WRX hatch still a chance

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Don’t give up hope for a hatchback version of Subaru’s new WRX just yet.

That’s the message from WRX Project General Manager, Masuo Takatsu, who told motoring.com.au at this week’s Australian launch of the fourth-generation model that a five-door body style was still under consideration.

“We have received strong interest from the US, where the hatchback was 50 per cent (of previous-generation WRX sales), so we're now considering,” he said.

On sale this week priced from lower than ever before at $38,990 plus on-road costs, the latest WRX – unlike most of its direct competitors – is a sedan-only model, like the higher-performance STI version that follows it on sale next month.

Subaru Australia says it’s not perturbed by that, given hatch versions have accounted for only up to 15 per cent of previous WRX sales.

“From an Australian point of view our best ever hatch result was 15 per cent and most of the years have been below 10 per cent, so while I appreciate the so-called hot hatch does reasonably good numbers, WRX has from day one always been predominantly a sedan,” said managing director Nick Senior.

“I can remember back to the initial order of WRX in December 1993. Hatches were 80 per cent of the market and sedans were 20 per cent, so we ordered those similar percentages and we spent the best part of a year initially adjusting that mix.”

The WRX is the exception to the rule in Australia, however, where the $40,000 performance-car market is dominated by hot hatches such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Ford Focus ST and Renault Megane RS.

Five-door hatches also account for the vast majority of most mainstream small cars like the Mazda3, Toyota Corolla, Holden Cruze and Subaru’s own Impreza, upon which the WRX is based.

Conversely, half of all previous WRXs sold in the US were hatchbacks, despite the fact it is predominantly a sedan market overall.

Given North America is the world’s biggest WRX market (followed by Japan and Australia, which is probably the largest per-capita), it’s understandable Subaru has not ruled out adding a hatch derivative.

“The main target for WRX is the US,” said Takatsu-san. “Japan is number two, Australia number three. Basically, we target these three markets.

Fresh from the US launch last month, the WRX boss – who travels to Sweden next for the Scandinavian launch – said limited engineering resources were behind both the lack of new WRX hatch and an automatic version of the upcoming STI.

Fitted with a downsized yet more powerful 2.0-litre turbo engine, the new WRX is the first in more than decade to be offered with an automatic (in this case CVT) transmission. Meantime, the new STI, which runs a carryover (but also slightly more powerful) 2.5-litre turbo four, is no longer available with just two pedals.

Subaru Australia believes the availability of an auto in the larger, more refined, better equipped and better value MY15 WRX will make it more popular than ever, with 200 sales a month expected – up from the previous model's 150/month.

Priced $2000 higher than the manual, CVT models are expected to initially account for 20 per cent of sales, before rising to 50 per cent.

Meantime, a larger proportion than before (just 15 per cent) are expected to be female buyers and the Premium variant (priced from $43,990) is expected to comprise half of all sales.

Senior said CVT and Premium models would put the more ‘grown-up’ WRX in a better position to tempt buyers of sports cars positioned both below the WRX (such as the Toyota 86, Hyundai Veloster and Kia Cerato Koup) and above (like sports versions of the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes-Benz A- and CLA-Class) .
“There are more players in the sports segment than ever,” he said. “The level of competition in that segment is the highest there ever has been [including] luxury brands coming down as well as volume brands pushing up into that space.

“That means that for us there is more opportunity from brands that have been trying to occupy our space as well as from buyers in the sporty car segment below $30,000 wanting to trade up.

“It’s not just one manufacturer. It is broad-based appeal to a larger segment. We want more conquests.”

Subaru has sold almost 38,000 WRXs since 1994 and expects the new model to help it to a new overall Australian sales record of about 41,000 in 2015, aided by the arrival of new Liberty and Outback models early in the year.

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Story by Marton Pettendy