*Pictured is a 2014 Subaru WRX fitted with the optional STI front lip and side skirts*
The 2014 Subaru WRX has screamed into South Africa and despite the rally heritage, claims to be more upmarket and luxurious than its predecessor.
As much as we'd all like to, one can't drive a road-legal rally car and still come across as a responsible adult. It's an issue to shake the boy racer image, and Subaru has realised this. The all-new Subaru WRX has been launched in South Africa in two variants and from first impressions, has grown up considerably without losing much of the performance and excitement.
Subaru WRX StylingStyling for the new model is on the conservative side, but it still retains quintessential Subaru elements. Big glossy alloy wheels, quad pipes and intercooler bonnet scoop tick the right boxes. Overall styling still remains underwhelming, but I was given a vehicle to take home after the launch. This Ice Silver unit comes with an STI front lip, side skirts and rear bumper, which adds some visual drama and makes it quite a looker. That's more like it!
Refinement and interiorThe main thing about the new Subaru WRX is that it's more user-friendly and refined. There's a leather clad interior which offers supportive and sporty seats. The rear seats offer commendable legroom and spaciousness - something which was proven on the launch as I drove with two journalists and Subaru's marketing man Didier Miguel. No-one was uncomfortable on the lengthy journey down to Vereeniging - a factor which counts heavily in making the new Subaru WRX rank highly as a daily driver.
The interior also boasts a turbo boost gauge, leather flat-bottomed steering wheel and carbon fibre touches in the cabin. Soft plastics have been used extensively and you get the impression you're in a premium product - something which Subarus have been marked down for in the past.
Standard equipmentSpecification is generous and the new Subaru WRX comes with automatic wipers, daytime-running lights, sunroof, automatic headlights, keyless access, start button, reverse camera, audio system with Bluetooth/aux/usb connectivity and a comprehensive trip computer.
Digging into the options brochure returned only three results: STI body kit, satellite navigation and a locally-sourced sports exhaust. The optional sports exhaust adds some pleasant noises and I think is worth a tick.
Driving impressionHow's it like to drive? I was rather fond of the old Subaru WRX and its bashful, hands-on nature, but it desperately needed a sixth gear. The new car has grown up and the boy-racer in me was a little disappointed in the initial experience. Only under hard acceleration and enthusiastic driving did the stereotypical Subaru elements make themselves known. Underneath the bonnet is an all-new 2.0-litre flat four turbocharged engine with 197 kW and 350 Nm which is refined and quiet. Could it be too quiet? Possibly...
There's a subtle rumble from the engine which builds into a terrific noise as the revs climb. Each gearshift, through the six-speed manual, results in a delicious Subaru-esque pop out the back which puts a nice smile on your face. The model I drove had an optional sports exhaust, which helps with the audio theatrics. Handling is very good and the car's agility easily surpasses its rivals, which is exactly what I expected.
LineartronicThere's also a CVT-equipped version, which despite the marketing, doesn't quite offer the same levels of involvement as the manual. But, I'll put my head on the chopping block here, as I'd recommend it if you routinely find yourself in thick traffic. The transmission isn't bad in the slightest, but it does slightly blunt the performance which is reflected in the claimed performance figures (0-100km/h takes six seconds in the manual, whereas the Lineartronic takes 6.3)
If you're an enthusiastic driver who enjoys shifting his/her own gears, go for the manual. If you're after comfort and refinement, then Lineartronic is worth investigating.
Conclusion and summaryThen there’s that price. Unlike many car manufacturers which blatantly jump the price of a new model, Subaru Southern Africa has kept the pricing on par with the old car. Despite import duty, inflation and other horrible factors, it's astounding to see a manufacturer willing to go the extra mile to keep customers happy. I think we're going to have a case where demand far exceeds supply, which is a nice problem to have.
For the money, you're getting a well-equipped, spacious, practical (massive boot) and quick family sedan - exactly what a Subaru WRX should be. It's very well priced considering something like the Audi S3 sedan retails for considerably more, yet doesn't quite offer the same levels of practicality and standard equipment.