With the crackle of Nicky Grist’s rapid-fire voice and Collin McRae’s ability to flick an Impreza WRX around the narrowest of corners, a following for the street-ready 'Rex' was born. Its metallic blue paint and gold alloy wheels brought a gravel-smashing and tarmac-bashing four-pot screamer into the hands of those short of Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon V8 money.
It garnered a lot of respect on the road too, and a nod shared between passing drivers ‘in the club’ confirmed you were driving something special.
While some of the car’s initial shine has worn off along with the Impreza badge, the current fourth-generation machine is a return to form for the model that drifted off in both design and ability. And we’re now towards the end of the current generation vehicle’s lifecycle before it goes in for another overhaul.
Clad in heritage Subaru metallic blue paint on a staunch small sedan bodystyle with protruding bonnet scoop and manual transmission our latest road test vehicle encapsulates the original classic, but in more ways than it should.
The MY18 WRX update brings only a light refreshment before the new model that’s due in 2019 and the all-wheel drive sedan-only model remains available with either a six-speed manual or $3200 cost-option CVT.
While the more efficient CVT is the only way to add Subaru’s Eyesight safety system that brings features including collision mitigation, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist and blind spot protection, it’s also 0.3 second slower sprinting from 0-100km/h than the manual's 6.0-second dash.
The stick shift is also the best way to extract the car’s raw nature.
Standard features are light-on and include 18-inch alloy wheels, corner following LED headlights, LED fog lamps and rain-sensing wipers. The Premium grade is $6400 dearer than the standard WRX and adds an electric sunroof, heated and electrically adjustable front seats, satellite navigation, leather trim and Harmon/Kardon sound system.
Fine tuning for the end-of-lifecycle update brings larger Jurid brake pads that provide 20 per cent better efficiency, recalibrated steering and retuned fixed rate damper suspension for added compliance and improved stability.
- Standard equipment: leather trim, electric sunroof, heated front seats, cruise control, power windows and mirrors, keyless entry, multi-function trip computer, climate control air conditioning, automatic headlights
- Infotainment: 6.2in colour screen with USB/AUX inputs, satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and Harmon/Kardon sound system
- Cargo volume: 460 litres
Inside, the WRX has fallen away from the latest Impreza platform and its new interior architecture is showing its age. Reminiscent of the original model’s design and layout the Premium grade adds nicer interior appointments over the standard model such as black leather trim with red stitching and heated electric front seats, but some of the switch gear feels aftermarket and the slightly larger 6.2-inch infotainment system lacks the ease of use, crisp resolution and smartphone connectivity – namely Apple CarPlay and Android Auto - of rivals. The Harmon/Kardon speaker system makes up for some of the cons though and gives a punchy vibrant sound when Bluetooth streaming.
Above the infotainment system the dash-integrated multi-function display has grown to 5.9-inches wide and provides a clearer look at engine vitals such as boost pressure and oil temperature.
Elsewhere Subaru has added some new plastic trim and glossy carbon-fibre inserts and the quality of materials in the latest model feels that bit better than before.
While less appealing and fussier in design than the front-wheel driven Volkswagen Golf GTI or Hyundai i30 N it lacks only in connectivity compared to the all-wheel drive Ford Focus RS that also shows some grey hairs inside, and doesn’t have the fine seat adjustment and driver’s position of the WRX.
The steering wheel blends a narrow gauge and chunky grips for a sporty sculpture in the hands and the aluminium pedals are well set out underfoot. The negative out of all of the touch points is the manual transmission that doesn’t feel as nice to grip and throw.
For a small sedan though it’s a roomy cabin, and the seats up front offer some helpful bolstering that aren’t as in-your-face as the STI’s Recaro bucket items. The boot is a useful 460 litres large too and with the optional roof rack system the WRX, while not available in a wagon anymore, can confidently haul a couple of boards and passengers up backcountry roads.
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
The WRX continues its homage with a driveline that’s setup for powering on rather than muddling in traffic and while that doesn’t match the abilities of most rivals, it doesn’t compromise much of what a performance car buyer wants.
But slow speed commuting and negotiating the peak hour grind is a chore. The manual transmission has a sticky throw that’s tiresome and whines, and it’s hard to pick when the heavy clutch will engage, giving inconsistent feedback and a tricky shuffle in stop-start traffic.
The ride is also firm without much compliance over worn roads where the thin 225/40 Dunlop Sport Maxx tyres give a slightly brittle ride along with some tyre roar. It isn’t a back-breaking compromise and the WRX will cruise without fuss over highways and nicer surfaces, but it fails to smooth out some scuttle beneath.
However, come onto a fast-flowing bit of road and the driveline feels cohesive with plenty of predictable grip from those Dunlop loops. The all-wheel drive system has improved over the previous generation WRX and provides predicable front-wheel pull though less playful in engagement compared to Ford hot hatch.
But the WRX can be coaxed into playing at the rear and on wet or gravel surfaces the viscous central differential and rear Torsen limited slip diff give a wiggle of oversteer when provoked out of corners. Loose surface poise is also impressive and there’s plenty of reassuring grip when gently throttling around fast bends in ode to the rally gods.
The engine suffers from a torque gap low in its rev range around traffic, but brings a raw performance flavour when given some stick and above 2500rpm the turbocharged 2.0-litre engine gets in its stride. It’s a wide meaty torque band and the whine, whistles and grunts from the driveline that intrude make-up with character what they lack in polish.
The larger brake pads fall under stiff modulation but didn’t break a sweat during heavier moments, and the recalibrated steering offers a quick rack and accuracy with a slightly firmer feel and feedback that again isn’t as well suited to urban life but feels good when driving quickly.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 35.85 out of 37 possible points when tested in 2014.
Safety features: Seven airbags including dual-front, front-side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee, ABS, ESC, reverse-view camera.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres
Servicing: Service intervals occur every 6 months or 10,000km (whichever occurs first). The maximum six service intervals over the first three years is capped at $2333.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The WRX’s sub-$50k starting price puts it on par with the Golf GTI which is a comprehensively more sophisticated package, however, it lacks all-wheel drive and the ability to carve up beaten roads as gracefully.
The Hyundai i30N is a brand-new entrant that has impressed our office against both the WRX and GTI. The Korean manufacturer has brought its most potent performance variant to Australia at under $40,000 and the manual-only model doesn’t suffer for lack of connectivity or safety technology.
With the premium pack added the price of the WRX approaches the $50,990 Ford Focus RS that has a smart, predictable all-wheel drive system and powerful 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It isn’t as nice inside though, and the restricted seating position isn’t for everyone.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The latest update for the WRX that will see us through until the new generation arrives is a fine hoorah to the original concept. Some charismatic flaws and punching highs encapsulate what has made Subaru’s rally-bred car a cult classic and some of those – a conventional handbrake lever, snorting driveline and even the manual transmission – might be on the chopping block.
But if you’re not up for a bit of effort to drive it every day newer contenders are easier to live with and just as capable.
- Interested in buying Subaru WRX? Visit our Subaru showroom for more information.