Can WRX be beaten as a second-hand buy?
Do you wake up some mornings and feel you missed your calling as a rally driver? That scratch can be itched by owning a Subaru WRX, the all-wheel-drive cult classic that puts a grin on the dial like little else for the money.
If you can shake off the modified scene and boy racer image and put up with far from salubrious cabins, here's a turbocharged four-door sedan with monster grip and a preloved price from less than $40,000.
In weapons-grade WRX STI form, if you could tolerate the spine-shattering ride, you could roll up to your local racetrack, hill climb or sprint event and fancy your chances against all-comers. In the right hands, of course.
Fancy a used one? Still desirable, the WRX holds value remarkably well. The initial three-year warranty means you'll need a late-2016 onwards example for extra assurance - and don't forget many WRXs will have been used, er, enthusiastically.
Not ideal as a used buy, then, but that would overlook the WRX's combination of fun and talent. There are cherished, unthrashed ones out there.
You can make a solid argument for it being practical with its five seats, handy 460L boot, reassuring all-wheel drive and five-star ANCAP safety rating. The model year 2016 cars in Premium trim - on sale from July 2015 - included Subaru's excellent active safety suite, with blind-spot detection, lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert. See honey, ideal family car.
Launched in March 2014 without the Impreza name of old, the fourth-generation WRX arrived in standard and Premium grades. The 2.0-litre four-cylinder boxer engine propelled it from rest to 100km/h in six seconds, via a six-speed manual or continuously variable transmission with paddle-shifters.
Three-pedal jobs are for the purists but by most accounts the CVT isn't a bad one and its SI-Drive feature gives access to Intelligent, Sport and Sport Sharp drive modes.
WRXs had LED lights all round, reverse camera, USB port, Bluetooth, cruise control, red stitching in the cabin and 4.3-inch colour information display.
The sports body kit, boot lip spoiler, rear diffuser, limited-slip differential and 17-inch alloys showed it meant business.
Premium grades added leather, power driver's seat, sunroof, auto headlights and wipers, smart key and start, satnav and Harman Kardon audio.
Then there was the full-fat STI version, with 2.5-litre turbo four good for 221kW/407Nm and a 0-100km/h time of 4.9 seconds. It was manual only with SI-Drive and selectable centre differential modes to suit road conditions.
It looked less than subtle with bonnet scoop, giant rear wing (which could be factory deleted) and 18-inch gunmetal alloys with Brembo brakes behind.
The STI had the same maximum safety rating and all came with satnav, Harman Kardon audio, smart entry and start, and added BBS 18-inch alloys.
From July 2015 WRXs used 18-inch alloys and 6.2-inch infotainment screen, Premiums gained a seven-inch screen with voice recognition and the active safety bundle.
The Series WRX, from July 2017, is distinguished by a new front bumper and front indicators integrated into the headlights. There were 5.9-inch display, revised suspension and red seat belts for the STI. Examples with CVTs also got EyeSight driver assist, including adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and other clever camera-based safety.
A new range topper was the STI spec R, adding Recaro seats in suede and leather. The spoiler was standard.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Rarely are WRXs chosen for cruising country lanes. Many have had owners who wanted to explore their inner Colin McRae, so have been driven hard and sometimes recklessly.
Look for signs of body damage, bashes underneath (gone airborne on a local gravel road?) and accident repairs.
They're designed to handle some abuse of course, but have a specialist give any you're considering a thorough health check. Pay to discover its history (any outstanding finance, recorded accidents or if it's been stolen) and insist on a full service record, ideally through Subaru dealers or a marque expert.
Oil changes are annoyingly short at every six months, but as Subaru boxer turbo engines have a reputation for chewing through oil, ensure the owner has kept on top of this. There have been instances of these four-cylinders going bang, with poor lubrication a culprit.
Check for oil leaks under the engine and around the sump, while owners with CVT versions report transmission fluid leaks and sluggish gear engagement when moving between drive and reverse.
Be particularly wary of graunches, ticks, knocks, bangs or vibrations from engine, gearbox or other mechanicals. In the STI, suspension will be firm and crashy over bigger road bumps - knocks and clunks suggest replacement shocks or springs are in order.
Many owners bemoan the WRX's plastic cabin, cheap feel and occasional poor fit and finish, a fine recipe for cabin rattles and squeaks when mixed with that stiff suspension. Take a long test drive over various surfaces to check you can tolerate those.
Check the head-unit and Bluetooth as these have disappointed some owners. Other items to note include early seat wear, broken speaker grilles and thin, easily damaged body paint.
If the modified car scene is your bag you can target cars with aftermarket wheels, suspension, body kits or engine tuning - if it's quality guaranteed work - and be aware these can void warranty. All WRXs are thirsty - especially when used in earnest - and note the WRX needs 95 RON and the STI pricier 98.
Two recalls: firstly in March 2016 for air intake duct cracks that could cause a rough engine idle and drop in engine power, and October 2017 for 2015 cars with Harman Kardon subwoofers, deemed a fire hazard if in contact with cargo in the boot.
If you want a punchy engine, brilliant handling and tolerable everyday comfort, look for a WRX or plusher WRX Premium. The STI is the hero car with frightening ability - buy it for the proper reason, for driving on a racetrack or gravel road, rather than posing. Complete service records are a must and remaining warranty is desirable. Running costs are high and check you can afford the insurance. The right car will bring unbridled driving joy.
WOODY LAM: I bought my WRX manual as the power, handling and grip are excellent for the money. Cabin is super airy despite being black, build quality is good and it didn't rattle until my third year of ownership on super cold days. When I went slow in traffic and pressed the clutch it would rev to 2000rpm, and I found it harder to shift into second gear and reverse.
I discovered the EGR was leaking, too, so I decided to sell it.
THE EXPERTS SAY
Subaru sold almost 15,000 examples of this series WRX and STI from 2014 to 2018.
Among used listings, nearly half are high-specification WRX Premium grade and the STI Premium accounts for about one in five. Blue is the most popular colour, accounting for roughly a third of cars.
For 2014, the entry-level WRX ($38,990 new) is now valued at $25,650. The STI Premium ($54,990 new) is worth $36,150.
For last year, the base WRX ($39,340 new) is valued at $37,250 and the STI Spec. R ($57,790 new) is worth $54,650.
Retained values for the 2014 WRX and STI hold up better overall than the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Golf R, Renault Megane GT220 and the Peugeot 308 GTI. The Mini Cooper S is close behind the WRX for resale values.
For 2018, the Subarus remain well ahead of all the upgraded Golf pair, the Megane RS 280, the 308 GTI and Cooper S. - Red Book
SUBARU WRX 2014-18
PRICE NEW $38,990-$57,790
SAFETY 5 stars
ENGINES 2.0-litre 4-cyl boxer turbo, 197kW/350Nm; 2.5-litre 4-cyl boxer turbo, 221kW/407Nm