Since Subaru is currently offering the WRX at a lower price, Ryan Bubear gets behind the wheel...
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Thirty thousand is a significant number. It's Riaan Cruywagen's estimated age in dog years. It's the approximate total number of illegitimate children on the planet through the combined efforts of Steve Hofmeyr and President Jacob Zuma (according to our sources, anyway). And, perhaps most importantly, it is the number of rands Subaru has lopped off the price of the already established WRX.
Yes, the WRX has been around for a couple of years. But, for whatever reason, it seems to be the forgotten child of performance sedans, skulking in the shadow of its more powerful bigger brother, the WRX STI. But Subaru's decision to drop its price below the R400 000 mark — for a limited time only, of course — certainly made us sit up and take notice. Would we like a sample? Yes, please.
Just as it should be...
The WRX is classic Subaru: aggressive in-your-face styling, a thrumming Boxer engine, and that trademark symmetrical all-wheel-drive. It's not as mad as it could be — there's the STI for true, certified loons, after all — but that only means it's easier to live with on a day-to-day basis.
Turn the key and the 2.5-litre DOHC turbocharged Boxer engine springs to life with purpose. It's the type of start-up sound you'd imagine racing game designers listen to over and over while trying to perfect a sporty car's intro. And it hints at what's to come...
The flat-four powerplant produces a not insignificant 195kW at 6000rpm and a colossal 343Nm at 4000rpm. This sees the WRX sprint to 100km/h in an estimated six seconds, before topping out at 209km/h. There's a fair amount of turbo lag, but you soon figure out where the true power starts, and then it's an absolute hoot to drive. The tachometer needle races to the 6500rpm redline with the enthusiasm of a squirrel hopped up on Red Bull, and you're thrust back into the (thankfully) supportive leather bucket seats as the horizon races towards you. It's quick.
At low speeds, the WRX rumbles about, with a fantastically gruff sound spilling from the four exhaust exits. Stab the right pedal though, and it doesn't roar as one would expect. Instead, the Boxer engine sings (albeit rather aggressively), before the pitch heightens to something akin to a jet fighter taking off, which is appropriate seeing that Fuji Heavy Industries, Subaru's parent company, started out making aircraft. Add in a few whooshes and wallops from the quite large turbo, and you have rather an addictive soundtrack.
Sixth, where are you?
Highway cruising, happily, is rather muted in comparison. The five-speed manual gearbox — a pleasantly tight and precise transmission — is crying out for a sixth forward cog, particularly with all that torque on tap. Very rarely is there a need to drop a gear to overtake slower (read most) cars or attack a hill, but an additional forward gear would add another dimension, and definitely help to lower the claimed combined fuel consumption of 10.4 litres per 100km. For the record, we returned a final figure of 12.8, although we didn't exactly employ too many hyper-miling techniques...
The WRX's cornering ability is absolutely ridiculous. Thanks largely to the symmetrical all-wheel-drive, it handles as if it's on rails. Ask it to do something and it complies... it's that simple. There's no fighting, no drama, and no wrestling of the wheel is required. The steering is well-weighted and responsive and the suspension taut enough to ensure bodyroll is non-existent. The brakes work well too, which is of course somewhat important with nearly 200kW under your right foot. And hill start assist control is a handy addition.
From the outside, the WRX appears aggressive without being totally over the top. Visual highlights include the gaping bonnet scoop, tasty gun-metal 17-inch alloys, Xenon headlights, power sunroof, and one of Subaru's more conservative attempts at the rear spoiler. Despite having been around for a few years, the WRX certainly still turns heads.
Inside, there is plenty of space both front and rear, and the majority of instruments have a solid feel to them. A six-speaker audio system (CD/radio/MP3), with integrated Bluetooth connectivity and USB port, does a decent job, but to be honest the WRX's built-in Boxer soundtrack took precedence during our week with the vehicle. The steering wheel features controls for audio and Bluetooth, as well as cruise control.
There's seating for five, and room on the rear bench is pretty reasonable, and boot space is decent too at 368 litres. In terms of safety, the WRX is highly rated, returning a maximum five-star ANCAP occupant score thanks in part to the front, front-side and curtain airbags. And it comes with a three-year or 100 000km warranty, and a three-year or 75000km maintenance plan.
So, what are the main differences between the WRX and the STI, you ask? Well, the STI gets a few exterior styling tweaks, bigger alloys, an absurdly massive rear spoiler, Brembo brakes, Recaro bucket seats, keyless start, and Subaru's "Intelligent Drive" system. Oh, and the small matter of an additional 26kW and 64Nm.
All that will set you back nearly R590 000, if you want the six-speed manual STI (which you should) and not the auto (which we sort of think shouldn't even exist). But the WRX has — dare we say it — more than enough power to satisfy your typical petrol-head, and the gulf between R399k and R590k is, well, almost as large as Debora Patta is orange.
So, this limited-time discount is just about enough to make the WRX a real contender again.
Only problem is, that saving will likely be wiped out in speeding fines in no time. Yes, it's that quick...
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See page 2 for specs and pricing.