Johannesburg - “I know what you’re thinking. ‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a 44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself a question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”
Action-movie buffs will recognise this famous Clint Eastwood line from the 1971 film Dirty Harry, which depicted inspector Harry Callahan as an anti-hero cop who didn’t always play by the rules in pursuit of his own vision of justice. Kinda reminds me of the Subaru WRX.
No, it isn’t the most powerful sports sedan in the world, and its performance won’t quite part your pip from your shoulders. But ever since the first Impreza WRX broke cover in 1992 there’s been something distinctly Dirty Harry about it, a no-nonsense character with a rebellious streak and a twist of rule-bending badass.
Back then, where most performance cars were employing two-wheel drive and normally-aspirated in-line four-cylinder engines, the WRX (which stands for World Rally Cross) forged its own competition-bred path with all-wheel drive and a turbocharged flat-four (boxer) engine – and the results were plain to see in the Subaru’s superior straightline and cornering prowess.
Today, turbocharging has become de rigeur in the sports sedan class but the new WRX (which has since dropped the Impreza nameplate) is still the only car in its category to have a centre-of-gravity-lowering boxer engine, and remains one of the few with all-wheel drive.
The engine this time around is a direct-injection two-litre turboboxer four that fires 197kW and 350Nm through the symmetrical all-wheel drive system. Though reduced in cubic capacity, the new car’s more powerful than the previous WRX which had a 2.5-litre wielding 195kW and 343Nm.
The car’s available either with a six-speed manual gearbox (which is the version on test here) or a CVT automatic dubbed the Sport LineartronicT.
Available for the first time in a Subaru, active torque vectoring applies the brakes to the inside front wheel while distributing torque to the outside front wheel. It gives the car extra road-clawing ability in addition to its vehicle dynamics control, viscous limited-slip rear differential, and all-wheel drive.
LIKE BLACKJACKS TO A JERSEY
This is a lot of corner-clinging tech but it’s all unobtrusive and working in the background, and there aren’t any switches to fiddle with, as in the previous STI, that control the amount of front-to-rear torque distribution. You just throw the WRX at a corner and revel in its ability to cling to the surface like blackjacks to a jersey.
The roadholding is really quite special and this new WRX carves through curves with sublime grip and control. The early understeer of bygone all-wheel drive systems has been well and truly cured here. The WRX displays a neutral feel as it hugs curves with neither a tendency for the nose or tail to break loose suddenly. When you push it too hard the front end washes out into the inevitable understeer, but you really do have to punish it.
The ride’s firm but not particularly uncomfortable, and the engineers have found a good balance between sharp handling and ride quality.
But what makes the car special to drive is the feel of its controls.
The steering, clutch, and gearshift all have a positive action that takes a little more effort than, say, your wife’s Toyota Corolla. Nothing’s notchy - everything moves with beautiful precision - it’s just a meatier feel that makes the driver feel more intimately connected with the machine.
As for outright performance, the new WRX has lots of firepower without quite being a 44 Magnum. The manual car we tested delivered a 6.6 second 0-100km/h sprint time in our performance test at Gauteng altitude, while Subaru says six seconds is attainable at sea level. Top speed is rated at 240km/h.
This makes the Subaru trail behind heavy-hitters such as the Golf R or Audi S3, but it’s fast enough to go toe-to-toe with most other hot hatches. Its sprint times are almost identical to a manual Golf GTI, although they’re easier to achieve in the WRX which has an off-the-line traction advantage over the two-wheel drive VW.
It feels lively through the gears and it’s not a peaky type of performance that requires a lot of hard revving; it has very gutsy midrange acceleration with minimal low-rev lag.
There’s a sporty chortle from the boxer engine, aided by the optional performance exhaust fitted to the test car, although nothing as charismatic as the howling Golf R.
For the performance on offer the economy’s not bad, and our test car averaged less than 10 litres per 100km in normal driving.
The WRX has always delivered driving kicks with family-style practicality, and on the latter front the car’s grown bigger to provide four passengers with impressively roomy space.
Spacious too is the 460 litre boot, which is expandable with folding rear seats, and it comes with a nearly-full-size spare tyre.
The car’s available only in Premium spec which in manual sells for R449 000 (20 grand more for the CVT) including a three-year or 100 000km warranty and three-year or 75 000km maintenance plan. The well-stocked features list includes leather upholstery with red contrast stitching on sports bucket seats, flat-bottomed steering wheel, sporty dials and controls, and a faux fibre dashboard finish.
So too automatic headlights with self-levelling LED elements, automatic wipers, daytime running lights, a six-speaker multimedia audio system with USB and auxiliary connectivity, voice control, Bluetooth, rear-view camera, cruise control, and automatic climate control. Subaru’s user-interface has gone high-tech and there are two digital screens for the audio, onboard computer and navigation.
In standard body trim the sedan lacks a bit of pizzazz and it’s a watered-down version of the WRX concept car launched early last year. But above the new hexagonal grille and LED daytime running lights is the time-honoured bonnet air scoop which gives it a clear WRX bloodline. And with the STI aero kit (a R22 000 option that includes rear diffuser, exhaust finisher, rear side aero lips, side skirts, and front splitter) the design does comes alive more.
Subaru’s had 24 years to hone its iconic performance car and it’s used the time well.
While hardcore Subaristi will opt for the the even more powerful STI, the WRX offers plenty of bang-for-buck for those on a sub 500 grand budget. - The Star
Subaru WRX 2.0 Premium
Engine: 2-litre, four-cylinder turboboxer petrol
Gearbox: Six-speed manual
Power: 197kW @ 5600rpm
Torque: 350Nm @ 2400-5200rpm
0-100km/h (claimed): 6.0 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 240km/h
Consumption (claimed): 9.2 litres per 100km
Price: R449 000
Warranty: Three-year/100 000km
Maintenance Plan: Three-year/75 000km
Audi S3 sedan (206kW/380Nm) - R529 500
Ford Focus ST 3 (184kW/360Nm) - R393 900
Mazda3 MPS (190kW/380Nm) - R346 200
Renault Megane RS Sport 265 (180kW/350Nm) - R359 900
Volvo S60 T5 Excel (187kW/400Nm) - R447 700
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