Subaru unleashes new WRX

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Subaru’s 2018 WRX STi on track at the recent Hampton Downs-based launch. PHOTO: DILLON PHOTOGRAPHY

There is nothing better than low adhesion conditions to bring the best out of high-grip hardware, but even with rain squalls lashing the Hampton Downs circuit, Subaru's updated performance cars didn't let go easily.You really had to push to give the symmetrical all-wheel-drive and those performance tyres a workout through the slalom, emergency braking and avoidance exercises. It's not often that hot lap exercises in the rain require a cool-down lap.

Demonstrations such as this make it all the harder to understand why WRX models have been progressively losing sales. For sure, the type has obviously seen its public profile eroded since the brand's withdrawal from international rally sport, yet they are still singular standouts in their price range.

The cars have undergone a mid-life tweak that delivers mild visual revisions - new grille, bumpers and headlight design and a change of wheel styling - and more serious specification changes, notably the addition of Subaru's Eyesight safety camera system for the auto (SLT) models, including the new lane keep assist function. WRX and STi engines don't alter, but the thrust is restrained more effectively by a change to Jurid brake pads - said to improve braking efficiency by 20%. The STi's Driver Controlled Centre Diff is now fully electronic.

Comfort never used to be a WRX priority - back in the day most WRX's went into sport, so it was pointless over-dressing interiors that were going to be ripped out - but it is now. Heated door mirrors, heated front seats, 10-way powered driver's seat with memory ... what would Possum Bourne have thought?

Anyway, it's not a huge increase in price, with only the autos going up by $1000, while the manuals roll over.

Is this enough to keep it on the boil? Almostall the enhancements are useful, but it's still an edgy experience; firm-riding, vocal and - in top performance format - ferociously fast and watch-yourself feral. What would really bring it back into the light is a shift to the impressive new global platform used by the latest Impreza and XV.

Unfortunately, that's still two years away.