BITTERSWEET moments were part of early Subaru WRX experiences.
The pick-ups were tinged with excitement as you got to sample the raw and raucous nature which has made the "Rex" revered by so many.
Although usually by week's end, the enthusiasm waned and the call for commonsense had grown louder. The firm ride had taken its toll, and the neck-snapping turbo whoosh had lost its lustre.
During recent years the WRX had been criticised for going soft, both in looks and performance. Yet the just released fourth generation model better balances daily driver and weekend warrior duties.
Only available as a sedan, it starts from just under $39 grand (which is less than the first model from two decades ago), with the automatic version adding an extra $2000.
Improved driver vision comes via thinner A-pillars which have been moved forward 200mm and new small quarter windows. The side mirrors are also now on the doors which means you don't have to crane your neck when heading into a roundabout.
Testing the Premium variant with leather trim and up-spec stereo system with sat nav, the extra features add some panache to a dark colour scheme.
There are still some hard plastics over the console, but leather covers the areas you touch most and there are some nice carbon looking inlays over the dash.
Embedded in the top of the dash is a slick little display featuring air con information, turbo boost gauge or fuel economy and it also becomes the revering camera screen.
Usability has improved, it's easy to synch your phone or MP3 player to the entertainment system, while the driver's instruments are crisp and aided by an 8.9cm display which you can toggle through for various trip and vehicle information.
Front sports seats have larger bolstering, and the base models have "high friction" fabric for extra grip.
On the road
The Europeans have mastered the art of combining athleticism with daily drivability, and Subaru can join the illustrious group.
While there is still the lovely turbocharged whoosh above 3000rpm the WRX can actually be driven sedately. Without the giant rear wing found on the range-topping STI it can slink comfortably within traffic and without attracting too much attention.
New to the Rex range is a continuously variable automatic transmission. Many true drivers will scoff at a self-shifter, especially a CVT, but Subaru has done an outstanding job with this automatic.
It has eight ratios for manual style control, and there are three distinct drive modes, "intelligent", "sport" and "sport#", which control acceleration and shift rates. Only in S# is eight-speed shifting engaged (the other modes only use six) when you can make full use of the steering wheel mounted paddles.
With a stiffer chassis and quicker steering response the Rex loves any curvy stuff. It stays hunkered down in the twisties and embraces lateral challenges.
Only when you explore its abilities do you hear much of the exhaust soundtrack, and it does a good job of maintaining a low profile…unless you launch it away from the lights.
What do you get?
Base WRX models come with a CD stereo with MP3/USB/AUX connectivity and six speakers as well as Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, climate controlled air con, sports front seats, external body kit with 17-inch alloys along with self-levelling LED headlights.
Premium spec upgrades the stereo with a Harman Kardon amplifier and nine speakers, including subwoofer and touch-screen satellite navigation, reversing camera, leather trim, automatic lights and wipers and sunroof.
The WRX also gains Subaru's highest safety rating with ANCAP scoring it 35.85 out of a possible 37 making it the highest ranking Subaru yet.
The Rex's old rival, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution ($59,990) or the Ralliart SST version ($39,990) is really getting long in the tooth, but maybe also worth a look in the hatch realm is the Volkswagen Golf GTI ($41,990) or Kia Proceed GT-Tech ($33,490).
This automatic box should help deliver fuel consumption of about nine litres for every 100km. It's slightly less than what you'd be paying in a six-cylinder Commodore or Falcon.
Insurance may not be so kind depending on your age and driving history, it may well pay to shop around.
Subaru has an excellent reputation for quality and longevity, but servicing prices are yet to be capped and maintenance is required every six months or 12,500km.
With the SI-Drive controller on the steering wheel there is ample console space, where you find dual cup holders and a handy space in front of the shifter for phones, wallets and keys. It's right next to a 12-volt plug, while the USB port is found in the console.
There is a slick flip-out pair of cup holders in the back, where passengers can enjoy additional space. The new WRX sits on a larger wheelbase, and being wider means two or three adults can fit across the bench seat with reasonable leg room. The rear seats have a 60-40 fold which is always handy.
Styling is not over the top with a small bootlid spoiler, quad pipes out the back, shark fin antenna and 17-inch alloys.
Those wheels tend to look a little thin and could do with some more size for a tougher appearance, but the new lines give a more muscular look all-round.
What matters most
What we liked: It's a daily commuter and a performance car, quick steering response, grip in the bends, typical turbo whoosh.
What we'd like to see: Extra inch or two on those wheels, slightly more noise from the exhaust.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year unlimited kilometre warranty with roadside assist. Servicing is six months or 12,500km.
Model: Subaru WRX.
Details: Five-door all-wheel drive compact performance sedan.
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder horizontally opposed turbo-petrol generating maximum power of 197kW @ 5600rpm and peak torque of 350Nm between 2400-5200rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed manual or continuously variable automatic with eight-speed manual mode (as tested).
Consumption: 9.2 litres/100km (combined average, manual); 8.6 litres/100km (a).
CO2: 213g/km (m); 199g/km (a).
Bottom line plus on-roads: WRX (m) $38,990, WRX (a) $40,990, WRX Premium (m) $43,990, WRX Premium (a) $45,990.
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