CAPE TOWN – Some 13 years ago, a fellow motoring enthusiast and I began to frequent a local investment car dealership over the weekends. Here, we had the chance to get up close and personal with all sorts of interesting vehicles. And, when given the "okay" from the manager, we would climb into the sharply styled (mostly red and yellow) sports cars on the floor. However, the car that demanded much of our attention was a metallic blue sedan fitted with gold wheels and a large rear spoiler. It was, of course, a first-generation Subaru WRX STi.
Over the years, the WRX has, like the schoolboys above, matured, something we made mention of in the June 2014 edition of CAR magazine when we tested the latest (fourth-generation) model. Recently, this sports sedan was given another small update. The changes include the addition of EyeSight driver assistance technology, a few minor cosmetic alterations and a little extra standard equipment.
To sample this revised version, I hopped onto the N2, initiated "Intelligent" mode for optimised efficiency and headed in the direction of the coastal town of Kleinmond, not far from Cape Town.
On the highway, the new EyeSight technology works seamlessly. After "locking on" to the car in front, a green light displays on the windscreen. This reassures me of the car's cruise control status. The WRX follows said vehicle, smoothly accelerating and braking when necessary. Although Subaru enthusiasts may see this as a disconnected driving experience, EyeSight does ensure a less stressful and potentially safer commute, especially in traffic. Pre-collision throttle management and braking, plus lane departure and sway warnings, are other features included in this system. With my distrust in the machine now something of the past, my right foot is no longer hovering above the brake pedal.
The leather cabin, complete with red contrast stitching, features plenty of standard spec, too. Atop the dash, you'll find a 5,9-inch screen that displays vehicle information (such as fuel consumption) and even a boost gauge. Press the toggle between the air vents and the front-facing camera's feed is displayed. The reverse camera's feed, meanwhile, is shown on the seven-inch infotainment system in the centre console. This system offers Bluetooth connectivity, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, while satellite navigation is included, too.
The most notable addition to the cabin is the 440 watt Harman Kardon sound system, which provides a clear sound through seven speakers. A soft burble from the quad tailpipes can, of course, still be heard every so often.
The 2,0-litre turbopetrol found under that imposing bonnet-scoop remains unchanged. So the four-pot boxer still punches out 197 kW and 350 N.m of torque, which in this model is sent to all four corners via a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-Drive) modes include the aforementioned "I" setting, as well as Sport (S) and SportSharp (S#). The latter can be activated only once the engine is sufficiently warmed up ... but it's worth the wait.
As the road opens up, the car accelerates and I disengage the adaptive cruise control. Now in Sport mode, it seems as though the exhaust note is a couple of decibels louder. However, when the plateau of S-mode’s yellow curve (displayed on a 3,5-inch screen between an analogue rev-counter and speedometer, which I prefer to a digital item) is reached, the soundtrack seems similar to that of the more restrained I-mode.
CVT ... is it still fun?
Seeing that it's a sunny Spring day, I decide to tackle the twists and turns of Clarence Drive. I press the button marked "S#" on the thick, flat-bottom steering wheel and point the nose at the first corner. Here the symmetrical all-wheel-drive system provides me with ample confidence. You don’t have to be going frighteningly fast to have fun in this car.
The WRX is fitted with 18-inch wheels in a gun-metal hue. However, this car features only two red brake callipers (up front) compared with the manual's four (at each corner). On this newly tarred road, the ride is suitably smooth. I open the sunroof and the now-louder exhaust note adds to the thrill. Arriving at my destination, the soundtrack garners some attention from pedestrians.
Subtle styling tweaks
Scooby fans would probably have noticed the subtle revisions made to the front-end. More noticeable, especially in this shimmering Crystal Pearl White paintwork, is the sports body kit (standard in the WRX range). A front under-spoiler, side-skirts and a rear diffuser lend the WRX an even more imposing stance.
Subaru enthusiasts seeking a more relaxed (but still aggressive looking) sports sedan capable of cruising in traffic or tackling corners, have an interesting option in this subtly updated derivative. Sure, the WRX is ageing, but it's still a properly engaging thing to drive.
For the die-hard manual-lovers, of course, there's the WRX manual and the full-fat STi (or even the limited Diamond Edition model). The EyeSight technology, which pleasantly surprised me, is however found only on the CVT version ... not that the purists would care.
Author: Marius Boonzaier