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Subaru WRX 2018 review

A tweak here and a tuck there: the 'new' WRX is effectively a facelift only
EXPERT RATING
7
The legendary Subaru WRX is still going strong, and while the 2018 Rex is merely an update, rather than a new platform, it's still a car that created, and lives in, a class of its own; affordable fun.

Colin McRae. Richard Burns. Possum Bourne. Petter Solberg. They're all names we know (we being motoring tragic everywhere) and the reason we do boils down to one of the most powerful automotive nameplates on earth - the WRX. Those four names all won rallies, lots of them, in shiny blue WRXs.

A few years back, Subaru dropped the Impreza from the name because we all did 20 years ago. WRX stands on its own, despite its humble hatch-and-sedan basis. 

Despite a whole new Impreza platform, the WRX fans are going to have to wait a couple of years for the all-new Rex. So to tide us over, Subaru has sent over an updated-for-2018 WRX with new looks and an updated interior.

Subaru WRX 2018: (AWD)
Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency9.2L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$35,785

Is there anything interesting about its design?   7/10

The 2018 WRX has had a bit of a gussy-up to make it look like the newer bread-and-butter Imprezas. The new front and rear ends are far less awkward-looking and with some black trim along the front and rear splitters, it looks pretty aggressive. One bonus is that the front bumper is nice and high off the ground despite a long-ish overhang, so you don't have to crab over speed humps and look like a complete doofus.

The WRX has red brake calipers all round in the manual but is otherwise free of any fripperies, apart from the skirts and lightly pumped and vented front guards.

Inside is pretty much as it was before. The materials have a had a bit of a lift and the bigger screen doesn't look as lost in the dash. The lumpy steering wheel, with about a thousand buttons on it, might not look the business but it feels good in your hands, giving off a sense of sporty intent.

The 5.9-inch touchscreen lacks sat nav. (image credit: Peter Anderson) The 5.9-inch touchscreen lacks sat nav. (image credit: Peter Anderson)

How practical is the space inside?   7/10

It might be classed as a small car, but there is plenty of room in the WRX. Front and rear passengers have ample head and shoulder room, with just the middle-seat passenger feeling the pinch.

Passengers are treated to four bottle holders, four cupholders and the boot will swallow 460 litres. The boot opening is a good size and shape and you can drop the rear seats for more space.

The boot will swallow 460 litres. (image credit: Peter Anderson)
The boot will swallow 460 litres. (image credit: Peter Anderson)

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   8/10

These days the WRX range is formed of five spec levels. WRX, WRX Premium, STi, STi Premium and STi Spec.R. Our car for the week was the range-opening WRX, starting at $39,240 for the six-speed manual.

Standard are new 18-inch alloys, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, active LED headlights, auto wipers and headlights, leather steering wheel and gearshift, power windows and mirrors and a space-saver spare.

The new 18-inch alloys come standard on the WRX. (image credit: Peter Anderson) The new 18-inch alloys come standard on the WRX. (image credit: Peter Anderson)

The six-speaker stereo is run from a larger 5.9-inch touchscreen using Subaru's own Starlink software. Unlike the new Impreza and XV - and similar to the current Forester - the WRX is bereft of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Starlink is okay and the reversing camera could do with more clarity, but it works fine and does the job. The lack of sat nav hurts, though, and it's something that could be easily fixed with CarPlay/Auto.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   7/10

Subaru's venerable 2.0-litre boxer turbo continues under the scooped bonnet, with 197kW and 350Nm. Power reaches the road through the Japanese company's all-wheel drive system and a six-speed manual transmission, with a viscous-coupled centre diff and a torsen limited slip-diff at the rear.

the 2.0-litre boxer turbo produces 197kW and 350Nm of torque. (image credit: Peter Anderson) the 2.0-litre boxer turbo produces 197kW and 350Nm of torque. (image credit: Peter Anderson)

The 0-100km/h time for the 1476kg WRX is six seconds flat, which is par for the course at this level. What isn't is the all-wheel drive - its price competition (well, within $5000) are all front-wheel-drive hot hatches from Peugeot, Renault, Ford, Holden and Volkswagen.

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

Subaru claims 9.2L/100km on the combined cycle, I managed 10.4L/100km, which isn't bad given it did get a bit of stick in my hands as well as some highway running and the usual suburban bashing around. The 2.0-litre asks for 95 RON.

What's it like to drive?   6/10

There are some uncomplimentary things in this section. I didn't like having to write them, partly because it was all so unexpected. So here goes.

The WRX is a frustrating car. The clutch is inconsistent both in bite point and feel, meaning unpleasantly jerky progress in traffic. The gearshift is long and notchy and needs an unusually hefty shove at every change. That's tiring.

Engine and tyre noise invade the cabin, the stereo is unable to properly overcome the roar. You can hear the gearbox too, the WRX's signature whine exactly the same as it was when I owned an MY2000 model.

On top of of all that is a tremendously fidgety ride. On the roads in and around Sydney, you feel every nibble from the Dunlop Sport Maxx tyres. Small bumps push the car around and it's just very tiring around town and on freeways with less than perfect blacktop. Special mention must go to Sydney's M2 motorway with a dreadful surface that the WRX's tyres particularly hate. Chatter, slap, roar.

Weirdly, big bumps are dismissed with not only little fanfare, but far less noise than the jittering and carrying-on over smaller imperfections. There's some body roll, but it's well controlled.

There's some body roll with the WRX, but it's well controlled. (image credit: Peter Anderson) There's some body roll with the WRX, but it's well controlled. (image credit: Peter Anderson)

It's all very curious. The WRX has always been compromised and needed manhandling, but I don't remember this. The CVT-only Levorg I drove wasn't as annoying, either. Thankfully, there are good things to balance it all out.

The engine is a cracker. The 2.0-litre boxer kicks out nigh-on 200kW, a decent amount by any measure. Dripping with character, it whoops, huffs and sighs as you work the gearbox. It's not much fun in traffic - and let's be honest, if you're buying this as a daily commuter, you're far more likely to choose the...shudder...CVT - but as you turn into the fun stuff, it starts to make a bit more sense. 

The irritation of the fidgety ride melts away, the too-heavy electric steering suddenly works with you rather than against you. While the ride remains busy, the confidence that comes from the way it handles bigger bumps means there's plenty of fun to be had, without any fear. You can't say that about the borderline feral Focus ST, which is a handful all day, every day.

While you're on your way to an interesting road, you'll notice what a fine thing that engine is - there's a gigantic mid-range that more than makes up for the way it runs out of revs pretty quickly when you plant the foot off the lights. If the road is good, the car is comfortable and easy going, with all that capability under the right foot if you need it. And the torque means fewer than-expected gear changes.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   7/10

The WRX has seven airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, reversing camera and brake assist.

ANCAP awarded the WRX a five-star safety rating in March 2014.

As part of the upgrade, CVT cars get Subaru's EyeSight safety system, but for some reason (it's a technical one) the manual doesn't. The basic WRX also misses out on the Premium's lane-departure warning and rear cross traffic alert.

 

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   7/10

Subaru offers a three year/unlimited kilometre warranty with matching roadside assist.

Servicing is capped for the first three years/75,000km on the WRX (Subaru appears to be in some kind of transition to a different style of service pricing for newer cars). Intervals weigh in at six months/12,500km with prices ranging from $316 to $578. Average yearly costs come out at $778 per year.

Verdict

The WRX is a bit Jekyll and Hyde. It's almost annoying around town, with its jerky and inconsistent clutch. The ride is busy and fidgety but that translates to a solid platform for fun on almost any surface. The key being that you have to be going quickly and putting in robust, positive commands to get the most out of it.

The WRX stands alone in its class. It still has the feel of the MY00 WRX that we all (well, almost all) adored, so you could accuse it of being old-fashioned. That's okay, because there are plenty of modern touches, like proper safety. The MY18 update has also brought better looks, an improved interior and a solid overall package. It's still a performance bargain - my WRX cost over $40K almost 20 years ago.

Did you expect the WRX to be like this? Or has Peter's memory fooled him and the WRX has always been compromised?

Pricing Guides

$46,983
Based on 186 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$35,785
Highest Price
$59,999

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
(AWD) 2.0L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $35,785 – 43,663 2018 SUBARU WRX 2018 (AWD) Pricing and Specs
Premium (AWD) 2.0L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $37,990 – 50,238 2018 SUBARU WRX 2018 Premium (AWD) Pricing and Specs
STi 2.5L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $44,890 – 50,990 2018 SUBARU WRX 2018 STi Pricing and Specs
STi (AWD) 2.5L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $38,610 – 45,430 2018 SUBARU WRX 2018 STi (AWD) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7
Design7
Practicality7
Price and features8
Engine & trans7
Fuel consumption7
Driving6
Safety7
Ownership7
Peter Anderson
Contributing journalist

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Pricing Guide

$35,785

Lowest price, based on 5 car listings in the last 6 months

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