You have to hand it to Subaru. They are the one car company that cannot be accused of putting style before substance. From the top-heavy ungainliness of the Forester, to the chunky tacked on plastic wheel arches on the Outback Wilderness, they’re so committed to the philosophy of function over form, they make the works of Louis H. Sullivan look flamboyant.
A case in point, the new 2022 Subaru WRX. Folks, I’m here to tell you this is a damn fine car. After trying to drive the wheels off it over rain-slicked northern California mountain roads, it’s obvious this all-wheel drive sports sedan is a powerful, balanced, and capable driver’s car. From the suspension, to the steering, to the willing new turbo engine and its slick-shifting, 6-speed manual transmission, this car is beautiful where it counts most: behind the wheel. It’s only when you park it and look back that you wonder if adding a little panache to go along with its willing spirit wasn’t in the budget.
Perhaps I’m being unfair. I mean it’s not as if the WRX is a total disaster like the Tesla Model Y or Chevy Blazer. Frankly there’s not a lot of beauty in the few mainstream sedans that remain in production. And there are things to like about the exterior styling of the new WRX. Its proportions are solid thanks to it becoming longer, lower and just a tad wider. All the vents and scoops are functional. And for the first time ever, it doesn’t share any sheetmetal with the Impreza. For 2022 the WRX is all new from the ground up. It’s built on the company’s new global architecture that is longer and wider than the 4th generation car. The closest the design comes to interesting, however, is the magma effect on the taillamp lenses.
WRX traces its lineage back to the World Rally cars the company created back in the early-1990s. Searching for a way to make All-Wheel drive relevant at a time when very few companies offered it on passenger sedans, Subaru decided to lean into their adventurous side and pursue their motorsports passion off the track. Instead their cars raced and won on grueling rally courses that include Monte Carlo, New Zealand, Argentina and the Acropolis Rally in Greece. In the hands of drivers like Colin McRae, Petter Solberg, and Carlos Sainz, the Impreza and Legacy-based Group A rally cars won nearly 50 races, burnishing the brand’s image as a go anywhere, bullet-proof vehicle, while adding a layer of performance most never gave Subaru credit for.
From this heritage, the WRX was born and now in its fifth generation, the question is, does it live up to promise of its past?
Let’s start with the new 2.4L turbocharged boxer engine. While they’ve added displacement, what you won’t find is a significant increase in power from the previous year. At 271 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, the output has always been plentiful enough to motivate this 3,200 pound car. The difference is the larger engine with an electronically controlled wastegate for the turbocharger has a much wider torque band so the power is more accessible. You can feel it right off the line and as you accelerate out of corners. This sedan is willing and offers a lot of satisfaction as you flick through the gears.
Speaking of gears, the WRX has them. A six-speed manual transmission is standard. Bucking the overall trend, the WRX is one of the few cars where owners prefer the manual transmission. In fact, 85% of WRXs are ordered with row your own gears. All of the test cars we had were equipped with them and the unit is a good one. The shift lever moves with satisfying precision. The clutch is light and the friction point is well defined so getting off the line is easy. As someone who grew up in cars with three pedals, I’m thrilled that Subaru remains committed to delivering this kind of engagement. There will be a CVT transmission available later, but due to supply chain issues, they didn’t have any for us to test. We’ll do an updated review as soon as it becomes available.
Where the WRX makes its biggest change is in the chassis, suspension and steering. The new global architecture is much more rigid which allows the suspension and steering to be tuned more precisely. The result is a car that is both more confident at the limit and more comfortable on the highway – not an unremarkable achievement. Handling is also benefitted by the boxer engine’s low center of gravity and a rear sway bar that’s mounted directly to the chassis, so there’s less roll and lean as you power through the corners. The suspension benefits from a longer stroke keeping the tires more firmly planted when driving aggressively. And at the corners you’ll find 17-inch wheels with performance summer tires standard, with an 18-inch upgrade available.
Inside, the WRX is all business. The seats are comfortable and supportive with the right amount of bolstering to keep you in place while not being too constricting for people with larger frames. They’re designed to distribute the driver’s weight more evenly to reduce pressure points and whether or not that’s actually the case, I can say that after six hours behind the wheel, I didn’t feel fatigued or suffer any aches and pains. The flat bottom steering wheel is properly sized and connected to a dual-pinion electronically assisted power steering system. This results in a light steering feel that’s solid on center and turns in quickly and consistently as you add inputs.
There’s plenty of room in both front and rear seats. Setting the driver’s seat where I like it, I was able to sit in back without having my knees touch the seat in front of me. Headroom in both positions was more than adequate and there’s storage space for water bottles, phones, and all the other things you bring with you in the car.
From a technology standpoint because the car has a manual transmission you can’t get Subaru’s full suite of EyeSight safety systems. You don’t get adaptive cruise control, lane centering, or automatic emergency braking. Those will be available with the automatic. So if you buy the manual, you’ll just have to pay attention. Like the new Outback, WRX has an 11.6 inch touch screen system at the center of the dash controlling everything from the radio and navigation to HVAC. The big screen is bright, the graphics are crisp. and there’s a nice complement of hard buttons, but it’s not the most intuitive system on the market. You will have to spend some time going through menus and learning its quirks before you can easily access all its functions.
Pricing hasn’t been announced on the new WRX yet, but we were told it wouldn’t increase significantly from the previous model, so expect a well-equipped base model to ring in around $30,000 with destination and delivery and a fully-loaded GT model with an automatic to set you back $40,000 or so.
The WRX is one of the most enjoyable cars to drive on the market today. It reminds me of early BMW 3 Series cars with its willing attitude and pure driver orientation. It’ll work as a daily driver and provide therapeutic benefits when you want to take it out to your favorite back road. And while it’s not the most beautiful car on the market today, it has a great personality. That counts for a lot in my book.