SUBARU WRX

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Cover Story -

ex­cit­ing show car to ever come from its de­sign stu­dio.

So there was much ex­cite­ment when the de­signer stand­ing next to the show car told re­porters that el­e­ments of the con­cept ve­hi­cle would make it to the pro­duc­tion ver­sion.

Yet the new WRX is same as it ever was: a turbo en­gine in a rel­a­tively plain pack­age. Cus­tom­ar­ily, pro­duc­tion cars are toned down from the con­cept cars that pre­cede them. This WRX re­de­fines dis­ap­point­ment. Most car com­pa­nies un­der­promise and over-deliver. Here the op­po­site is true.

Slim­mer wind­screen pil­lars, larger glass area and mir­rors mounted on the doors im­prove vi­sion but the dash glares badly into the wind­screen in di­rect sun­light. In­side, the WRX gains the stor­age ben­e­fits of the Im­preza sedan, with a mas­sive glove­box, cen­tre con­sole and door pock­ets.

In the pre­mium model tested, the au­dio qual­ity was only aver­age from the Har­mon Kar­don set-up, which in Euro­pean cars is louder and crisper. The race-car-style flat­bot­tom steer­ing wheel and the soft-touch ma­te­ri­als on the dash and doors are wel­come im­prove­ments, as is the sixspeed man­ual trans­mis­sion.

SAFETY

Seven airbags and a strong body struc­ture en­sure five stars from ANCAP. A rear cam­era is stan­dard but the dis­play screen is not much big­ger than a busi­ness card. Rear-park­ing sen­sors are a dealer-fit ac­ces­sory. Subaru has short­changed us: a rear cam­era (with a large dis­play screen) and rear park­ing sen­sors are stan­dard on a $20,700 Toy­ota Corolla.

DRIV­ING

The WRX is not only 200kg heav­ier than it used to be — 14kg more than the pre­vi­ous model — but it also car­ries up to 120kg more than the (front­drive) com­pe­ti­tion. All-wheeldrive hard­ware ac­counts for most of that.

Subaru claims 6.0 secs for the 0-100km/h dash but the best we could ex­tract was a pair of 6.4s, high sixes and low sev­ens. We’ve achieved 6.0 to 6.1-sec­ond times in the Euro­pean hot hatches — quicker than the of­fi­cial claims. The eight-speed CVT auto is a sur­prise pack­age. It is 0.5 secs slower in the 0-100km/h dash than the man­ual, and a bit of a drone at sub­ur­ban speeds, but is sig­nif­i­cantly quicker and more re­spon­sive once on the move, par­tic­u­larly com­ing out of cor­ners.

In “sport sharp” mode, the CVT holds one of eight pre-set ra­tios that keep the turbo on boost. In this re­spect, it’s a rev­e­la­tion.

There are han­dling ben­e­fits from the AWD and limited-slip rear dif­fer­en­tial, par­tic­u­larly in slip­pery con­di­tions. Ri­vals with so­phis­ti­cated sta­bil­ity con­trol elec­tron­ics and/or me­chan­i­cal limited-slip dif­fer­en­tials are just as ca­pa­ble of clam­ber­ing out of tight cor­ners.

The WRX rides well over bumps and thumps, due in part to the rel­a­tively tall tyre pro­file on the 17-inch wheels (the fit­ment since 2000, and they still look way too small for the car). Ri­vals have moved on to 18- and 19-inch­ers.

There is also room for im­prove­ment in the brakes, which have a wooden feel even though Subaru says they have a “140 per cent re­duc­tion in fade re­sis­tance” (the maker’s maths, not ours) thanks to a “high­re­sponse brake booster”.

In our opin­ion the brakes aren’t as good as the 2006 WRX, which had four-pis­ton calipers clamp­ing the front discs on a car that’s lighter than to­day’s. The discs on the 2014 WRX are slightly larger (from PRICE From $38,990 plus on-road costs WAR­RANTY 3 years/un­lim­ited km CAPPED SER­VIC­ING No SER­VICE IN­TER­VAL 6 months/12,500km RE­SALE VALUE 55 per cent SAFETY 5 stars EN­GINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo, 197kW/350Nm TRANS­MIS­SION 6speed man, 8-speed CVT au­to­matic THIRST 9.2L/100km (8.0L auto), 95 RON DI­MEN­SIONS 4.6m (L), 1.8m (W), 1.5m (H) WEIGHT 1469kg SPARE Space-saver

VER­DICT

294mm x 24mm to 315mm x 30mm front) but they are clamped only by a “float­ing” caliper — as used in taxis.

Then there’s the en­gine. Subaru’s graphs in­di­cate the 2.0 has a broader spread of power than the 2.5. Yet there’s no­tice­able lag be­low 2500rpm and the en­gine has an asthma at­tack at about 5500rpm, leav­ing a rel­a­tively nar­row power band.

The test car also had a sub­tle pause in power at about 4500rpm, which was easy to repli­cate but dif­fi­cult to ex­plain. Per­haps it was a turbo boost pres­sure change.

Af­ter 20 years of sub­stan­dard five-speed man­u­als, Subaru has fi­nally turned out a slick-shift­ing sixspeeder — a good thing, be­cause you’ll be keen to change gears to savour the ex­haust note.

The Subaru “boxer” en­gine’s ex­haust bur­ble is back, not a mo­ment too soon.

The WRX fi­nally has its char­ac­ter back. Its le­gions of loyal fans will no doubt be de­lighted. Now if Subaru steps up to the de­sign chal­lenge, it might just have a car to take on the Euro­peans. The new WRX is a big step up for Subaru — but doesn’t do enough to re­claim the ground lost to the $40,000 Euro­pean per­for­mance cars. It’s still the world’s best‒han­dling hot hatch. A high price and a bland in­te­rior (with the ex­cep­tion of the Re­caro seats) mark it down PRICE EN­GINE THIRST THE LOW­DOWN The best all-rounder. Hot hatch king for the past decade, it’s ef­fec­tively taken over the WRX mar­ket

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