The skinny: The Subaru WRX has been given fresh equipment upgrades as part of a model-year 2016 (MY16) update, delivering two fixes for this $38,990 sports sedan.
Firstly, the undersized 17-inch alloy wheels switch to a chunky 18-inch variety. Secondly, the slimline dot-matrix audio screen of the pre-facelift version is now flicked for a bright 6.2-inch colour touchscreen.
The mechanicals stay the same – 2.0-litre turbo boxer four, all-wheel drive, and six-speed manual or optional automatic (the fun-factor also remains intact).
Vehicle Style: Small sports sedan
Price: $38,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 197kW/350Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol | 6sp manual
Fuel Economy claimed: 9.2 l/100km | tested: 10.5 l/100km
Born as a rally-bred sports sedan in 1994, the WRX has become an icon. It may have lost its way there for a while, but this fourth-generation returns genuine greatness to the ‘Rex’ badge.
Prices dropped to greet the sedan-only range released two years ago, and buyers flocked. They keep on coming – with 2842 WRX models shifted so far this year (to October 2015) it has jumped the Toyota 86 coupe (2600 units) to become the best selling sub-$80,000 sports car.
We’re testing the $39K standard manual here to see if a mildly tweaked WRX still has the on-road muscle and all-round ability to match its popularity.
- Standard equipment: cruise control, power windows and mirrors, keyless entry, multi-function trip computer, climate control air conditioning, auto-off headlights
- Infotainment: 6.2in colour screen with USB/AUX inputs, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and six speakers
- Cargo volume: 460 litres
The Subaru WRX has never offered premium interior quality and the latest model is no different.
The dashboard plastics and tactility of the controls are more in the realm of the sub-$25K Impreza on which the WRX is heavily based. However the new infotainment system, surrounded by more stylish gloss-black trim, significantly improves the cabin.
The touchscreen system is clear and easy to operate, even showing album art on the display when your music player is hooked up through the USB port. Only the $44,890 WRX Premium gets integrated satellite navigation and Pandora music app connectivity, though.
There’s another reason to consider the WRX Premium – seat comfort. The cloth-trimmed WRX buckets are flat and lack tilt-adjustment, leaving your left thigh in the air when operating the clutch pedal. The leather-trimmed WRX Premium gets multi-way electric adjustment that resolves this issue.
The highlight of both WRX grades is the chunky, if oddly square-shaped, steering wheel. Along with a slick-shifting manual transmission (see below) it connects the driver to the sporting action without any superfluous frills.
Compared with similarly priced five-door hot-hatchbacks such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI, the four-door WRX has more rear-seat legroom but lacks niceties such as map lights, a centre armrest, and air-vents.
The sedan scores with boot space, though, its 460-litre volume eclipsing any hatch.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 197kW/350Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
- Transmission: Six-speed manual, all wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, independent rear
- Brakes: Ventilated front, and solid rear discs
- Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering, turning circle: 10.8m
Side gills, a quad exhaust and bonnet scoop signal this WRX generation’s intent, and the new 18-inch alloy wheels add a welcome finishing touch to the chunky, if not fashionable sports sedan.
The Dunlop Sport Maxx brand of tyre remains with this update, however the new 18s are wider (245mm v 235mm) and have a lower profile (40 aspect v 45 aspect). In short, there’s slightly more grip than before.
The WRX lacks the urban polish of a Golf GTI, and that will sit just fine with many.
Both 2.0-litre turbos make 350Nm of torque, but the Subaru doesn’t deliver that peak until 2400rpm versus 1500rpm for the Volkswagen.
What you lose in linearity – there is a whisker more turbo lag at the bottom the rev range – you win back with a boostier mid-range that extends to an eager top end.
The WRX holds its peak torque strong until 5200rpm (the Golf does only to 4400rpm) before handing the baton over to a 197kW power output delivered at 5600rpm (GTI: 162kW at 4500-6200rpm).
Subaru claims a 6.0-second 0-100km/h for the manual WRX, three-tenths faster than the optional automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) and a half-second quicker than the Golf GTI.
If anything the WRX feels even quicker, despite the reasonably hefty 1469kg kerb weight. Backed by a slick six-speed manual with among the tightest ratios of any modern car, this brilliant drivetrain gels with the equally superb dynamics.
The WRX boasts the best steering of any Subaru in recent memory. It is beautifully measured, points accurately, and provides the right feedback as the road surface changes.
However, as is expected with an all-wheel-drive vehicle, the front-end of the WRX can feel blunt, lacking a little of the fluidity of the new breed of ultra-sharp front-drive hatchbacks.
Come in too hot with too much corner-entry speed, and it will understeer. Turn-in patience soon delivers rewards however, because you can open it up on full boost early into a corner and slingshot away with a hint of oversteer no front-driver can match.
The latest WRX feels both connected and fast. Even its ride comfort rates as quite firm, but disciplined, and certainly more than tolerable – a real jackpot.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 35.85 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Seven airbags including dual-front, front-side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee, ABS, ESC, reverse-view camera.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Only a Commodore SS will eclipse the WRX for performance for the price, though you’ll pay for it at the fuel pump. A Megane RS 265 is a similarly focused, but three-door-only proposition. The Golf GTI, of course, is the superb all-rounder, as is the Focus ST that is the value pick in the class.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Subaru WRX places among the fastest and finest-handling cars you will find for under $40,000.
This four-door sedan offers premium all-wheel-drive mechanicals for nix, so don’t go also looking for premium interior quality and refinement at this price.
If you really want some premium-ness, there’s always the actual WRX Premium for a few thousand dollars more, though it’s more of a features-hit than quality-boost.
With its improved looks and infotainment system, the Subaru WRX is at the top of its game and continues to deserve its sales popularity.
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