When Motor Image Pilipinas launched the new WRX exclusively with a continuously variable transmission, we were a bit disappointed. While this is undoubtedly superior for daily use, there's just something inherently satisfying about rowing your own gears.
Well, the company has heard the clamor from the Subaru faithful and stepped up to the plate, finally bringing in the new WRX with a six-speed stick shift. And we're driving it first.
Yes, we're pretty excited, in case it isn't obvious enough.
While previous WRXs looked like Imprezas with tacked-on flares, the jutting prow up front marks this one off as entirely different from the base car. A slim grille and bulging box flares give it more aggression, while an upswept kick in the rear window, a crease over the rear flares and a subtle spoiler give it a more Bimmer-ish vibe than the flat and boxy Impreza tail.
The bulging flares, however, make the flat 17-inch wheels look singularly inadequate; 18-inch wheels would seem more proper.
With the same seats, dainty A-pillars and cutesy front quarter-windows, the WRX feels a lot like an Impreza at first glance. But thanks to the carbon-fiber accents and red-stitched black leather trim, it feels quite a bit more special.
The orange-and-red instrument panel, optional boost gauge, meaty flat-bottomed steering wheel, sporty gearshift and well-bolstered seats are all signs of things to come. Good things.
The first good thing is the new direct-injection turbocharged 2.0. While the older 2.5 in the STI has a bit more kick just off idle and is infinitely more eager at the edge of the rev range, the WRX's direct-injection, variable-geometry turbo and six gears make it ready to go--right here, right now.
There's so much torque everywhere that when you finally hit the power peak, it's somewhat anticlimactic. Never thought I'd be saying that about 268 horses! When cruising, the slightest twitch of your right foot in sixth gear at 90kph has you past 120kph in the blink of an eye. Was that a radar gun? Oh crap!
Fuel economy is surprisingly good for something with so much power, at 7km/L in EDSA traffic. That's a far cry from the STI, which typically does 5km/L. Highway runs return 17-18km/L, if you can stay below the speed limit. Wait, was that another radar gun? Double crap!
RIDE AND HANDLING
The second good thing is the handling. While the 235/45 R17 Dunlop SportMaxx RT tires may look a bit small, they stick exceptionally well. Chassis control is excellent, and the close-set pedals are a joy while tackling a challenging road. Even if your heel-and-toe is more than just a little rusty.
The brakes lack the feel and the eyeballs-out-of-their-sockets power of the STI's Brembos, but they're strong and steady. They resist fade pretty well on a good romp.
The cable-gearshift has a nice, notchy heft to it, though not the organic feel of the STI and BRZ boxes. The real problem, though, is that first gear is too short and second gear is way too long, reaching past 100kph. This leaves you out of the boost in second gear around tighter mountain hairpins. There's very little turbo lag, but you still need revs and time to build up boost. That may just be me nitpicking, however.
The electric steering isn't as tactile as the STI's hydraulic system, but it's incredibly sharp and responsive. The WRX lacks the fancy torque-juggling differentials of the STI, yet still corners amazingly well, with a very neutral demeanor. Push a little harder, lean on the throttle a bit more, and the brake-enabled torque vectoring trims your line. Though not as dramatic as the STI's active differentials, it's effective just the same.
The WRX has a machismo-enhancing bodykit, keyless entry, a kick-ass stereo, a backing-up camera, and one of the most incredible drivetrains on this planet. Child seat anchors and a usefully deep trunk help bolster its credibility as a family car, but then, who actually buys a WRX for school runs?
For those who wanted the manual transmission, here it is. Is it better than the CVT? That's hard to answer. Where the CVT starts to slip and slur when it gets hot, the manual gives you solid shifts, even after extended periods of hard use. But it takes a lot of provocation to expose this issue, and despite it, the CVT is much faster on twisty roads, where it's easy to come off boost in the manual if you're not insanely committed or a heel-and-toeing god. And while the manual clutch is no longer weight-lifter heavy, it's still a chore in traffic.
While the STI has all the subtlety of a baseball bat, the WRX knocks you over the head like a velvet-wrapped lead pipe. Great sound insulation and a well-damped suspension cushion you from the worst intrusions of the road, but the stiff ride and the droning exhaust that emits resonating burps whenever you shift gears, are a constant reminder that this is not a luxury car.
This is nine-tenths of an STI for a whole lot less money. As opposed to the hardcore, no-compromise STI, however, the WRX is a capable, mature road car that goes like absolute stink, whatever the road. There is perhaps no finer machine for the money, whichever flavor you order it in.
SPECS: SUBARU WRX 2.0 MT
Engine: DOHC 16-valve, horizontally opposed, 4-cylinder turbocharged gasoline
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Power: 268hp @ 5,600rpm
Torque: 350Nm @ 2,400-5,200rpm
Photos by Ken Tamayo