This is the latest version of Subaru's WRX, which was formerly known as the Impreza.
It’s as if Subaru is fully aware that it lost the plot with the standard WRX over the years and it wants to prove that it still know what it's doing. Torsional rigidity of the new car is up 41 per cent. Spring rates are bumped 39 and 62 per cent front to back, all resulting in sharper handling.
Much of this is possible due to Subaru only offering the new WRX as a saloon, frustrating from a practicality (and styling) aspect but good for chassis rigidity.
The WRX features the latest turbocharged version of Subaru’s FA20 2.0-litre boxer too. It’s also used in the Forester 2.0i XT in the UK, but the WRX uses different camshafts and valve springs. It’s a development of the naturally aspirated engine fitted to Subaru’s BRZ (and Toyota GT86). Direct injection allows a 10.6:1 compression ratio, and Dual Active Valve Control System (D-AVCS) is also utilised.
Its 258lb ft of torque is available all the way from 2000 to 5200rpm, despite less maximum boost pressure than the Forester (15.9psi versus 17.1psi), fuel economy is an impressive 25 per cent better on the American combined cycle than the WRX STI’s carry-over 2.5-litre engine. A new CVT automatic transmission is also offered, complete with paddles.
The 6-speed manual gearbox and conventional handbrake perfectly fit its rally car roots. Related, the stability control can be fully disengaged quickly and simply. That’s important in a WRX.
Many will be relieved to find that it’s the focused simplicity of the new Subaru WRX that you immediately sense as you settle in behind the wheel. It’s the near-forgotten pleasure of inserting and twisting a traditional key to ignite the throbbing, flat four. It’s the welcome lack of adjustable drive modes. You just get in the WRX and go.
The new 2.0-litre engine fitted to that rigid body shell makes plenty of power and has minimal turbo lag. It may not have the character of past WRX engines but it’s still rather impressive. It’s only flawed by overly anxious boost control on light throttle and a lack of verve past 6000rpm.
On the road, you immediately feel that stiffness of the body shell. The steering is precise and accurate, with an impressive amount of feel for an electric setup. It is clear Subaru learned something from the BRZ.
You sense the higher rate springs but the dampers keep all in order. It doesn’t ride brilliantly but given the focus of the car and the body control offered, it’s a good setup - at least on U.S. roads.
The turbocharged boxer combined with the sorted chassis makes you want to flog the WRX and flog it hard. It’s impressive up to a certain point but when really pushed, you end up with a neutral to understeer attitude.
The WRX features open front and rear differentials and, when driven like a hooligan with the ESP off, you tend to get inside wheelspin instead of lurid slides. A shame.
Inside, the interior is an improvement but still carries some classic Subaru demons. The 4.3-inch centre LCD display is nice, showing boost pressure and other info. The steering wheel feels special, although we wish Subaru learned from the BRZ that a proper, round setup is preferred (versus the flat-bottom).
The cloth seats are grippy and comfortable. It’s the detailing and the plastics that remind you that the Japanese still don’t play at the same level as the Germans in this segment.
The UK isn’t getting the standard WRX. It’s the £28,995 WRX STI or nothing. Should you care? Maybe, but likely not. The STI’s 305bhp engine, hydraulic power steering, hand-built 6-speed manual gearbox, and trick differentials are all welcomed. Plus, the new WRX STI is £4000 cheaper than the old STI.
That price drop means a grey import regular WRX isn’t quite as financially enticing. In an ideal world, we’d like to see the new WRX STI with a perfectly tuned, 300bhp-plus version of the WRX’s far more efficient 2.0-litre engine. Well, and a 5-door version.
That combo would end the discussion once and for all about Subaru fully getting their mojo back.
Price £16,432 (US market); 0-62mph 5.1sec (est); Top speed 145mph (est); Economy 34mpg (est); CO2 185g/km (est); Kerb weight 1482kg; Engine 4-cyls, 1998cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 268bhp at 5600rpm; Torque 258lb ft at 2000-5200rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual