Subaru, already seeing US sales surge, unveils eagerly awaited WRX performance car

DETROIT – Subaru is on a tear. The new WRX will help it go even faster.

Japanese automaker Subaru unveiled its new high-performance WRX sedan Wednesday at the Los Angeles Auto Show. It goes on sale this spring.

While Subaru is more widely known as a maker of sturdy wagons for the Birkenstock crowd, the sporty, high-horsepower WRX has dedicated fans who have been eagerly awaiting the successor to the current version, which debuted in 2008. The WRX is based on the compact Impreza, which was redesigned in 2011.

Subaru’s U.S. sales have grown 28 per cent this year, faster than any other automaker, thanks to the recently redesigned Forester SUV and the new XV Crosstrek. And despite its age, the WRX continues to sell well, with sales up 39 per cent to 14,782.

That’s not many in the grand scheme of things. Subaru has sold nearly 97,000 Foresters, for example. But analysts say the WRX plays an important role as a sporty, aspirational car that brings young buyers into the brand.

“The halo effect created by these fire-breathing Subarus will pay off dividends for years to come,” said Alec Gutierrez, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book.

Here are more details about the new WRX:

INSIDE: The cabin is roomier than the previous WRX, with more rear legroom and trunk space. Subaru upgraded to softer-touch materials throughout, including on the new flat-bottom, leather-wrapped steering wheel. There’s also a new 4.3-inch (11-centimetre) display screen for the rear camera, climate controls and other functions. New safety features include a driver’s knee air bag, located under the steering wheel.

OUTSIDE: The WRX is built on a new and stiffer chassis, for improved handling. It has a specially tuned suspension and new standard 17-inch (43-centimetre) wheels with a more aerodynamic design. A prominent hood scoop, narrower headlights and a larger grille give it a sportier and more aggressive look than the Impreza.

UNDER THE HOOD: The WRX has a new 268-horsepower, 2.0-litre direct-injection turbocharged Boxer engine. It also has the model’s first six-speed manual transmission, with an optional automatic transmission.

GAS MILEAGE: The six-speed manual gets a combined 24 miles per gallon (9.8 litres per 100 kilometres) in city and highway driving. The automatic gets a combined 21 mpg (11.2 litres per 100 kms).

PRICE: Not announced. The current WRX starts at $25,995.

CHEERS: The WRX will please fans with its sportier design and upgrades, and will continue to bring buyers to the Subaru brand.

JEERS: Some critics were disappointed that the production version didn’t feature the dramatically flared fenders and other rakish details from the concept version, which was shown in New York in March.