_GIVING _ great bang for the buck is a forte of the Subaru WRX and the latest model doesn't stray. It can zoom to 100km/h in 6.0 seconds and corner like a Porsche yet the price has been cut by $1000 to $38,990.
My Apple Isle testing zone had names such as Cape Grim, Savage River and Dismal Swamp but with 12 stages of the Rally of Tasmania at my beck and call, I had a far-from-dismal day.
Definitely not a WRX forte has been cabin ambience but the new-look space discovers soft-touch surfaces, suave instruments and even auto shifting. That's part of a move to broaden the car's appeal.
Targets include women and family guys seeking to convince their partner a "Rex" would make a sensible family vehicle.
Other headline changes are dropping the hatch version and replacing the 2.5-litre turbo-petrol engine with one of just 2.0 litres capacity.
But don't fret. Using direct-fuel- injection technology, the new 197kW motor is slightly more powerful and vastly easier on the pocket at the bowser. The manual model, now six speeds rather than five, uses 9.2L/100km - an 11 per cent reduction.
The revived auto model, which uses an eight-step continuously variable transmission with paddle shifters, consumes just 8.0L/100km. The brilliant CVT system is adaptive, varying engine braking downhill and adding torque when going uphill. It also has shift patterns that can be selected to suit economical, sporty or sharp-sport driving.
Though handling in the outgoing model was excellent, the new model has been markedly sharpened via various technologies - more direct electric steering, a stiffer body and suspension, and active torque vectoring. The latter delivers more neutral cornering by automatically applying braking to the inner-front wheel and distributing the torque to the outer front wheel. Generally, people should leave accident- prevention systems turned on but the WRX provides a choice of two traction-off modes - mainly for track-day enthusiasts.
A great thing about the WRX is that it doubles as a practical sedan. Indeed, this one has a longer, wider cabin and bigger, more comfortable seats while the boot has 460 litres of space - up 40 litres. The rear seats split 60/40 and fold for serious shopping loads. Extra mod cons in the cabin include a 3-D-look instrument cluster, 4.3-inch LCD display, reversing camera, driver's knee airbag, Bluetooth and a six-speaker audio. Opting for the CVT model takes the price to $40,990 while Premium variants are $43,990 manual and $45,990 auto. These add a concert-quality nine-speaker 440W Harman Kardon sound system, sat nav, electric sunroof, leather trim and keyless entry.
The new Rex arrives amid a burgeoning of the pocket-rocket market. Diminutive rivals such as the Ford Fiesta ST, Hyundai Veloster, Volkswagen Polo GT, Toyota 86 and Kia Pro_cee'd GT offer sharp pricing, aesthetics and performance.
Yet Subaru expects to lift WRX sales by 50 a month to 150.
Its chances are aided by the classier new model's wider appeal and uniqueness in being a sedan.
Further opportunities will arise when the Holden and Ford muscle cars disappear.
For fans of these, a macho Rex sedan - rather than a unisex hatch or coupe - might be just the ticket.
Rex has smoothed his rough edges, sipping fuel, cosseting occupants and even allowing drivers of automatics on board. But he hasn't lost his ability to provide thrills, which he delivers even more safely and surely than previously.
- SUBARU IMPREZA WRX *
- Price * From $38,990
- Engine * 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol
- Outputs * 197kW/350Nm
- 0-100km * 6.0 seconds
- Transmission *Six-speed manual or CVT
- Thirst * 9.2L/100km (manual), 8.6 (auto)
The new model has been markedly sharpened via various technologies.