There's a reason the WRX has proved so popular since the late 1990s: it combines genuine performance thrills with pretty good comfort levels, at a price that's affordable to a great deal of people. Myriad other pocket rockets have hit the market in a similar price bracket recently - many of them with Euro badges - but there's still an allure to the grunting, testosterone-laden WRX, even if it appeals more to your inner-Ricky Bobby than Jean Girard.

After testing the entry level and top-spec STI Premium bookends of the range, the Rex is still worthy of our attention. Yes, the STI remains the patriarch (check in the coming weeks for our take on the STI) but, happily for most of us with budget constraints, the entry-level model still ticks all the boxes on your WRX checklist and appeals to the caveman - or woman - in us.

Subaru's Boxer engine is a thing of (very rugged) beauty, especially the new unit in the WRX. If you take it easy, it's pretty unassuming, quietly going about its business and keeping things economical at cruising speed.

Hit about 3000rpm, though, and it comes alive, lurching you forward as its quad exhaust gives a belch that mightn't be quite loud enough for some performance enthusiasts but is still hearty. Max torque is available at 2400-5200rpm and max power at 5600rpm, so it lends itself to being driven in a redline-pushing manner and it's great fun to do so. Some may argue it should pull harder but for a list price under $40,000 you can't complain about having 199kW at your disposal.

Handling is excellent, with the all-wheel-drive's torque vectoring giving grip to the wheels most in need and keeping things from coming unglued when looking for precision cornering.

In another happy circumstance for the frugal, the six-speed manual easily shades its CVT automatic counterpart despite being $2000 cheaper. Some may think that manuals are always superior but, given how good auto transmissions have become in performance models, the gap in fun isn't as big as it was.

But the CVT in the Rex doesn't always sync well with the engine, with regular jerkiness as it searches for the right number of revs and it has more of a turbo whine than its stick counterpart.

Anyway, this is a macho car you want to wrestle with and the manual encourages a more active driving experience.

Also handy is the entry level's generous amount of spec - while the Premium version gets sat-nav and a nice touch display among other features, the entry level isn't barebones with the usual connectivity options, rear-view camera and the like.

The interior might be a bit too similar to the Impreza's and it's a pretty unassuming-looking car considering its abilities. But if you can handle turning on your own headlights and wipers, chances are the entry model will leave you happy - especially for what you'll be paying.

For what you're spending, the WRX still gives a lot of grunty thrills and represents great dollars-to-kW value - especially the entry manual model.

Model: Base
Price: $38,990 (man)/$40,990 (auto)
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
Outputs: 197kW/350Nm
Transmission: Six-speed manual or CVT automatic
Thirst: 9.2L/100km (man); 8.6L100km (auto)

Model GTI
Price $41,990
Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
Outputs 162kW/350Nm
Transmission Six-speed manual
Thirst 6.2L/100km

Model ST
Price $38,290
Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
Outputs 184kW/340Nm
Transmission Six-speed manual
Thirst 7.4L/100km

Model RS265 Cup
Price $42,640
Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
Outputs 195kW/360Nm
Transmission Six-speed manual
Thirst 8.2L/100km

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