Subaru's castrated pit bull

About ten years ago I interviewed a school headmaster who believed that it was okay for teenage girls to be forced to bend over, hoik up their skirts, and get whacked repeatedly on the backside with a plank.

In mitigation he insisted that he didn’t actually do the whacking himself—he got one of his female staff to do it while he watched.

He called it “Biblical Correction” and claimed his Lord adjured him to do that, but I called it kinky—some people pay good money to participate in similar activities.

On the other hand, I’d have no objection to our hero and his female sidekick carrying out their distasteful practices on the designers of the 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX; it’s sinful that such a well-engineered car can be made to look so very, very ordinary.

It’s like putting a beautiful woman’s hair in a bun and dressing her in dowdy clothing so she doesn’t attract attention, then entering her in the Miss World competition.

Subaru erred last year in foisting the Impreza WRX on us in hatchback form—an experiment that failed dismally, as was reflected by poor sales. Subaru owners are fiercely loyal, a very high proportion of them are repeat buyers, and they don’t like the recipe that first attracted them being messed with. This year the Scooby has got its boot back so the traditionalists will be well pleased.

Even better news, though, is that the factory has wrung great big globs of extra performance out of its turbocharged 2,5 litre flat-four engine—power and torque are elevated by 15,4 and 7,2% respectively, to 195kW and 343Nm.

To do this, they’ve installed a bigger turbocharger, upped the boost from 78kPa to 92kPa, and slapped on a 30% less restrictive exhaust system.

Before the vitriol begins to flow from eco-warriors’ pens, though, I should point out that the factory claims fuel consumption and emissions have actually been reduced, thanks to all the other engineering refinements that have come along, and the car now reputedly sips just 10,4 litres per 100 km on average, in the unlikely event of it ever being driven reasonably.

The WRX’s 0-100 km/h acceleration time has been reduced to a claimed 5,3 seconds (down from 5,8) while top speed—perhaps it’s time to bring that Biblical plank out again - is governed, like that of the previous model, to 210 km/h.

When asked the obvious, the importer’s response was that the factory has a social conscience and believes that 210 km/h is quick enough for anybody.

Why they apparently think they can still trust us with a car that gets to 100 km/h in just over five seconds eludes me. Anyway, for those of you who don’t want to own a castrated pit-bull, your Subaru dealer’s technician will cheerfully plug his laptop in and eliminate the virtual nanny on request, allowing a top-whack of 233 km/h, and it won’t affect your warranty.

Straight-line speed isn’t all that makes a quick car enjoyable, though, and the WRX’s four-wheel-drive, low center of gravity and nimble handling have always made it so special.

For 2009 the anti-roll bar diameters have been increased by 1mm front and rear and spring stiffness rates have also been increased.

The strut top mounting has been changed for the same rigid component as is found in the even quicker Impreza STI, and a steering damper has been fitted to the rack-and-pinion. Wider 225/45-17 rubber also now helps keep the car on the road. 

The new sedan feels much sportier to drive than last year’s hatchback did, and, for some, that may be a little too much. The suspension is hard enough that many wives are going to wonder why their husbands bought this car, but those who know what the Subaru WRX is about will probably just smile quietly.

The gains in power and torque are also immediately noticeable, and the less restrictive exhaust system adds considerably to the hot-rod vibe.

The car comes with a full-house complement of luxury and safety features, but the interior, like the body shell, is conservatively styled, and contains lots of rather cheap-feeling plastic trim.

That’s always been a Subaru trait and is seemingly not considered a big factor by those who traditionally favour the brand, but probably puts hordes of other potential buyers off. 

If all this gives the impression that I don’t like the Subaru WRX then please forgive me. I love it. At R349 000 it provides about the most bang-for-the buck you can imagine for under R500k, and you’re not going to have to look for your car amongst dozens just like it in the shopping center’s parking lot on Saturday morning.

The hard ride and exuberant exhaust note might get to be a bit much in everyday use, but if I had one I’d own a cheap runabout for everyday use and give the Subaru a damned good thrashing once or twice a week, making it feel special.

Or, of course, I could buy the cooking-version Impreza, with its naturally aspirated two-litre 110 kW flat-four engine for R249 000 (R10 000 more for the auto version.) It somehow wouldn’t be quite the same though—.

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