Subaru WRX 2023 review: tS Sportswagon long-term | Part 1

Subaru WRX 2023 review: tS Sportswagon long-term | Part 1
The Subaru WRX Sportswagon is a practical family car. (Image: Matt Campbell)

Update one: The WRX wagon works for mums and dads

When I attended the launch of the new-generation Subaru WRX, I was in the minority in my enthusiasm for the Sportswagon.

Most of my fellow car-enthusiast-first, auto-journalist-second colleagues were canning the way the wagon didn’t have the same personality as the sedan. One even called it ‘lame’. I didn’t punch him.

For me, the new gen WRX wagon represented a “best of both worlds” scenario – the right kind of car for a person like me; someone who had owned a Subaru WRX (MY98 GF8 hatch) in the heady days of ram raids and rally cars, but who couldn’t justify buying a WRX as a daily. 

Subaru WRX 2023 review: tS Sportswagon long-term | Part 1
The new WRX wagon represents the best of both worlds. (Image: Matt Campbell)

The Subaru WRX tS Sportswagon that I’m spending a quarter of a year in has already come across as the consummate do-it-all family car.

This new one ticked some boxes that previous WRX models hadn’t. It had a wagon body (a big tick for a young family) and it had a more, er, realistic drive experience for someone looking for a day-to-day driver. Plus, the safety spec had been dramatically increased over the last version.

And in this tS spec, it also scores many drive modes that you can pick your choice of, including an enthusiastic Sport+ mode, and an Individual mode so you can tailor your preferences of how the powertrain, steering, suspension, all-wheel drive system, safety tech and climate control behave.

But even with everything turned up to ‘hardcore’, the truth is that the new WRX wagon is still not as manic as a WRX sedan – it has a different suspension tune and different tyres and a different feel to the sedan. The big sticking point for me is that you can’t get the wagon with a manual gearbox. 

Subaru WRX 2023 review: tS Sportswagon long-term | Part 1
The WRX wagon has a different suspension tune and different tyres to the sedan. (Image: Matt Campbell)

For me and my family, the auto top-spec model seemed like a great option – so I was audacious enough to request one at the launch event for a three-month long-term loan. And you know what? I was right!

Myself, my partner Gemma and our now-15-month-old daughter Eliska took the WRX on with just 2565km on the clock. Job one was to install bub’s seat – and it wasn’t as simple as other cars I’d spent some time in – namely, the Skoda Octavia RS wagon, which is a direct rival to this new WRX long-roof model.

We use an ISOFIX forward-facing seat, and the first thing that struck me was how unfinished the ISOFIX mounting locations look when you peel back the fabric cover. It really could do with a plastic protector – I can see this fraying over time, especially if you’re always putting your child’s seat into other cars (as I am, because she loves going for a drive in different cars… or that’s what I tell myself). At least it has a velcro cover, so if you don’t have child seats to attach, it won’t be noticeable.

Subaru WRX 2023 review: tS Sportswagon long-term | Part 1
The ISOFIX points are very close to the seatbelt clickers, so it can be a squeeze to make it fit in. (Image: Matt Campbell)

Also, those ISOFIX points are very close to the seatbelt clickers, so it can be a squeeze to make it fit in. After securing it in and attaching the top-tether strap (it’s easy enough – you can tilt the seat backrest down and reach over it), we went for a test run and Eliska seemed very happy with the view out the windows. However, a couple of other cars she’d been in before this one had large panoramic roofs fitted, and the sunroof in this car is TINY, so she didn’t really get as much joy from it as in other vehicles.

Gemma instantly liked how easy it was to park – according to her, the camera system and guidance lines made it really simple to see where you’re going, and the big glass-house meant it’s also easy to see out from the driver’s seat.

There haven’t been any big family road-trips to speak of, just yet – only a couple of shorter jaunts with the entire crew, and one of those was a bit of a weird one, as the WRX decided that it didn’t want to engage ANY of its high-tech safety gear. The instrument cluster was alight with all the icons you could imagine, and the car cut off its eye-sight safety tech, lane keeping and driver safety aids.

Subaru WRX 2023 review: tS Sportswagon long-term | Part 1
Inside is an 11.6-inch portrait screen. (Image: Matt Campbell)

That was an anomaly, but the fact it happened is a surprise. We’ve also been shocked at how many times the Apple CarPlay has dropped out. Gemma said “yeah it does that every time I drive it”. Which isn’t okay. She said it reconnects after about 10 seconds when it drops out, but really, it shouldn’t be dropping out at all (we use iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro devices and a genuine Apple cable).

In fact, Gemma has spent more time in the car than me in recent weeks – she even said to me that she thinks it would “make a great family car for us” if we were looking to buy something. That was, until it came time to fill it up. 

It requires premium unleaded petrol, which during the first month of our tenure with the Rexxy has averaged $1.89 per litre. That’s cheaper than what it costs as I’m writing this, due to the excise change. 

Subaru WRX 2023 review: tS Sportswagon long-term | Part 1
Fuel consumption is rated at 8.5L/100km for the auto wagon. (Image: Matt Campbell)

What is impressive is that we haven’t been too far over the official combined fuel consumption figure. Subaru claims 8.5L/100km for the auto wagon, and over successive fuel-ups we’ve seen it drop from 8.9, to 8.7, to 8.6 and finally 8.5L/100km indicated. 

I calculated the actual mileage, and it was actually better than the dashboard indicated numbers! 8.3L/100km has been our at-the-pump worst figure, and 8.0L/100km our best. Guess that engine start-stop technology really does help save fuel in traffic!

As you can probably tell, we haven’t been exploring the performance potential of the WRX Sportswagon to this point. But if you want it to be fast, it can be. 

Subaru WRX 2023 review: tS Sportswagon long-term | Part 1
The WRX has a 2.4-litre turbo-petrol engine. (Image: Matt Campbell)

Sure, it never feels as involving as the WRX sedan with a manual gearbox, but the 2.4-litre turbo-petrol engine with 202kW and 350Nm is easily peppy enough to get your jollies. Yes, even with a standard CVT (continuously variable transmission) automatic gearbox.

That isn’t to say it is the benchmark for the practicality-meets-performance-car breed. A Tiguan R or Golf R offer more theatre. And heck, Subaru itself is about to launch the new Outback XT with the 2.4-turbo engine used in the WRX…

More on the fun factor in the next update. Stay tuned!

Acquired: 24 August 2022

Distance travelled so far: 2374km

Odometer: 4939km

Average fuel consumption so far: 8.2L/100km (measured at the pump)

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