Subaru WRX review & buyer's guide

 

Purists will doubtless be pounding the keyboard indignantly, but I can think of 12,000 really good reasons up front why I like a a base model WRX a whole lot more than an STI

 
 
 
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WRX sits seemingly dead flat in the corners, the steering is precise and the ride’s firm but not brutal like the STI. And it’s so neutral - meaning you can tweak its attitude easily with the throttle.

WRX proves to me you really don’t need 100 different driver-selectable modes and settings.

This thing just works, out of the box - the Apple Mac of performance cars. Wet, dry, sealed, unsealed, it’s a blast.

And despite the firm ride, it’s not skittish on rough surfaces.

Jump down below to see your feedback on my WRX review video >>

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Base WRX Vs STi

I just stepped out of the STi and into this base-model manual WRX - and frankly I expected to be disappointed at being punted back to economy from business class. Happily enough, I wasn’t. Full details next.

Far from being underwhelmed at my ersatz demotion to economy class - I actually kinda like it. In some ways it’s better than the STI.

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Purists will be pounding the keyboard indignantly, but I can think of 12,000 really good reasons up front why I like it a whole lot more than an STI.

Here are two other excellent performance cars:


WRX update?

One of the unfortunate consequences of separating WRX from Impreza is that the new Impreza (released a year ago in November 2016) does not herald a platform-up re-jig of this 2018 WRX. A new model is not due until 2019 - so this version is more of a comprehensive primp of the hair and makeup. 

Download the current specifications >>


Ride & handling

To me, WRX is the Goldilocks tuning for a performance car that you could drive every day.

Driving a WRX like you mean it is not a punish - you could live with it every day - and it is deceptively quick

Driving a WRX like you mean it is not a punish - you could live with it every day - and it is deceptively quick

Steering is maybe a frag light - but it’s very precise, and the ride is firm but not brutal. I could drive this car every day and be pretty happy with it (this is in the context of owning a performance car).

It’s not the epitome of comfort. It’s the epitome of great value and chuckableness. (That’s not a word. But it should be.) In many ways it doesn’t choose to highlight all your driving deficiencies the way an STI does.

WRX proves to me you really don’t need 100 different driver-selectable modes and settings. This thing just works, out of the box - it's the Apple Mac of performance cars. Wet, dry, sealed, unsealed, it’s a blast. And despite the firm ride, it’s not skittish on rough surfaces.

Symmetrical AWD is a brilliant system if traction underfoot is less than perfect

Symmetrical AWD is a brilliant system if traction underfoot is less than perfect

It’s like: This is a performance car. Here’s your firm suspension - no ‘comfort’, ‘sport’ and ‘track’ modes. Here’s your direct steering. Here’s your 245/40s on 18s. Here’s your symmetrical AWD. Wet, dry, sealed, unsealed, it’s a blast. And despite the firm ride, it’s not skittish on rough surfaces.

It’s also very forgiving in the way a BRZ is not. I’d be getting the interplay between steering and throttle dead right in the wet in a BRZ, unless you want the rear to overtake the front. WRX will give you more rope - and more warning that the limit is imminent. But it will ultimately let you hang yourself if you drive like a Muppet.


Criticisms

A couple of criticisms:

  • The six-speed manual is pretty notchy. I’d describe it as adequate rather than a delight.
  • There’s no sat-nav on the base model.
  • It’s about $800 a year for servicing at six-month intervals - in a market where the competition is on 12. And I get that turbos are hard on oil, so maybe the more frequent servicing is ultimately a decent investment in longevity.
  • You don't get the EyeSight safety system with manual transmission.
  • And of course - no hatchback version is available. It's sedan-only.
Unfortunately, there's no hatchback - and I can't help thinking a hatch would be at least twice as sexy

Unfortunately, there's no hatchback - and I can't help thinking a hatch would be at least twice as sexy

However, we’ve had WRXs for a quarter of a century now - and there’s no question this is the best one ever. That’s based on objective criteria. (And yeah - you’re allowed to be infatuated with the past. There can absolutely be a special place in your heart for the WRC Blue bug-eye hatch. Just be aware you’re looking at history through rose-coloured glasses.)


Conclusion

It’s also pretty clear the WRX recently has lost its place in the drug-dealing, ram-raiding hall of fame. And, as nostalgic as those glory days were, I’m sure senior management at Subaru Central is patting itself on the back for that. Today’s WRX is a car that a fat middle-aged white man could own without feeling like a paid-up member of the Neddy Smith fan club.

WRX remains insanely good value for money, and great fun to drive. It also rewards a bit of behind-the-wheel finesse

WRX remains insanely good value for money, and great fun to drive. It also rewards a bit of behind-the-wheel finesse

WRX is six seconds to 100 kays an hour for $40-odd grand. And in the wet it’s one of the fastest, most confidence inspiring cars on the road. Always super-rewarding to drive. It’s 0.8 seconds slower than an STI to 100 - a saving of about $15,000 a second, when you calculate it out. On that basis alone, I’ll take one.

Just remember: You don’t get the brilliant EyeSight safety system with manuals - if you want that, you’ll need the CVT. And that’s the box I’d be ticking - it’s especially well sorted. And even better now with the electronic handbrake and auto-hold functions.

WRX has a full five-star ANCAP safety rating (tested 2014). Details on ANCAP's website >>

More detail on WRX at Subaru Australia >>

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YOUR WRX FEEDBACK

You know that feeling you get, down there, when a hot girl walks by? Or a hot boy - there’s no shame… I got exactly that feeling when you commented on my recent WRX report. Here's a summary...

In this report: The abductee’s guide to escaping from a locked WRX boot (that’s a trunk in 'Murica). Plus: The compelling case for performance cars - they’re safer. And - how to do a racing-style heel-toe downshift like a gear-changing ninja. All suggested by you. 

 
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VIDEO TRANSCRIPT

My recent 2018 WRX review enraged or engorged some of you. Maybe both.

On using the WRX like a whiteboard

"John, I love you but drawing on the Rex is seriously messing with my OCD! *twitch *twitch..." - Shedlooney

I did draw on the Rex. Subaru was thrilled, naturally.

I did it to explain the law of diminishing returns with performance cars - which I prefer to think of in inverse terms: The law of bang for your buck, in which the Rex punches so well above its weight. Regular correspondent Ellesmere Wildwood also chimed in on this:

"Two problems:

"1. After you finished drawing your graph on the door of this pristine new white car, you look down and realise it's not a whiteboard marker." - Ellesmere Wildwood

Clearly, this is a ‘measure twice; cut once’ consideration. Note to self: get the pens right, next time… 


Locking yourself in the boot...

2. All the possible "Murphy's Law" scenarios associated with locking yourself in the boot alone on a country highway." - Ellesmere Wildwood

You know, I did consider the joy of locking myself, Pulp Fiction gimp-like, into the boot, but happily, the Rex is a poor choice of transportation for the serial abductor of his fellow man or woman. There’s a physical boot latch release inside the boot. It’s a plastic T-shaped handle that’s even luminous (Subaru thinks of everything). Plus I folded the big half of the rear seat down, just in case, and I used the remote boot release on the fob.

And I had my phone, naturally, but I was philosophically opposed to calling the cops and explaining the predicament, and then waiting patiently for rescue with $10,000 worth of camera gear sitting out there on the verge, and the Sons of Anarchy riding past in Shitsville. Risk management - yesssss!

Here’s Stigonutube:

"wew, lot of camera tricks and angles going on there and who was driving the car when you athletically got out of the boot hehehehehe well done John." - Stigonutube

Getting out of the boot like that is really just a pisstake on car reviews, and TV news and current affairs generally. Like, I see all these wannabe car reviewers, these TV types, and they take it all so friggin’ seriously. They fake up their own importance, and the faux gravity of the medium and what they do with it - and that’s always a fail.

So that pisstake stuff is just me philosophically flipping the bird to the concept of self-importance in car reviews, and news.

R.L. Agito says:

"john, did you crawl into the trunk from the inside? lol saw the car dip gradually is you made your way in there" - R.L. Agito

OK - so there’s no undignified crawling. I don’t do that. It’s in my contract. You just drive up, stop the car, shut down, get out, climb in the boot, lock the lid - pause - and then hit the boot release and clamber out in that uniquely undignified way. And then you just cut out all the bits of the vision that don’t fit the narrative. Because everything on TV is fake. That’s how this works.

It’s no different to the world’s fastest wardrobe changes, or the Darth Vader light saber-esque levitation trick with the big fat bolt cutters. All fake - just like teleporting yourself straight through a locked car door.  All a piss-take on self-important losers everywhere trying to do ‘Top Gear’ - and managing to do it very badly indeed. Personally, one of the great joys of doing this stuff is the - ahhh - quizzical looks I get from innocent bystanders watching me shoot this crap at the roadside.


Who does the heavy lifting?

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Phillipp Beck says:

"Well edited, sir. Who does the editing, grading and greenscreen background animation design in your productions?" - Phillipp Beck

Thank you Phillipp - however, I think it’s fair to say that this is a somewhat leaner operation than perhaps you presume. Like that stereotypical lady of the night in Bangkok, I do erey-ping. Erey-ping.

As the aspiring starlet famously said to Bill Cosby: It’s not that hard. I write the script, present, shoot, cut, grade, upload, repeat. That’s how this works. It’s a lean, mean, one-man band kinda operation, so if you are looking for someone to blame for the crap audio mix, or the cicadas in the background or crossing the line, whatever, look no further.

Therefore, if you’ve ever wanted to have a crack at YouTube-ing - there’s no excuse. If I can do it, you most certainly can. Your first video is likely to be spectacularly crap - mine absolutely was. Do not let this deter you, however. You get incrementally better.


Need for speed?

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Now - a somewhat more critical comment from Paul Ross:

"John, you can only do the speed limit. You get to the speed limit in the city 2 seconds faster than most  base model cars. Promoting driving fast on public roads is stupid." - Paul Ross

As much as my default setting here is to withdraw the three-foot razor blade from its scabbard, the better to slice and dice Mr Ross’s viewpoint all over the carpet, in the spirit of diplomacy let me humbly suggest that you can in fact be a car enthusiast and also a safe driver. I know plenty of people who are both.

In fact, there’s a compelling case that performance cars are also safer cars. You'll have to watch the video for that segment.


Does the CVT suck?

"The auto cvt sucks and is slow. I picked up the SSV instead and I am one happy camper I drove 3 WRX CVTs and they all felt gutless. Poor takeoff and a poor 0-100 of around 6.8... no thanks. This ain't no performance car." - Studat

First up, the majority of WRXs sold are CVTs (at least in 'Straya). The CVT is slower off the mark, but it is wickedly responsive in gear. According to Redbook there’s 0.3 seconds difference to 100 kays an hour. The CVT is brilliant for engaging driving on a winding road. CVT Premium is the WRX I would buy. Every time. (I’ve owned two WRXs - loved them both. Bulletproof and fun cars.)

I also get that Studat here bought an SS-V instead. It’s a muscle car. WRX: not a muscle car. SS-V is $15,000 more expensive. It’s got a 6.2-litre V8. Rear drive. 27 per cent more power to weight. A completely different animal.

Same old argument, though. If a muscle car is right for you, a WRX will be wrong, and vice-versa. Horses for courses. SS-V would hose WRX in a straight line. But I’d give it to the WRX in the bends, and in the wet … game over. WRX every time.


Double-clutching and heel-toeing

Manish kumar Verma says:

"did you Double Clutch at 4:48? If yes then Why? Honestly curious." - Manish kumar Verma

Forgive me father, for I have sinned. I used two feet to operate three pedals contemporaneously, and I’ve been doing that for so long now that I was thinking impure thoughts about big, firm double-D choosies moisturised with Dairy Whip while I did it. Which I find quite therapeutic. Remplante noticed this as well:

"Awwww John. did I see a double clutch. Nearly a waste to develop synchromesh.......nearly. How I miss using my left foot with my 30 years of autos. But then an EH with no 2nd gear will do that to you." - Remplante

That was, in fact, a heel-and-toe downshift.


What about a CVT STi?

"It's funny that the manual  is in all versions but the CVT is not in the STI range at all but as mention in your video regarding transmission types the CVT would allow the best part of the engine to be constantly used so i wonder why subaru has not made it a option in the STI range more people would actually enjoy the ride more in my opinion" - Ray Johnson

At the risk of committing STI heresy - I would love to sample the nonexistent WRX STI CVT. I think that’s going to be a tall order any time soon, though - but there’s no engineering reason why it could not be done. Current STI is 407 Newton-metres and the gruntiest CVT Subaru currently on offer is a three-way tie between the 3.6 R atmo engine in Outback, the 2.0 diesel and the 2.0 petrol turbo in the Rex.

Those three engines all max out at 350Nm - that’s probably not a coincidence. It’s probably Subaru Corporation’s internal torque limitation on that CVT transmission. So - to make a CVT STI they’d need to do a spot of re-engineering of the transmission and then amortise the cost of that over the number of units they think they might sell, and see if it’s commercially viable.

Anything’s possible. I know it’d be a blast to drive a CVT STI - but it might not have legs commercially. So there’s that - it’s easy to forget they’re running a business.


WRX appeal?

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And finally, John C (not me) says:

"I'm also bald guy who likes to wear Hawaiian shirts with shorts...never realized how ugly that looks..thx" - John C

Looking at some of that footage retrospectively, I can certainly see how someone’s aesthetic sensibilities might be offended. I therefore apologise without reservation and I give you my firm commitment right here and now to strive to ensure such a fashion faux pas never happens again.

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