/ 18 September 2023

Subaru WRX: Is all the hype true?

Subaru Wrx (1)
Smooth: The Subaru WRX sports sedan makes sense. It is refined but the colour, solar orange pearl, is not a favourite with the crowds.

The new Subaru WRX was introduced to South Africa in mid-2022, sporting an all-new design, a new turbocharged 2.4‑litre Boxer mill, and heaps of new Subaru safety tech. A year later, it now joins us for a three-month evaluation. We’ll be living with the Japanese sports saloon as one of our daily drives. So, will it rekindle our love for sedans, and will it live up to those three letters that adorn the bootlid? 

We’ll bring you a monthly in-depth look at what it’s really like and whether it should be on your consideration list as a sports sedan.

This is our first report after a month behind the wheel. The car arrived with just over 7 200km on the clock, well over its run-in mileage, but the initial impression was still that of a new product. For instance, this tS version with Alcantara inners on the pews presented a fresh cabin without any scratches on the plastic or noticeable wear on the seats. To put the tS into context, it is the highest spec WRX that you can buy offered with the full suite of Eyesight safety tech and a CVT transmission, now dubbed SPT (Subaru Performance Transmission). With steering mounted paddles, it can mimic that of an eight-speed auto should you want that feel.

In 2022, we drove both the manual and CVT variants of the WRX and came away excited by the engagement of the manual and less convinced by the more subdued nature of the CVT. In a game of contests such as the Cannonball Run, in which we recently participated, a manual was always going to be more fun but, right now, in daily life, the CVT makes a lot of sense.

The WRX tS works as a daily driver because of its ease of use. The steering and driving position are excellent, and that’s partly because it’s a sedan and because the ergonomics are well-conceived. Eyesight functionality and steering assistance make daily driving, especially long highway journeys or heavy traffic, much easier. The car takes on a lot of the work, relieving the grind for you.

Inside, the vehicle has all the bells and whistles one could wish for. It also comes without the old-school rumble but rather a refined, deeper purr.

Let’s talk about that CVT, shall we? It does feel different if you’re used to a dual-clutch or a torque converter automatic, but once you understand how it works, it becomes unnoticeable. It’s a good CVT; my only concern about its employment revolves around fuel consumption, which really is the elephant in the room with the WRX. Subaru’s quoted figures of 8.9l/100km are simply undoable despite my considerable attempts. The CVT is partly to blame for this because I think one could manage better fuel management with a new auto. Our best figures are hovering at just over 11l/100km and I’m not sure this will improve given that this engine is already fairly well run in.

The WRX, though, was never known for its fuel efficiency, and so let’s look at the more pertinent aspects of the car. 

It’s a WRX, which is synonymous with burly performance, yet this new one isn’t quite as convincing a car with a WRX badge. Its 202kW is masked by its refined nature. There’s no wild side to the WRX, even in its most dynamic, Sport+ drive mode setting. Sure, it’s sharper and less restrained and, yes, it handles with a sporty surefootedness thanks to its all-wheel-drive system — but the engine note is underplayed, lacking that old-school rumble for which the WRX name was known. That’s been quite a surprise for most bystanders and passengers who do a double-take as they try to figure out what’s happened. That said, Subaru SA does offer the WRX with a sports exhaust system that ups the ante and registers a deeper purr from the boxer motor but as a standard car, this is it, the more refined and soft-spoken WRX is where the Subaru has taken the new car.

As an overall product there is so much to speak about. This tS with Eyesight means semi-autonomous driving and a whole lot of emergency and accident mitigation systems are all-inclusive. Then the infotainment system presented on an 11.3-inch portrait screen houses most of the functions for the car, the navigation and settings. Automatic high beam assisted lighting as well as steering-responsive headlights are also welcome additions to the driving experience at night and they work well enough.

What the first month has unearthed is that the WRX is commendable as a daily driver, but its thirst for 95 Unleaded is a little eye-watering. Its ride is comfortable, perhaps leaning more on the firm side, but still nothing concerning given its sporty intentions. It’s also brimming with usable technology and a chassis and drivetrain that is happy in most road and weather conditions, and that makes it the perfect always-on option even for a family of five.

Just one more point then … the colour of our test unit is called solar orange pearl and it hasn’t been met with a lot of fanfare. It stands out from the crowd, but not many like it. The sapphire blue or world rally blue are the more acceptable colours in our experience.