WRX? EVO? WRX? EVO? WRX? Hold on… we no longer get to make this argument.
|The current WRX is the best looking of its ilk since inception, and the most refined. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
in a dedicated, systematic effort to transform itself into the most yawn-inducing automaker the world has seen since Daewoo disappeared under the umbrella of General Motors, Mitsubishi has forsaken its countless performance fans along with decades of world rally heritage by giving up on the legendary Lancer Evolution series of compact sport sedans, so now the only Evo that might have a chance of unseating a new WRX will need to come from the pre-owned side of Mitsubishi’s dealer lots (or the used lots of Subaru retailers exchanging Evo trade-ins for new WRX STIs).
The WRX, on the other hand, is very much alive and better than ever, while its Subaru parent, despite no longer taking part in the World Rally Championship directly, still benefits from its decades of motorsport investment. In fact, Subaru’s Canadian
|From this distance it’s hard to see all the swoops, bulges, vents and interesting details, but believe me the WRX epitomizes the cult of sport compacts. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
division has been growing stronger every year, from just 16,190 sales a decade ago to 50,190 units last year, and this while many other brands have been steadily losing market share. For instance, Chevrolet has fallen from 195,446 units in 2006 to 151,460 at the close of 2016 (with more than a third of that number just pickup truck sales), while Mazda has dropped from 81,007 units 10 years ago to just 69,210 last year (they’re probably wishing they still had a pickup truck). Others that lost ground over the same period (in order of percentage lost) include Smart, Chrysler, Dodge, and believe it or not Toyota.
Speaking of Toyota, I find it interesting that the performance-oriented WRX and its
|These stylish LED low-beam headlamps come with mid-range Sport trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
even more energetic WRX STI sibling beat every type of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and EV on the Canadian sales chart last year with 4,217 deliveries. Even the mighty Toyota Prius didn’t come close with a mere 2,855 sales during the same 12 months, while Chevy’s Volt did better for the first time at 3,469 units, but still not enough to match WRX sales. Consumers always show their true colours with their wallets, and this is a clear sign that going green isn’t a big priority for motorists.
|These 18-inch Enkei wheels are part of the top-line Sport-tech package. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
performance cars aren’t making up the majority of sales. Instead, practical Canadian shoppers are turning to compact sedans and hatchbacks like the Impreza, as well as compact SUVs like Subaru’s Forester and Crosstrek, but with respect to that last model, Subaru wouldn’t have cancelled the Crosstrek Hybrid and lost out on a significant investment if sales were reasonable. For all the constant fervour about the environment, greenhouse gases, climate change, carbon tax, etcetera, and what the government, corporations, or somebody else aught to do about it, you’d hardly know there was a problem when consumers are faced with spending their own money on a new car or SUV. So therefore WRX fans, go ahead and guiltlessly buy the sport compact super sedan of your dreams, as it’s a helluvalot cleaner burning than the 20-year old Volvo wagon showing up at the
|The WRX is a fairly refined atmosphere for a sport compact. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
climate change rally (or for that matter the celebrity-filled personal jets making regular photo-op pilgrimages to annual climate change summits, World Economic Forums, and the like).
I’ve driven the mighty WRX STI on many occasions and can heap nothing but praise on this legendary four-door (and previous five-door), but it’s hard to knock this slightly detuned “WRX lite” model either. For a reminder, the STI drives all four wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox powered by a 305 horsepower 2.5-litre horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine with direct-injection, a twin-scroll turbocharger, and 290 lb-ft of torque. No autobox is offered.
|This is a cockpit that means business. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
saying that puts a smile on my face, the very thought laced with enough adrenaline inducing memories to keep me awake and alert all night. I’ve had plenty of fun with the entry-level WRX as well, mind you, one of such opportunities recently enjoyed while testing the car in these photos. It sports mostly the same engine downgraded to 2.0 litres resulting in 268 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, which while appearing domesticated compared to the wild and woolly STI, still sends plenty of oomph down to its Dunlop rubber for thrill-a-second acceleration from standstill, and even more when revs rise and multiple shifts ensue.
The numbers read 5.9 seconds from zero to 100km/h, 4.1 seconds from 80 to 120 km/h, and a top speed of 240 km/h. Not bad for WRX Jr., a car still capable of a claimed 11.3 L/100km in the city and 8.5 on the highway if driven more gingerly. The STI hits 100km/h in 5.4 seconds, scoots from 80 to 120 km/h in 3.7, and tops out a 255 km/h.
|A nice colour multi-info display splits a purposeful set of analog gauges. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
many compacts offer anywhere near the levels of engine output or overall car performance as these near monozygotic siblings, nor the WRX’ wonderfully notchy six-speed gearbox, absolutely brilliant clutch setup, grippy symmetrical all-wheel drive with active torque vectoring, taut body structure, superbly sorted suspension, and monstrously capable four-wheel disc brakes. This is a serious performance car for people who prioritize the journey as much as the destination, although drive a WRX with anger and you’ll likely spend a lot less time on the road and more wherever you’re going.
The manual has been massaged to improve shift feel for 2017, something I immediately noticed and fully appreciated, while the optional auto is the best continuously variable transmission (CVT) I’ve ever experienced. It’s been a while since I tested one, but I remember its eight
|This is the where much of the work gets done in the WRX office. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
quick-shifting ratios that made it feel more like a conventional performance-tuned automatic than it had a right to. I’d still take my WRX with the six-speed without question, but I wouldn’t mock someone who opted for Subaru’s Sport Lineartronic CVT as it’s truly is impressive.
You’ll need to choose the CVT for selectable drive modes, the “S#” or Sport Sharp mode its most engaging and where you’ll find all eight forward “gears” (the paddles connect through to six pseudo speeds under default function), whereas the six-speed manual is all-sport all the time. OK, it’s not as intensely focused on the road as the STI that provides a driver controlled multi-mode centre differential capable of dialing in extra rear wheel torque for a whole lot more fun in tight back road corners, on an autocross course or at the track, or inverted KYB shock absorbers
|Atop the centre stack is a fully featured secondary multi-info display with plenty of performance meters. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
for managing those curves and the ruts and bumps along the way, while the hyper-tuned model’s standard Brembo brakes bind like few others, but I repeat, the regular WRX is still one of the most fulfilling sport compact sedans in existence.
Subaru Canada makes three WRX trim lines available, including a no-name base model, mid-range Sport, and top-line Sport-tech (which much cooler trim names than American WRX buyers get-Premium and Limited, to appease your curiosity). Upgrades for 2017 include auto up/down for the front passenger’s window (previously it was only on the driver’s side), plus a higher grade woven fabric headliner. All this speaks of a refined cabin, and I must admit Subaru has come a long
|Subaru has come a long way with its infotainment system, Starlink now one of the better touchscreens in the class. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
way with this car and the Impreza it’s based on in recent years. To be clear, the current 2017 WRX and STI are not formed off the back of the redesigned 2017 Impreza that rides on the new Subaru Global Platform and therefore received new sheetmetal, a much improved interior and a lot more late last year, the performance-oriented duo set to receive their full makeovers for 2020, but being that they were completely new in 2014 they’re nicely finished too.
Premium touches like a high-quality soft synthetic dash top join nicely padded perforated leatherette door inserts, even nicer leather-like armrests, and superbly crafted leather-upholstered sport seats in my top-line Sport-tech tester, Subaru outlining
|This is a manual gearbox kids, and thanks to improved shift action it’s the way you should want your WRX. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
most of the above with sporty red stitching. Likewise for the perfectly shaped flat-bottomed leather-wrapped sport steering wheel and shifter boot, the shift knob a more purposeful ball of tightly stitched leather and metal.
Metal surrounds the shifter too, with classy “WRX” branding embossed at centre, while the same satin-silver finish brightens the steering wheel spokes, instrument panel vents, and centre stack switchgear, the audio knobs particularly well done and the three automatic HVAC dials encircled in knurled metallic rims no less. Alloy foot pedals finish off the brightwork, while piano black lacquer surfaces and unique carbon-look inlays complete the WRX cabin’s sporting style.
|Love these heavily sculpted sport seats, covered in red-stitched leather and eight-way powered in Sport-tech trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
weakness in previous years, the new model’s duo of touchscreen infotainment systems is mostly up to par with compact peers. The base version measures 6.2 inches diagonally, comes filled with attractive graphics, plus a backup camera, Bluetooth phone integration with audio streaming, plenty of apps including Aha radio and Starlink smartphone connectivity, plus much more. My upgraded 7.0-inch system features everything above plus Siri Eyes free (new this year), SMS text messaging capability, MirrorLink (also new) for relatively seamless Android phone connectivity, navigation with bright, clear mapping, SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link (new again) for weather, sports and stock updates, SiriusXM Advanced Audio Services, dual USB ports, and a great sounding 440-watt nine-speaker (including sub) Harman/Kardon audio upgrade.
Standard $29,995 WRX features not yet mentioned include 17-inch Enkei wheels, heated
|I could do without the standard sunroof in order to save weight, but many will appreciate the available sunlight and fresh air overhead. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
power-adjustable side mirrors, heatable sport seats, a centre stack-mounted 4.3-inch colour multi-function display featuring a boost meter, vehicle dynamics monitor, digital clock, outside temperature reading, maintenance reminder, and customizable settings, plus AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio with aux and USB ports as well as satellite radio and iPod control.
Sport trim, at $32,795, adds auto on/off LED low-beam headlamps, halogen fog lights, LED turn signals and welcome lighting integrated into the side mirror caps, a low-profile rear spoiler, an eight-way powered driver’s seat, a powered moonroof, and blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.
The as-tested $36,095 Sport-tech upgrade adds the aforementioned leather upholstery,
|A sports car with a decent rear seat? How novel. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
while additional enhancements include 18-inch Enkei alloys, proximity access with pushbutton ignition, plus the larger infotainment interface and better audio mentioned a moment ago.
Incidentally, that impressive sport-tuned CVT mentioned earlier will only cost you an extra $1,300 if so inclined, while my tester’s very well dressed coat of Crystal White Pearl paint won’t cost you a penny more, nor will Crystal Black Silica, Dark Grey Metallic, Ice Silver Metallic, Pure Red, or World Rally Blue Pearl, the latter a unique take on Subaru’s classic motorsport livery (sans the flashy gold wheels and yellow trim).
|Again, there’s little better than all this performance and practicality rolled up into one. OK, a five-door hatch would be nice. Next-gen WRX, Subaru? (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
styling in mind, you give up very little cosmetically from WRX lite to the full rally-inspired version, only red “STI” badging on the grille, side fender garnish, backside, and wheel caps, the wheels themselves which look phenomenal in all STI trims (although my Sport-tech tester’s were pretty sweet too), and the massive whale-tail spoiler atop the trunk. All the aero upgrades, sizeable hood scoop, bulging wheel arches, and unique trim details are shared between both cars, which is a major bonus considering the entry-level WRX’ reasonable pricing. The STI starts at a more sobering $37,995, by the way, with Sport trim coming in at $40,795 and the Sport-tech topping off at $45,395. Yes, $15,400 is a big spread between base and top-line trims, but any STI Sport-tech owner will tell you the money was well spent.
|This is the heart of any WRX, a powerful, turbocharged boxer four just rarin’ to go. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
experience I can attest to worse ways of blowing through $45k plus freight and fees, which makes my as-tested $36,095 WRX Sport-tech a veritable steal in comparison. Truly, no matter how you dress up or down your WRX, I’m pretty sure you’ll be satisfied. From the very first snarly blatt of its quad-tipped high-performance exhaust you’ll be addicted, and that’s even before hurling it through a mountainside or canyon road at unmentionable speeds, something any WRX will do with near effortless grace no matter the pace. It’s a rolling legend, and now with its archrival archived for good, it’s the only real rally-bred game in town.
On top of all this, both WRX and WRX STI models won “Best Sports Car” in the 2016 ALG Canadian Residual Value Awards, meaning that you’ll likely get more for this car in three years time than any other sports model, that is if you’re willing to sell. This is the fifth time the WRX/STI has taken the top spot in eight years, while Subaru Canada earned the 2016 ALG Best Mainstream Brand award for the second consecutive year.
Any doubts? Believe me. If you’ve got the desire, don’t hesitate. Get it.
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