Caper to the Cape
Subaru WRX Hyper Blue
With the keys to a Hyper Blue WRX in our possession and sunny skies overhead, we took a little road trip to Cape Colville.
The summer holiday months present the best opportunities to explore a few of the more interesting coast roads about the place but it’s also when they are the choked up with vacationers. Especially the roads around the Coromandel Peninsula. On a quiet working weekday however, they are some of the best with very few straights and plenty of corners to unwind.
We happened to have the limited edition Hyper Blue WRX on loan on a relatively quiet week at NZ Autocar towers, and with a big high in the forecast, we thought a pre-holiday season roadie was a good way to start the summer vibe. So we headed south east to the peninsula, and made for the top, following the shores of the Firth of Thames. The pohutukawa-lined trail winds its way north as the Firth turns from brown to bluey green and the fish must have been biting given the scores of Fulton Hogan and PGG Wrightson utes parked up with empty boat trailers all the way up the coast. Good work if you can get it. Further up, the roads get more interesting, especially over the hill towards Coromandel town. The peninsula has much more to offer than the usual hot spots on the eastern side, and further north of Coromandel is spectacular, especially on a jandal and shorts type of day. What amazes on roads like these are the drivers travelling along happily at a dreary 60km/h and yet they still can’t manage to keep left, drifting in and out of their lane, cutting corners. Look in your rearview mirror people, though most seem transfixed by the scenery.
Our journey took us up Colville Road, itself another of interest with plenty of corners to consume, which terminates at the intersection of Port Jackson and Port Charles roads, and we took a left onto the former. From here the tarseal ends and its gravel all the way as we head toward Otautu Bay and then wind along the coast. The outlook is truly spectacular and the road is in good shape, but in places not much wider than the proverbial goat track, so not one to cut loose on. It winds its way past Fantail and Goat Bay, eventually
A key attribute of the WRX is its ability to make its power stick while riding the bumps along the way, perfect over terrain like this
arriving at Port Jackson itself, home to a well used DOC camp site right on the beach. From there it’s along to Fletcher’s Bay and the end of the road. The northernmost point of the peninsula is about halfway between Port Jackson and Fletcher’s, about where we stopped to break out the Thermos, take some photos and watch the gannets patrol the waters. If you’re not afraid to rough it, the DOC campground at Port Jackson is just $10 a night per adult and $5 for kids. The online booking form on the Department of Conservation website makes it all pretty easy too. The Muriwai coastal walk sets off from the beach around the headland, but otherwise there’s not much to do but sit back and enjoy the serenity. And maybe catch a few fish off the rocks.
As far as our steed for the day was concerned, the WRX is bred for this stuff. A key attribute of the WRX is its ability to make its power stick while riding the bumps along the way, perfect over terrain like this. It’s a sports sedan so the ride isn’t SUV plush but it comes right at open road speeds. And there’s enough suspension travel too, only one jolt along the way managing to tickle the bump stop. The steering interaction and the front end response is something on the WRX; it dives into bends for what is essentially a front-heavy set-up. With permanent AWD and the ability to shunt more drive to the rear on a corner exit, it fires its way out of the turns as you gas it early on the corner exit while you unwind the steering. Helping the cause is the brake-activated torque vectoring, keeping the cornering line tight by nipping the inside front wheel if you’re pushing on a little too hard. While the WRX never seems to run out of grip, the stoppers can get warm on demanding roads like these with both the demands of the brake pedal and the torque vectoring system to contend with.
The hyper blue machine came with the ‘SLT’ CVT as that’s what everyone is buying. We don’t
actually mind the CVT either. Access the Sport Sharp drive mode, work the throttle hard and the gearbox responds well. It doesn’t like too much left foot braking though, the safety system cutting in to kill the throttle if you apply it before you are fully off the brakes, but then these things are sold in the US so have to be moron-proof. The WRX’s 2.0-litre direct injection flat four needs a good 3000rpm wound in before it really gets going, but then the full 350Nm of torque is well and truly twisting and as it starts to spin further past 5000rpm, the 197kW power peak is nicely formed and the CVT keeps the engine right in this go zone, with little need to flick the shift paddles. These do come in handy for quick cruising though. We liked the throttle tune in Sports Sharp mode, but the gearbox is intent on keeping revs high and so manual shifting lets you access a taller ratio to keep the gas guzzling in check. The WRX likes to swill if you let it, and with gas stations few and far between up the peninsula, it helps extend the touring range. The CVT doesn’t deliver a rip roaring launch from a standstill, but there’s a noticeable torque surge as the needle sweeps past 3000rpm which makes it feel right frisky around town. The only other CVT bugbear is its occasional reluctance to immediately hook reverse gear when shifting it from D.
As for noise, there’s some road roar over certain surfaces, but not much in the way of a mechanical melody with just a hint of turbo induction. The BRZ has a sound enhancer, and this could do with one as well to impart some more character.
The WRX was our performance car of the year in 2015, and it happened to top my score card on the day of testing. One year on, it’s still one of my personal favourites, even in auto guise.
A little bit of hyper blue makes it to the inside too with detail stitching
on seats, gearlever and wheel.
After lots of tarmac corners, it was time to chew through a few gravelly ones, 26 kilometres worth. Next time we’ll head east (below) to Port Charles and beyond.