There has been a bone of contention surrounding the latest Subaru WRX. Could it possibly continue the lineage that has seen its predecessors revered the world over for their boxer engine acoustics and searing performance and handling?
There has been a great deal of sophistication applied to the fourth-generation model, and the jury was still out as to whether the dynamic sparkle of its forbears remains. The styling, for instance, still has the signature design elements such as the bonnet scoop (for the turbo intercooler), blistered wheel arches, anthracite wheels and four tailpipes. However, the interior, while still offering a fairly sporty theme, seems to have been elevated somewhat in tactile feel. Surfaces are less low-rent than was previously the case, thanks to soft-touch materials — and the seats feel cushier and better form-hugging than before.
In fact, the architecture is perhaps more akin to the Forester’s, which is in fact a good thing. Granted, although the finishes are not quite at German levels of sophistication, it is still fairly decent and a far cry from the previous model. The only snag, though, is the omission of automatic door-locking, which is a bit silly really, particularly at this price. The previous generation did have its merits though, including a booming engine when allied to the sports exhaust system, and it boasted more of a caricature design, with every line and chink considerably more exaggerated than in the current car.
That aside, the new model leaves the previous model for dead when it comes to handling, ride comfort, and overall refinement. You see In the case of handling, I found the previous model to be a touch nose-heavy when pressing on into corners, while the suspension still wallowed too much for one to fully exploit the chassis. Also, the archaic five-speed manual transmission meant that the engine droned incessantly at the national speed limit. Our test model of the new car came with a 2.0-litre direct injection, turbocharged, boxer engine putting out 197kW and 350Nm via a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). All this is distributed to the road through the company’s symmetrical all-wheel-drive system, which in this instance has a 65:35 rear- biased torque distribution.
So, no sooner had the car arrived for testing than I nosed it to Port Edward on the South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal for the weekend and back to Johannesburg. The 1400km trip sojourn was the perfect test to see how it the model fares as a long-distance cruiser and, should the road allow, how it does when flung into corners. With three driving modes available, namely intelligent, sport, and sport sharp, it was the default intelligent mode that was used for most part of the trip. Damping is particularly good and although the N3 to Durban offers up smooth and usually pristine stretches of bitumen, there was very little suspension knock on the rebound over less smooth patches.
Wind was reasonably mum, while road noise was somewhat on the intrusive side with the increment in velocity. The engine performed superbly with smoothness far removed from the off-beat lumpiness of models gone by.
I do, however, have a confession. I really miss the lumpy, off-beat throb of so distinct to of the boxer motor. I am told that a performance exhaust is available to remedy the situation, but I will reserve comment until I have a first-hand account of this. That aside, the vehicle proved a major leap forward in refinement thanks to its lighter kerb weight, quiet engine demeanour, and fairly smooth transmission.
Speaking of which, the gearbox suits the relaxed nature of the engine when not trying to embrace apexes and road kinks on your favourite B-road. It is thankfully devoid of the incessant droning that usually afflicts transmissions of this ilk. Sure, it is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination and is quite hesitant on pull-off. For proper exploits, the six-speed manual is your weapon. The drive down yielded average fuel consumption of 9.5l/100km, which was decent but not close to the 8.6l/100km claimed figure. I managed to suss out some spaghetti-type roads to see how the vehicle handled. I duly slapped the transmission into manual, and jabbed the sport sharp mode on the steering wheel.
Initial turn-in exposed a steering that was reasonably direct but lacked overall feel and feedback, no thanks to the electric assistance employed. Nonetheless, the rest of the car was impressive, agility being perhaps being the most obvious quality. Gone is the pushing wide of the nose when going into corners at a fair lick, thanks to the torque vectoring system keeping power distribution between the wheels in check. In fact the car is so tidy and so adept at the task, it is perhaps a bit too clinical. On the return trip, I managed a still credible 9.8l/100km figure, which took into account the steeper gradient and some judicious use of the right pedal on occasion. It was, to be quite honest, an acceptable figure for a vehicle of such a performance disposition. In a nutshell then, the new WRX is a more polished and broadly talented vehicle than its predecessor and, although it lacks some aural character of its forebear, it will overall appeal to a much wider audience.