Subaru's WRX is intended to take the car from its boy-racer roots to a more sophisticated customer, but has Subaru done enough?
Subaru's aim for the current model WRX is to provide a more upmarket car which will interest a wider audience of car buyers. At the same time, it still provides a very affordable entry into the sports sedan market. Pricing for the manual WRX Premium (tested here) starts at $43,990 (plus on road costs) or $45,990 if you don't want to shift for yourself. You can lop $5,000 off that if you aren't fussed about the extra goodies provided by the premium model (such as sunroof, leather seats and sat-nav).
Although many have criticised the looks of the current model WRX (and, indeed many of its predecessors), to this tester's eye it is a good looking car which provides a welcome alternative to the boring styling of many of its competitors (I am looking at you (and yawning) Golf GTI). The scoop on the bonnet, quad exhaust pipes and vents behind the front wheels all combine to give the WRX an aggressive look which distances it from the Impreza on which it is based.
Underneath the sheet-metal you get a 2 litre turbo-charged ‘boxer' engine, which develops 197kW and 350Nm of torque. This is channeled to the road through Subaru's symmetrical all-wheel drive system, allowing the WRX to sprint from 0-100 km/h in 6 seconds.
This car feels quicker than this though, and the build of speed in second and third gear when the engine is on boost is addictive. Around a series of bends, the WRX is equally quick. The symmetrical all-wheel-drive system, which now features torque vectoring, means the car devours corners like a fat kid devours donuts.
Having said that, the WRX did not do so with a lot of joy. Sure, it was quick in the twisties, but it left me driving with my serious face on, not, as I would prefer, laughing manically like a supervillain who has just captured his superhero arch-nemesis. To really enjoy this car you need to be driving fast, and you won't get that opportunity 90% of the time (unless your driving style is as anti-social as a North Korean dictator's diplomacy, or you live on a race track).
Unfortunately, on the inside, the WRX ‘premium' was a further disappointment. Despite adding leather seats and a sunroof, Subaru hasn't been able to hide the fact that this car is based on the bargain basement Impreza. The plastics look and feel like they have been sourced by melting down a whole heap of (very cheap) mobile phones and the road noise when travelling above speeds of about 80km/h, particularly in the backseat, is intrusive. In addition to this, the centre screen, which controls music, phone connectivity and sat-nav is so clunky you would be forgiven for thinking it was designed in communist-era Russia (Subaru is, however, updating this for the MY16 ‘Rex').
Having said that, there are some nice touches, such as the chunky steering wheel, supportive seats, and neat gauge on top of the dashboard, which can be configured to provide information such as turbo boost. Its practical size, impressively tight turning circle, keyless entry and start and standard reversing camera are other factors in its favour.
Despite its good points, the result of all this is that you are left lamenting what the WRX could have been. With a bit more effort Subaru could have had a genuine competitor to the likes of Audi's (much more expensive) S3 sedan. Instead, as it is the WRX left me wanting more.