A little more than twenty years ago, Subaru launched the WRX – a car that would soon become an icon by way of its success on the world rallying stage. Four generations later, the Fuji Heavy Industries subsidiary claims that not only has the WRX’s performance been improved, but also its day-to-day ability. We tested these claims at Subaru Southern Africa’s launch of the latest version at the Nasrec expo centre in Johannesburg.
A new look that’s not overly aggressive
Subaru’s engineers started the improvements by stripping the WRX to its framework. The A-pillar was shifted forward to allow for more cabin space, while the strategic employment of high-strength steel in certain locations have helped make the WRX stiffer and safer than before.
On the outside, what’s immediately noticeable is that the new WRX doesn’t appear as extroverted as its predecessors. Sure, there’s still a bonnet scoop and boot spoiler, but these items are not so gaudy that they give the WRX’s game away too much. Up front, the rounded nose that was exhibited on the previous sedan and hatchback has given way to a chiselled maw with squared-off corners. The 17-inch alloys look decidedly small, but are housed in chunky fenders, while quad tailpipes provide a hint as to what lies beneath.
Improved interior quality
Inside, the WRX’s perceived quality has been turned up a few notches thanks to a slightly different layout and new soft-touch surfaces. Familiar are the gear lever, instruments and audio system, but the cabin also gets carbon-fibre aping trim that splits the facia, a new multifunction steering wheel, and a switchable display that either offers the driver information about the WRX’s fuel consumption or how the symmetrical all-wheel drive system is operating. It can also be used as a digital boost gauge.
The driver’s seat is electrically adjustable and the steering column can be manually adjusted for rake and reach, so most people should find a comfortable driving position. That said, I did feel as if I wasn’t able to find a position low enough for my liking.
New engine, new experience
The WRX is powered by a new turbocharged 2,0-litre horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine that also boasts direct injection. It produces 197 kW and 350 N.m of torque. These are only marginal improvements over the old motor, however the difference in the linear power delivery compared to the old car is certainly noticeable.
Also immediately obvious is how quiet the new boxer engine is. The launch unit I drove was fitted with a sports exhaust system (a R5 000 option) that allowed some aural entertainment – but that offbeat thrum of yore was gone.
Better ride, NVH and handling
The new WRX also rides better than its predecessors, soaking up most of the imperfections of Gauteng’s awful roads and its engineers did their homework in terms of aerodynamics – wind noise, for example, has been dramatically reduced. Some work also went into making the electric power steering more responsive to inputs, but this makes the tiller a bit heavy at lower speeds.
Back at Nasrec, the local media contingent pulled up to the skidpan, where a gymkhana was set up for us to explore some of the WRX famed handling characteristics. These have now been tweaked thanks to the employment of a torque-vectoring system that brakes the front inside wheel while sending more drive the outside. The low-speed course allowed a taste of the WRX’s talents, but more will be revealed when you read our full road test of the WRX that will appear in the June issue of CAR magazine (on sale 26 May).
The WRX has grown up, which is not a bad thing. It’s certainly a lot more comfortable, quieter and more efficient than before. It seems to be slightly more capable than its predecessors. However… the more I thought about it, the more I wished the experience was a little more raw. At least the WRX STI – revealed briefly in the metal during the business presentation before being hidden away again – is not that far off…
Model: Subaru WRX
Price: R449 000
Engine: 2,0-litre, turbopetrol, direct-injection, four-cylinder, horizontally-opposed
Power: 197 kW at 5 600 r/min
Torque: 350 N.m at 2 400 r/min
0-100 km/h: 6,0 seconds
Top speed: 240 km/h
Fuel consumption: 9,2 litres/100 km
CO2: 213 g/km
Maintenance plan: 3 years/75 000 km
*As claimed by Subaru