It’s always an exciting time in the NZ Performance Car office when we get given the keys to a late-model performance car. We get to see what technology and trends have changed, and we get to see what engines these machines are being released with. Last year we received the 2015 Subaru WRX STI; it had a six-speed manual gearbox, 221kW of power, and 407Nm of torque — it was an absolute beast. So, when we were told we weren’t getting the STI, but rather the 197kW and 350Nm 2016 Subaru WRX Premium, we weren’t too amped.

However, only a few minutes into the drive, I soon realized that the WRX Premium was a completely different car entirely. It wasn’t produced for the weekend racers, but rather the gentleman that wants a decent amount of grunt and driveability out of his Japanese sedan. It was comfier, it had better media connectivity, an eight-speed paddle-shift transmission, and much softer suspension — although body roll was minimal.

So what did all of this translate to out on the road? The transmission and power delivery was silky smooth. Torque came on strong early on in the rev range, but when the revs hit the red line, and we shifted to the next gear in manual mode, the revs dropped down around 1500rpm from the red line. This kept us well in the power band, giving us a close ratio — similar to that of a race car. Unfortunately, the WRX Premium just didn’t feel like the savage road car that the STI example had, which was a car we gave back with shaking hands.

The WRX Premium featured great fuel economy during our road-testing. Around 500km to the tank of premium fuel wasn’t too bad, considering our foot was down flat most of the time. This comes thanks to the direct injection, and dual active-valve–control technology — all fighting to give lower emissions, greater power output, and a reduced fuel consumption. The WRX Premium did retain SI-Drive (Subaru Intelligent Drive), which we are thankful for as flicking through three modes — intelligent, sport, and sport sharp — is quite entertaining. Although, sport sharp was nowhere near as aggressive as the STI model. The centre-diff controls were also lacking, however we didn’t feel that the WRX inspired the need for it when going through the bends.

The WRX Premium is a fantastic vehicle if you’re after something that can pass most things on the road, has the convenience of an automatic for around-town driving, and has the luxuries of a much more expensive vehicle. I feel Subaru has done a great job at combining these components, but if you’re searching for STI performance, then buy the STI model.

René Vermeer

Dutch, French, or just a Kiwi, René isn’t quite sure, but he does know he has a passion for Japanese vehicles like no other. A well-seasoned Gran Turismo player dating back to his single-digit days, René has a comprehensive knowledge of a wide range of performance vehicles and has owned more than 30 performance cars here in New Zealand, ranging from Nissans to Hondas. A lover of photography, you’ll find him either peeping under someone’s bonnet to snap a detailed shot, or on the side of the racetrack, perfecting his panning.