Subaru WRX VS Audi A4
- Terrific engine
- Surprisingly livable ride
- Unusual and great hydraulic steering
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Spec.R value questionable
- Lack of AEB/rear parking sensors
- Beautiful inside and out
- Terrifically comfortable
- Excellent tech
- a bit restrained
- warranty looking short
- not very emotional
It's funny how some brands break through into the collective consciousness. Subaru Technica International could be absolutely anything, really, but thanks to the efforts of a few chaps flinging WRXs down muddy forest roads and the PlayStation juggernaut that is Gran Turismo, just about everyone has at least heard of STi, and knows it means something fast and furious.
As part of this year's facelifted range of six WRXs, Subaru has presented us with the WRX STi Spec.R. Before you get too excited and start looking for phrases like "power is up..." or "weight is down...", the Spec.R is an STi with Recaro seats and a big wing. That doesn't mean it's not worth reading on, however, because an STi badge is never anything less than interesting. And invigorating.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Audi's A4 is one of those cars that everybody likes. Despite wearing a German badge, it doesn't feel the need to bellow about itself. If anything, the A4 is so subtle you have to check it's not either its smaller sibling the A3 or its larger one, the A6.
In 2019, the A4 has a bit of a blue on its hands - the new BMW 3 Series is a belter of a car. The rivalry is now freshly-fired, with the 3 lifting its game in every single area, including the interior. And the C-Class is still going strong.
The A4 isn't a whole new car, though, it's the mildest of mild refreshes of a model we've had here for just over three years.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Is the Spec.R worth the extra few grand over the Premium? Not really, but it's not like you're buying an STi with your accountant's blessing. The Recaros are good but they aren't amazing and the whopping rear wing is a little embarassing if you want to keep a low profile. But if you must have the top of the range, the STi is certainly far better than the WRX on which it's based and worth the extra dollars and thirst for 98 RON fuel. It's easier to live with and more fun to drive, something I'm still questioning as I type it. I expected the latter but not the former.
You can get the "basic" STi for almost $10,000 less and still get pretty much the same effect, but you'll have to move the seat yourself, live without a few luxuries and go without Battlestar Galactica glued to the bootlid.
Is the STi on your list or does the the all-wheel drive Euro set have its fingers on your money?
The 2019 Audi A4 is a classic case of failing to break something that wasn't broken. It's a pretty suave, elegant looking thing and that philosophy extends to the technology and the drive experience. It's such an easy to car to look at, live with and drive.
At this price point, you probably want a car to move your heart a bit, and that's where the A4 might fall short for some. But it's awesomely comfortable, quiet and powerful, shrugging off whatever you can throw at it.
It stands apart from its rear-wheel drive rivals with its quattro all-wheel drive and the elegance of its design.
Does the A4 have what it takes to combat the resurgent 3 Series? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Well, yes. That rear wing really dominates the STi, hanging off the back like it's searching for aliens, so they can land their spaceships on it. It's a hefty-looking unit but is actually so big that it does little to ruin rearward vision. You certainly make an entrance in a Spec.R.
The rest of the car is fairly conventional WRX - pumped and vented front guards, big but not stupid-big wheels and blacked out front and rear splitters.
The update to the A4 hasn't changed much, so it's as it was - calm, cool and sophisticated. The new, wider grille is an improvement - when you see the two grilles side-by-side, the bigger one just looks better and the front and rear bumper detailing is different. Nothing major.
Current Audi design thinking is starting to carefully add curves, but the nearly four-year old design of the A4 is resolutely straight-edged.
I don't mind that, but if you're looking for a bit more 'look at me', you'll have to go to the S4 or RS4. Even S line doesn't do a huge amount to toughen up the A4's visual appeal apart from the very cool design of the new for this year Audi Sport wheels.
The horizontal themes and gentle stacking of visual elements is calming and the materials are superb. Run your finger along the climate controls and enjoy the visual and tactile quality. Just a little thing, yes, but it's a lovely cabin. The ambient lighting is also nifty if you have it fitted.
And I'm still a big fan of the jet-fighter style transmission selector.
It's classic Impreza in here, so it's not a bad place for you and your things. Front and rear headroom are good and, for this segment, rear accommodation isn't bad at all, even if it lacks its own set of air-con vents.
The boot will take 460 litres, with the rear seats folding in the usual 60/40 fashion. Front and rear passengers each have two cupholders and two bottle holders, bringing the totals to four apiece.
As a mid-size sedan, it's not especially roomy, but is fine for four adults. The rear seats are comfortable with decent head and legroom, but you won't want to be much taller than six feet before you'll feel the pinch. Having your own climate control zone in the back is rather nice, though.
There are two cupholders in the front and another pair in the rear, and each door will hold a modestly-sized bottle.
The centre console is relatively shallow and topped by an armrest and that's where the USB ports are to connect your phone to the MMI.
The glove box is cooled, so it's a good place to keep your Mars bars, I guess.
Like all the mid-size German sedans, the boot is a suspiciously uniform 480 litres (I'm guessing it's probably more than that) and is a usefully clean shape.
Price and features
The STI range kicks off at $51,190, climing to $55,490 for the Premium and then on to $57,690 for the Spec.R. I had the all-singing and dancing Spec.R for a week.
Based on the Premium's specifcation, the R arrives with 19-inch alloys wrapped in Yokohama Advan tyres, bright yellow six-pot Brembo calipers gripping drilled discs, an eight-speaker Harmon Kardon stereo, dual-zone climate control, front, side and rear vision cameras, keyless entry and start, auto wipers, active auto LED headlights, cruise control, sat nav, partial leather trim, power everything, sunroof and a space-saver spare.
The R in Spec.R stands for Recaro, the famous bottom-holding company supplying the heated front seats in part leather, part alcantara. Irritatingly, the seats don't fix the too-high positioning of the WRX's front pews, but you can't have everything. The R could also stand for ruddy great rear wing, which comes as standard and is as impressive/obnoxious as ever (delete where appropriate).
The eight-speaker stereo is a vast improvement on the six-speaker unit in the WRX (which is tinny) but the Starlink screen (all 5.9-inches of it) still doesn't feature Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. The sat nav is welcome, though, and means the lack of proper smartphone integration isn't as annoying.
The A4 45 TFSI quattro S line is a fairly long name and, obviously, wants to give you an idea of exactly what kind of car it is. The 45 TFSI bit I'll explain in more detail later, but it means a 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder, the quattro bit indicating it drives all four wheels and S line means some shiny wheels and other bits and bobs.
Starting at $70,300 before on-road costs, it's clearly head-to-head with the BMW 330i. Out of the box, you get 19-inch alloys, a 10-speaker stereo, three-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, a comprehensive safety package, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, the 'Virtual Cockpit', electric front seats, sat nav, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, leather trim, power everything and a space-saver spare.
A 10.1-inch screen graces the dashboard and is controlled by a rotary dial on the console. Audi's 'MMI' system include Android Auto and Apple CarPlay (without any of BMW's subscription nonsense), DAB+, CD and DVD player. MMI is an excellent system and coupled with the digital dashboard Audi calls Virtual Cockpit, it's a bit sci-fi inside.
'Our' car had a bunch of individual options: sunroof ($2470), metallic paint ($1950), nappa leather ($1950 and very nice, if you must know), a colour lighting package ($520) privacy glass ($1105) and heated front seats ($780)
The $1300 S line Sport package switches the 19s for Audi Sport five-spoke design with titanium look, dashboard and headlining in black, various aluminium trim bits and perforated leather, sport front seats with Alcantara and leather and a flat-bottomed steering wheel.
The $2470 'Assist Package' adds adaptive cruise with stop and go (it'll keep you moving in traffic semi-autonomously), active lane assist, pre-sense front (senses you're about to, or might, have a crash) collision avoidance assist, auto high beam and turn assist (tries to stop you turning across oncoming traffic).
The 'Parking Assistance Package' brings 360 degree cameras and auto parking for $1235.
The 'Technik Package' adds the excellent matrix LED headlights a Bang & Olufsen 3D Sound System and head-up display for $5600 - that's a fair bit, but the matrix LEDs tend to be very expensive on their own.
All of that adds up to a hefty $89,680 as tested.
Engine & trans
The STi continues with the larger 2.5-litre turbo boxer four, producing an unchanged 221kW (at 6000rpm) and 407Nm. Power hits the road via all four wheels in a fairly attacking fashion, with the centre differential switched out from the viscous coupled one in automatic to a driver-configurable version called "DCCD".
The 0 to 100km/h sprint for the 1572kg STi is dispatched in 5.2 seconds, lopping 0.8 seconds off the standard car's time, which is significant.
The A4 45 TFSI translates to Audi's 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo developing a not inconsiderable 185kW/370Nm.
Using Audi's seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission, all that heads to all four wheels through the company's famed quattro system. You'll see the ton in just 5.8 seconds.
The official combined cycle figure is listed at 6.5L/100km, and do you know what? I reckon you could get pretty damn close to that.
My week was almost exactly 50 per cent highway and 50 per cent urban battling and the outcome was an indicated 7.7L/100km.
If some of it had been of a less enthusiastic nature, I'm confident that number would have dipped under 7.0L/100km. Not bad.
There are a number of significant differences between the basic WRX and the STi. For a start, the steering in the STi is old-school hydraulic, and it shows. While it might follow ruts a little more assiduously than I'd like, it's much better than the electric rack in the WRX.
The engine is half a litre bigger, with 221kW and 407Nm, the centre diff is driver controllable, the gear ratios are different and there is a shorter final drive for extra punch. The all-wheel-drive grip is further augmented with a set of delightfully sticky Yokohama tyres wrapped around 19-inch alloys.
If you want, you can also have a ludicrously large rear wing. Well, on the Spec.R, you've got it as standard. If you're a bit of a wallflower, you might want to delete that. There are also a set of bright yellow six-pot Brembo brakes, properly high-vis yellow, gripping drilled discs.
The standard WRX was a hard-rider, with a difficult clutch and gearshift. Surely the harder, more focused STi will be a less appealing day-to-day machine?
Nope. I know, it makes no sense, but it's true.
The real revelation is the ride. The WRX's disjointed suspension setup makes for an unholy experience on poor suburban roads while (mercifully) delivering in the twisty stuff. Both the city and getting-up-to-mischief rides in the STi are excellent. It's not soft, but the concretey feel of the WRX has been replaced with a more compliant, less busy ride. And that's despite bigger wheels and lower-profile tyres and a bit more weight.
On top of that, the hydraulic steering is way better, with more feel, more communication and more precision, apart from a slight wooliness a couple of degrees either side of dead-ahead. While the WRX is better in the faster stuff than the slow, the STi is more comfortable and usable everywhere. The extra power and torque is easy to feel and use and the clutch and gearbox are much more interested in not making you look like a goose.
The torque curve does seem a bit different to the 2.0-litre machine - you can't bumble along in a high gear, you will have to keep the left arm and leg working to maintain stately forward progression. Get lazy and you'll be bumping and shunting a bit, but again, the shift and clutch are far less obstreperous. And this is a car for people who want to drive, and be involved, anyway.
In the fun stuff, the STi is a joy. It really hooks up and you don't need to fiddle with the diff setting, which seems like a silly gimmick. Just leave it in auto and enjoy the taut, responsive chassis, the way it grips and grips and grips, and with a bit of power shuffling, resists understeer like a vegan fails to resist telling you about their veganism.
I had forgotten how quiet and smooth the A4 is. It may be that this mild 2019 update has further suppressed pretty much every sound, making this cabin the calmest in the class.
The A4 took us up to the Blue Mountains in virtual silence, only the garbage surface of Sydney's appalling M4 motorway ruffled the interior calm.
On that same motorway is one of the laziest pieces of road engineering, a join to a bridge that can sometimes be a bit hair-raising in softly-sprung cars and downright insulting in stiffer cars.
The A4 handled the resultant heave with exceptional ease and comfort, but watching the other cars ahead was as amusing/terrifying as ever. It made me appreciate how well sorted the A4's springs and dampers are.
And the same impression came from winding our way up the Great Western Highway to Katoomba, with its variety of surfaces, corner types and inclines.
The body control is impressive but the ride is super-refined, remarkable given the huge 19-inch wheels.
The 2.0-lite TFSI is impressive in just about any Audi it's installed in, and in this latest A4 it's even quieter and more remote. The stop-start is unobtrusive and as you cruise to a stop cuts out at higher speeds than most.
There is little to complain about - while the steering is certainly a big improvement over the previous (B8) A4, it can feel a little artificial and light.
The quattro drivetrain is entirely fuss-free but does take the edge off the handling, especially relative to the more natural steering feel of the 3 Series.
Not everyone's worried about that sort of thing, and that's perfectly reasonable.
The WRX has seven airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, reversing camera and brake assist. The STi picks up lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, lane change assist and high beam assist. There's also a camera that looks forward down the side of the car to help you park and a front-facing camera.
ANCAP awarded the WRX a five star ANCAP safety rating in March 2014.
EyeSight is not available on manual WRXs and you can't get a CVT STi, so no camera-based cleverness for you.
The front-facing camera hangs off the left-hand door mirror and for some reason points forward. It's not especially helpful for parking.
The A4 ships with eight airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, blind spot sensors, brake assist, rear cross traffic alert, exit warning, active safety bonnet, driver attention detection and brake force distribution.
There are also three top-tether anchors across the back seat and two ISOFIX points.
The A4 scored a maximum five ANCAP stars, the highest available, in February, 2016. This car had a few extras and all were welcome, but had no effect on the ANCAP rating.
Subaru offers a three year/unlimited kilomtre 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). Intervals weigh in at six months/12,500km with prices ranging from $302 to $604 for a total service bill of $2295.72 or $765.24 per year. Oddly, the STi's service pricing is slightly cheaper than the base WRX.
Audi is stubbornly sticking with a segment-competitive three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and chucks in roadside assist for the same period.
If you keep servicing your car at an Audi dealer, you get another 12 months of roadside with every service.
Audi likes you to return to the dealer every 12 months or 15,000km and you can either take your chances on the day or pre-pay up to three years/45,000km of servicing for $1710 or five years for $2700.
As you can see, the longer plan is better value for money (both are substantially cheaper than the diesel service plan).