When Eric pulled up in his properly blue WRX, I could see that he wasn’t entirely sure about the idea of letting me drive his car. To begin with, I’d changed the location of the meet three times in the past twenty minutes. Admittedly, that was because I hadn’t been to the Easton Town Center in a few years and the first few places I could think of to meet had been closed or moved — but attentive readers will also remember that this is how Jeremy Irons tormented Bruce Willis in the third Die Hard movie. I was wearing bleach-spotted shorts and, I think, a One Lap Of America T-shirt. Furthermore, I was muttering to myself and shaking my head like a poleaxed goat. I’d just discovered that my wallet had gone missing during an airport run I’d made for a friend. In short, I looked and sounded like a crazy person, and I appeared to have a very strong desire to take Eric’s WRX to the airport for no legitimate reason — which, attentive readers will recall, is what happened to Bruce Willis in the second Die Hard movie.
With a visible effort, Eric smiled and stuck out his hand. “I’m Eric.”
Two hours later, I found my wallet under my Accord’s passenger seat.
Thanks for reading.
Just kidding! Yes, I did find my wallet later — but after a few minutes behind the wheel of Eric’s recently-broken-in “Rex”, I was ready to stop thinking about that and give my full attention to the car. Having driven the new Mk7 GTI just two weeks before this, I was eager to see how the two cars, natural enemies in the marketplace, would compare. Luckily for me, we truly do have the best and brightest among our readers. Eric, a successful young man with an understanding and manual-transmission-capable wife, is an outstanding example. What would Jalopnik do in a situation like this? Test-drive their readers’ “Forza 360” cars while the far-from-MILFy single parents of said readers serve snacks like the Pin’s mom in Brick?
I’ll assume you’ve read Kamil’s recent press car review of a WRX Premium. This one, too, was a Premium, I think. (Eric will pop in and correct me if I’m wrong, but I am pretty sure this had a sunroof and didn’t have leather seats, which makes it a Premium.) Let’s go immediately to the meat of the matter: the dynamic capabilities of the WRX in the context of the competition.
The Subaru and the Volkswagen were very different cars twelve years ago but now, in 2014, they are united by an approach to ride, handling, and demeanor that can best be described as “adult”. As with the GTI, this new WRX is surprisingly quiet and thick-feeling, its sodden “thump” over every pothole betraying a very modern obsession with the lowest possible natural resonant frequency. The bugeye WRX had thin doors and rattled on the showroom floor, but this sedan might as well be an Audi for all the extraneous noise you get. Since the original Japanese Post Office Leones, badged simply “DL” and “GL” here, and possibly before, every Subaru has had a sort of inherent crappiness, a loose-jointed feeling that there just weren’t a lot of welds in the unibody. If you liked that, and a lot of people did, too bad. Little Rex is all grown up now.
Like the Volkswagen 2.0T direct-injected inline-four, the Subaru turbo boxer uses a small turbo and active wastegate control to keep torque at a consistent plateau through most of the rev range. Unlike the VW, the Subaru retains a fair amount of laggy turbo behavior despite what you see on a dyno curve. It’s much less aggressive on part-throttle than the GTI and a full-throttle run through the gears reveals a laggy hole in the delivery after each shift. Eric’s car is, thankfully, a six-speed manual. Intellectually, I accept the idea that a CVT of sufficient stoutness might be the perfect partner to this stumble-prone boxer, but I also intellectually accept the idea that I could probably manage to copulate with Lena Dunham under circumstances of sufficient provocation, such as danger to my child or an Aventador-sized cash bonus, and that does not stop me from finding both propositions repugnant to the extreme.
So there’s a little bit of old-school to this car. Throttle-whoosh-shift-stumble-pause-whoosh and let’s do it all over again for the next gear. The GTI has this thing whipped for power delivery, even if the numbers aren’t as good. Eric’s curious about my Accord V6, so I offer to let him drive it. He’s obviously appalled by the fact that the dinged-up coupe contains the remnants of no fewer than four Kid’s Meals, plus a half-eaten bag of cheese puffs, and requests that I just tell him how the Honda compares. Well, it’s got nothing for either of the turbo cars down low, but it has a rush to the top that these tiny puffers can’t match. When the Accord gets going, well, that’s about the same time that the Subaru and Volkswagen are asthmatically blowing through the unimpressive space after the torque plateaus.
After visiting the airport Departures area and quizzing the service personnel there about the likelihood of their having recently found any missing Couch Jet Age wallets, I decide to misuse the roundabouts and short two-lane couplers between the various parking lots as an impromptu autocross course. This is mostly second-gear work, with brief excursions to third. Here, the turbo is strong and the rush to the next corner is remarkably satisfying. The Subaru’s imperfect power delivery feels a bit more characterful than the electric-motor torque of the GTI. Shifting is no slower despite the four driven wheels, but you still don’t want to rush the synchros the way you would in a Mustang or Viper.
The brakes are adequate but this is clearly a place where Subaru wants you to spend some extra STi money. Just three or four hard slowdowns from about 70mph to 30mph is enough to lengthen the pedal a bit. Remember, folks, this is a sub-$30,000 vehicle, not an AMG CLS. I’m also not pleased with their lack of ability to stand the WRX on its nose with hard application. Here, too, the Phaeton-ish brakes in the GTI Performance Pack are simply better, more reassuring.
In max-lat-g cornering around a roundabout, the Subaru pushes early and often, with plenty of progressive warning and behavior from the 235-width SportMaxx tires. It’s so predictable that I have no trouble immediately eyeballing the slip zone at approximately 80mph on a freeway ramp, letting the nose wander than rein in with pogo motions of the throttle. Think of a Focus ST, which can step right out on you in a corner if the throttle action is abrupt. Then restrain that to just a suggestion of motion, and you have the GTI. Now dial it back the same amount again, and you have the WRX. I can’t see getting this car to oversteer in any conditions short of a wet racetrack. The driveline feels relentlessly front-biased in all dry-road operation.
This extremely dignified default cornering attitude means that once again the Fiesta ST is going to be a more entertaining drive. Even my Accord feels considerably lighter on its feet and more tossable, due in part to narrower rubber, a lower beltline, less insulation, and a greater degree of power assistance for both steering and brakes. Still, it’s worth noting that this car is perhaps too quick to be tricky by default.
During our drive, I ask Eric why he bought this car. His answer is extremely self-effacing, referring to an old Sentra owned previous to this, the desire to have a little more power, and a preference for manual transmissions. He keeps noting that the vast majority of his experience has been in slower cars, and that perhaps that renders his opinion of his WRX less than credible. To the contrary, I think. I might have been behind the wheel of a Viper TA and Camaro Z/28 a few weeks before driving these four-cylinder model rockets, but the average buyer for a car like this is coming from a Sentra or a Civic or his parents’ old Camry. To satisfy that buyer, the WRX needs to be both fast enough and upscale enough to justify spending what feels like a long ton of money.
When you look at the Subaru that way — as a vehicle that should satisfy aspirational and dynamic desires — I think it succeeds admirably. Between this and the GTI, I’d take, um, the Mustang 5.0. Or possibly an Accord Coupe! But if you are going to spend a lot of your own money on a car that will be your daily transportation, your track rat, and your sanctuary during long trips, it’s hard to offer much argument against the WRX. The Volkswagen is considerably more upscale, more tasteful, more responsive, and probably economical. Against that, the Subaru offers a sedan form factor and all-wheel-drive. On the streets of San Francisco, it just has to be the Mexi-German hatch, but for the snow states, the WRX is the easy winner.
(Disclaimer: This vehicle was provided to us by a TTAC reader who failed to come up with any flights, any five-star hotels, or any free half-bottles of Ketel One. I shouldn’t have to live like this. Thanks, Eric! — JB)