Subaru's next-gen WRX, WRX STI and Levorg shine in the wet
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On the high-grip surfaces of a modern race circuit the most effective way to showcase the all-wheel-drive talents of Subaru performance cars is to add water.
Right on cue, springtime squalls swept across Hampton Downs to provide the puddles and shiny patches for a perfect introduction to models -- each of the turbo models having just received a 2018 specification upgrade.
Splashing through some slalom, emergency braking and avoidance activities was followed by some hot laps in the turbo cars to provide the reminder that Subaru's symmetrical all-wheel-drive traction, chassis poise and responsive steering come to the fore when conditions deteriorate.
It only took the first few brake and throttle applications through the puddles to remind me there are very few cars I'd rather be driving when the road conditions are mixed and slippery. And the alternatives tend to be significantly more expensive.
Subaru of New Zealand has already been busy in 2017 with new generation Impreza and XV model lines. That product roll-out now takes a pause while the new Forester is being prepared and attention has switched to Model Year 18 upgrades for the WRX, WRX STi and the Levorg sport wagon.
It's a mid-life upgrade combining a visual refresh and enhanced specifications. Apart from engines that now meet the latest Euro6b emissions standard, there are no powertrain changes for the turbo trio.
The WRX and Levorg are powered by the direct injection and turbocharged 2.0-litre boxer engine which develops 197kW at 5600rpm and peak torque of 350Nm from 2400-5200rpm.
The urgency of the WRX STi is provided by the 2.5-litre turbo boxer with 221kW output at 6000rpm and peak torque of 407Nm at 4000rpm.
The entry point to the Subaru Performance range remains at $48,990 for the manual transmission WRX.
In 2018 guise the "Rex" gets a revised grille, front bumper and headlight design plus a new 18-inch alloy wheel design. The LED headlights are now steering responsive.
Inside, black accents now feature on the door armrests, centre console and steering wheel and also the gear selector of auto models while heated door mirrors are a new feature.
Braking performance has been upgraded with newly developed "Jurid" brake pads providing a claimed 20 per cent increase in efficiency. A new red finish on the brake callipers (front only on auto models) is another identifier for the MY18 WRX.
There are further equipment upgrades to the WRX automatic, which features the eight-speed Subaru Lineartronic Transmission and these are accompanied by a $1000 price increase to $50,990. These include the introduction of an electric park brake with Auto Vehicle Hold function, which frees up space on the centre console for a new central cup holder with a slide shutter.
Most notably -- and in response to customer requests -- the auto version of the WRX picks up Subaru's stereo camera Eyesight driver assist system as standard. It doesn't make it on to the manual model because Eyesight has to integrate with the active cruise control system.
The addition of Eyesight is the main reason for the $1000 price increase on auto models, and the same $2000 separation between manual and auto also applies for WRX Premium models, which are now $53,990 and $55,990 respectively.
Premium models pick up the upgrades from the standard WRX, and MY18 versions also gain heated front seats, a 10-way power adjustable driver's seat and a Front View Monitor camera system that provides a front-facing image for parking close to walls or other objects.
The most easily recognisable of the changes to the MY18 versions are apparent on the WRX STi, which has moved to 19-inch alloy wheels with a new 245/35 R19 tyre and now features vivid yellow Brembo brake callipers.
It's not just a cosmetic change for the brake package as larger 340mm cross-drilled discs on the front work in partnership with a new six-pot calliper design. They are paired with 326mm rear discs slowed by new two pot callipers.
The frontal styling update including the steering responsive LED headlights with integrated daytime running lights, the interior trim upgrades plus the addition of dark red seat belts are part of the WRX STi upgrade.
Pricing for the WRX STi is carried over with the standard model at $59,990 and the Premium grade -- which gains the 10-way power adjustable driver's seat and Front View Monitor for MY 18 -- is priced at $64,990.
Subaru New Zealand introduced the Levorg 2.0 GT-S to restore a sport wagon body style in the performance range in mid-2016. Powered by the 2.0-litre turbocharged boxer engine and only available with the SLT gearbox, the price moves up by $1000 to $57,990.
Upgrades for MY18 Levorg include a new design 18-inch alloy wheel, the updated grille, front bumper and headlight design plus the introduction of a new Storm Grey exterior colour.
The Front View Monitor, steering responsive headlights and Auto Vehicle Hold system are also introduced and further changes for the Levorg include a revised tune for the Bilstein suspension while its wagon practicality has been enhanced by the adoption of a 40-20-40 split fold rear seat design.
The turbocharged models provide a performance theme for Subaru, which is experiencing strong New Zealand sales growth in 2017. Year-to-date (January-August) Subaru sales total 2261 units and it is forecasting full year sales above 3300 units, well ahead of the record of 2663 last year.