Subaru WRX (World Rally Experiment) is a name that invokes the spirit of the 90s WRC (World Rally Championship), with the late Colin Steele McRae winning the 1995 Championship in his Impreza.
This placed Subaru firmly on the radar of many car and motorsport enthusiasts. That signature Rally Blue paintwork and humble design belied the performance that lurked beneath that unassuming sheet metal. That iconic turbo intercooler bonnet scoop remains to this day, and so does the boxer engine layout and symmetrical all-wheel drive.
Of course, Subaru pulled out of WRC in 2008, citing the economic downturn of the period. This essentially put paid to outright rally exploits and, with it, an era of Scoobys that took the fight to the performance establishment with resounding success. Today, the STI nomenclature has been placed on ice. The announcement has brought an air of sadness and disappointment among STI enthusiasts, including us here at TopGear SA Magazine.
So, all is lost, then? Well, not quite! Although the WRX badge is now more associated with everyday performance and practicality than WRC-inspired and developed road-going cars of yore, it still delivers on the driver enjoyment scale. Enter the latest WRX, available in both manual and automatic transmissions, and it is safe to say that the model has decidedly taken on more refinement and even lesser boy racer vibes than before. This, of course, is not necessarily a bad thing as the WRX is pitched at a slightly more mature buyer that places comfort, refinement, practicality and safety on par with performance. It is a perfect medley for those who still appreciate the pure joy of enthusiastic driving without sacrificing on the practicality aspect.
Cabin appointments have moved even higher upmarket with softer touch materials utilised throughout. The vertical infotainment screen that takes centre stage uplifts the overall cabin ambience. I particularly like the hybrid combination of digital and analogue cabin items, embracing the future while celebrating the past. Those electric leather chairs with WRX embossed logos are sumptuous and have excellent scope for adjustment. Ditto the steering wheel and easy-to-reach 6-speed manual gear lever, ensuring most body frames find a perfect driving position.
Nestling under that bonnet is the new 2.4-litre turbo boxer engine making 202 kW and 350 Nm that is shuffled to all wheels via a slick-shifting 6-speed manual gearbox. The engine is thoroughly refined with almost negligible boxer vibrations permeating, which might be a little disappointing for some old-school Scooby lovers. I mean, that signature boxer warble was what gave this engine a particularly characterful disposition compared to conventional four-bangers. You can opt for a booming sports exhaust, which is highly recommended. It still harks back - if not entirely - to that boodoom, boodoom signature idle we love about the brand.
Power delivery is linear, and the engine revs freely and cleanly to the redline. However, another 1,000 or 2,000 r/min could give it a bit more enjoyment, as it tends to run out of revs a tad too quickly. That aside, the rest of the package is mightily impressive; the gearbox is slick and a boon to use, while the chassis is perhaps the model’s centrepiece. The nose darts in the direction it’s pointed, and the rest of the car tracks true with little fuss. This is even more impressive during inclement weather, making the new WRX a thoroughly enjoyable car to exploit under any weather conditions.
At a price of R799 000, the Subaru WRX occupies a very niche segment where the likes of the Hyundai i30 N and Volkswagen Golf GTI will compare on price and performance, but not in body form. This gives it a bit more to offer in the way of versatility and practicality, not to mention the option of having it in either manual or automatic depending on your taste.
Having driven both the self-shifter and the three-pedal derivatives, it is the latter that gets my wallet vote. At the same time, the former would appease those looking for the convenience of an automatic gearbox. Either way, the new Scooby Warix is a thoroughly entertaining car that enjoys being grabbed by the scruff of the neck, and the fact that it is offered in two transmissions gives it even more universal appeal. Then again, don’t just take my word for it; take one for a spin and see for yourself.