Review and photos by Haney Louka

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2006 Subaru WRX
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It takes guts to do what Subaru did. But if you ask me, it paid off.

The 2006 WRX was one of four contenders in the “Best New Sport Sedan” category at the recent Canadian Car of the Year runoffs in Shannonville, Ontario. Its competitors were the Audi A4, BMW 330i, and Lexus IS 350.

Yikes!

Never mind that those three cars come from pedigreed luxury marques, or that they came to the ring wearing sticker prices at least $15,000 north of the WRX’s. The Subaru fits in with this group about as well as Happy Gilmore at the country club. Can you say “underdog?”

But that’s okay, because in my opinion the WRX best defines what a sports sedan should be. It was my pick as best of its group at Shannonville, but whether the other assembled auto scribes feel the same way is anyone’s guess at this point: the category winners for Canadian Car and Truck of the Year will be announced December 6 in Toronto.

One glance at the new WRX and two things become immediately evident: first, this is not a complete redesign. The car still has econobox proportions complete with short wheelbase and long overhangs,

2006 Subaru WRX

2006 Subaru WRX

2006 Subaru WRX

2006 Subaru WRX
Click image to enlarge

in a day when wheelbase measurements are being stretched on virtually every new model to be introduced into the marketplace. Not only does this practice maximize interior space, it also helps give the car a more aggressive stance.

But the next thing you’ll notice is that the car has a fresh new nose, along with other cosmetic changes, that manage to make the car look more upscale — as much as the current platform will allow, anyway. Following the styling direction established by the 2006 B9 Tribeca, the WRX — along with the entire Impreza line — sports a new headlight-and-grille assembly with the grille resembling the fuselage and wings of an aircraft. It’s a nod, the company says, to parent company Fuji Heavy Industries’ aerospace involvement that began in 1917.

The most significant change to the WRX for ’06 comes in the form of a larger turbocharged engine — up 500 cc to 2.5 litres, the same flat-four engine that thrums under the hood of the larger Forester XT. By the numbers, the resulting power increases relative to last year’s 2.0-litre are mild: up three horses to 230 at 5,600 rpm, and a more significant 18 lb-ft gain to 235 lb-ft of torque. But as well as I can remember from the WRX I drove four years ago, power delivery is more substantial lower down in the rev range and just a little more urgent when the boost is up. Not that there was anything wrong with the power delivery in the last WRX, of course.

Power is routed through a five-speed manual transmission (a four-speed slushbox is optional, but why?) to all four wheels via Subaru’s “symmetrical” all wheel drive system.

2006 Subaru WRX
Click image to enlarge

In the manual-equipped WRX application, this means viscous limited-slip centre and rear differentials to apportion torque appropriately to the wheels with the most grip.

According to tests conducted by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada in October, putting the power to the pavement is not a problem. A street start (i.e. no high-rev clutch-dropping) yielded a zero-to-100 km/h time of 5.6 seconds, neck-and-neck with the 300-plus hp Lexus and way ahead of the BMW and Audi that it competed against. Accelerating from 80 to 120 in third gear took just 4.5 seconds, fastest of the bunch.

2006 Subaru WRX

2006 Subaru WRX
Click image to enlarge

Stopping isn’t a problem either. When it comes time to dial that speed down in a hurry, vented discs are located at each corner, waiting to be sandwiched by four-piston calipers in front and dual-piston calipers in the rear. ABS is standard fare, as is electronic brake force distribution.

Not bad for a $35K Subaru, eh? $35,495 to be exact, with a decent list of standard features: automatic climate control, wheel-mounted cruise control, six-disc audio, fog lights, rear spoiler, keyless entry, 45-series 17-inch tires, front and side airbags, engine immobilizer, and a rear-seat folding centre armrest with trunk pass-through. Unfortunately, a split-folding rear seat is not available in the sedan.

The only factory options for the WRX are a glass moonroof and the aforementioned four-speed automatic transmission.

2006 Subaru WRX

2006 Subaru WRX
Click image to enlarge

The WRX’s interior surroundings are cozy, thanks mostly to the short wheelbase (2,525 mm) which affects rear legroom. The Subaru eschews furry velour for a tightly woven fabric that feels of high quality, and the front seats are among the best in the biz. They’re aggressively bolstered and feel very supportive, even if they’re a little on the flat side. Best of all, the side bolsters didn’t get in the way of my shifting arm whether tooling around town or hurling it around the track.

The automatic climate controls are easy to use, and the interior in general is well laid out if a bit too ’90s in its execution. This is classic Japanese econobox, folks, with hard plastics galore and only the ever-trendy silver-tone centre stack to brighten things up a little.

So certainly there are things that explain why this Subaru is substantially less money than the cars we compared it to at Shannonville. It doesn’t look a whole lot different from the base $23,000 Impreza. It’s not luxurious or especially quiet inside. And standing still, it’s not a feast for the senses nor does it boast the latest technologies like its pricier rivals.

These aren’t criticisms; rather, they’re simply justification for a lower sticker price than those of the WRX’s rivals. But make no mistake: you may be giving up many things by buying this Subaru over an Audi or BMW, but performance is most certainly not one of them.


Shopping Around

Other than the pricier sedans mentioned above, there are a few other sedans that promise driving fun for the whole family:

  • Acura TSX ($34,900)
  • Mazdaspeed6 ($35,995)
  • Nissan Altima SE-R ($35,998)
  • VW Jetta GLI ($TBA)


    Technical Data: 2006 Subaru WRX

    Base price $35,495
    Options None
    Freight 535
    A/C tax $100
    Price as tested $36,130 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives
    Type 4-door, 5-passenger sports sedan
    Layout longitudinal front engine/all-wheel drive
    Engine 2.5-litre turbocharged and intercooled horizontally-opposed four cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves
    Horsepower 230 @ 5,600 rpm
    Torque 235 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm
    Transmission five-speed manual
    Tires Bridgestone Potenza RE92, 215/45R-17
    Curb weight 1,452 kg (3,194 lb.)
    Wheelbase 2,525 mm (99.4 in.)
    Length 4,465 mm (175.9 in.)
    Width 2,082 mm (82.0 in.)
    Height 1,440 mm (56.7 in.)
    Trunk space 311 litres (11.0 cu. ft.)
    Fuel consumption City: 12.0 L/100 km (23 mpg Imperial)
      Highway: 8.3 L/100 km (34 mpg Imperial)
    Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
    Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km
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