Is the new Subaru WRX the best performance car under 40k?
The 2015 Subaru WRX is an attempted return to form for an icon that made the word ‘Rex’ a household name in Australia.
A smaller engine, an additional gear for the manual gearbox, the introduction of a CVT auto, and the ditching of the alternative hatch body style are the front-page headlines for the new Subaru WRX.
Nonetheless, unlike the early 1990s when the Rex was the only credible choice for performance fans with about $40,000 to spend (discounting the V8s), these days the competition is fierce and determined.
A 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder ‘boxer’ engine replaces the former 2.5 turbo though the new direct-injection unit pumps out a healthy 197kW and 350Nm – managing incremental improvements of 2kW and 7Nm. (But perhaps a deliberate act to keep the upcoming Subaru WRX STI solely in the 200kW-plus club?)
The interior remains largely the same as the base model Impreza and its SUV cousin, the XV, which is disappointing . There are attempts to differentiate the WRX, such as the hugging sport seats, carbonfibre-like trims and a rather gorgeous D-shaped steering wheel, though the company’s previous claim that the WRX and WRX STI would effectively be stand-alone models from the standard Impreza seems largely unjustified.
From the outside, too, it looks like a hotted-up Impreza. It’s certainly not ugly (at least by Subaru standards) and some would even call it quirky, in a nice way. Though there are only a few body panels that are interchangeable with its naturally aspirated cousin, it’s obvious where the 2015 Subaru WRX gets its underpinnings.
One part Rex fans will be delighted isn’t changed is the price. The WRX has famously kept its $39,990 price tag since it launched in 1994, but the fourth-generation version actually drops by $1000 to $38,990 for the base manual.
Subaru should be credited for creating a car that is substantially better than all its predecessors and now at a lower cost, but look deep at the specifications and you’ll quickly realise where the cuts were made.
The stereo system in the base model remains basic at best, with no colour screen and not even an attempt to modernise the system. The only obvious benefit is that it is a double-din unit that is easily removed, allowing owners to upgrade with ease.
Though the brakes are better in some ways – upgraded to 12.4 inches from 11.6, with thickness increased by 6mm to 30mm – they now use a floating (instead of a fixed) caliper design, which means instead of four-piston brakes (two on each side), there’s now a single piston brake on one side.
The wheels, too, have remained a puny 17-inches in size, which not only look small in relation to the sedan’s size but are outmatched by rivals. Again, the benefit here is you can upsize them yourself and don’t have to pay Subaru for larger wheels you might not even like.
Negatives aside, the 2015 Subaru WRX is the best Rex yet – and it’s hard to emphasis just how much better it is than the previous car.
Subaru Australia held the car’s launch in Tasmania, which is the home of the renowned Targa road rally and thus an appropriate location for a car that made its name in the World Rally Championship (WRC).
Behind the wheel of a six-speed manual WRX, the 2.0-litre boxer engine provides excellent acceleration both off the line and in-gear. In many ways it almost negates the need for modification, though many WRX owners will of course continue to find ways of finding extra performance.
For those who care about 0-100km/h times, the new WRX’s 6.0 second figure (6.3sec for the CVT) might seem like a lack of progress, though it’s gearing rather than the engine to blame.
First and second gears are shorter than before, meaning you have to lose time upshifting into third before reaching 100km/h.
There will undoubtedly be some complaints, though Subaru has done this to create better gear ratios for second and third – and overcome the issue that plagued the previous three generations, where on mountain roads you would be stuck right at the top of second or in third without boost down low.
Now some corners are clearly best tackled in second and some in third. The ability to accelerate hard out of a bend in the right gear more frequently is well and truly worth a small sacrifice in 0-100km/h times. In fact, it means the new WRX is quicker than its predecessors where it really matters.
The gearbox itself is easy to operate and the pedal position makes heel-and-toe an easy task. Modifiers should be aware that this is not the same gearbox as the STI and Subaru’s head engineer for the WRX confirmed to CarAdvice that it’s the same strength as the previous-generation’s transmission.
But it’s not just the new gearbox’s additional gear and better ratios (which is unique to the WRX only) that makes it so good around bends, it’s the whole package. Subaru has substantially improved the new WRX’s body rigidity, suspension setup and overall stiffness.
It’s surprisingly comfortable both in the front or rear seats (settling over bumps and floating over the harsh stuff), but throw it into a corner and its confidence-inspiring poise genuinely feels like a previous-generation STI. It sits flat with barely any body roll and the grip from the super sticky (but very noisy) Dunlop SP Sport MAXX tyres is substantial.
Better still, the steering ratio is now quicker (14.5:1) and though it lacks a bit of feel right on centre, push it hard into a bend and the feedback is superb with the ability to quickly negotiate a few bends with less turn making the driving experience that little bit more enjoyable.
Subaru Australia informed us that our test cars were pre-production models (though they will all be given to dealers to be sold), which meant some oddities arose while testing. For example, one of the four cars we drove had basically no brakes after a short spirited drive, while another felt like it had carbon-ceramics that showed no fade whatsoever. The other two were somewhere in between, but it was obvious the brakes weren’t the WRX’s strong point.
The WRX in manual form is superb; in CVT form, not so much. Though Subaru Australia says the automatic transmission will widen the car’s appeal (and it may be right), the driveability is entirely different.
The CVT WRX feels much slower and sluggish through corners and in a straight line (though the speedometer would disagree). There’s no sense of engagement and it’s disappointing Subaru is yet another Japanese car maker to ignore the benefits of a dual-clutch auto.
It’ll be more than good enough around town, but if you want to have a bit of fun (a high priority for all WRX buyers, we’d think) it would be madness not to pick the new six-speed manual, particularly given how much better it is compared to the previous five-speed (and you’ll save $2000).
Subaru will offer the WRX in two grades, which you can read about here, but we think the base model manual at $38,990 is the pick.
Overall, discounting the ageing and unresolved Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart, the new Subaru WRX remains the only genuine performance car under $40K that delivers a turbocharged engine with an all-wheel drive system.
The new Rex uses the same crucial ingredients that made it an instant classic 20 years ago, but it’s now faster, safer, better packaged and even cheaper than ever before. It’s a credible choice again.