Subaru’s two-pedalled WRX charmer delivers
The CVT version somewhat waters down the performance, but Subaru’s updated WRX still delivers rally-bred handling
The first Impreza WRX (World Rally eXperimental) broke cover in 1992 as a car that shook up the establishment with its rally-bred all-wheel drive system and turbocharged engine, in an era when two-wheel drive and normally-aspirated power were established practice.
Though many performance cars have since joined the all-wheel drive and turbo party, the WRX sports sedan (which has since dropped the Impreza tag) is still unique for its flat-four “boxer” engine which lies low in the bay to reduce the centre of gravity.
I was reminded of just how well this enhances the handling when the latest 2019-spec WRX arrived for a week-long road test.
The car is stupendously fun around corners, and seems to have a special deal with gravity in the way those 245mm Dunlops stay pinned to the road and how the firm suspension resists body roll. The understeery handling characteristics of earlier AWD systems are a distant memory and you can apply the throttle nice and early out of tight corners without this Subaru’s nose running wide.
Partly to thank for this corner-clinging nature is active torque vectoring, which resists understeer by applying slight brake pressure to the inside front wheel - thus preventing it from losing grip - as you begin accelerating out of a bend.
An advanced stability system called Vehicle Dynamics Control adjusts the all-wheel drive torque distribution, engine output and brakes at each wheel to help keep the vehicle hugging curves like an affectionate cat. Subaru’s technical gurus have honed this car into a fine piece of engineering for enthusiast drivers, though the sports suspension makes for a notably firm and choppy ride.
The WRX has been on sale since 2014 and Subaru South Africa has just launched a revised 2019 model with safety and technology upgrades to both the manual and the Lineartronic-CVT auto versions.
Minor cosmetic updates are restricted to striking red brake calipers, and side mirrors finished in satin chrome. Optionally offered are wheel spacers that increase the track by 40mm for a more purposeful stance.
A revised front end crash structure improves safety in frontal collisions, while the CVT version also gets the latest generation of Subaru’s EyeSight driver assistance system, which employs stereo cameras to monitor the road ahead.
The system integrates features like Adaptive Cruise Control, Pre-Collision Braking, Lane Departure and Lane Sway Warning.
Subaru WRX Lineartronic
WE LIKE: Handling, performance, safety
WE DISLIKE: Fuel consumption, initial acceleration
VERDICT: Driver’s car gets improved safety
It warns you when you’re straying from your lane, but unlike some cars it doesn’t provide any autonomous steering assistance. It does, however, have a very effective Pre-Collision system, which proved itself by applying auto emergency braking when a kamikaze pedestrian started to step out in front of the car one day.
The cabin is ageing fairly well five years into the WRX’s lifespan. The leather and soft-touch finishes, while not in the German-car league, are much improved over the cheap-looking interiors of bygone Subarus. Along with a fairly roomy cabin there’s a good mix of sportiness and functionality.
The touchscreen is large and it’s mostly easy to figure out the infotainment system, but on sunny days the screen is too dim and I battled to read the icons.
Both the manual and auto versions of the WRX come packed with safety including front and rear parking cameras, blind spot monitoring, seven airbags, and rear cross traffic alert.
The Lineartronic-CVT model also features Subaru’s Intelligent Drive system (SI-DRIVE) with Sport and Sport Sharp modes that quicken the throttle and gear shift responses.
Continuously variable transmissions have been mercilessly criticised over the years but Subaru’s done good work to make this one feel much like a regular auto. There are programmed steps to simulate gear changes, which does away with the unpleasant engine droning afflicting some CVT cars.
One criticism is that this Subaru’s a bit of a fuel gobbler and our test car averaged around 10.8l per 100km, making a mockery of Subaru’s 8.6l claim.
There’s also not much bite when you thrust the throttle in a standing start. Subaru quotes a 6.3 second 0-100 km/h figure for the CVT version, which is 0.3 seconds slower than the WRX manual, while top speed for both cars is 240km/h.
The vehicle performs briskly once it’s moving and delivers gutsy cruising and overtaking, but that lack of initial bite in pulloff waters down the WRX experience and feels a little milder than you’d expect from a 197kW car.
True performance hounds will still prefer the quicker and more hands-on manual WRX methinks, even though it doesn’t have the EyeSight system. At R581,400 the manual’s also 50k cheaper than the R631,400 CVT.
Still, for those who want two-pedal convenience the CVT doesn’t stray too far from the adrenaline-chasing promise.
Type: Four cylinder turbo petrol
Capacity: 1,998 cc
Power: 197kW @ 5,600 r/min
Torque: 350Nm @2,400-5,200 r/min
Type: Lineartronic CVT automatic
Type: Full-time all-wheel drive with variable torque distribution between front and rear axle
Top speed: 240km/h
0-100km/h: 6.3 seconds
Fuel consumption: 8.6 l/100km (claimed); 10.8l/100km (as tested)
Emissions: 199 g/km
LED headlamps with cornering function and daytime running lights, electric mirrors, dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, leather seats, leather sports steering wheel, height- and reach-adjustable steering, electrically adjustable driver’s seat, keyless entry with push button start, Harman Kardon 440w audio system, Satnav with TomTom mapping, multi-function display with turbo boost gauge, 18cm touch screen infotainment system with bluetooth hands-free functionality and USB/aux inputs, Apple CarPlay & Android Auto connectivity, EyeSight safety system, front and reversing cameras, seven airbags, active torque vectoring, ABS brakes, Vehicle Dynamics Control.
Warranty: Five years/150,000km
Maintenance plan: Three years/75,000km
Lease*: R13,510 per month
* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit
MOTOR NEWS star rating
Design * * * *
Performance * * * *
Economy * * *
Safety * * * *
Value For Money * * * *
Overall * * * *
Audi S3 Sedan quattro, 228kW/400Nm - R662,000
Honda Civic Type R, 228kW/400Nm - R648,300
Renault Megane RS 280 Lux, 205kW/390Nm - R549,900
VW Golf GTI, 169kW/350Nm - R558,000
VW Golf R, 228kW/400Nm - R676,000
Volvo V40 T5 Momentum, 180kW/350Nm - R616,866