By: IOL Motoring Staff
Johannesburg - For lovers of hot-shot little sedans specifically designed to annoy the aristocracy of the automotive world, the letters WRX have always held a special appeal. And now it's no longer a derivative; it's a model in its own right.
Launched in South Africa this week in a two-variant line-up, the all-new fourth-generation WRX unashamedly cashes in on the cult following of its ancestors and although it's still essentially Impreza-based, it drops that label from its name and Subaru has done more to distinguish it stylistically.
In the name of progression, the new WRX is bigger and - dare we say it - more refined than the giant-killing WRX of yore.
But that doesn't mean slow. The track-focused WRX STI has already won its class at the Nurburgring 24 Hours twice in a row and the all-new WRX STI, which will be here in limited numbers later in 2014, will enter the 'Ring once more in the race to glory.
The WRX's two-litre, quad-cam, direct-injection, horizontally-opposed turbopetrol four sits low in the chassis to enhance the car's handling, delivering a quoted 197kW at 5600 revs and 350Nm from 2400-5200rpm.
That's good enough to take the manual from standstill to 100km/h in six seconds flat (6.3 for the Sport Lineartronic CVT version) and on to 240km/h in either variant.
It feeds Subaru's trademark symmetrical all-wheel drive via either a six-speed manual gearbox, centre differential and viscous limited-slip rear differential, or a continuously variable transmission called Sport Lineartronic CVT, engineered specially for this model, with paddle shift for full 'manual' control.
Since a CVT doesn't have any set ratios, manual control is achieved by engineering in hold points in the opposing cones; it also offers SI-Drive, three pre-programmed and driver-selectable drive modes.
Intelligent mode is optimised for fuel economy, providing a linear and less responsive throttle map and uninterrupted power for improved efficiency and comfort.
Sport provides sharper throttle response and a more engaging feel from the steering, while Sport Sharp unleashes the full potential of the engine as well as eight closely-spaced 'ratios' from the transmission.
Minesh Bhagaloo of our print sister publication Star Motoring was at the launch and said he was pleasantly surprised by the CVT transmission.
"In the 'Intelligent' mode it's just like any other CVT set-up - it goes straight up to 6000rpm and stays there," he said, "but in 'Sport Sharp' it'll hold a 'gear' all the way to the rev limiter - in that sense it's proper."
BUT POWER IS NOTHING WITHOUT CONTROL
Subaru's chassis boffins quantified a problem with electric power steering noted years ago by enthusiastic drivers - a 'dead spot' of poor steering response around the centre position.
Their goal was to minimise this zone and thus improve perceived steering response - but they found that high-tech computer modelling could only take them so far; for subtle testing of lateral g-force they had to go back to a more basic tool - namely 'Pants, Seat of, Mark 1'.
Using the input of their test drivers, they came up with a quick-ratio electric power-steering system that reduced to just hundredths of a second the time between steering input and the sensation of lateral g-force.
A Subaru whitecoat called it: "The good feeling of matching the car to your rhythm and being able to go where you want to go."
And it works, according to the seat of Bhagaloo's pants; he described the steering as well-weighted ("pleasantly heavy" were his exact words) with no perceptible dead spot.
In addition to traction control with limited slip, the new WRX has, for the first time in a Subaru, active torque vectoring that brakes the inside front wheel under hard cornering, thus transferring the torque to the outside front wheel, reducing understeer and making the new WRX a lot of fun to drive.
Bhagaloo and his fellow scribes spent the afternoon running the new WRX through a gymknana course laid out by Subaru.
“For a family sedan, it definitely has a harder side,” he reported,” but it’s very well balanced under pressure.”
The new WRX is only 15mm longer than its predecessor, on a 25mm longer wheelbase, but the A pillar has been moved forward by a huge 200mm, making the cabin way bigger than before - and bigger than those of the competition, according to Bhagaloo.
"This is a big car," he said, "way bigger than the German competition, with very comfortable sports bucket seats, remarkable rear leg-room and a cavernous 460-litre boot."
That's 100 litres more than its predecessor could boast, and even then the rear seat-backs can be folded flat for extra luggage space.
Full leather trim is complemented by red contrast stitching, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, soft-touch surfaces and faux carbon-fibre dashboard finish.
New-look dials and controls with two colour display screens provide various information readouts including fuel economy and boost pressure.
Standard kit includes automatic headlights with self-levelling LED elements, automatic wipers, daytime running lights, privacy glass, an electric sunroof and 17" alloys running 235/45 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx RT tyres.
Then there's keyless access with push-button starting, a six-speaker multimedia audio system with USB and auxiliary connectivity, voice control, Bluetooth, red ambient lighting and a full-colour multi-information display with readouts for fuel efficiency, trip information, audio details and a new boost gauge.
A rear-view camera is standard issue, as are cruise control and automatic aircon.
Available accessories include satellite navigation, a sports exhaust system and the STI body kit.
The final word is Bhagaloo’s:"This is not a pocket rocket like the VW Golf R or Audi S3 - it's a hot family sedan - and at the price there's not much to compare with it."
WRX Premium - R449 000
WRX Premium Sport Lineartronic CVT - R469 000
The new Subaru WRX comes with a three-year or 100 000km warranty and three-year or 75 000km maintenance plan, which can be optionally extended at purchase. Service intervals are 15 000 km.