As a three-time Bang winner, seventh place might seem like a damning indictment of Subaru’s latest WRX, so let me set the record straight right away: this is most enjoyable WRX to drive for many years.
Sure, introducing a $0-50K class did it no favours when it costs $38,990, but its lowly placing is far more to do with the plethora of very cheap, very fast and very entertaining metal that’s now available.
Successful Rexes of years past have too often relied on being able to produce a stunning set of numbers once, before melting into a steaming pile of horse manure when asked to repeat the trick.
While there is still room for improvement, this year’s model showed far more stamina when subjected to the racetrack torture test.
A hard couple of laps would cause the brakes to wilt, but given the old car’s stoppers went south after about three corners, progress has been made.
By far the biggest stride, though, has been made in the handling department. Whereas the dynamics of recent WRXs seemed to have been modelled on blancmange, Rex MY14 is sharper, fitter and much more focused.
It’s not interested in lairiness, it simply wants to get around the circuit as quickly as possible, and finally it’s now responsive enough for the driver to find pleasure in doing just that.
A lap time of 1:42.80 set the benchmark for most of the day, and for all its tricky diffs and extra power, the STI could only shave another 1.3sec off that.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given his rallying backround, Brendo was an instant fan, placing it second on his scorecard, but without fail every judge exited the Rex expressing surprise at just how much fun it was.
If you’re waiting for the inevitable ‘but’, here it is. For years the Rex has been an engine looking for a chassis to house it, but now it’s exactly the other way around.
The new FA20 2.0-litre turbocharged boxer four feels flat with a power curve as lumpy as week-old milk and the new six-speed gearbox is notchy and obstinate.
No doubt with development both will improve markedly, but the STI, which retains the old 2.5-litre/six-speed combo, is a stark reminder of what went missing.
Against the clock, the WRX is no faster than when it first won Bang back in 1998.
The launch technique remains wincingly brutal, and the best it could manage was 0-100km/h in 6.08sec and 0-400m in 14.15sec at 158.87km/h.
Not bad numbers by any means, but the competition is catching up while Subaru stands still.
It might not be the giant-killer it once was, but the WRX is a proper driver’s car once again, and given it costs even less than it did in 1994, in real terms it’s cheaper than ever.
$0-50K placing – 7th
Overall placing – 7th
Judges’ ranking – 8th
0-100km/h – 6.08sec (10th)
0-400m – 14.15sec @ 158.87km/h (11th)
Lap Time – 1:42.80sec (4th)
Pricing - $38,990 (10th)
Engine: 1998cc flat-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo
Power: 197kW @ 5600rpm
Torque: 350Nm @ 2400-5200rpm
Gearbox: 6-speed manual
Suspension: strut, coil springs, anti-roll bar (f); double-wishbone, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r)
Brakes: 315mm ventilated discs, 2-piston calipers (f) 287mm solid discs, single-piston calipers (r)
Wheels: 17 x 8.0-inch
Tyres: 235/45 R17 Dunlop Sport Maxx RT