You know those action movies where things seem to have come to a natural ending, and then something unexpected happens and it's all on again?
That seems to be what's happening with the Subaru Impreza WRX. We all know the WRX plot is drawing to its natural close: an all-new mainstream Impreza was launched last year and Subaru has made it clear that the next WRX, while still some time away, will be a very different car to the outgoing one. Based on the platform of the Impreza as always, but this time a separate model line with its own design ethos. Not really an Impreza, more a new kind of WRX.
In the meantime, the current (and very familiar) Impreza WRX carries on and it's looking a little bit old-school. Still clearly the rally-bred machine, it has a jolting turbo engine with a throbbing boxer thrum in the exhaust, flared "wide body" guards and a five-speed manual gearbox. Yep, just five gears.
So why are we still interested? Good question. First, the WRX is still a fantastic car to drive: one of those machines that just feels right in terms of powertrain, steering and chassis balance.
A genuine pleasure to drive. Second, you can't escape the sense that it's the last in a line, as the Impreza moves more towards efficiency and sophistication and away from laugh-out-loud performance and handling. Third, Subaru New Zealand keeps sneaking intriguing limited-edition versions onto the market that make the WRX ever-more-desirable.
The latest is the Crouching Tiger. You can't miss it, because it's very orange. It's also very rare, with just 10 examples going on sale. Subaru's last limited-edition WRX, the Ace of Spades, was produced in a run of 10 examples as well.
In fact, the Crouching Tiger has a lot in common with the Ace of Spades under that orange finish. The 2.5-litre boxer-turbo engine has been tweaked to 211kW (more than the standard WRX's 195kW, a bit less than the STI's 221kW), there's an STI strut brace under the bonnet and STI front springs. Like the Ace of Spades, the Crouching Tiger has privacy glass, a 'WRX' garnish on the front fender and glossy black alloys.
However, the orange crusher ups the ante on rear spoiler size. And orangeness of course. The Tiger features orange stitching on the leather seats and 'WRX' logos in the seatbacks in the same lurid colour.
If you're thinking the Tiger is simply a brighter version of the Ace of Spades then you're probably on the right track.
I can't see anything wrong with that either, as there are only 10 to go around and it's a brilliant package. This particular setup makes for what is arguably the best WRX ever and once you drive it you can't get enough.
Sure, it looks a bit old-fashioned now and the interior fit/finish is diabolical compared with the new Impreza, but the WRX still offers a real connection between car and driver.
It would make sense to say that the car's drawback is you have to go crazy to really enjoy it, but that's a WRX myth. Sure, this can be a mad machine, but it's also one of those rare cars crammed with feedback and dynamic character even at urban speeds. Like any action star with enduring appeal, the WRX knows how to pace itself.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Crouching Tiger costs $54,990. That $5000 over the standard WRX is well spent, even if you don't like orange. Although it definitely helps to like orange as well.