Subaru WRX still thrills but needs to drop one big hinderance

When it comes to the often debated topic of “what makes a legend”, the inclusion of the Subaru Impreza WRX is unlikely to be questioned.

Proud legacy

The story is, of course, a famous one. Born out of the Legacy that achieved some success in the World Rally World Rally Championship (WRC), the Impreza arrived at a time fondly remembered as one of the greatest in the sport’s history.

Manhandled, spectacularly, by the late great Colin McRae, the blue WRX, in World Rally specification, with its gold wheels and State Express 555 sponsorship, became an instant icon and catalyst to one of the greatest rivalries ever.  

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Either you were a McRae/Subaru fan, or your allegiance resided with the Marlboro-livered Mitsubishi Lancer Evo driven by the methodical but still fast and totally committed Tommi Makinen.

Two high profile sponsors at the zenith of motorsport’s reliance on tobacco backing draped across cars that adhered to the “win on a Sunday, sell on a Monday principle”, but driven by two completely drivers resulted in an unforgettable era that inspired a generation.

Standing on top

Of this incredible time, little is left today. However, what didn’t transpire was Subaru’s decision to discontinue the WRX, even after Mitsubishi did exactly that to the Evo in 2016.

Upwards flowing side profile leads to a rear facia with similarities to the Hyundai Tucson.

Separated from the Impreza in 2014 to become a model of its own, the WRX, even after the added decision to discontinue to fire-breathing STI three years ago, has remained faithful to its past, as well as being revered by the PlayStation generation.

The recent arrival then of the all-new WRX for the weeklong stay promised a lot, but ultimately resulted in this writer, a staunch and dedicated McRae fan, being left somewhat downhearted for one reason.

Sedan crosses over

While nothing amiss with sharing the same Global Platform as the Impreza, though revised to be stiffer and more rigid than before, the controversy involves the styling modelled on the Viziv Performance Concept showed in 2017.

Trademark bonnet scoop remains

Although still a sedan, the decision to opt for a crossover-type look by adding cladding around the wheel arches and on the bumpers is likely to be frown upon by fans and aficionados.

On the other side of the coin though, the move can be seen as justified and unavoidable given the shift from sedans to crossovers/SUVs.

Not gold, but the standard 18-inch alloys still look sporty.

In this regards, the WRX, arguably, manages to blend both aspects together, while retaining the trademark bonnet scoop, imposing LED headlights and black honeycomb grille.

Despite being silver instead of gold, the standard 18-inch alloy wheels, small rear boot spoiler and faux differs rounds of a still largely appealing package, but one in definite need of the trademark WR Blue Pearl paint option as opposed to our tester’s Ceramic White.

Changed inside

Where Subaru has been more successful is the WRX’s interior. While still on the cheap side in a few places, the look and feel has been dramatically upped with the quality being a massive improvement from the old WRX.

Interior is a massive improvement over that of the old WRX.

Adding to this, the new 11.6-inch Starlink touchscreen infotainment system not only looks clean, but is easy to navigate through in addition to featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Furnished with a grippy STI steering wheel, supportive and comfortable heated and electric sport seats, and a centre console slightly raised so as the gear lever falls easily to hand, Subaru has also gone all out on the specification front.

Electric and heated seats are supportive and feature a suede-like blue trim.

As tested here, the flagship tS ES comes standard with a sunroof, an ear-pleasing ten-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, keyless entry and an updated version of Subaru’s impressive EyeSight safety and driver assistance system.

The interior isn’t without its foibles though as the inclusion of the sunroof badly intrudes on headroom for passengers, who nonetheless have enough legroom, individual seat heaters and a pair of USB ports.

Big up, massive down

Given the driver focused cabin, the main highlight, as with any WRX, is performance, in this case provided by the all-new 2.4-litre turbocharged F24 flat-four Boxer engine.

The long awaited replacement for the dated EJ unit, the new mill develops 202kW/350Nm, the former a five kilowatt increase from that of old WRX.

Unlikely to run out of grip

It is however here where matters go south as it is paired to a new Lineartronic CVT Subaru somewhat optimistically calls SPT or Subaru Performance Transmission.

In short, it does the WRX no favours by robbing the willingness and “want” of the engine with a typical CVT elastic band feel and drone that makes for anything but knuckle-busting motoring.

Spoiled talent

What’s more, the transmission is erratic, continuously hunting up and down between its eight virtual ratios without making the most out of the substantial torque on offer.

In spite of the presence of paddle shifters, the ‘box, even in Sport or Sport+ modes, would shift to its automatic default setting no matter what Road Test Editor Mark Jones tried during the bout at Gerotek.

New 11.6-inch Starlink infotainment system looks neat and is easy to use.

The resulting 6.4 seconds from 0-100 km/h is therefore a bit disappointing as the potential to extract more from what is a strong-pulling new heart, still with the flat-four soundtrack, is completely negated by a ‘box that is anything but performance focused.

Incidentally, no benchmark could be set as Subaru doesn’t provide acceleration numbers.

Space in the back good for legroom but no so for headroom.

A further indication of the CVT’s undoing of the WRX is how positive the newcomer feels when you try and have fun.

From the wonderful feel on the turn-up thanks to the razor sharp steering, to the relentless grip of the Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive system, little about the WRX’s dynamic prowess was found lacking, with the ride being good if unsurprisingly crashy on broken surfaces.

Conclusion

As much as Subaru has done its homework to offer the best of everything with the WRX, it has done it’s icon no favours by fitting it with a transmission known for being smooth and skewed towards efficiency instead of dynamically sorted.

What’s more, the sticker price of R859 000 makes the WRX tS ES expensive and in the firing line of hard hitting hot hatches such as the Golf GTI, Hyundai i30 N, Toyota GR Yaris and even the outgoing Honda Civic Type R.

tS but no ES suffix identifies the top-spec WRX model

There is however an upside in shape of the six-speed manual WRX which, while without a features and a more basic EyeSight system, is likely to prove more engaging and with better power utilisation.

If the WRX is therefore all you ever wanted, the R100 000 saving that goes with the manual remains the only the way to invoke not only a McRae-esque smile, but the full adrenaline charge as you select first, wait for the lights and gun it as the flat-four starts to sing.

Road Test Data

Model: Subaru WRX tS ESGearbox: CVTEngine: 2.4-litre TurbochargedPower: 202 kW @ 5 600 rpmTorque: 350 Nm @ 2 000 – 5 200 rpmLicensing Mass: 1 582 kgPower to Weight: 128 kW / TonnePower to Capacity: 85 kW / Litre0-100 km/h: 6.44 Seconds1/4 Mile (402.34 m): 14.63 Seconds @ 159.19 km/h1/2 Mile (804.68 m): 22.83 Seconds @ 191.33 km/h1 Km (1 000 m): 26.41 Seconds @ 201.24 km/h60-100 km/h: 3.44 Seconds (in Drive Sport)80-120 km/h: 4.32 Seconds (in Drive Sport)100-200 km/h: 20.97 Seconds (in Drive Sport)Claimed Top Speed: 215 km/hFuel Consumption: 8.5-litres/100 km Claimed (11.0-litres Test Average)Fuel Tank Size: 63 litresFuel Range: 741 km Claimed (573 km on Test)CO2 Emissions: 192 g/kmVehicle Odometer: 5 639 KmTest Temperature: 6 DegreesTyres Size: 245/40 R18Tyres Make: Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT 600Warranty: 5-Year / 150 000 KmMaintenance Plan: 3-Year / 75 000 KmPriced from: R859 000Test Date: 12 July 2022

For more information and latest pricing visit www.subaru.co.za

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