YOU can thanks the yanks. The current generation Impreza was never intended to be offered in anything but five-door hatch form, but demand for a saloon derivative in the North American market forced Subaru to relent.
And boy, are we glad it did. Truth be told, CAR’s exposure to a hatchback 2,0 R on long-term test has allowed the team to gradually warm to the compact’s looks, but the indifferent performance and soggy handling of its WRX sibling in our January hot hatch track performance test left most of us feeling short-changed.
By contrast, the new four-door Impreza WRX brazenly conjures up nostalgia for the large-winged and gold-wheeled world rally championship-inspired street machines in its lineage.
Sporting a revised mesh-type grille, an overt bonnet scoop, beefy front spoiler and titanium-coloured 17-inch alloys, the newcomer immediately addresses criticism of terminal understatement that befell its predecessor.
The boot section blends in with the pronounced shoulder lines with surprising ease on the eye, and even if everyone won’t be bowled over by the wraparound tail-light cluster designs, the meaty dual exhaust outlets and a purposeful boot spoiler will gain immediate approval from the boy racer and performance nut brigades.
The Subaru’s interior is much the same as that of the hatchback, although there is a smattering of sporty finishes such as WRX logos embossed in the front seat backrests and aluminium pedals with rubber dimples.
Trim material upgrades that have been introduced for the new model year, including a metal-look finish for the forward portion of the centre console, were praised for fit and finish by the team. An optional premium Kenwood audio system with integrated colour-screen satellite navigation was fitted to the test unit, but the sunroof is a standard feature.
There’s no doubt that the Impreza’s received a healthy dose of practicality, too… The boot offers a wide and flat luggage area, which increases significantly when the 60:40 split rear seatback is folded.
Although rear legroom remains a bit tight, the majority of owners are likely to be far more concerned with the driver’s pew, from where they will be able to exploit the WRX’s performance potential.
To that end, the turbocharged 2,5-litre four-cylinder boxer engine in the WRX has been upgraded to produce 195 kW and 343 N.m, with both peak outputs achieved further up the rev range.
These outputs equal the previous generation STi model. The fivespeed manual gearbox has been strengthened, and well it should because when shifting from the first to second during full acceleration the drivetrain will emit a loud mechanical bang, much to the horror of otherwise enthralled first time passengers.
The times achieved during acceleration tests bear testimony to the sheer in-gear flexibility and on-boost grunt of the WRX. But as if the pin-you-in-the-seat performance isn’t enough, the aural delights on tap from the optional sports exhaust system make for compelling listening.
There can be few things in automotive life as memorable as the guttural burble and feral bark of a turbocharged boxer engine. In fact, the WRX virtually implores you to lay in the whip and to do so repeatedly, with incremental vigour.
There is, as always, a caveat. The WRX incorporates several upgrades to improve its handling, such as thicker anti-roll bars, optimised spring rates and a damper to the power-assisted rack and pinion steering for reduced kickback on bumpy roads.
As before, the ride is compliant at low speeds, satisfactory at higher velocities, and the steering is sharp in response and progressive in feel. But don’t be fooled, even for an instant, that the WRX is a cuddly ballistic missile.
The grip limits of the WRX are so lofty that one needs to be either biblically brave or stupendously foolish to attempt to exceed them. The extreme speeds at which traction will degrade into a lurid four-wheel slide will invariably require the utmost of hand/eye reflexes from a skilled driver.
When the symmetrical all-wheel drive re-establishes order, the WRX should preferably be pointing in the correct direction. Inexperienced pilots are best advised to bear with the momentary body roll when committing to a bend and trust the inherent grip as power is fed in.
The brakes have good bite and understeer shouldn’t really intrude unless road conditions are very poor or one well and truly overcooks it.
Picking rivals for the Subaru WRX saloon is tricky, not least because the introduction of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X has been put on hold.
With a price tag of R349 000, the WRX arguably offers enough bang for buck to rival its STi hatchback as a prospective purchase, which is lofty praise in itself.
This WRX will lure back hardcore enthusiasts who seek an undiluted driving experience and boy racer image, but its everyday practicality and relative refinement will also appeal to a more sophisticated, upmarket clientele in search of a bit of edge.
It’s a triumph.