There was a time when the Subaru WRX was at the head of the pack when it came to bang-for-buck performance saloons. Sure, there was the hardcore STi and buyers could also have looked at a range of German super-saloons for their high-performance four-door kicks – but the WRX didn’t sacrifice much in the way of outright speed and handling combined with usable, everyday practicality.
Of course, it had the brawny image, too, but, as the naughties progressed hot hatches progressively got hotter and the rise of the hyper hatch brought supercar-rivaling performance in a small package right onto the WRX’s doorstep.
So, with buyers favouring hatches and the latest WRX’s performance now considered mild by comparison to some of the hottest of them out there, is there still space for Subaru’s four-door road rocket in buyers’ minds?
What can I expect from the WRX?
It’s undeniable that the WRX still looks the part – suitably but subtly racy, the classic Scooby scoop is as large as ever but more smoothly integrated into the bonnet profile, while the WRX’s low-slung, aggressive body sits on chunky 18-inch rims in gun-metal grey. Behind them are red-painted brake calipers (cheeky hint, if both the front and rear calipers are painted, the model you’re looking at has the six-speed manual gearbox).
Jump inside and the interior is still previous-generation Impreza. This means that the materials lack any outright premium feel and the overall design is not as exciting as you get to enjoy from the outside. There is a nice set of leather-lined, but firm, sports seats, though.
It’s also not perfectly ergonomic, with the controls for the dash-top multifunction display, for example, placed a stretch away between the central air vents. You do get a fancy digital boost gauge, though… A seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system just below provides Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, satnav and Harmon Kardon sound.
Is it loaded with lots of safety features and other nice toys?
However, more significant to the CVT-equipped WRX is the fitment of Subaru’s famed Eyesight electronic safety system. It offers pre-collision braking and throttle management, lane-departure and sway warning and adaptive cruise control. This combines with front and rear-view cameras (no parking sensors), blind-spot monitoring with lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert, seven airbags, and the usual suite of electronic braking and stability aids.
Drivers will also enjoy dual-zone climate control, a power-adjusted driver’s seat, auto wipers and light, adaptive LED head and fog lamps and keyless entry and start.
What’s it like from behind the wheel?
Remember that characteristic Subaru burble – that wump-wump idle that would intensify to a crescendo as the revs rose on boost? Well, it’s long gone and the WRX now only offers a bassy boom that sounds less than inspiring…
The 2,0-litre turbo may be strong on boost – 197 kW and 350 Nm aren’t too shabby – but it misses the character of old. Especially so when coupled to the CVT… You’ll still do 0-100 km/h in 6,3 seconds and top out at 240, but it’s slow to respond in everyday driving and “shifts” in Sport# aren’t an exceptionally enjoyable experience, either.
Where the WRX doesn’t disappoint, though, is when is famed handling comes into the equation. The Symmetrical All-wheel Drive system and active torque vectoring means it just grips and goes no matter how the stability and traction control are set. You can feel the power being shuffled around beneath you – satisfying. There’s good feel through the steering wheel as well, and the brakes are strong.
It does feel good but, maybe, with a manual gearbox, the WRX would be an overall nicer, more exciting, more complete drive…
While these cars are usually bought for their performance credentials, it’s also important they work in the daily grind as well… The ride is as firm as expected but not jarringly so, however noise levels are high and refinement a little low. It’s also thirsty, drinking an average of 13,6 l/100 km during our week with it in very mixed driving (Subaru claims 8,6…).
Should I buy one, or look around?
With hatches being favoured as the family friendly, practical performance cars of choice these days, Subaru should be applauded for still making the WRX. However, the CVT dulls the experience and the interior quality is way down on those rival hatches.
Speaking of which, at R631 400 the WRX lines up against an interesting mix of competition. There’s VW’s all-wheel drive Golf R (R676 000), Honda’s front-wheel drive Civic Type-R (R648 300), or BMW’s rear-wheel drive M140i (R720 540). In fact, the only sedans the WRX really competes against are the R662 000 Audi S3 (also available as a hatch…) or, if you stretch your imagination, the BMW M240i (R725 940) or 330i (R652 416).
That’s a wider variety of – very accomplished – competition that the WRX wouldn’t have had to prove itself against in years gone by. Unfortunately, that makes it even more difficult to choose.
CyberStoep rating: 6,5/10