On the Road Review: Subaru WRX Premium

Normally, it takes three to four years for a new car model to grow through planning, design, engineering, cost-sourcing and assembly-line production before it becomes real. Makeovers, or model revisions, take half that time and usually result in a much improved yet familiar product.

Such is the case with our Blue Pearl Subaru WRX four-door sports sedan. Painted in the most popular hue for a car that has swelled Subaru’s performance reputation for a whole generation of drivers, the latest WRX is at once a more refined driving tool while not losing any of the attitude that buyers have readily embraced.

Slightly longer, slightly wider and built on Subaru’s new Global Platform with dimensions similar to the Impreza on which it is based, the new WRX delivers a slick(er) shifting manual gearbox (a CVT automatic is featured on top models) plus more power from a larger 2.4-liter boxer-four engine — now making 271 hp. Turbo-lag — once the bane of this car’s edgy performance — has largely been erased as throttle response is much quicker and robust at all engine speeds.

Unlike rivals in this price segment ($30,600 base, $32,600 as shown for Premium trim, $42,890 for top Limited) the WRX still offers standard AWD, which provides a distinct handling and grip advantage. Our recent Honda Civic Si and Acura Integra come to mind, both featuring turbo-power and slick-shifting transmissions, but alas, only front-wheel drive that creates a lot of tire screech at the handling limits that found the WRX barely breaking a sweat. With active torque-vectoring in the sequential AWD, the Subbie has racecar-like turning agility as well as a more balanced ride dynamic. A revised steering rack and retuned suspension hardware can be thanked for this maturing, yet sporty, performance.

Inside, a large 11.6-inch vertical screen takes up the center dash. Large icons identify apps and functions, while two tuning knobs handle audio functions (pay attention Honda). Climate controls have been added into the touchscreen, however, so multiple stabs of your finger are necessary to activate the seat heaters. The cloth seating provides good grip, yet power adjustability and any kind of lumbar action are missing. Accolades here: the two base models lack many of the distracting electronic safety aids available on the Limited and GT trims. I’m fine with that; buyers should get a choice.

The larger body generates 1 more inch of rear-seat space, while the high-performance quad-exhaust pipes are an octave or two quieter. Keyless ignition, heated front seating, 18-inch rally wheels, rear spoiler, auto up/down power windows, voice-activated climate controls and Apple/Android functionality are all included. EPA mileage ratings are 19/26 mpg on suggested premium fuel.

Some finessing of the body didn’t change the overall stance; it just adds more specific accents. Vented cladding around the front fenders, larger skirting up front and along the flanks — wider step out — plus better aerodynamics at the rear, create a body with purpose and functionality. Of course, the WRX couldn’t exist without its oversize hood-scoop.

With summer debuting as the fifth-generation WRX appeared, gas prices continued to climb past $5 a gallon. As one might expect, the interest in small cars, any cars actually, is once again increasing, which is contrary to what consumers have been choosing from the automakers; sales have been heavily skewed toward crossovers and trucks — 80 percent skewed. The intent of this WRX was to have greater appeal for drivers who still want a sensible, relatively efficient, and quite sporty car capable of tearing it up when the tarmac ends. Maybe not as off-road tough as a Raptor or TRX or Bronco, but no slouch in the dirt either. See, that three- to four-year planning cycle didn’t forecast our current predicament.

And that leads to whether Subaru will have the higher performance STI model of the WRX. So far, Subaru is being coy; maybe it will be a hybrid, or maybe an all-electric off-roader. Either will be fine, as both will continue the tradition of a sporty four-door Subaru that has grown up, yet still brings big smiles to your face.

Porsche and Ferrari are making SUVs. Electric vehicles are still promised. Subaru can make any kind of WRX, apparently, and fans will be fine.

Honda and Acura’s small cars are working hard to be sports sedans. Subaru’s WRX is already a capable sports sedan, a blue tornado that blows into town and captures hearts and minds with an all-around comprehensive upgrade.

Next week: Hyundai Tucson Plug-in Hybrid

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.

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