the price and the broader appeal of the self-shifting CVT.

All up, the company projects about 200 sales per month, and within 18 months up to 50 per cent are expected to have the CVT. The even harder new-generation STi version will join the range next month, giving the company a further performance boost.

The 2.0-litre DOHC engine may be down 500cc from the old car, but it produces 2kW and 7Nm more. Maximum power is 197kW at 5600rpm and torque is 350Nm between 2400 and 5200rpm. The engine features direct-injection, ‘dual active valve control’ and a twin-scroll turbo mounted directly under the block.

Subaru Australia says the new 2.0-litre manual version will dash from zero to 100km/h in 6.0 seconds, which is lineball with the official figure for the outgoing model, although the company also published a 5.3-second time for the previous 2.5-litre engine “based on local Australian test conditions”.

Unusually for a sports model, there is also the option of a CVT with up to eight pre-set ratios depending on which driving ‘mode’ is engaged. The transmission also comes with paddle shifters and brings as a benefit 11.5 per cent better fuel efficiency, and 13.8 per cent fewer emissions.

The CVT is shared with the Forester XT. Subaru says the CVT allows the AWD system to distribute engine torque to the wheels variably, albeit with a rearward bias. The six-speed manual version gets a viscous limited-slip differential (LSD).

Sitting behind the Dunlop SP Sport-shod 17-inch alloy wheels are new brakes, measuring 315mm in diameter up front and 20 per cent thicker in the rotor than before. Subaru claims a 140 per cent improvement in fade resistance, thanks largely to a high-response booster, and a “more solid and linear feel”.

The body is roughly the same size as the previous generation, with identical width (1795mm) and height (1475mm), but an extra 15mm in overall length (4595mm). The biggest change is underneath, where the wheelbase has been stretched 25mm. The kerb weight is down from 1455kg to 1424kg (or 1482kg for the CVT).

The new WRX is also 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 14 per cent (front) and 35 per cent (rear) improvement in lateral stiffness of the suspension.

This has allowed the engineers to stiffen up the springs by 39 per cent at the front and 62 per cent at the rear, and increase the stabiliser bars by up to 3mm at both ends for a flatter and yet less jolting ride with 20 per cent less bodyroll. There are MacPherson struts up front and double independent wishbones at the rear.

A new, two per cent more fuel-efficient electric power steering system is said to produce a natural feel despite the lack of a hydraulic link to the axle. The steering ratio is a quicker 14.5:1.

The body itself retains links to the Impreza, even though it is no longer marketed as such. There are, however, major revisions including mostly fresh sheetmetal such as bulging mudguards and a pronounced snout. Subaru says only the roof, front doors and bootlid are identifiable from the donor car.

Completing the look are the requisite front and rear spoilers, aggressive diffuser at the rear, twin tailpipes, WRX badges, a sporty bodykit and a roof-mounted sharkfin-style antenna Inside, a few Impreza details remain, but there are bigger-bolstered sports seats with more lift and slide travel than the outgoing car. The larger wheelbase renders more rear legroom, and the decor is improved with more soft-touch plastics.

A 3.5-inch dash-top MID central display keeps the driver abreast of things such as turbo boost pressure, fuel economy and a calendar, as well as the requisite audio functions and the reversing camera.

The steering wheel is smaller but has a thicker cross-section, boot capacity grows 40 litres to 460L (the rear seats also fold 60:40), and the A-pillar has been moved 200mm forward and made thinner to improve mid-corner visibility.

Safety equipment includes seven airbags, a new brake assist and brake override system, front and rear foglights, hill-start assist for the manual, a standard reversing camera and a tricky electronic stability control system. As per the Impreza, the WRX also qualifies for five-star ANCAP safety rating.

All variants also get LED headlights with daytime runners and ‘welcome home’ lights that stay on for 30 seconds after the ignition is shut down.

Standard equipment on the base version includes aux, USB and Bluetooth streaming (and phone), climate control, cruise control, a leather-clad steering wheel with red stitching (also on the gearshifter and handbrake), the MID display and a 4.3-inch colour LCD screen.

The $4000 more expensive Premium variant gains dusk-sensing LED headlights, an electric sunroof, leather seats, a powered driver’s seat, push-button start with a ‘smart key’, satellite navigation, a larger eight-speaker Harmon Kardon sound system with a subwoofer and amplifier, and rain-sensing windscreen wipers.

All WRXs get a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and three years of roadside assistance.

Subaru WRX sedan pricing*
WRX$38,990
WRX (a)$40,990
WRX Premium$43,990
WRX Premium (a)$45,990
*Excludes on-road costs.

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