When it first exploded onto the Australian scene, the mighty WRX offered the ultimate in cut-price performance, delivering neck-snapping 0-100km/h times for a fraction of the price of an equivalent European. I mean really, what was there not to love?
Fast-forward 25 years, and its cult-like following continues, which is made even more remarkable by the fact the quality of its competition has only increased over time.
For my weekend test, I'm driving the 2018 Subaru WRX Premium. It's priced at $45,640, and comes with a heap of standard kit including an electric sunroof, heated front seats, an electric driver’s seat, navigation, leather trim, and a harman/kardon audio system.
So, how does the wild WRX handle the more tame reality of family taxi duties? And what is it like to actually live with? My kids and I had the weekend to find out.
With winter sport in full swing, the first port of call was the kids' soccer match - thankfully, both my boy and girl (they're twins) play in the same team.
The basic design of the WRX's front end, and its angular grille, remain largely unchanged, apart from the addition of new black highlights which give it a more menacing look, particularly when paired with the new LED fog lights. These touches of black really work well to highlight the key design features, particularly against the bright red of our test car. It's a face that will command attention in the rear-view mirrors of cars everywhere.
Viewing the side profile, the key feature of this MY18 model is easily the wheels; new 18-inch alloys with matching red brake calipers. Very cool.
Viewing the side profile, the key feature of this MY18 model is easily the wheels. (image credit: Dan Pugh)
Inside, there’s a reasonable amount of cabin space, with plenty of leg and headroom throughout. It’s a little sparse in the backseat, though, with no air vents or USB ports to take advantage of. The kids, however, made good use of the two cupholders in the centre armrest and the bottle holders in each of the rear doors.
Inside, there’s a reasonable amount of cabin space, with plenty of leg and headroom throughout. (image credit: Dan Pugh)
The cabin design up front is simple, with a number of circular dials for the air-con controls and stereo functions. The touchscreen, at 5.9 inches, is on the small side, but it has a crystal-clear display and includes navigation as standard (though there's no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto). An additional 3.5-inch screen is located on top of the dash which displays vehicle data for the driver to toggle through.
The cabin design up front is simple, with a number of circular dials for the air-con controls and stereo functions. (image credit: Dan Pugh)
Our Saturday morning soccer match was a 45-minute drive away, which gave us plenty of time to get familiar with the cabin. My son sitting up front made quick work of syncing the smartphone to the touchscreen and had his Spotify playlist blaring out the six-speaker stereo in double-quick time.
Even with the windows up, the stereo had to work hard to drown out the wind and road noise which made its presence known inside the cabin. The combination of the stereo and outside cabin noise made communicating with the kids in the back harder than it otherwise needed to be.
While the kids were giving the cabin features the once over, I was getting to grips with the WRX’s six-speed manual gearbox. Strangely, it was a process that ended up lasting the entire journey. Our car trip was a jerky one (as my kids can confirm) as I tried to get the measure of the clutch pedal with its long travel and weirdly placed bite point. Up and down shifts required more physical effort and consideration through the gate than I had been expecting.
From a standing start, the WRX feels like it bounces off the red line in first all too quickly, before the turbo pauses to suck in a lungful of air before launching the car forward in second gear. Fun, but definitely not the experience I had envisaged. On the plus side, hill start assist was a welcome feature in the stop-start traffic.
Around the back streets, though, the WRX shone, dispatching larger humps and bumps with clinical precision. Smaller undulations and ruts in the road required two hands on the steering wheel - which is not always easy when driving a manual car. As you’d expect, though, it was incredible sure-footed around corners.
The remainder of our day was spent celebrating our 10-nil victory with a milkshake at the local cafe followed by a shopping trip to Woolworths. Parking the WRX in the tight car park was a simple exercise thanks to its reversing camera and parking sensors. There’s also a camera display of the front left wheel in the dash-mounted screen to help judge distance from the kerb.
The WRX has a reversing camera and a display of the front left wheel in the dash-mounted screen. (image credit: Dan Pugh)
The schedule for today was a picnic with friends for lunch. But first, I wanted to take the WRX on a little Sunday morning drive without the family.
Hiding under the hood of our 2018 WRX Premium is a 2.0-litre boxer that belts out 197kW and a hefty 350Nm of torque. It works to produce a unique sound that, while too noisy for some, is music to the ears of many a car enthusiast. Power reaches the road through the Japanese company's all-wheel drive system via a six-speed manual gearbox, with a limited slip-diff at the rear helping things along, too.
Hiding under the hood is a 2.0-litre boxer that belts out 197kW/350Nm. (image credit: Dan Pugh)
The winding blacktop is where the WRX puts its best foot forward - all four of them to be exact. Its set-up suddenly starts to make sense with the sharp steering, ride and handling working together to make for one hell of an enjoyable driving experience.
While still requiring a little man-handling, the throttle and steering inputs are met a with a positive and composed response that inspires greater confidence. Mid-range acceleration in second and third gears was a heap of fun with the window down, enjoying the delightful sound of the turbocharger winding up.
In short, this was more like it.
Back home, we packed the 460-litre boot with rugs, food and ball games and headed off for the picnic with four kids in tow, one in a car seat which was hooked into one of three tether points.
The WRX has a 460-litre boot. (image credit: Dan Pugh)
Our 95 RON premium-sipping WRX covered 280km of mainly urban driving over the weekend, with the trip computer indicating a fuel consumption figure of 10.2 litres/100km. It’s on the high side when compared to its competitors, and more than Subaru’s claimed 9.2 litres/100km.
The WRX's rough edges when driven around the suburban back streets can be hard to come to terms with. Spacious cabin aside, this is not my first pick for a family taxi. But it's a huge amount of fun, and if you're prepared to man-handle it, you will be repaid in spades.
Would the Subaru 'Rex' meet your family needs? Tell us in the comments below.