The new WRX proves that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Base price: $54,990.
Powertrain and performance: 2.5-litre turbo petrol four, 197kW/215Nm, continuously variable transmission (SLT), four-wheel drive, Combined economy 8.6 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 6.3 seconds.
Vital statistics: 4595mm long, 1475mm high, luggage capacity 460 litres, fuel tank 60 litres, 17-inch alloy wheels.
We like: Performance punch, tenacious handling, surprisingly good automatic transmission.
We don’t like: Interior still feels downmarket, manual still suits this kind of car better.
How it rates: 9/10
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? Subaru New Zealand launched the all-new WRX this year with a twist: it’s keen to leave all of the boy-racer baggage behind, so it’s marketing the car more as a sophisticated performance machine than a turbo tearaway. It’s even available with an automatic transmission.
That said, the WRX recipe has not changed a great deal. It’s still based on the Impreza (although it no longer wears that name), it still has a turbocharged engine and it still relies on four-wheel drive for its cornering prowess.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE? The WRX still has spoilers and scoops and it still has a bit of a wild side. The 2.5-litre turbo powerplant might have lost that boxer warble (although it remains a horizontally opposed engine) and it’s quite refined at low speed, but things get pretty intense when it really winds up past 4000rpm.
Perhaps more so with the optional automatic transmission. The two-pedal gearbox is a continuously variable unit called Subaru Lineartronic Transmission (SLT), which seems totally at odds with the character of a performance car on paper.
But in practice it’s very entertaining, particularly under heavy acceleration. Put your foot right down and the SLT spins the engine up to high revs, then holds it as the car gathers pace at surreal speed. It’s often said that CVT – sorry, SLT – isn’t suitable for enthusiast-oriented cars, but the WRX is cause to think again.
Put the car into sports mode and the SLT will mimick an eight-speed gearbox – you can even change ‘gears’ via the steering wheel-mounted shift paddles. It’s not entirely convincing but it does add an extra dimension for the driver.
For the record, the WRX SLT is slightly more economical but slightly slower than the manual version. But there’s very little in it.
Purists will probably still want the manual of course, and not just for the obvious reasons. The manual WRX has a viscous limited-slip differential at the centre of its all-wheel drive system, whereas the SLT version has an electronic torque distribution setup.
But really, there’s nothing in it on the road and both WRXs have fantastic steering, phenomenal traction and a real sense of agility. This model can still be aggressive like the WRX models of years gone by, but there’s a newfound refinement underpinning it all. When you want to play it’s loud and leery, but when you don’t it’ll sit quietly in the corner and not speak unless spoken to.
IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH? Interior design and quality was never a WRX strong point. Still isn’t, although the latest model is generations ahead of the car it replaces. The ergonomics are good but there’s still an undertone of the aftermarket inside the WRX, with its tiny information screen set too high up in the console and a large modular head unit taking care of audio and sat-nav.
Still, Subaru has made every effort to endow the WRX with the requisite number of comfort and convenience features for a performance sedan circa-2014.
The Premium model as tested here has automatic headlights and wipers, power sunroof, leather upholstery, power-adjustable driver’s seat, keyless entry/start, satellite navigation and Harman Kardon sound system.
SHOULD I BUY ONE? The WRX still seems a bit old-school in some respects, but it looks the part and the dynamic package is stunningly good. The performance is ferocious yet linear, the chassis grippy yet agile.
In short, the WRX is still the performance-car bargain that it always was. Just in a more slightly grown-up way. Slightly.
Air conditioning: Climate
Audio: CD, iPod compatible
Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/yes
Blind spot warning: No
Cruise control: Yes
Driver footrest: Yes
Head-up display: No
Heated/ventilated seats: No
Keyless entry/start: Yes/Yes
Lane guidance: No
Leather upholstery: Yes
Parking radar: Yes with camera
Power boot or tailgate: No
Power seat adjustment/memory: Yes/No
Remote audio controls: Yes
Satellite navigation: Yes
Seat height adjustment: Yes
Self-parking technology: No
Split/folding rear seats: 60/40
Steering reach adjustment: Yes
Trip computer: Yes
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