SUBARU WRX REVIEW
What’s Hot: Prodigious grip, more power and torque yet greater fuel efficiency.
What’s Not: Space-saver spare; small information screen.
X-FACTOR: The most liveable WRX yet: the remarkable CVT transmission adds a new element to the Rex, with little compromise to performance.
Vehicle style: Small sports sedan
Engine/trans: 197kW/350Nm DOHC turbo petrol | 8spd CVT
Fuel consumption listed: 8.6 litres/100km (95RON)
“Iconic” - it’s a word that car companies and motoring journalists use too often. (Yes, even TMR... - Ed.)
But there’s nil risk in applying it to Subaru’s iconic WRX.
Since it first rocketed onto the Australian motoring landscape way back in 1994, nearly 38,000 have found their way into local garages.
Australia, in fact, is the third-biggest market globally for the Rex.
Today - 20 years on - Subaru dealers will sell you the entry-level manual 2015 WRX for $38,990; that’s $1000 less than the outgoing model and also $1000 less than the $39,990 sticker price of all those years ago.
Even if you opt for the top-spec WRX Premium with its new eight-speed continuously variable transmission, it will only set you back $45,990.
There is a lot of performance engineering, and features, sitting under that figure.
Back in 1994, the first Rex was way less powerful: just 155kW (although a lot for the time) and 270Nm.
And for safety, all the original car could boast was ABS brakes and an optional driver’s airbag - nothing like the full suite of electronic safety features and seven airbags of the new car.
A lot has changed in twenty years. For this test, the weapon of choice was the top-spec Premium Lineatronic CVT.
It’s the first time in a decade that Rex buyers can have a transmission other than a manual.
- 4.3-inch colour LCD multi-information screen
- Six-speaker Harman Kardon AM/FM/single-CD with MP3/WMA compatibility
- AUX-in jack and USB port
- Bluetooth audio streaming
- Climate-control air-con and electric sunroof
- Multi-function, height- and reach-adjustable sports steering wheel
- Power steering, windows, exterior mirrors, and illuminated vanity mirrors
- Reversing camera
Quality: With soft plastics, a classier dash, great supportive leather-upholstered front sports seats, the new Rex’s interior is a vast improvement on previous models.
As well as a soft-feel dash, there are carbon-fibre-look trim highlights setting off the dash and doors.
A nice touch is the red stitching for the seats, steering wheel and shifter boot.
As well as the LCD nav screen, there is a rear-illuminated electro-luminescent instrument-cluster display that sits high on the dashboard for excellent readability.
But while the LCD screen is clear enough, at 4.3 inches, it’s a bit of a postage-stamp.
Comfort: As mentioned, the seating is one of the car’s strong points and despite the car’s necessarily sporty ride, the Suby is surprisingly comfortable - even when the going becomes a tad enthusiastic.
Even the two outer rear-seat passengers have some seat bolstering (better than some of the flat benches we occasionally find there).
Climate-control air-con adds to the new Rex Premium’s comfort as does a classy Harman Kardon audio system with eight speakers and sub-woofer.
If the driver or front-seat passenger need to touch up the lippy or eye shadow (I thought mine looked ok), there are two illuminated vanity mirrors behind the sun-visors.
Storage: With the rear seats occupied, the Rex has 460 litres of boot space - up 40 litres on the outgoing model - and increased greatly by dropping the 60/40-split rear-seat backs.
There is also a large glovebox, bottle-pockets, a seat-back map-pocket, two cup holders up front and two in the rear.
In addition there is a small open bin at the base of the centre stack and a small bin beneath the front-seats’ centre armrest.
One thing however that is missing is a roof-mounted sunglasses holder (how hard can it be?).
ON THE ROAD
- 2.0 litre horizontally-opposed turbo-charged petrol engine
- 197kW @ 5600rpm and 350Nm between 2400rpm and 5200rpm
- 0 - 100km/h: 6.0 seconds
- Suspension: independent MacPherson-strut, double-wishbone independent rear. Stabiliser bars both ends.
- Speed-sensitive power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering
- 17-inch alloys; Dunlop SP Sport MAXX 235/45 R17 tyres.
Driveability: After locking in your perfect driving position via the eight-way electric driver’s seat and the great-to-hold, flat-bottomed steering wheel, you’ll immediately feel at one with the new Rex.
Forward visibility is greatly improved thanks to a slimmer A-pillar, lowered dash-top and a flatter bonnet-scoop.
But the big surprise is the CVT transmission. Until I drove the new Subaru Forester a few months ago, I had not been the greatest fan of CVTs.
Having now driven the Subaru CVT in its WRX guise, I’m a convert.
The new transmission has three selectable modes: ‘I’ (Intelligent), ‘S’ (Sport) and ‘S#’ (Sport sharp).
In S# mode, its changes are lightning quick - like a good DSG - and with none of the slipping-clutch feel and over-revving sound of many CVTs.
‘I’ mode is the smoother and more fuel-efficient setting, ‘S’ raises engine speed in gears and S# delivers sharper throttle response and eight-speeds.
Needless to say, this is a very quick and powerful car and playing with the steering-wheel-mounted paddles during the inevitable bouts of enthusiastic punting is a delight.
Refinement: Subaru chassis engineers have done a great job of retaining a level of refinement despite the necessity of firm, sporty underpinnings.
Wind and road noise is perfectly acceptable and, overall, noise, vibration and harshness is quite low.
Ride and handling: The new WRX’s grip and handling is nothing short of breathtaking.
The way it points and turns in imparts a feeling of confidence found in very few cars at this price.
And the torque-vectoring system that delivers more torque to the outer wheels in corners means that understeer is simply not on the menu.
On tight corners when you’re pushing really hard, the new chassis and the Dunlop SP Sport MAXX RT boots show themselves to be very well-matched to the suspension tune.
Lastly, you expect a sporty ride with a performance car, but sometimes engineers make it too harsh.
Not so with the new Rex. Its ride is surprisingly comfortable, even on rough surfaces.
Braking: Stopping power comes from ventilated discs up front and solid discs at the rear. With bigger rotors, the new Rex stops better than its predecessor.
But, overall, we found them up-to-the-task if not spectacular - the Germans still set the standard here for pedal feel and braking performance.
ANCAP Rating: 5-Stars. Scoring 35.85 points out of a possible ANCAP 37 points, the new Rex achieved the highest score of any Subaru model - and all have 5-Stars.
Safety features: Symmetrical all-wheel drive, seven airbags including a driver’s knee bag, electronic stability control, ABS brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, front seatbelts with pretensioners and load limiters (double pretensioners for the driver), shock-absorbing brake and clutch pedals.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three-year unlimited kilometres; three-year roadside assist.
Service costs: At six months or 12,500ks and 12 months or 25,000ks: $277.41 each service.
This rises by time and/or kilometres travelled to $723.34 at 54 months or 112,500ks and falls to $598.99 at 60 months or 125,000ks.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Mitsubishi Evo MR TC SST - $65,990: Much more expensive than the WRX, this is a track-ready car with more go-faster bits than the WRX CVT Premium tested here (the soon-to-arrive WRX STi will be more closely aligned).
The Evo manual too has more power and torque (217kW/366Nm versus the Rex’s 197kW/350Nm) but carries a $56,990 sticker price compared to the WRX manual’s $38,990. (see Evo reviews)
Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart - $39,990: With 177kW and 343Nm to call on, the ageing Ralliart can also lay claim to being a WRX competitor (as can an army of mostly front-wheel-drive turbo hot hatches).
A potent drive, but not really in the hunt against the oven-fresh new WRX. (see Lancer Ralliart reviews)
Volkswagen Golf GTI DSG - $43,990: A competitor? A hatch, of course, while the WRX is a sedan. But buyers will inevitably cross-shop the pair.
The more powerful WRX is also more compliant on road than the GTI’s Euro-style suspension and holds a half-second advantage in the 0-100km/h sprint.
Note: all prices are Manufacturers’ List Price and do not include dealer-delivery and on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
For 20 years, Subaru’s WRX has been a remarkable value-for-money package. But this latest version trumps its predecessors in spades.
While there are plenty of cars out there that will get you from A to B in comfort and safety, there are few at any price that can do it with the adrenalin-pumping razor handling of the new Rex.
Obvious debits, there are few. We’d certainly like more growl from the four chrome exhaust outlets to go with the drive experience.
But so good is this chassis, all-wheel-drive system and levels of grip, that you’d forgive this car nearly anything.
If I had to come up with one more word to describe the new Rex, I’d keep ‘iconic’ and add ‘sensational’.
Price (excludes on-road costs)
- WRX sedan manual $38,990 (a saving of $1000 versus MY14)
- WRX sedan Lineartronic CVT $40,990
- WRX Premium sedan manual $43,990
- WRX Premium sedan Lineartronic CVT $45,990