Every Subaru WRX story really should begin in the 90's, or even the late 80's.
Back then, Japanese performance cars built from standard cars were the in-thing. One by one, some of them vanished as a result of stricter emissions, dwindling sales, and an overall lack of interest. It was only recently when these titans from the east started to return to the modern motoring world. Sounds like a Godzilla movie, doesn't it?
One of the performance greats that never left is this one: the Subaru WRX, a performance sedan that leverages the brand's strong credentials on the world rally scene. The latest WRX is an updated 2019 model over the one that was launched in 2014, and we'll see how well it can do on a very wet and stormy day at the racing circuit. Will the WRX -with the six speed manual gearbox- feel like a fish in water?
To get this out of the way, this WRX isn't an all-new model. In 2016, Subaru launched a new generation Impreza; the fifth overall, replacing the one that debuted in 2011. This WRX (and the WRX STI) however, are not based on the fifth gen Impreza; a line that Subaru decided to separate the WRX from. This updated WRX, which first debuted in late 2017 (which we got to review in 2018), is still based on the previous generation model and doesn't use the same Subaru Global Platform that the brand is highlighting.
Technically, this is a minor change, meaning they updated a few things, starting with the style... or at least they tried to. In reality, the design updates are not quite obvious. The body is the same with the wider fenders (and track) though some details were altered, chief of which was the front aero bumper. The openings are bigger, and they blacked out the front crosspiece under the main radiator intake. What they did, ironically, made the WRX look a bit more like the now-discontinued Lancer Evolution X.
Like the exterior, the cabin itself is largely unchanged with the look of the dash, the controls, and the sporty feeling of the seats. There are some new accent trim pieces, reorganized controls (i.e. the new layout of the steering wheel buttons), and new features that we liked such as the new touchscreen audio unit with Apple Carplay and Android Auto; welcome upgrades in this day and age of apps and connectivity.
Being the base manual version, this doesn't come with much of the niceties normally found in the more expensive WRX with the CVT. The seats are done in fabric, not leather like the WRX CVT; that's actually alright by us, as fabric generally has more texture to hold you while cornering. The EyeSight system (with its smart cruise control function) isn't present in this model either, as evidenced by the absence of the dual camera video unit above the rear view mirror. There's no SI Drive for us to play with, but that's not really necessary with a manual. Of course the biggest difference is the transmission and the parking brake: this manual has a traditional handbrake lever rather than that electronic parking brake. We prefer this one.
On the road, this WRX proved to be better compared to before. Avid readers know that we have an affinity for the WRX CVT as a daily driver compared to the MT, but we think this new model -despite having only a few minor enhancements to the suspension and chassis (there are some)- is better than the pre-facelift 2014 Subaru WRX MT we drove a few years ago. The ride is slightly better and more composed, the clutch pedal isn't too cumbersome, and the shifting seems to feel more positive.
The powerplant of the WRX hasn't changed: it's still a direct-injected 2.0-liter with a twin scroll turbo (not to be confused with twin-turbo) feeding into an intercooler mounted on top (hence the hood scoop), and it makes 268 PS and 350 Nm of torque. The motor drives all four wheels via a 6-speed manual. It's fun to play with it in stoplight to stoplight driving if you're in the powerband, but there's still a noticeable level of lag before it gets going.
Also, being a performance-oriented turbo car, don't expect great fuel economy numbers. This WRX manual was getting just 6.2 km/l on a daily urban drive in fairly heavy traffic (average speed: 19 km/h) when taken casually. In the older MT model we were getting 8.4 km/l, but that was in lighter traffic (average: 25 km/h). On the highway with some brisk overtaking, the 2018 WRX MT matched closely to its old fuel economy number at 12.7 km/l (89 km/h average).
In all seriousness though, we weren't too focused on stretching fuel mileage with this car. This is a WRX, and it's about time we stretched its legs on a circuit. And, as it turns out, we picked the perfect day to truly test its abilities: there was a storm coming in. We'll put confidence in motion to the test.
On a drenched Clark International Speedway, this Subaru lives up to its hype. On the wet main straight we were a bit hesitant to push the speed past 100 km/h, but as the rain tapered off and the puddles started to drain away, we easily took the WRX went up to 150 km/h. When the tarmac was no longer as shiny on the 1.2 kilometers main straight, 200+ km/h was easily dispatched in sixth. There wasn't much squirming, there wasn't much drama, and there were no moments that made you -uh- clench certain body parts.
Turbo lag doesn't become an issue if you keep it in the correct range and at the correct gear via heel and toe rev matching. The thrust isn't as prominent as the STI, but the WRX has plenty; it's only 42 horsepower down on its pink-badged brother. Top speed is just over 230 km/h, but it's too wet to go for that on the track. Zero to 100 km/h can be done in about 6.2 seconds if you shift quickly on a rainy day like this, though Subaru says the WRX can do it in 5.4 in ideal conditions.
All-wheel drive cars, however, are not just about acceleration; they're about cornering. You really can carry quite a bit of speed into CIS's Turn 1 given the uphill braking zone (thanks, gravity) and gentle curve. Under heavy braking from high speeds for the tighter corners of the circuit (i.e. Turn 2 and 3) the WRX stays composed; the rear does not feel like it's shifted too much weight forward. There's a good deal of weight and -surprisingly- feel from the electronic power steering, but mostly we like how accurately we can place the tires lap after lap and how balanced it feels mid-corner.
The WRX manual has a center diff with a 50:50 split at all times. Unlike the STI, the center diff cannot be adjusted to your liking, but that's really only exploited are really high speeds. The important thing about the WRX is how they engineered their all-wheel drive system. One is inherent in the design of it: Subaru makes all-wheel drive systems that are uncannily symmetrical along the vehicle's axis. That means that the huge mass of the drivetrain is balanced from left to right, which makes for a better weight balance cornering. If anything, the presence of a driver upsets that balance.
The second is the torque vectoring system in this WRX, something you'll feel on a track at high speeds and hard cornering, not so much on a winding road at moderate speeds and gentler cornering. It's not the type that uses computers to adjust the differential to send more torque to the outside wheel for better cornering. Instead the system Subaru has will command to the brake on the inner wheel (in relation to the corner) to bite a bit, allowing more torque to naturally go to the outside wheel, and reduces initial understeer that you'd normally get in a 4WD/AWD performance road car. In other words, it controls the path of least resistance, using the braking system and basic physics to achieve the same effect as more advanced (read: more expensive) torque vectoring like you would find on the Nissan GT-R.
For PhP 1.93 million, the 2019 Subaru WRX 6MT is a package that many of us would love to have in our garages. The car is well built, nicely appointed, and is truly enjoyable on a circuit. You just arrive and drive.
But there is one thing we think Subaru should have worked on: design. Sure, Subaru has never really focused on the beauty contest amongst cars. We actually like how they always focus on engineering and performance rather than having interesting aesthetics, but we think they could divert some more attention to their design department to make their models -not just the WRX- more widely appealing.
They don't have to do what other carmakers did by bringing in big name designers like a Schreyer or a Callum, but maybe they can infuse some more excitement into how their cars look both inside and out. It doesn't hurt to have a better show to match the go.