To most people, a car is a blend of metal, plastic, rubber and dog fur that moves them and their things to where they want to be. For others, it is a close friend. To a very select few, it has a name.
Rex is clearly well-loved.
The Subaru WRX first launched in Japan in 1992 and ever since, a certain group of people have lapped it up.
With an all-wheel-drive setup and a punchy turbocharged boxer engine, the four-door sedan made Subaru the first Japanese company to win the World Rally Championship (WRC). Not just once either, but three years in a row.
Here in Canberra, we hosted a national festival for three years between 2000 and 2003, expressly celebrating the WRX and coinciding with April’s Rally of Canberra.
Before long, nobody bothered spelling out World Rally Experiment but skipped straight to the nickname, Rex.
The only trouble with such a legacy is that every few years, you have to update it – and not everyone will be happy with the result.
This is exactly what happened last year, when photos emerged of the all-new 2022 WRX. It seems that in an effort to blend Rex in with the other off-roading Subaru models – and to give a nod to history on the rough and ready rally track – they dipped its edges in black plastic.
At Subaru Canberra recently, the sheets were ripped off the first local models in front of a 100-strong audience of owners and customers.
“Everyone had a good look, opening doors and bonnets, and the general consensus was that they were very nicely finished and refined,” general manager Jon Dudok says.
As for the elephant in the room, Jon says most find the plastic cladding isn’t as intrusive in the flesh.
“The pictures online don’t do it justice.”
I borrowed the $56,990 tS hallow model for a drive and initially I thought as everyone else. But somehow the cladding works, at least on the front and sides.
And as I fly along the dirt tracks near Canberra’s rally stage at Kowen Forest, I’m certainly thankful all those percussive sounds are the stones bouncing off the plastic, not the paint. It makes new Rex more rugged and useable too.
Guests at the Canberra Subaru event were also invited for test drives, and Jon says most came away pleasantly surprised by the other controversial addition, a CVT.
A Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) uses a series of belts and cones rather than toothed gears. Subaru already uses it across their other models but for the WRX they designed it to feel like a conventional automatic by simulating eight gears.
“We had people come back and say they couldn’t believe it is a CVT,” he says.
I can confirm. Put your foot down and the revs build to the redline before dropping down and starting again. Just like an ordinary automatic.
Rex isn’t a big car, but the body swells with all the right things – a big scoop on the bonnet, muscular rear haunches, and a ducktail spoiler on the back.
You can enjoy almost all of this from the wheel too, where the scoop becomes a gun sight – point it where you want to go and revel in the meaty steering and exhaust noise as you rocket there (although more noise would be welcome).
The traditional turbo boxer engine is now 2.4-litres, bigger than before and with slightly more power. It’s enough to make Rex always feel like he’s bursting with enthusiasm, no matter what you’re doing.
This is also the first generation to add in adaptive suspension. Along with the steering, all-wheel drive, and engine response, this can be tinkered with through a series of drive modes on the enormous 11.6-inch touchscreen. So, in short, your teeth aren’t falling out either.
The price drops down to $44,990 for the entry-level back-to-basics version, where you lose most of the technology along with lane-keeping assistance, adaptive cruise control and stop-start. But you do gain a six-speed manual gearbox and a proper handbrake.
A blast along the Tidbinbilla and Cotter roads reveals that angrier exhaust I wanted in the CVT version too. As for your neighbours, they’ll already be awake when you start it in the morning. Probably.
I have to say I’m too young to know what an old-fashioned sports car feels like, but surely the new Rex is the best of both worlds. He’s modern and convenient (and starts every morning), but also jolly fun.
“There’s a lot of manufacturers that are shying away from this sort of car,” Jon says ruefully.
“But it’s good that Subaru is still involved and prepared to do it.”
He’s right there.
2022 Subaru WRX
- $44,990, plus on-road costs
- 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, 202 kW & 350 Nm.
- Six-speed manual or automatic CVT
- All-wheel drive
Visit Subaru Canberra for more information.