Johannesburg - Ah, the mighty WRX. Once a legend of the dirt in the World Rally Championship, now equipped with a (insert that crying emoji here) CVT gearbox and an intelligent safety system that makes it near impossible to crash (unless you’re being a complete loon behind the wheel, of course).

Welcome to the 2019 iteration of Subaru’s beloved boxer-engined muscle sedan, a car that was once (and possibly still is) the cheapest way to make you feel like a rally driver. For 2019, Subaru’s upped the ante (in terms of luxury and safety spec) in the WRX auto, making it more alluring than those particularly popular ‘Sportpack-ed’ and ‘M-packed’ entry-level German sedans that you see on the road everyday. 

It’s fast. It looks menacing. And it makes noises that petrolheads (even if you’re not a Scooby fan) will appreciate. Let’s tuck in then.

What's under the hood?

You get the same treatment as last year’s model, which is not a bad thing, really. Under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre turbocharged flat-four, similar to the unit fitted to the sorely missed previous-generation Forester XT.

In terms of grunt, flat out, when the rev counter touches 5600rpm, you’ll be riding 197kW of power. Peak torque (350Nm) comes in much earlier, at 2400rpm, which is sustained to 5200rpm, meaning you get this nice wide band of driveability in pretty much any gear.

Speaking of gears, in Sport Sharp(#) mode, activated by pushing a dedicated toggle switch on the steering wheel and moving the gear shift selector into manual mode, you can access eight fixed ‘ratios’ through the continously variable transmission.

CVT is not the best choice for this car, to be honest, because... the manual is still available. But, for what it’s worth, in the bustling city traffic of Johannesburg and along the gridlocked Gauteng highways, I did not miss the third pedal at all. It was just those odd occassions where you want to just blast through gears, not doing crazy speeds, but controlling the car with a clutch and manual shifter that made me miss the ‘stick’.

Gaining eyesight

One of the key reasons Subaru sent the latest WRX to Drive360 was so that we could test the car’s standard Eyesight Safety System. 

So, to evaluate it, I decided that a lengthy high journey was in order. I jumped on the N1 highway heading south at the Rivonia Road intersection, quickly accelerating up the on-ramp to merge with traffic. Seamless merging, seamless gap taking, seamless.... that’s what it felt like when pushing on in the car. 

After a minute or two of accelerating and braking using the pedals, I decided to switch on the Adaptive Cruise Control system (part of the Eyesight package) just before the traffic started to calm for the William Nicol off-ramp. Setting the distance to the car in front of me for the smallest (safest) possible gap, because I know someone will jump in there to cut me off if I left too much of a gap, I let the car take over the momentum control while I just concentrated on steering the thing. It worked beautifully, and as expected. Quickly accelerating as traffic speeds picked up, and ready to brake when the person in front started to slow down (before I even saw their brake lights come on by the way). 

I was impressed at the responsiveness of the system. It’s not often that Japanese cars come to South Africa with these cool safety systems, perhaps Honda and Lexus if you want, and if you are considering active vehicle safety systems as one of your key parameters of what to buy next, you won’t find fault in this Scoob’s safety credentials. Active, passive, it’s all there to keep you on the tarmac, in an upright position.

Worthwhile alternative?

If you’ve been living with an entry-level  luxury German sedan for a few years already, or if you made that switch to an SUV but you’re yearning for something with a little more sizzle and drama, then this car’s tyres are worth kicking. 

Measuring in at 4595mm in length, 1795mm in width, 1475mm in height, and with a wheelbase of 2650mm, you’re getting a decent sized sedan... not ungainly or too big to negotiate a cityscape in, but also compact enough to feel taught and sporty when going for a ‘fast’-ish drive.

Driver, front passenger and rear passengers also have enough space, and for the driver particularly, everything (all the controls and the switchgear that matters) is easy to find and make use of.  

In fact, particular mention must be made of the comfort of the rear seats of the car. It’s so comfortable in fact that I wrote this road test from the back seat.

You won’t want for features in the WRX either as it comes with Auto-On LED headlamps that respond to the direction you’re steering in, ensuring the best possible lighting at all times. If you struggle to see at night, you’ll particularly like how the headlamps illuminate the road and the signage adjacent to it. I found my eyes were straining less after a night time test drive too.

You also get a fresh set of 18-inch aluminium-alloy wheels in a striking gunmetal finish, everything that needs to be electic is electric, including the driver’s seat, you get climate control, Apple Carplay (Android Auto too), Paddle Shifters on the steering wheel, Hill Hold Assist, Keyless entry with a push-button start system, and red brake calipers and red stiching on the seats. It’s genuinely well appointed and the Eyesight system adds to its feel of ‘grown-upness’ and maturity.

VERDICT

With the ability to sprint from a standstill to 100km/h in 6.3 seconds and with enough grunt to keep on accelerating to a claimed maximum velocity of 240km/h, very few cars (at this price point) can live with WRX CVT on a daily grind. 

Yes, the odd Golf R might show you a clean pair of heels in a traffic lights grand prix, but this car’s not about the 1/4-mile... it’s about enjoying the bends and the all-wheel grip that comes with it. Well-specced, with a five-year/150 000km warranty and a three-year/75 000km maintenance plan, and brimming with presence and feel, it’s a tough car not to recommend to moms and dads that like to drive hard whenever the opportunity presents itself. 

A great all-rounder, at an acceptable price... and dare I say it, it makes more sense than the STI model that sits at the top of Subaru’s current portfolio of cars. 

Drive360