BIGELOW, Ark. -- Rack the sporty flat-bottom and leather-bound steering wheel hard to the right, then quickly back to the left, now right again to make yet another chicane kink of a blacktop slalom course draped through deep folds of the Ouachita Mountains in western Arkansas.
Our turbo-charged 4-door sports sedan from Japanese automaker Subaru is a 2016 edition of the WRX, a street-legal rally car derived from the compact-class Impreza. It hunkers low against the road and hugs hard through each tight curve with all four 245/40R18 summer performance tires clawing for traction, thanks to Subaru's standard symmetrical all-wheel-drive (AWD) system.
The rigid structure for WRX, recast in 2015 with a stiffer and more agile chassis drawn in wide-track stance with wheels floating independently at the corners, sets up a nimble package of compact-class dimensions and rigged with all the right stuff to let it romp on pavement.
It's also fired up for fast work, thanks to a unique little engine that produces big-time muscle and torque from relatively modest displacement. The Subaru engine has four cylinders opposed horizontally and set perpendicular to the drive line, then linked with equal-length drive shafts so pairs of cylinders act like boxers jabbing at one another in counterbalanced movements which negate the typical in-line-4 engine's jar-your-teeth vibrations.
Displacing 2.0 liters, the aluminum-block gasoline direct injection (GDI) plant has dual overhead camshafts (DOHC), electronic throttle control (ETC), a twin-scroll turbocharger with intercooler, plus Subaru's dual active valve control system (D-AVCS) variable valve timing for intake and exhaust valves.
The engine racks up impressive muscle numbers: 268 hp at 5600 rpm plus torque of 258 lb-ft at 2000-5200 rpm.
All of that energy channels through a tight manual 6-speed transmission or Subaru's Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) with manual shift modes and paddle shifters.
The Lineartronic CVT employs the Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-DRIVE) device for selecting from three driving modes: Intelligent (relaxed throttle response), Sport (quicker throttle response and 6-speed ratios for the manual shift mode), or Sport Sharp (even quicker throttle response and 8-speed manual mode ratios).
Subaru's full-time AWD system has different versions for manual and CVT shifters. For the manual, a viscous-coupling device locks the center differential, while an electronically managed variable hydraulic transfer clutch works with the CVT.
Subaru outfits all 2016 WRX models with suspension, brake and steering systems designed to forge a highly responsive vehicle. The steering system uses electronic power steering.
Active Torque Vectoring (ATV) is a new feature on the multi-mode Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) stability and traction control system for WRX. The ATV device can apply brake pressure to the inside front wheel to facilitate more neutral cornering. The VDC system now offers three driver-select settings: Normal/Traction/Off.
Also, the 2016 WRX offers the option of Subaru's new EyeSight front crash prevention system. EyeSight operates with Adaptive Cruise Control, Pre-Collision Braking and Lane Departure warning, Lane Keep Assist, plus Subaru's stereo camera technology.
A functional cockpit design positions two bolstered buckets beside a central console housing the shifter stick, followed by a 3-seat rear bench with 60/40-split seatback and rear legroom increasing by nearly two inches. The new flat-bottom steering wheel bound in leather has tabs to work the audio system, cruise control and Bluetooth phone link.
Trims for the 2016 WRX extend from the entry-issue WRX to upscale WRX Premium and top-tier WRX Limited.
WRX base edition stocks an array of user technologies, including Subaru Starlink, a multimedia system with 6.2-inch multi-function touch screen display, AM/FM/HDR/RDBS/CD/USB, plus SiriusXM, Bluetooth and connectivity with Aha and Pandora smartphone integration.
WRX Limited trim brings LED low-beam headlights and multi-reflector halogen high beams, leather-trimmed seat upholstery and 8-way power controls for the driver's seat.
Subaru sets the MSRP for a 2016 WRX at $26,595 and $30,395 for WRX Limited.