Friday, 22 March 2013

REVIEW - Subaru WRX STi 320R

A secret admiration of many petrolheads is the Subaru Impreza. From the rally days of the late great Colin McRae to the days of video games and tuning craze; we all know what it is. With the latest installment they dropped the Impreza name; opting to call it simply the WRX. This is also the last of its kind here in the UK as Subaru are pulling the WRX from the UK once this existing stock is sold. This is a great shame, and so I told myself I had to get out and test one for fear of regretting it if I didn't.

Looks - 9/10

I really like how the WRX looks. Subaru have gone back to a saloon version for this model, and I think it has a nicer shape than the previous hatchback. One thing that comes across from looking at the WRX is that subtlety is paramount to its styling. The quad exhausts, for example, are relatively well hidden and gone is the traditional table-sized spoiler. If you didn't look carefully you might miss the huge Brembo four-pot brakes, and the side vents. The most menacing angle of the WRX is from the front- the huge bonnet scoop and bold corners really provide a presence that would look daunting in your rear view mirror.

On the inside you get lovely Recaro bucket seats, and the odd STi badge here and there to remind you of the power that lies at the disposal of your right foot. The dashboard lights up in a glowing red that certainly reminded me of Gran Turismo, with the large rev counter taking centre stage. Whilst it may not have the quality feel of a German car on the inside, it's not unpleasant. The materials may be a cheaper grade of plastic than in the high end cars, but it is inoffensive and soon forgotten about. I didn't like the look of the stereo- it was a bit primitive- and the back seats lack the sporty looks of the front buckets despite being finished in the same leather/alcantara.

Handling/Performance - 10/10

I'm sure that a perfect score of 10 for the handling and performance of a car like the WRX comes as no surprise whatsoever. However, the WRX is so good that even though I expected perfection, I was still surprised.

The 2.5-litre boxer engine is tuned to 320PS and has a monumental 450Nm of torque. 0-62mph is completed in a rather brisk 4.9 seconds and the top speed is 158mph. The power is put onto the road via an AWD system with adjustable differentials and a 6-speed manual gearbox. I can tell you first hand that the WRX absolutely flies. Yes, there is some turbo lag- how could there not be?- and at lower speeds the WRX feels a bit subdued. But if you open the taps you soon find the horizon in front of you. There is serious acceleration through the gears and the power never seems to fade once you're on the revs. I found a clear road to perform a standing start, and can honestly say that the G-force experienced under acceleration is really powerful. The WRX feels just as fast as the figures suggest; meaning you have to be careful with the loud pedal.

The adjustable differentials really help make this car handle so great. In auto mode the car is well balanced, but you can select a plus "+" mode to shift more torque to the front in slipperier conditions. For when you have dry, grippy conditions there is a minus "-" mode. This sends more power to the rear wheels and means that if you are overly zealous with the accelerator you can soon find the back end stepping out. With the vehicle dynamics system and traction control you are unlikely to end up dead, but you should be aware of all the same. I soon established that it would take some serious pushing to discover the limits of the WRX, and so it's not even worth trying. When you find a twisty A-road that looks more like a rally stage, then the WRX will get you to the other side faster than anything else I've ever driven. The grip through the corners is sublime and then a punch in the stomach surges you toward the next bend and mach 7. You can adjust the throttle sensitivity through the driving modes, from "intelligent" for everyday driving, to "sport" and "sport sharp" which really turns the WRX into a monster; eating up tarmac for fun.

Economy - 4/10

This again will come as no surprise; economy is where the WRX falls down somewhat. With a 2.5-litre engine and a huge turbocharger, the WRX doesn't exactly sip fuel. Emissions are 243g/km putting it in VED band L. That means that 12 months road tax will set you back £460- you can only go one group higher than that. As for fuel consumption the WRX offers 26.9mpg on a combined cycle. This is perfectly achievable on a longer run, but around town expect to see between 15 and 20mpg. In the interest of full disclosure, I once saw as little as 2.0mpg on the instant consumption computer; admittedly at full throttle. But in reality who buys a Subaru WRX expecting 50mpg and low road tax?.. Exactly.

Practicality - 7/10

As a four-door saloon car the WRX has some great practical aspects. It is roomy and can fit four adults in comfortably. There's head and leg room for all, and even a decent sized boot (although filling it would only be adding unnecessary weight!). The WRX is easier to drive than you might imagine, and can cruise well at lower speeds. It is easily manoeuvered and has a good turning circle despite the wide tyres and large rims. You get creature comforts such as cruise control and keyless entry/go which is nice. Where the WRX falls down is that the ride is firm, and you do tend to notice this on a longer drive, and to live with everyday the fuel consumption could become a drawback. I would have liked to see a better media system too.

Fun - 10/10

One thing the WRX will never fail to provide is fun. Once you get the hang of how the differential and driving modes work you really can select the best mode to put a smile on your face whatever the road. It never gets tiresome seeing people in your rear-view mirror disappear no matter where you are, and I loved chucking the WRX into any corner at what feels like any speed, to find yourself out the other side still going quickly. I would love to have a proper go in a WRX around a track where you could start to explore this cars limits, and also get a feel for how it really handles when pushing hard. One thing's for sure- on the right road all the niggles disappear and you can just sit back and enjoy the WRX for the brilliant piece of engineering that it is.

Concluding Remarks

I loved the WRX to death, and think it's a truly great shame that it is being pulled from the UK. I can understand why- with the times moving toward efficient cars there seems no place for cars like this- but that doesn't soften the blow. Cars like these appeal to the petrolhead in us, and can satisfy the needs of a driving enthusiast. What I can tell you is that because these are the last models, they are holding value well on the second-hand market, and you can even have the full-blown 340PS model for less than £30,000 and that's a substantial amount of car for the money. If you are considering getting a WRX, then please do because you will get a brilliant car that I believe will be seen as an icon in years to come.

Total Score - 40/50

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