WRX and Evo IX

I was out at the Bira circuit this month and watched a frantic race with around 30 All-wheel-drive cars pitted against each other. The vast majority were Mitsubishi Lancer Evo’s and Subaru WRX Imprezas. There was hot rivalry between the two makes, and the ultimate winner that day was an inspirin-gly driven Mitsubishi Evo VII (or VI or VII – they all look the same).

That round to Mitsubishi, but another direct comparison in Australia in their “Motor” magazine, with a race driver taking both cars round Oran Park circuit, had the Subaru ahead by 0.3 of a second. Round 2 to Subaru, but on the road in Thailand, there’s no contest, in my books. An Impreza is two point something million here, while the Mitsubishi is four point something million! With the cars so equal, I would have to pick the Subaru and pocket the extra two million change.

The latest version of the Subaru, which is now coming out of Japan for model year 2006 has a 2.5 -litre turbo four in place of the venerable 2.0-litre turbo boxer engine. It has some of that awful styling still there, but perhaps everyone is getting used to the snuffly nose look, called the koala nose Down-under.

According to GoAuto, the new 2006 Impreza is just 55 mm longer than the old car and remains largely unchanged except for specification improvements, an engineering makeover involving the engines, gearboxes and some added dynamic refinements.

In profile, the Impreza’s handsome lines continue, with its wheel-arch blisters and chunky door handles. Apart from some new tail-light lens the rear end remains the largely same.

Overall weight has inched up a tad, by 20 kg to 1415 kg in the WRX, which one assumes is because of the extra weight of the now standard side head and thorax airbags.

In the absence of having any normally aspirated 2.0-litres available, which include the perky 2.0R with its double overhead camshafts and active valve control delivering 118kW of power at 6400rpm and 186Nm at 3200rpm, we were easily coerced into the WRX for a modest spin around the windy mountain roads behind Brisbane.

As soon as you were under way the Rex was like an attack dog straining to be let off the leash. The power we remember from WRXs of old – rapid and unrelenting - but its seamless and linear delivery from barely above 20 km/h really impressed in the new car.

The newest WRX is less aggressive, more progressive. The same can be said of the all-paw traction in the WRX. It offers levels of grip that can leave passengers spell-bound if they have never experienced four-wheel drive before. But the price you pay for such acceleration and handling is a firm ride and plenty of tyre noise generated through the cabin.

Even though the Rex’s power output remains at 169 kW at 5600 rpm it remains an awful lot for a little car. Torque is up 20 Nm, or 6.6 percent, to 320 Nm at 3600 rpm. The power comes on in a seamless fashion from low down the rev range, making third-gear point-and-squirt acceleration through some windy hills an entertaining experience.

However, because of heavy holiday traffic we had to amuse ourselves running through the car’s revised specification levels – aluminium lower suspension arm in the sedan, aluminium pedals, electronic throttle control, HID headlights with headlight washers, immobili-ser, Suretrac limited slip differential, four-pot front and two-pot rear disc brakes and new 17-inch alloys.

All very nice touches complemented now by dual side airbags for the modest ask of AUD 40,990 (about 1.2 million on direct conversion) for the five-speed manual. This includes climate control air conditioning, cruise control, sports seats, anti-lock brakes, remote central locking and fog lights and the WRX remains a persuasive argument for low-cost, high-performance motoring.

Apart from the more refined power delivery, the clutch and shift linkage quality felt vastly improved – more positive in the gearshift throws and with a firmer, more precise clutch take up.

The car’s drive-by-wire electronic throttle control – all Imprezas get it – allows the WRX to be driven with more precisely measured throttle inputs.

Fans of the traditional throbbing horizontally opposed boxer engine will also be delighted by subtle exhaust changes that have made the WRX more efficient while also delivering a more throaty engine note.

In our all-too-brief exposure to the latest WRX it is clear Subaru has maintained a build-brief of continuous improvement, refining and improving the things that it really believes count – a car’s dynamics and overall performance.

The bottom line however, is that the WRX remains a thoroughly entertaining car to drive.

That was what one Aussie tester thought of the new WRX, which should hit Thailand next year. For my money, the WRX remains the performance bargain package of the year. You are getting close to ‘supercar’ performance at everyday car prices. Zero to 100 kays in 5.4 seconds is quicker than the vast majority of cars available on the market, and would have to be the fastest in the sub-3 million baht bracket. Since the Aussies pay around half of what we are forced to cough up, perhaps the much vaunted FTA with Japan might see the price come down? Please raise your umbrellas now as a squadron of pigs is going overhead!

Audi. The ‘forgotten’ marque?

When people discuss German makes, the names of Mercedes Benz, BMW, Porsche and VW come to mind immediately. However, Audi somehow remains the poor cousin, passed over when the plaudits are handed out. This is a shame, as Audi has a very colorful history, resulting from the amalgamation of Horch, Wanderer, DKW and Audi, to form Auto Union, with its symbol of the four linked rings. As Auto Union, they built some of the most awe inspiring race cars, rear engined and prone to some vicious road manners. But they were quick!

These days, Audi does make some very good cars, in the German-European mold, and the latest A6 Quattro (four wheel drive) is receiving good reviews. However, it is still struggling to overcome a lack-luster recent history.

The following piece comes from GoAuto. Audi’s A6, since the first model was launched in 1994, has always been seen as something of a luxury-class wannabe. The latest A6 came at the end of 2004 and, like its predecessor did at its launch, it looks a pretty complete package.

The new A6 is bigger, sassier and a recipient of every known piece of practical technology short of the all-alloy construction of its bigger A8 brother. It does have some A8 DNA though, including the trapezoidal-link rear suspension, and there is quite extensive use of aluminium - primarily in the suspension - to keep the weight down.

As before, the A6 offers a choice of two-wheel or all-wheel drive, the former only available on the base 2.4 and 3.0 litre models. The 3.0 litre version offers a choice of two or all-wheel drive, while the 4.2-litre V8 and the new 3.0-litre turbo-diesel are quattro only.

Like all Audis, the A6 makes an impact with its styling, in this case amplified by the new front-end treatment with its massive, full-depth “single frame” grille opening leaving one in no mistake about what sort of car this is. (Audi claimed that this was to remind the world of the Auto Union racers. Dr. Iain.) The A6 is aerodynamic, but certainly not class leading.

The instrument display is classic Audi, with the eerie red glow of the gauges and switches dominant at night. The ergonomic layout is generally faultless and there’s plenty of adjustability to keep the driver happy - although even at this price point there’s no memory function for the power seat adjustment.

All A6s gets eight airbags including full-length curtain bags as well as anti-whiplash front head restraints. There’s also the full array of electronic safety aids including four-wheel ventilated disc brakes with four-channel ABS, electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist.

The car’s interactions with the driver are important here too. The A6’s nicely communicative, well weighted steering denies its actual size and weight. It steers with precision even though it might lack the tricky varying-ratio systems now starting to come into vogue (BMW 5 series, Lexus GS430).

The A6 feels well-planted, confident, which is the sort of thing you might expect from a high-end German luxury sedan with full-time four-wheel drive incorporating a Torsen centre differential as well as a differential lock to supplement the traction control.

Couple this with a well-controlled, absorbent ride and the A6 quattro, in all conditions, is about as unfazed as it’s possible to be in a passenger sedan.

Yes, the A6 is an advance over its already refined predecessor. It’s big, comfortable, practical and, in turbo-diesel form, powerful and economical at the same time. And it has full-time all-wheel drive to separate itself from the opposition.

Will it make the transition to a serious luxury contender that will sell in BMW/Mercedes numbers? Maybe not in the foreseeable future, but that will be nothing to do with the intrinsic quality of the new Audi A6.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I asked which candle manufacturer also built motor cars? The clue was Agnelli! The answer was Michele Lanza who built cars at the turn of the 20th century. He refused an offer of a partnership with Giovanni Agnelli, who went on to found Fiat. OK, it was a long time ago, so you’re excused if you didn’t get the right

So to this week. Steel and aluminium construction in bodies and chassis is looked upon as something new in the vehicle builders art, but this is not correct. A steel and aluminium chassis and aluminium mudguards first came out on a production car in 1900. What was it?

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected] Good luck!

They’ve altered the 2006 F1 calendar already!

The FIA has released a revised calendar, so get your pencils out again, and a rubber (eraser).

Mar 12: Bahrain Grand Prix (Bahrain)
Mar 19: Malaysian Grand Prix (Sepang)
Apr 2: Australian Grand Prix (Melbourne)
Apr 23: San Marino Grand Prix (Imola)
May 7: European Grand Prix (Nurburgring, Germany)
May 14: Spanish Grand Prix (Barcelona)
May 28: Monaco Grand Prix (Monte Carlo)
Jun 11: British Grand Prix (Silverstone)
Jun 25: Canadian Grand Prix (Montreal)
Jul 2: United States Grand Prix (Indiana-polis)
Jul 16: French Grand Prix (Mangy-Cours)
Jul 30: German Grand Prix (Hockenheim)
Aug 6: Hungarian Grand Prix (Hungaroring)
Aug 27: Turkish Grand Prix (Istanbul)
Sep 10: Italian Grand Prix (Monza)
Sep 17: Belgian Grand Prix (Spa-Francorchamps)
Oct 1: Chinese Grand Prix (Shanghai)
Oct 8: Japanese Grand Prix (Suzuka)
Oct 22: Brazilian Grand Prix (Interlagos)