By Derryn Wong
Read ahead to our Japan Strikes Back feature in CarBuyer Issue 223 and you’ll probably reminisce a day when the Rising Sun was at the forefront of almost everything: compact hatches, sedans, SUVs, MPVs and yes, even high-performance cars.
There was a time when you couldn’t leave a red light without hearing a boomy inline four belonging to a tuned-up Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution or the bassy rort of a Subaru Impreza WRX.
Those days have gone though, along with the dominance of the Japanese – but as you’ll read in our feature, they might be on the horizon once again.
But to get back to erstwhile icons, it’s been a long time – about four years – since we last got our hands on a WRX. ‘WRX’ incidentally, is what you’ll call it, since it’s lost the Impreza moniker. The engineering relation is still strong though, as the WRX runs on the bones of the fourth-generation Subaru Impreza.
WRXes have always gone the bruiser route when it comes to looks: Add fins, bulges and scoops until you get something that’s rather in your face and almost punk-like. It’s actually become quite refreshing, in comparison to the more laid back German and Korean offerings, and what with everybody four-door-coupe-this and sleek-fastback-that.
Steroid-laden looks aside, over the garden-variety Impreza, the WRX gets additional body reinforcement to stiffen things up and of course, a turbocharged flat-four engine, from the same family (codenamed FA) as the one powering the Forester Turbo and the BR-Z.
The figures are very impressive – 270bhp and 350Nm is nothing to sniff at, even in this day and age, keeping in mind that a VW Golf GTI (the spiritual successor to the WRX, some say) has only 211bhp.
Without the weight of a Forester to blunt the engine’s generous power and torque, the car leaps forward at almost every opening. But this isn’t a good thing, since it means the initial pedal response is rather alarming until you get used to it, and it’s the same no matter what drive mode you choose.
Subaru’s SI selectable throttle/shift map now works in conjunction with the ‘Lineartronic’ continuously-variable transmission. The latter will surely be a sticking point for anyone remotely interested in sporty driving (a six-speed manual is available on indent from dealer MotorImage) in our single day with the WRX, the lack of a manual gearbox was mentioned four times by four different people.
In Sport or Normal mode, the CVT has six shift points you can engage via the steering-wheel paddles, which rises to eight in S# (Sport Sharp). The CVT does a great impression of a conventional automatic gearbox, in that you can feel it shift the virtual gears as it hits one preset and then another, but there’s a hint of lag (or rubber-banding) endemic to CVTs that simply can’t be hidden.
Still, it can’t overcome the brawny engine, and the WRX still leaps forward rapidly upon command. It’s genuinely quick, but this time round the boxer soundtrack is a bit more muted, sadly, which means another WRX plus point is reduced, and one offset by the presence of tyre noise in the cabin.
Ride and handling are commendably impressive. The car feels setup for sporty driving, and it communicates what you’re driving over with plenty of directness but also avoids degenerating into a crash-fest. It’s agile too, with a very positive front-end feeling, it can easily be encouraged to the proper line without too much effort. At speed, hard corners don’t faze the WRX, with the slightest scrub of the tyres it eases towards the apex, fuss-free.
Another plus point for the WRX is that its ergonomically sound as a pound – not only is it very easy to get a good driving position, when you’re going quickly, the sport seats (fabric, which is good) hold you firmly, while the major controls are all logical and easy to reach. Even more of plus is that it offers very good visibility thanks to a thin A-pillar and proper rear windscreen.
This time round the WRX also comes with some interesting bits on the interior too, such as a crisp, active display embedded in the instruments, and a central driving information panel which can show a nifty AWD diagram or live boost gauge. Less convincing are some of the plastics, which are obviously plasticky, and the faux carbon fibre trim, which even Toyota couldn’t get right in the 86.
While the CVT detracts quite a bit from the fun of driving the WRX, it’s plain to see that the car still does some things right. Opt for a manual transmission and we’re willing to bet that it’ll deliver what it always has, since the WRX is rife with the feeling that Subaru’s engineers simply took the sedan and chucked as much performance in it as they could without making it outrageously expensive. All things remaining the same, the WRX still tops the horsepower-per-dollar comparison with nearly 270bhp for less than $180k.
NEED TO KNOW
Engine 1,998cc, 16V, turbocharged horizontally-opposed 4
Power 268bhp at 5600rpm
Torque 350Nm at 2400-5200rpm
Gearbox 7-speed CVT
Top Speed 250km/h
0-100km/h 6.3 seconds
Fuel efficiency 8.6L/100km
Price $177,600 with COE
Also Consider: Kia Koup Turbo, Volkswagen Golf GTI