There was a time not too long ago that Subaru competed in the World Rally Championship and its road cars resembled the hardcore nature of its competition cars. They were rally bred, infused with ruggedness and devoid of creature comforts.
Now though, rallying is a thing of the past to the brand and they merely make rather fast road cars for the enthusiast. This then is the new WRX, the company’s entry level hardcore sedan. We drove the old WRX a while back and loved its rawness.
Boxer BeneathSubaru and Porsche are the only two manufacturers left that still produce flat-four, Boxer engines. All the other manufacturers work with in-line cylinders or lay them out in a V formation. The Boxer engine does give off its own distinct thrum, a low down gargle that has made Subaru so unique over the years, especially in WRX STi derivative.
Here in the WRX the gargle is mostly evident at idle and in our manual six-speed with an added exhaust upgrade it entices you to get in and give it a full hammering. As you wind up through the revs though, the sound seems to disappear and it’s relatively quiet in the cabin, the whine of the turbocharger is the most distinguishable sound from the driver’s seat.
The 2-litre turbo churns out decent power, though gone are the days when Subaru would trump all in power and torque stats within its price and competition range. You get 197 kW and 350 Nm of torque and that’ll get you from 0-100kph in six-seconds flat in the manual version and 6.3 seconds in the CVT Lineartronic. The engine feels most happy in the mid-range, north of 5 000 rpm it dies off a bit and struggles to reach its redline at 6 700 rpm (manual version). Keep in the mid-range though and it will keep delivering sharp, hard punches of acceleration.
Inside the BeastAs I mentioned earlier, creature comforts have never been high on the priority list for Subaru engineers, or its owners to be honest but the WRX has evolved. Interior features have been added to make you feel like you’re in a modern day piece of kit rather than Colin McRae’s old rally car.
There’s leather upholstery all round, a touch screen radio with Bluetooth and USB capability. There’s a second display screen that has multiple scrollable screens that displays everything trip related as well as doubling as a reverse camera. Having the camera up so high does mean that sunlight reflects onto the screen making it difficult to see what the reverse cameras are displaying. It’s all rather civilised now as Subaru moves away from the rally purist feel to something more in line with the very fast modern hot hatchbacks.
Handling ProwessThe major improvement for this generation WRX has been on the handling front and it’s a much improved performance car. The entire chassis feels more taut and rigid; the typical WRX forwards and backwards body lean under braking and acceleration has been minimised. The WRX now rides much flatter and because of the all-round increase in chassis stiffness it’s a more agile car. It dives for apexes more accurately and the change of direction doesn’t send it into tyre-screeching understeer so easily.
It feels like there’s even more grip now and trying to get the tyres to give up traction requires excessive steering angle or a go-kart circuit with tight hairpins. The all-wheel drive setup provides confidence and even though the steering is now electric it feels natural.
Everyday LivingThe Subaru WRX is not an easy car to get used to in manual form, the clutch is a little heavy and has a snappy bite point making it bouncy in traffic. If you’re not absolutely on the limit it can be a jerky car to drive and with the firmness of the suspension it’s a bumpy ride on everything but the smoothest freeway. That is exactly how we like it, hard to the bone. Performance and track-like handling is bound to have some sort of drawback and without the trick adaptable suspension the Germans use in the BMWs and the likes it will be a harsh ride. It feels similar to the Renault Megane RS Trophy as far as ride stiffness goes.
VerdictThe Subaru WRX may not rule the roost anymore as far as power and torque figures go – the hot hatches can offer similar stats. It does have a much improved chassis though and that makes it more fun to hustle around than before. Creature comforts have made it more modern but still remain an afterthought as sporty performance remains the main target.
Price is a sticky situation though as it’s right at the top end of the hot hatch spectrum and I’m certain prospective buyers won’t see it as the ultimate performance bargain it once was. It is an improvement for the brand though and the WRX faithful will be flocking to the new model from the previous one. The CVT Lineartronic is good, but you lose some of that fun feeling. Still, it's an impressive machine even without a manual gearbox.
Second OpinionThe Subaru WRX has matured, which is both a good and a bad thing. It's still a decent performer with some impressive cornering skills. There's a nice sound out the back due to the optional sports exhaust, which is a must-have option. It may have lost a bit of its racer appeal whilst growing up and becoming more practical, but the end product is still a fiery all-wheel drive tarmac monster that isn't too badly priced for what you get. -David Taylor
Subaru WRX Premium Manual quick specs
|Engine||2-litre 4-cylinder turbo petrol|
|0-100km/h||6.0 seconds (claimed)|
|Fuel economy||9.2 l/100 km (claimed)|
We dislike: . Hard to live with everyday . Competitors offer more value