Subaru: 2014 WRX Premium review

Subaru: 2014 WRX Premium review

DSC_0064As a former WRX STI owner I always look forward to driving the newest incarnation. Mine was a version 4, back in the late 1990s, and I loved it as much as I loved Star Wars when I was kid. Until now I’ve been stuck in that halcyon era of big noise, big exhausts and torquey turbocharged boxer engines. I might just have changed my mind.

After my version 4, the version 5 and 6 just got bigger spoilers and a few minor modifications. But then it all went wrong with the bug-eyed version 7 and since then the looks never really came back. Whatever the version number is that we’re up to now, Subaru has just made it much better.

DSC_0060Today we have a white Subaru WRX Premium, looking a little like the love child of a Stormtrooper and a BMW M3.

Wandering around the back of the car, the four exhausts poking through the rear venturis told me that this WRX shouldn’t be slow, despite not being the STI version. There are a couple of vents behind the front wheel arches which are nicely filled out with some 235/45R17 Dunlops wrapped around 17-inch alloys – a good compromise between style and comfort.

DSC_0058 bought my 205kW version 4 second hand for about $53,000 back in 1998. A brand new WRX with 197kW and a huge amount more technology and features can be yours for $53,990 if you go for the 6-speed manual, or $54,990 if you want the 8-speed Lineartronic (CVT).

Woah…CVT? CVT has no place in a sports car! That’s the type of gearbox that gives that annoying whine as you bury your foot to try to extract any kind of power from the usually puny motor they’ve mated it to, right? It’s like when Han Solo throws the hyperdrive lever and the Millennium Falcon just splutters and coughs. Think again. I’ve driven a lot of CVT cars, including some reasonably spec’d Lexuses, but this is the first CVT car I’ve driven that I could live with.

You’ll see in many of my other reviews how I bemoan them because, without power, a CVT gearbox makes driving less fun. The WRX has enough power that the CVT, in some rev ranges is (gulp…I’m going to have to say this…b-b-b-better than a regular gearbox). I hope no one quotes me on that. The rev ranges I’m talking about are when overtaking. It’s still not that nice from a standing start and it does provide for some jerky gear shifts at times.

You can have a manual gearbox if you want, but we didn’t DSC_0054get that. The main thing I miss, apart from heel-toeing the downshifts, is the noise. I am currently doing my Institute of Advanced Motorists training and that involves using the gears, not the automatic. This means I’m using the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel all the time. The problem is that, despite having four exhausts, you can’t hear what the engine is doing, and that makes it much harder to judge what gear you are in. However, this does make it more pleasant for passengers as it’s quieter.

Surprisingly, there’s no manual gear shifting option in the DSC_0033CVT – you have to use the paddles. Fortunately 350Nm of torque from the 2-litre boxer can easily mask a poor gear choice, and I’m quite willing to use that torque.

What the IAM teaches us is that automatics are always in the most economical gear, and this isn’t the gear with the most control. When the WRX wanted to be in 5th, I should have been in 3rd. That makes for rapid corner exits, but my fuel economy therefore was nowhere near the claimed economy by Subaru. Apparently when you’re driving economically, but ‘incorrectly’ (according to the IAM), you DSC_0052can get 8.6l/100km. I achieved 11.2l/100km, and I wonder anyway why you’d buy a car just shy of 200kW and worry that much about how often you’d need to fill up. Unless you own an old Mazda RX-7 – then you should buy shares in BP or commit yourself to an asylum.

Subaru is obsessed with gravel and bends. The first six pages of its car brochure are devoted to that and how its symmetrical all-wheel drive is perfectly suited to New Zealand’s rubbish roads. It, of course, comes with the obligatory traction control, Vehicle Dynamics Control, ABS, DSC_0062EBD and everything you’re going to need when you have a surplus of enthusiasm over ability.

The WRX’s ability, though, is quite astonishing. As well as being actually liveably comfortable to drive, it’ll corner like an X-Wing and brake like it’s using the Force. If you want to drive with the WRX deciding on your gear shifts, you can choose from three modes: I-mode adjusts the gear changes to be smooth, and keeps the car in a high gear to preserve fuel; S-mode bumps up the response a tad; SI-mode makes it work more like you are shifting the paddles for performance.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not going to fawn endlessly over the WRX as it has one annoying feature: an extremely wooden brake pedal, especially when the brakes are cold. Even when they’re warmed up, it’s not that much better and you have to learn to tread firmly on the pedal to get any response.

My old WRX was like Star Wars Episodes 4, 5 and 6 – especially 5: The Empire Strikes Back, which is the best. This WRX, though, is like Episodes 1, 2 and 3 and 4, 5, and 6. A CVT gearbox is Jar Jar Binks and the wood brake pedal is the wooden acting from a certain Mr Christensen. It’s got the flash graphics, the full back story, and some new tricks and you can marvel at how everything comes together, but just fast forward those bits in The Phantom Menace where Anakin shouts ‘Yippee’.

Fast forwarding is what the WRX does exceptionally well, and it’s more grown up now. It even meets Euro 5 emissions standards. It is not nearly as fast as my old STI in a straight line, but it’s still good for a 6-second dash to 100kph, and would more than likely totally own it in the corners. It has a grown up level of equipment like satellite navigation, reversing camera and Bluetooth phone integration. There’s a 5-star ANCAP crash test rating and seven airbags. It comes with a security alarm and DataDots for added protection.  I’m just hoping I don’t have to rewrite this analogy once Disney’s Star Wars episode 7 is revealed.

Price: $53,990 (manual), $54,990 (CVT)

Pros

  • Lots of ability and speed
  • Excellent comfort
  • Loads of lateral grip

Cons

  • Wooden brake feel

Words:

Pictures: Robert Barry

 

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