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Subaru WRX STI 2014 review: road test

The Subaru WRX's rough edges are all in the past.
EXPERT RATING
8
Derek Ogden road tests and reviews the 2014 Subaru WRX.

The wild child WRX of the Subaru school, born 20 years ago, has matured into a smart, no nonsense sports sedan. Not that the performance has been toned down: there's still plenty to keep rusted-on Rex lovers from crossing the street to the opposition.

With the fourth generation WRX, Subaru has come up with arguably the best handling version of the pocket-rocket at its most competitive entry price. That price is just $38,990 plus on-roads – amazingly, this is less than when the Rex was launched 20 years ago and $1000 under the superseded model. 

  • 2014 Subaru WRX 2014 Subaru WRX
  • The fourth-generation Subaru WRX has made its global debut in LA, severing the ties to its Impreza lineage and becoming an independent model that shares only a couple of body panels with the Impreza. The fourth-generation Subaru WRX has made its global debut in LA, severing the ties to its Impreza lineage and becoming an independent model that shares only a couple of body panels with the Impreza.
  • It will be offered only as a sedan, with hatch sales not strong enough -- even here in the car's third-biggest market -- to warrant another five-door body. It will be offered only as a sedan, with hatch sales not strong enough -- even here in the car's third-biggest market -- to warrant another five-door body.
  • The current 2.5-litre engine has been ditched in favour of the WRX's first turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder boxer engine since 2005 -- although the WRX STi will continue to carry a 2.5-litre. The current 2.5-litre engine has been ditched in favour of the WRX's first turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder boxer engine since 2005 -- although the WRX STi will continue to carry a 2.5-litre.
  • The WRX also gets new transmissions and technology, and sleeker styling -- although, as predicted, far more conservative than the WRX concept from New York motor show earlier this year. The WRX also gets new transmissions and technology, and sleeker styling -- although, as predicted, far more conservative than the WRX concept from New York motor show earlier this year.
  • The 2.0-litre mill is related to the one used in the Forester XT and Subaru BRZ, and for the WRX delivers 199kW of power at 5600rpm and 349Nm of torque between 2000-5200rpm – not a big lift on the current model's 195kW and 343Nm -- and peak power arrives 800rpm later. The 2.0-litre mill is related to the one used in the Forester XT and Subaru BRZ, and for the WRX delivers 199kW of power at 5600rpm and 349Nm of torque between 2000-5200rpm – not a big lift on the current model's 195kW and 343Nm -- and peak power arrives 800rpm later.
  • But manual transmission fans will applaud the addition of an extra cog to raise the count to six, although there may be some dissension over the automatic getting a continuously variable transmission, although Subaru says the CVT with it's Sports mode eight faux gears is more responsive and sports-oriented than the garden variety boxes. But manual transmission fans will applaud the addition of an extra cog to raise the count to six, although there may be some dissension over the automatic getting a continuously variable transmission, although Subaru says the CVT with it's Sports mode eight faux gears is more responsive and sports-oriented than the garden variety boxes.
  • There were suggestions earlier this week from leaked information that there could be an acceleration penalty, with leaked figures reporting the new manual WRX getting to 100km/h in 5.6 seconds compared to the current 5.3, and the CVT auto in 6.1. There were suggestions earlier this week from leaked information that there could be an acceleration penalty, with leaked figures reporting the new manual WRX getting to 100km/h in 5.6 seconds compared to the current 5.3, and the CVT auto in 6.1.
  • However Subaru has not released official performance data, but is promising the new car will slice time off the outgoing model -- and be more efficient than the current 8.1L/100km fuel economy. However Subaru has not released official performance data, but is promising the new car will slice time off the outgoing model -- and be more efficient than the current 8.1L/100km fuel economy.
  • The manual car's all-wheel drive will have a centre differential with 50:50 default torque split, while the auto gets Subaru's Variable Torque Distribution with 45:55 default front-to-rear split. The manual car's all-wheel drive will have a centre differential with 50:50 default torque split, while the auto gets Subaru's Variable Torque Distribution with 45:55 default front-to-rear split.
  • The new WRX has better torsional rigidity, firmer suspension and bigger brakes and tyres (235/45 17-inch) plus faster-tuned electric power steering. The new WRX has better torsional rigidity, firmer suspension and bigger brakes and tyres (235/45 17-inch) plus faster-tuned electric power steering.
  • The car is slightly longer and has a bigger wheelbase, with a promise of more rear and luggage space -- the latter enhanced by a split rear seatback. The car is slightly longer and has a bigger wheelbase, with a promise of more rear and luggage space -- the latter enhanced by a split rear seatback.

STYLING

Neat and tidy: that's the only way to describe the new WRX's looks. Designers have done away with automotive ostentation such as gaping air intakes just for show and brightly coloured brake calipers.

Inside is no different, with plain, if slightly sombre, decor and a simple layout for controls and instruments. No fey ambient lighting, or scented air freshener here. Just workman-like surroundings.

Black cloth upholstery is lifted by contrasting red stitching, Instruments and switches are lit to make them instantly approachable for info and operation, while the leather wrapped steering wheel has a flat bottom, following the latest sports fashion. 
 
ENGINE / TRANSMISSION

A new generation engine, featuring direct-injection turbocharged technology, was mated with a manual gearbox in our test WRX. It has been lifted a cog to six, and for the first time in ten years, there is an automatic WRX, featuring a Sport Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) with an eight-speed manual mode.

Making its debut in the new WRX, the 2.0-litre horizontally-opposed FA-Series direct-injection turbocharged engine is a twin-cam unit, and square in its measurements - 86.0 mm x 86.0 mm bore and stroke. 

It produces 197kW of power at 5600 rpm and 350Nm of torque between 2400 and 5200 rpm and Subaru tells us it is 11.5 per cent more fuel efficient and produces 13.8 per cent less carbon dioxide than the superseded 2.5-litre unit.

There's the option of a six-speed manual gearbox or a continuously variable transmission with manual overrides, the latter giving eight forward ratios by way of paddles on the steering wheel. 

SAFETY

In line with all new Subarus, the WRX has earned a five-star safety rating from ANCAP, the score of 35.85 out of a possible 37 making it the highest ranking Subaru. The car has an added driver's knee airbag, a significant increase in the use of high tensile steels and better brakes, and like all Subarus, the new model features the company's own data dot security system as a theft deterrent.

INFOTAINMENT

A first for the WRX is a multifunction colour display situated in the upper centre of the instrument panel, for easy driver visibility. It provides a wide variety of information, including turbo pressure, audio functions, fuel consumption, an Eco evaluation, air-conditioning status and reversing camera screen.

A new instrument cluster has a three-dimensional look, with red illumination and white needles of the gauges adding to the sporty feel. A 3.5-inch colour LCD provides information on driving time, SI-Drive info (with CVT) digital speedometer, cruise control, odometer, trip computer and Eco gauge. 

All audio systems include USB and Bluetooth connectivity, the standard WRX unit featuring a single CD with MP3/USB/AUX connectivity and six speakers. It has Intelligent Tune technology, with voice image control, virtual bass and sound restore, moving vocals to directly in front of occupants, without disrupting stereo balance. 

The range-topping WRX Premium features an audio system with Harman Kardon front end and nine speakers, including subwoofer. It also has a satellite navigation screen.

DRIVING

Keyless access is made possible by the addition of a touch sensor. The door handle mechanism has also been made to make operation easier, while hinges are tilted forward for lighter opening.

The front quarter glass is integrated into the door, increasing access space. The longer wheelbase, upped by 25 mm to 2650 mm, allows for a longer, more comfortable cabin. It is 15 mm wider at 1490 mm. Boot capacity, at 460 litres, trumps the superseded sedan by 40 litres.

The driver's field of vision has been boosted by the WRX having thinner A-pillars that are moved forward at the base. The door mirrors have been relocated to improve the driver's field of vision. The mirror shell size is reduced to give them what Subaru says is a sportier look. 

Fire up the engine and occupants are instantly greeting by the typical WRX boxer engine rumble, which turns to a smile inducing growl at the push of the accelerator pedal. Setting off, you are pressed firmly into the seats, with 100 kilometres an hour coming up in six seconds or so.

Subaru's all-wheel drive system, retuned suspension, stiffened body, upgraded brakes, slicker steering and Active Torque Vectoring help keep the car on track through fast bends and tight corners, while occupants are steadied in their seats by bigger bolsters and high-friction fabric upholstery.

The new six-speed manual transmission is one of the friendliest on the market thanks to a 12 per cent shorter shift stroke and carbon synchromesh on first and second gears. Revised ratios provide a wider spread than the superseded five-speed. 

Fuel consumption and quieter highway driving are winners too, the test car topping 12 litres per 100 kilometres around town and was down as low as 7.6 litres per 100 kilometres on the open road.

Verdict

Fiddling with an icon can be a risky business, but early indications are that the new WRX and its hot STI sibling are providing excellent leads.

Pricing Guides

$24,965
Based on 254 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$9,999
Highest Price
$41,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
2.0i (AWD) 2.0L, ULP, CVT AUTO $9,999 – 19,990 2014 Subaru Impreza 2014 2.0i (AWD) Pricing and Specs
2.0i Luxury Limited Edition 2.0L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $14,990 – 17,990 2014 Subaru Impreza 2014 2.0i Luxury Limited Edition Pricing and Specs
2.0i-L (AWD) 2.0L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $11,990 – 18,888 2014 Subaru Impreza 2014 2.0i-L (AWD) Pricing and Specs
2.0i-S (AWD) 2.0L, ULP, CVT AUTO $16,790 – 18,999 2014 Subaru Impreza 2014 2.0i-S (AWD) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8
Pricing Guide

$25,190

Lowest price, based on third party pricing data

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