In the summer of 2017, Subaru Canada went to Squamish, B.C., to make movies. In fact, a series of them.
Subaru went there to document a series of 0-100 km/hour tests of the WRX street-legal racer, each short film containing an amusing twist.
One told the story of a 0-100 km/hour sprint down a field of banana peels. Another showed 0-100 km/hour across a track slathered in foam. Next came 0-100 over “the road from hell.” There were short films in which the WRX tackled 0-100 on wet asphalt, powder, and a surface covered half in sand, half in snow.
As car company capers go, this was a good one. And the results were a little surprising.
The banana peel solo drag race was over in 6.1 seconds, which is pretty quicks, and left time for me to wonder how many bananas actually were peeled, hundreds or thousands. The half sand/half snow stunt took a shade more than 8.0 seconds. It’s a good laugh, from start to finish. Skip loaders meticulously spread sand and snow, in preparation for a ripping run by a WRX. I laughed out loud at the sight of muck flying in all directions. About 180,000 people have viewed those two on YouTube.
Subaru made these short films with great purpose and at no small expense. This Japanese brand endlessly emphasizes that all its cars have a spectacularly effective all-wheel-drive system, which when combined with the low centre of gravity afforded by a boxer or horizontally opposed engine layout, delivers yak-like sure-footedness, regardless of conditions.
The 2019 WRX ($29,995-$40,995) is, indeed, a four-door sports car with balance, grace and grip, but it’s also a bundle of compromises. For one, it’s noisy, and it’s also bedevilled (in my tester) by irritating squeaks and rattles.
Road, wind and tire noise becomes noticeable at 30 km/hour, and by 100 km/hour the din assaults your ears. If you like driving you will at least for a while be thoroughly distracted by y driving responses that would make a yak proud. Or you might choose to block the racket by cranking the volume on a mediocre Harman/Kardon sound system (Apple Carplay and Android Auto compatible).
Subaru has been touting its infotainment update for the 2018 model year, and while the latest touchscreen system responds quickly, has bright readouts and is intuitive enough, the screen itself is small by 2018 standards – 7.0 inches.
This has everything to do with the limitations of a cabin design that is several years old. I hope the next generation WRX gets an infotainment re-think; I suggest Subaru have a look at what Volvo is doing here.
To be clear, the current WRX and its racier sibling, the WRX STI will sometime next year almost certainly move to the new global platform architecture launched with the latest Impreza. What you see in the current WRX are the old underpinnings topped by a dated design, inside and out.
The engine, nonetheless, is a very strong turbocharged 2.0-litre flat-four (268 horsepower/258 lb.-ft. of torque) that in my tester sent power to the four wheels via a light, short-throw six-speed manual gearbox. The basic design of the sporty seats in my tester was fine, but the padding was more park bench than La-Z-Boy.
Look, the WRX is one model and it’s unlike anything else in a Subaru lineup that trades on safety technology (EyeSight) and robust design that does spectacularly well in crash tests. Where other Subarus are marketed as sober and safe, the WRX is a screamer aimed at rally boys. The car challenges you to drive smoothly.
The turbo lag, for one, is something for which you need to plan, and even then, it’s jolting. The clutch engages abruptly, the ride is stiff and noisy and the cabin plastics look and feel cheap. As I said, compromises that are – for the enthusiast – offset by performance and handling that is breathtaking.
A last thing: You can dress up your WRX with extras that push the price past $40,000. For me, the base car is a terrific, affordable, four-door sports car. But I would only recommend the base car; spend more and you will eventually question why you paid so much for the compromises.
Price range: $29,995-$40,995. Freight, PDI: $1,650.
Engine: 2.0-litre I4, turbocharged (268 horsepower/258 lb.-ft. of torque).
Transmission: six-speed manual or Lineartronic CVT with manual mode.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.3 city/8.5 hwy.
Comparables: Ford Focus ST, Honda Civic Si Volkswagen Golf GTI, Audi S3, Mercedes-Benz CLA45