Take a two litre capacity petrol engine, use your entry level seda, whack on a hairdryer, do a spot of suspension work and find the largest hole in the bonnet that’s legal, go rallying and boom! you have one immediately immensely popular car. That’s what Subaru did in the 1990s and thus was born the WRX.
Fast forward to 2016 and A Wheel Thing resamples the legend, with the entry level model WRX, complete with six speed manual, edgy styling, and fire engine “Pure Red” paint, with a family trip to NSW’s south coast via the nation’s capital.It’s the now familiar two litre boxer engine, sans the firecracker red paint on the intake system the STi receives but with a plastic shroud that the STi doesn’t get. The selling point is the torque, of which more will be discussed soon….but it’s the almost mandatory 350 torques, from 2400 to 5200 rpm. That mesa of oomph was so very handy in the drive…peak power comes in just after the torque gently rolls off, with 197 kilowatts being spun out at 5600 revs. Transmission in the car, the “entry”model, was a six speed manual.The old saying “Bad news travels fast” was apt with this particular car. Although built in mid 2015, it had the gear shift feel of a ten year old vehicle. It lacked the precise, machined, movement of the STi, with no real weight and a somewhat notchy feel into the gate. A fair explanation would be to say the springs that normally tension a manual gear shift’s lever had none. Tension, that is.
The gate is also wider than that found in the STi, it felt, so any “sporting changes” were initially up to more luck than design. Yet, once some time had been spent with the WRX, familiarity with the movement’s foibles made such things closer to instinctive than expected. The clutch is suitably weighty, without excessive heaviness, and the pickup point does allow for smooth changes, with no jerkiness.
Road noise on coarse chip surfaces was intrusive, with a constant, overbearing, roar into the cabin, making normal level conversation almost impossible and requiring the single CD audio system to be wound up. Around town that may not be too much of an issue but on a long country drive, with a couple of hundred kilometres worth of it, it’s wearisome.What isn’t wearisome is the WRX’s ability to reel in traffic on the long straight roads between Canberra and the coast. That 350 Newton metres of torque, right where the rev range is at highway speeds and covering 3000 revs, imbues the WRX with an effortless ability to pass, quickly and safely, slower traffic. A simple flex of the right foot has the revs rise, the speedo swinging round and the cars blurred into insignificance. Safely.The brakes are standard, but there’s no issue with their ability. They haul the WRX (complete with four passengers and luggage) up gently, smoothly, firmly, appropriately, depending on pedal pressure. On long downhill curves, a gentle squeeze had the red rocket generating a slow retardation, gently tugging the nose into line. Under heavy braking the WRX was polite in its straightness, with no discernible deviation left or right.Dive and squat was there, but only just, thanks to the sports suspension that is still taut but not quite as much so as the STi. There’s still a considerable measure of crash and bumpthump, as you’d expect, however the upside is the lack of float on some very undulating roads. It’s a well tied down car, with a rise and fall and that’s it, no continued motion. On some flat (and noisy) highway sections, the suspension (MacPherson struts and wishbones) almost had the WRX feeling as if it was skidding across the top of ruts, yet without losing grip from the 245/40/18 Dunlop Sport Maxx tyres, on ten spoke alloys.It’s a fantastic highway driver, with precise steering and the ability to follow the line the driver sees ahead on the road. Going down Brown Mountain, a ten kilometre descending stretch of exceptionally tight turns, chicanes and a helluva view across the Bega Valley, rarely is fourth gear used as the tiller is tipped rapidly left and right and the car responds almost as if the front is hard wired to your hands. A dab on the brakes, the road’s centreline to the right, and the front right wheel is almost glued to it.There’s cruise control as standard, to boot, which was engaged on the longer and straighter sections. Highway speeds have the engine ticking over at around 2500 rpm, hence that slingshot accelaration on overtaining. Fuel economy ended up with a best of 7.6L/100 km using the specified 98 RON unleaded, a little ways off Subaru’s claimed 7.1L/100 km for the highway…bearing in mind the car WAS loaded with four people and a sizeable cargo.As the provided car was the entry level model of a two model range, there were a few things missing, such as Auto headlights and heated seating. Although the seats, as comfortable as they were and allowing for the manual, not electric adjustment, were cloth covered, there was no breathing, leaving the passengers sweaty. Given the workload a driver can be under, ventilation for the seats should be mandatory.
There’s also only one USB slot,next to the 3.5 mm auxiliary point, in the front, an odd equipment choice given even the STi gets two and the Impreza S gets four. Given the ideal family attitude the WRX has, it’s an oversight.Interior trim is subdued, for the most part, with splashes of alloy look plastic and alloy sports pedals, red lighting for the dash’s sports look dials, a fold out cupholder where the STi has rear passenger air vents, fingerprint attracting piano black plastic around the touchscreen (which is sans satnav) and the same dullish looking plastic trim on the upper dash and doors. There’s also the split info screens top centre which offers the usual Subaru info such as fuel consumption, settings (when the car is stationary) and more. The exterior is a little less extroverted than the STi, lacking the painted Brembo brake callipers and the massive rear deck lid wing, instead being garnished with a lip spoiler. The body does get the pumped out body panels, bonnet scoop and LED tail lights the STi has plus the more assertive looking eagle eye headlight design over the front bumper. Access to the 440L boot is, oddly, only available via the keyfob, a button inside or by dropping the 60/40 split fold seats…yep, no button on the boot lid itself. Again, an oversight that makes no sense.Safety wise, there’s the usual swag of driver aids, including one that is somewhat unheralded, Hill Start Assist, which came in mightily handy in the hillier parts of the drive. Essentially it’s a braking system that holds the brakes for a moment or so after engaging first gear, allowing the driver to move forward without (hopefully) rolling backwards. However, Subaru’s forward collision alert system, EyeSight, is not here, being available in the Premium model only, as are the satnav and Harman Kardon audio.A Wheel Thing ventured from the lower Blue Mountains to Bega, via Canberra. Including some running around, total distance covered over four days was 1187 kilometres, using just a tank and a half. The mix of long roads, sweeping curves and that on tap torque is what contributed to that 7.6L/100, which came late on the fourth day after effectively refusing to move from 7.8. There’s room for four, comfortably, thanks to the 4595 x 1795 x 1475 mm dimensions and 2650 mm wheelbase; a carpeted boot (460 litres) which didn’t struggle to hold a family’s wares and the level of tech on the non Premium model is enough for most. Thankfully, both can be chosen with either manual or the CVT, a gearbox that works far better with the WRX’s engine than the standard and somewhat lacking in character 2.0L engine in the Impreza.
Warranty wise, a buyer gets the three years/unlimited kilometre package plus Subaru’s crash assistance service, which you hope will not be needed. What the buyer does get is one helluva car. There’s grunt, performance, handling, style and verve, from the WRX and it’s a more than able addition to the legend.
As always, a big thanks to Subaru Australia for their support. For info, click here: Subaru WRX information