Review: 2023 Subaru WRX Sedan - The best CVT in the world?
Shaun · Mar 11, 2023 04:53 PM
The 2023 Subaru WRX is in a class of one, especially if you opt for the manual transmission variant. In Malaysia, there are currently no other brand-new manual sedans apart from the Proton Saga and Perodua Bezza.
Ah yes, it seems I’ve mentioned the car many have brought up alongside the 2023 Subaru WRX for their almost comical resemblance. But it gets old rather quickly so from here on out, that car shall not be brought up again.
Anyway, even if it’s the automatic variant, which we have here, the 2023 Subaru WRX still has no direct rivals. The closest one in terms of power, pricing, and driven wheels would be the Volkswagen Arteon, but buyers of these two aren’t likely to cross shop.
So, what is the Subaru WRX’s party piece that would attract buyers towards it?
Well, as harsh as it may sound but the design isn’t likely to do any attracting. Having had the 2023 Subaru WRX for a few days, not once have I received a compliment on its looks. Sure, it did steal many glances, but who wouldn’t look at a bright orange heavily-cladded sedan.
While I wouldn’t describe the WRX as a pretty, I would stop short at calling it ugly – that word is reserved for those with massive nostrils and squinting headlights. In some angles, I’d even say that it looks striking, with its chiselled lines and muscular shoulders.
Though from whichever angle, I still find the body cladding to be a little excessive, unnecessary even. Subaru says the unpainted cladding has a hexagonal texture that helps with wind turbulence, which is said to make the car more stable at high speeds.
The hexagon textured panels are found underneath the car as well. It’s also said to reduce wind noise transmitted into be cabin. Does it work? Perhaps, but tyre noise would’ve masked it either way. But we’ll get to the noise part later.
Interior – Little things that annoy
Inside, it’s a mixed bag of tradition and modernisation. By that, I mean it has fewer buttons on the dashboard than before for the minimalistic/clutter-free look, but it still has an analogue instrument cluster. Even the second-generation Subaru BRZ has a fully-digital instrument cluster.
Physical knobs for the climate control menu have been removed and controls are now integrated into the portrait infotainment screen, which is responsive to use but the graphics isn’t the most visually pleasing and the lack of animation robs it of fluidity.
By RM 300k standards, build and material quality are below par with hard plastics on some parts of the upper dashboard. Even the doors feel light and you don’t get the solid thud as you shut them. Then again, none of its predecessors were praised for their interior quality, so I wouldn’t hold it against the WRX.
But it’s the little things that annoy; things like the brake hold function that requires you to fiddle with the screen in order to get to the settings, the climate control that requires you to look away from the road to adjust, the tiny cubby spaces on the door, and the poor use of screen real estate when connected via Android Auto.
Also, the front passenger seat has no power adjustment. In a RM 300k car that isn’t focused on weight shedding, it’s almost criminal. Perhaps a reason to buy the wagon version, which gets a power-adjustable front passenger seat.
Having said all those, there are also plenty to like about interior. For one, visibility is excellent all around with thin A-pillars and low window line, the suede-like material on the seats are quite pleasant, and there’s an overall airy feeling in the cabin with space to move around.
Driving position is alright, though I’d like to be seated a little lower and the spokes on the steering wheel is on the chunky side, which makes it slightly awkward to grip at the 9 and 3 o’clock position.
Driving Experience – Unlike any other sedans
Compared to its predecessor, the engine has a larger displacement at 2.4-litre (previously 2.0-litre) but power has only gone up by 7 PS while torque figure remains identical. However, peak torque now arrives 400 rpm earlier at 2,000 rpm and is sustained all way to 5,200 rpm.
What this translates into practice is that power delivery is more progressive and the engine doesn’t have to work as hard to achieve the same pace. It picks up speed with ease and will continue pulling like a train until you let off the throttle.
The transmission is still a CVT, but it’s among the best ones. It feels as direct as CVTs can get and in “manual” mode, the speed at which it shifts to its pre-set ratios is quite eye-opening. Left to its own devices, it will simply disappear into the background to give a seamless driving experience.
It’s a transmission that tries to be everything – the smooth daily operator, the efficiency maximiser, and the fast shifter. But at the end of the day, being a CVT means it will not win over cynics who have had bad prior experiences. It’s a shame because if there’s a CVT worth recommending, it’s this one.
As with all modern Subarus, there’s the SI Drive Mode which alters the throttle response and shift mapping of the transmission.
Intelligent (I) mode can feel muted as it tries to maximise fuel efficiency, Sport Sharp (S#) mode gives the most aggressive response but makes the throttle pedal feel a bit like an off/on switch, while Sport mode is a personal favourite as it gives the most intuitive response towards throttle inputs.
Handling wise, steering is incredibly direct, responding to minute steering inputs without any slack. It has a quick ratio to enhance the sense of agility, though feedback is minimal as with most electric power steering. It goes around corners flatter than pretty much every other sedan in stock form.
Part of it is due to the assist springs in the dampers that help contain body roll, while the other part is just the nature of the low centre of gravity afforded by the boxer engine. The WRX just feels absolutely planted around bends.
Mechanical grip is high, which means it’s unlikely you’d experience any understeer on the road. Even if you do (you’d be going at ridiculous speeds), the car is constantly detecting any slip or loss of traction at any given moment, and the all-wheel drive with its torque vectoring system is ready to combat it.
Brakes are easy to modulate, though the flipside is that pedal feel is on the softer side. When you really put the anchor on, absolute stopping power feels somewhat lacking as the car isn't shedding speed as much as your foot commands.
Taking a step back from the action, the EyeSight system with its adaptive cruise control and lane centering is one of the better calibrated systems out there. It tracks accurately even around bends and detects bikers that weave in front without panicking.
Ride Comfort – Plush on the highway, not so much in the city
Subaru has given the new WRX additional suspension travel, particularly in the rebound (expansion) travel. They’ve also slackened the rebound damping for a more compliant ride but to control body movement, they added the aforementioned assist springs.
What this means is that the WRX rides well on highways with larger undulations and the relaxed rebound damping helps reduce vertical movements.
However, the springs and compression damping do feel on the stiffer side. Poor surfaces and impacts aren’t ironed out particularly well. So going over broken tarmac, you do feel some judders and a general sense of harshness going over sharp edges.
In terms of seating comfort, I find that the sculpture of the front seats does not provide an even pressure distribution across my back. The lower part of the lumbar area protrudes more than I’d like even with the least amount of lumber support. Thigh support, however, is quite good.
At the rear, the seatback is at a relatively relaxed angle and seat base is of decent length and angle to provide adequate thigh support.
As for noise isolation, the Subaru WRX isn’t the quietest car to be in. While it is mechanically refined with minimal powertrain noise, tyre noise is always present and wind noise does catch up at triple-digit speeds, while external noises aren’t particularly muted either.
2023 Subaru WRX Sedan - Cabin noise level
In a 60/40 mix of highway and city driving, the 2023 Subaru WRX’s fuel consumption is tested at 10.4-litre/100 km. The trip computer displayed an average of 10.7-litre/100 km, which is reasonably accurate.
The 2023 Subaru WRX is a car that general car buyers will not appreciate, citing options from the German brands at its price range.
But the WRX is truly in a class of its own; it’s available with a manual transmission which, in this day and age, makes the Subaru WRX a unicorn. Plus, it’s also available in wagon form. This car is made for the cliched enthusiasts who say “If got manual/wagon, I buy,” which this writer is embarrassingly a part of.
If you are as well and you have the means to buy one, please do. Keep these cars in existence before we get drowned in the same flavour of automobiles that don’t make any noise. Keep the love of driving alive.
The quest for automotive knowledge began as soon as the earliest memories. Various sources information, even questionable ones, have been explored including video games, television, magazines, or even internet forums. Still stuck in that rabbit hole.