Subaru STi, WRX and Levorg – driver’s car triplets

Western Leader - - MOTORING - ROB MAETZIG

Subaru New Zealand’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Wally Dumper is al­ways a good per­son for a quote.

In his la­conic sort of way he’s ca­pa­ble of get­ting ex­actly to the nub of a mat­ter in very few words. He did it again when mo­tor­ing jour­nal­ists gath­ered at the Hamp­ton Downs mo­tor­sport park in north Waikato to learn all about Subaru’s 2018 per­for­mance range.

‘‘We have cars that you can ac­tu­ally drive,’’ he sim­ply said of the range that in­cludes the WRX sedan, its wagon brother the Levorg, and their high­er­per­for­mance sedan sib­ling the WRX STi.

What Dumper was talk­ing about were old-school per­for­mance car val­ues that are very much a part of these Subarus. They are all tur­bocharged, they of­fer the han­dling ca­pa­bil­ity that comes with all-wheel drive, and per­haps most sig­nif­i­cantly, the WRX and STi mod­els con­tinue to be dom­i­nated by old-school man­ual trans­mis­sions.

The only model that is re­stricted to an au­to­matic trans­mis­sion is the Levorg, and even then it is one of the best au­tos on the mar­ket: a Subaru Lin­eartronic con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion that can be op­er­ated man­u­ally as an eight­speeder us­ing pad­dles on the steer­ing wheel.

The four-model WRX lineup fea­tures two man­u­als and two au­tos, some­thing that recog­nises the fact even Subaru has to ac­cept there are grow­ing numbers of mo­tor­ing en­thu­si­asts that recog­nise how good today’s fas­tact­ing elec­tronic au­to­mat­ics are. But the four-model WRX STi lineup re­mains true to the man­ual tra­di­tion by be­ing avail­able ex­clu­sively with close-ra­tio sixspeed man­u­als.

The Hamp­ton Downs event was an op­por­tu­nity for Subaru NZ to re­mind jour­nal­ists about the qual­i­ties of this trio of driver’s cars, to point out what has hap­pened to them via their midlife facelifts, and to skite a lit­tle about how well the brand is per­form­ing this year.

Last year Subaru en­joyed its best-ever year with more than

2700 ve­hi­cles sold de­spite some sup­ply con­straints. This year the brand is look­ing at sur­pass­ing 3300 sales, thanks to the fact some of the sup­ply con­straints have eased.

The WRX, Levorg and STi mod­els are play­ing a role in this – as well they should, be­cause they con­tinue to of­fer high per­for­mance mo­tor­ing for a fairly rea­son­able price. Now they’ve been facelifted, and this has added up to $1000 to the rec­om­mended re­tail prices of some of the mod­els. The se­lec­tion starts at $48,990 for a WRX man­ual and goes through to $64,990 for an STi Pre­mium.

They’ve all re­ceived new al­loy wheel de­signs, front grilles and bumpers, LED head­lights, safety en­hance­ments, and some in­te­rior cos­metic changes.

The sin­gle Levorg model sold in New Zealand, the auto-only GTS, has had its ride re­fined via changes to its Bil­stein sus­pen­sion and other sus­pen­sion com­po­nents, It also gets a 10-way pow­ered driver’s seat with mem­ory, a front view mon­i­tor to help ease the way when park­ing close to walls or other ob­jects, and au­to­matic ve­hi­cle hold which holds the ve­hi­cle in place when stopped.

The Levorg also now has a smart rear-view mir­ror which uses a cam­era lo­cated at the top of the tail­gate to project what’s be­hind on to the mir­ror. Why? So the driver can still see what’s be­hind even if there’s a third per­son block­ing the tra­di­tional rear-view mir­ror view by sit­ting in the mid­dle of the back seat.

These safety fea­tures have also been added to the WRX Pre­mium and STi Pre­mium mod­els, and all the WRX au­to­mat­ics also now have Subaru’s very good Eye­sight driver as­sist, which not only con­tin­ues to au­to­mat­i­cally stop the ve­hi­cle to help pre­vent or lessen low-speed im­pacts, but also now in­cor­po­rates lane-keep as­sist. All au­to­matic WRX mod­els also add an elec­tronic park­ing brake and the auto ve­hi­cle hold.

From the per­for­mance per­spec­tive, the mod­els that have ben­e­fited most from the facelift are the WRX STi ver­sions. Brakes have been up­graded so they now have 340mm front and 326mm rear cross-drilled ro­tors that are clamped by six-pis­ton front and two-pis­ton rear Brembo calipers – and from the cos­metic per­spec­tive, they are painted yel­low.

All STi mod­els have also had their sus­pen­sion up­graded, and there have been mi­nor changes to the Driver Con­trolled Cen­tre Dif­fer­en­tial (DCCD) to im­prove per­for­mance.

The Hamp­ton Downs event in­cluded the op­por­tu­nity to get out on the track – al­beit in wet con­di­tions – to ex­pe­ri­ence all three of the per­for­mance mod­els.

Driv­ing the Levorg then the WRX back-to-back was an in­ter­est­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Both these ve­hi­cles are pow­ered by the same 197kW and 350Nm 2-litre tur­bocharged boxer en­gine, but while the Levorg was an ex­cel­lent drive, the fact it has a kerb weight that is up to 150kg more than the WRX meant the sedan was so much bet­ter.

And, as was to be ex­pected, the STi with its 221kW and 407Nm, was even bet­ter again.

That no doubt ex­plains why while jour­nal­ists aboard the Levorg and WRX mod­els were in­vited to go on fol­low-the-leader out­ings on the track with­out hav­ing to wear crash hel­mets, with the STi mod­els it had to be hel­mets on and ac­com­pa­nied by in­struc­tors.

But fair enough – whereas a WRX man­ual can ac­cel­er­ate to 100kmh in six sec­onds, an STI can do it in a mere 4.9 sec­onds. And han­dling is great thanks to that all-wheel drive with its ad­justable cen­tre dif­fer­en­tial. And re­mem­ber, STi prices start at $59,990 – which re­ally is value for the money spent for true per­for­mance mo­tor­ing.

Top of the facelifted Subaru per­for­mance range – the WRX STi.

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