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Review: Performance sedan exudes power, question marks

With the 2017 Subaru WRX there are pleasures and perplexities.

In appearance, the four-door, five-passenger compact WRX embodies performance sedan characteristics. In front is a lower air dam flanked by fog lights, upper mesh grille flanked by serpentine wraparound housing for headlamps and cornering lights. Centered on the hood is an air scoop 23 inches wide and 2½ inches tall.

In the rear is a spoiler and two alloy tailpipe extensions at each corner. Fenders are ridged, alloy wheels are 18 inches and brake calipers front and rear are painted red.

In the cabin, wide black leather seats are stitched in red. The Recaro logo is embedded in the seatbacks. Recaro is noted for race-car seats as well as more traditional car and baby seats.

Controls for sound, climate and power features are sensibly placed where they should be. Exterior power window controls are on the driver’s door and not on an A-pillar. Power interior window controls (express up/down in front, anti-pinch) also are on the door and not on the center console. The sound system even has two knobs, one for tuning and the other for volume.

Power amenities include door locks and heated front seats. Seat heat controls are at the rear of the center console right next to the seats they are heating. Sensible.

The trunk release button, complete with appropriate icon, is to the immediate left of the leather-clad, flat-bottom steering wheel.

The split rear seats fold to add storage space to the 11-cubic-foot lighted and carpeted trunk.

Subaru’s iconic boxer engine (two banks of flat pistons horizontally opposed to each other) has been tweaked to promote the WRX into a road rocket.

For a performance sedan, though, there is some head scratching when it comes to the six-speed manual transmission mated to a 2-liter, 268-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder.

Shifting is long and difficult. Subaru could use help from BMW when it comes to a manual transmission. Buyers can opt for a continuously variable transmission to replace the stick shift, but that will cost money.

The engine is strong but not overwhelming. Fuel usage is average. During a test week with the base WRX, the average usage was 23.3 mpg premium fuel. Two persons were aboard and travel was 50-50 between interstate and city driving.

Steering is precise. The independent, four-wheel suspension system includes double wishbones, struts, steel lower L-arms, coil springs, and stabilizer bars front and rear.

Somewhat perplexing is the inability to carry on normal conversations in the WRX. Noise seems to come from everywhere. More insulating factors should be sandwiched into the floorboards.

Downright perplexing is the wacky sound system, which has all the technology one wants today, including Bluetooth, Pandora smartphone integration, USB port, six speakers, single CD player, auxiliary input jack, iPod capability and audio streaming, iTunes tagging and an auxiliary input jack, AM-FM radio as well as SiriusXM satellite radio and a 6.2-inch touchscreen ... and there comes the rub. The touchscreen requires more than a touch. Take a hammer along just in case. Just kidding. But the touchscreen has difficulty recognizing a light, medium or heavy push from a forefinger. A sharp and attacking thrust of a thumb moves things along.

Several times while pushing a button to turn off the sound system, the stations automatically changed. Was an errant finger pushing the button to blame? Could be, but it happened a half-dozen times. Something else is going on here.

Safety features are top-notch with automatic headlights and an improved EyeSight safety package added to the safety package for 2017. A rear-view camera also is newly standard.

A highlight of the WRX is stopping power. Front and rear disc brakes bring the 3,320-pound sport sedan to a stop in an automotive media tested 105 feet. Very impressive.

FAST FACTS

Vehicle: 2017 Subaru WRX

Type: all-wheel-drive, four-door compact performance sedan

Price: $26,695

Engine: 2-liter, 268-horsepower flat turbocharged four-cylinder

Transmission: six-speed manual

Fuel: premium

Fuel tank: 15.9 gallons

Wheelbase, length, width, height in inches: 103, 180, 69, 58

Weight: 3,320 pounds

Trunk: 11 cubic feet

Leg room: 43.3 inches front, 35.4 inches rear

Tires (245), alloy wheels: 18-inch

Turn circle: 35.4 feet

Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles with roadside assistance, 5 years/60,000 miles on powertrain

Information: www.subaru.com

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