Ride & Handling

In the 1990s, Subaru's SVX was a quirky but compelling all-wheel-drive sport coupe, but it wasn't well-known. It's the WRX that woke Americans up to the idea of a Subaru performance car Ч and of all-wheel drive as more than a feature for tackling foul weather and unpaved roads. All-wheel drive is good on dry pavement for the same reason it excels on the slick stuff: It prevents the wheels from spinning freely, which not only keeps the car moving forward, it makes sideways sliding less likely when you get overly enthusiastic with the accelerator.

The center differential doles out torque to the front and rear axles under orders from a Variable Torque Management system. According to Subaru, VTM barks its orders based on factors no fewer than the throttle position, battery voltage, generator rpm, wheel speed, brake status, lateral g-force and automatic transmission fluid temperature. Obviously the last one there applies only to cars with the optional automatic transmission. Come to think of it, all of the factors apply only to the automatic. As in the previous generation, the manual WRX has Ч instead of the genius system just described Ч a dumb viscous coupling. The stability system ensures that the driveline isn't completely brainless, but it is reactive where the VTM version is meant to be proactive.

This sounds like a major bummer, but as I said about the previous generation, I have no problem with the way my manual test car operated. It felt grounded and surefooted in aggressive cornering, and I was even able to rotate the body around and drift a bit when the stability system was off. The hero of my test session was the tires. They were very good at holding the road, and when they lost traction they did so gradually, predictably and relatively quietly. I began to suspect they were summer tires.

To my surprise, the standard tires were all-seasons, Bridgestone Potenza RE92As rated P205/50R17, classified as high-performance all-seasons. The tradeoff, because there always is one, is that they have a relatively low treadwear rating of 260 and the replacement cost is $199 apiece, according to tirerack.com.

From a broader view, I prefer all-wheel drive that sends more torque to the rear wheels as a default, because it gives a more balanced, rear-wheel-drive feel. The WRX's two all-wheel drive setups are more front-wheel-drive-biased, though the automatic's system can throw more power to the rear. This is just a matter of preference.

The WRX's weakest handling attribute is its steering, which is low on steering feedback and doesn't snap back to center when coming out of a turn Ч without help, that is.

The previous generation's taut ride quality has been tamed somewhat, improving its already reasonable day-to-day livability. Along with the car's significantly quieter cabin, this makes for a more refined experience.

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