The Subaru WRX has long been on the wish list of young men and women across Australia. Since it burst onto the scene more than 20 years ago, it's remained one of the most affordable bundles of fun on the market.
The WRX seemed to mirror the awkwardness of a teenager going through puberty, suffering a bit of a style crisis in previous generations before finding its groove again in this fourth-generation car.
This Subaru has a rally heritage that can't be argued with, and this turbocharged all-wheel-drive, road-going rally weapon is priced at $38,990 (before on-road costs). Considering that at the height of its cult status in the late 90's/early 00's it was priced just over $40,000, you have to ask why this is.
With other manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Volkswagen all offering 2.0-litre four-cylinder, turbo charged, all-wheel-drive pocket rockets with more modern technology and engineering, but at a far higher price, Subaru is smart to keep the price low, particularly given that not much has changed under the window dressing in a while. It's as rustic and rough as ever, yet still puts a big smile on your face.
The WRX has been through some ups and downs over the year, the changes made to the body shape not going down well at times with fans. But the fourth-gen marks a return to form. It's only available in a sedan body and is more angular and aggressive than the previous incarnation.
It looks the goods, style-wise, with boxy wheel arches surrounding the standard 18-inch wheels, a sleek air-scoop in the bonnet and a subtle spoiler sitting on the back. There are seven colours available right across the range, with our test car coated in 'pure red'.
It only scores halogen daytime running lights, but the headlights are LED with auto-off function, and the rear light combo also having LEDs.
Under the bonnet lies what all the fuss has always been about with this car. A 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged Boxer engine teamed with a six-speed manual transmission, churning out 197kW and 350Nm. Every other variant in the line-up scores the 2.5-litre engine.
Some long overdue changes have been made inside, with the entry-level WRX getting a 6.2-inch touch screen, while there is now a 7-inch unit in the Premium and STI models.
A reverse view camera is now standard across the range, as well as phone and audio connectivity. But if you want satellite navigation or music internet apps like Pandora then you'll need to look beyond the base trim level. There's USB and auxiliary points too.
The rest of the cabin is quite spartan and basic, but it feels sporty with a racing feel thanks to the bright red backlighting for the instrument cluster gauges, comfortable and supportive sports bucket seats (cloth) with red stitching, sports pedals, and carbon fibre effect trims along the dash. Some materials and finishes seem to be a little lacklustre but the overall effect is better than before.
Nestled above the centre stack is a smaller screen that flips through a range of vehicle information including boost gauge, air-conditioning, fuel economy and even a screen that displays both a digital and analogue clock. The steering wheel and gear shift are leather-wrapped, adding to the much improved vibe in the cabin.
There's plenty of storage too; room for bottles in the doors, cupholders and a decent sized storage nook behind the gear shift. Space for rear passengers isn't incredibly generous, but the bench seats are quite comfortable and there's room for water bottles in the doors.
Cargo space isn't class leading, but it's still decent for a small sedan at 460-litres. The 60:40 split fold rear seats are easy to deploy, offering up more space when needed.
An obvious oversight is the lack of Subaru’s excellent Eyesight driver assistance and safety system across the WRX range. Featuring on the Subaru Liberty, it's not even an option on the WRX though Premium grade cars do get Vision Assist, which adds blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and lane change assist.
Around town, the rough edges of the WRX are apparent. The suspension is quite firm and can be jarring over potholes and road surfaces that are in need of some TLC. The steering is quite heavy at slow speeds and you have to be a mad manual fan to handle the quick and constant gear changes in Sydney traffic. First gear is quite short so the changes are quick at low speeds.
I'll preface this by saying I've long been a WRX fan. I love the sound of the Boxer engine, the heavy clutch pedal, the jolt you get when changing gears and the feeling of being sucked down into the road thanks to the AWD system.
After a few days commuting and driving around town, I could see how the manual could become tiresome in the never-ending stop-start traffic. If you're going to spend most of your time in the city, the CVT would be a better option.
However, if you're going to put this car on the roads it was made for, then you'll be able to forgive it's around-town manners and enjoy smashing through the gears out on a twisty mountain or unsealed road on the weekend.
Over the years the WRX has gained around 200kg, but it still has plenty of hustle. Find yourself on some winding roads and you're going to have a lot of fun.
The AWD system has a 50/50 split from front to rear, giving a level of surety and confidence that almost urges you to push harder around corners. Keeping it high in the rev range, there’s plenty of punchy response.
With your speed in check, turn-in is direct and accurate. Overcook it a bit, and the car will err towards understeer, but if you just back off a little until you feel the weight balance shift, you can get back on the gas and off you go. The manual is engaging, with a nice short throw, although the clutch can be a little firm with a touchy take up point.
The 2016 Subaru WRX doesn’t disappoint. It looks right, it sounds right, goes right and even smells right.
Fuel economy is something worth considering too. Combined claimed fuel consumption is 9.3-litres per 100 kilometres. We racked up a figure of 13.4-litre/100km after stretching its legs a little, but the overall average was 10.2-litres/100km. I would expect that most people who own a WRX would consistently be closer to the higher figure!
The WRX comes with 12-months roadside assist and Subaru's three-year 75,000km capped price servicing and three-year unlimited kilometre warranty.
Sure some of the materials are less than premium and you’ll probably become good friends with your local service station, but for a fast and fun sports sedan that still offers solid bang for your buck, the Rex is pretty hard to beat.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Christian Barbeitos.