LAUNCHING the manual Subaru WRX in the fastest fashion requires some finesse. Spinning the turbopetrol flat-four to its power peak is easy, but releasing the clutch with just the right amount of slip – that’s tricky.

Get it right and the Subaru lights up all fours with a violent punt as the tachometer races to the rev limit faster than one would expect. Snatching second gear is the next line in the equation and, again, some slip is needed. On to third with a proper snap-shift and the benchmark 0-100 km/h sprint is covered in … 6,12 seconds.

There you have it – a time four-tenths slower than the model it replaces. What gives?

The WRX has grown up, that’s what. And if straight-line performance is all you’re after, you may as well stop reading and wait for the steroidal WRX STI that’ll arrive later this year. Doing that would be a pity, though, because you’d miss out on what defines Subaru’s current range-topping performance car.

In terms of looks, the Japanese manufacturer has got the WRX’s kerbside appeal spot on. The sedan greets you head-on with a square jaw in the form of a wide and right-angled front bumper, and even though it’s not as large as before, the obligatory bonnet scoop adds menace to the frontal aspect.

The squared-off theme is continued along the Subaru WRX’s profile, where bulky fenders and protruding side skirts lend it welcome aggression. A lap of the exterior concludes with a quartet of tailpipes housed in a diffuser below the rear bumper and, in a massive departure from the familiar extroverted wings, the smallest boot spoiler ever sported on a model bearing these hallowed three letters.

Subaru has updated the WRX’s cabin accordingly and gone is the swoopy facia that debuted a generation ago. In fact, the WRX’s cabin reminds us a lot of the current Forester’s.

In an attempt to improve perceived quality, Subaru has used plenty of soft-touch surfaces – the most prominent of which can be found atop the facia and on the upper sections of the door panels. It hasn’t entirely succeeded, and the cabin of an S3 sedan’s in a different league, but quality is definitely up.

The front seats, finished in leather upholstery with red stitching, are sizeable and accommodate larger frames  comfortably. The seatback bolstering is beefy too, which seems at odds with the rather flat cushion.

Centre-facia, a multimedia system carried over from the previous model takes pride of place, but is crowned by a switchable 4,3-inch colour display that relays information about the WRX’s fuel consumption and torque transfer, and doubles as a reverse camera as well as a boost gauge.

With the clutch engaged and the starter button prodded, the new 2,0-litre motor with direct injection burbles to life. The engine note from our particular test unit was amplified through an optional sports exhaust system that is significantly louder than the standard unit.

The meaty clutch requires a strong left leg and the six-speed manual gearbox demands a committed left hand. Furthermore, the electric steering assistance is overly weighty, which can be cumbersome at parking speeds. All this means is that the Subaru WRX isn’t quite as user-friendly as other family-carrying sedans (although there’s sufficient rear-passenger room and up to 1 032 dm3 of utility space). That said, there have been improvements in NVH and on-road comfort, as evidenced by less wind noise and a generally more pliant ride on imperfect surfaces.

Keeping the WRX on boost is an addictive pastime that can easily see the WRX’s average fuel consumption skyrocket. For the record, we achieved 9,6 litres/100 km on our real-world fuel route. During the WRX’s stay at CAR, the average hovered around the 13,0-litre mark.

Point the Subaru WRX in the direction of your favourite twisty road and the fun really begins. The sure-footedness of the symmetrical all-wheel-drive system inspires so much confidence that you can be fooled into overcooking your corner entry.

But not to worry, the WRX can scrub off speed through some commitment to the middle pedal. The latter seems to lack feel – which can be a little disconcerting – but the WRX fared well in our 100 km/h-to-standstill test. After some manhandling of the brake pedal, we recorded an average of 2,84 seconds and a stopping distance of 39,19 metres.

The steering is precise, but it lacks feedback. There’s still some body roll after the WRX has turned in, but less so than in previous versions and, after a hint of understeer, it settles into corners with excellent balance – and at eye-widening speeds. Aim for the exit, nail the throttle and the AWD system does the rest, supplemented by a new torque-vectoring system that brakes the front wheels accordingly to maximise exit speed. The WRX’s ESP system seems less refined and intrusive than those offered on its Teutonic rivals.

The six-speed manual is a little notchy and requires some familiarisation before you can perform snap shifts with confidence. However, get it right, nail the heel-and-toe manoeuv-res that the offset pedal layout encourages, and gear changes are extremely satisfying.

The experience is further heightened by the stiffer suspension setup, made up of revised spring rates, larger anti-roll bars and alloy lower control arms – making the Subaru WRX feel more planted than before. Very little unsettles the sticky 17-inch Dunlop Sport Maxx RT rubber, although we believe they lead to increased road noise over rougher surfaces.

Test Summary

Subaru WRX loyalists from the last two decades have moved on and matured, so Subaru sensibly did the same with its sports sedan. While the upmarket move is welcome, we were left slightly underwhelmed with the WRX’s performance. The minor increase in power and torque does not compensate for the added weight. That said, very little can touch the WRX’s ability when the asphalt starts snaking and the combination of its all-wheel drive and nimble chassis make it a very engaging driver’s tool.

A launch price of R449 000 isn’t especially low, but then neither are the WRX’s cheap. Still, we think it best to wait for the full-fat STI.

Subaru WRX:

Click here for our comparative road test video of the Audi S3 vs the Subaru WRX.

Check out our wallpaper of the Subaru WRX here.



TEST SUMMARY

Not as hard-edged as its predecessors, this new, mature Subaru WRX has its sights set on the premium performance market. But is this what Scooby fans want?