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BRED TO RALLY: Subaru’s hot WRX improves with every new generation

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — One of today’s best buys in performance can be found at your friendly local Subaru dealer.

Tucked in among the compact crossover sport-utes and the solid Legacy family sedans, you’ll find the WRX, a hot little tamale with an appealing personality masking an underlying bad-boy attitude.

The fourth-generation version of Subie’s rally-inspired compact is the best yet. Based on the pleasant compact Impreza, the 2016 WRX is granted unique styling with a more aggressive look thanks to wider flared fenders and a functional hood scoop.

From the large, air-gulping front grille openings and the handsome dark-finish alloy wheels to the quad exhaust tips and perky trunk-lid spoiler, it’s clear this is a sports sedan, but it eschews the in-your-face approach of some others’ offerings.

Subaru’s engineers have thoroughly massaged nearly every aspect of the Impreza to create the WRX, starting with the marque’s iconic flat-four “boxer” engine design. Turbocharging, direct injection and unique camshafts and higher-rate valve springs result in 268 eager horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque from the 2.0-liter engine.

Our Premium-level tester came with the standard six-speed manual transmission. Aided by an easy-to-modulate clutch, the fairly short-throw shift linkage clicks solidly into gear.

Four-wheel drive is a given, this being a Subaru, and the 18-by-8.5-inch summer performance tires provide phenomenal grip through turns, even under full power. A stiffened chassis with sport-tuned suspension components and quick, responsive electric power steering add to the car’s flat, secure attitude in the twisty bits on your favorite back road.

Fortunately the brakes are up to the task, given the car’s potential.

15TDI_VL9b006The cabin has received attention as well, starting with upgraded materials and trim. The front buckets are particularly appreciated, generously bolstered and wrapped in a rugged, grippy material to hold driver and passenger in place.

Visibility is superb, a nice benefit for a car with this kind of capabilities.

Safety has long been a Subaru selling point, and the WRX is packed with up-to-date protection.

At around $30 grand, the spunky little AWD sportster has scant direct competition. And at that price point, the WRX deserves all the acclaim it can garner.