The Car Connection Subaru WRX Overview
The Subaru WRX and WRX STI are four-door sedan spin-offs of the mild-mannered Impreza sedan. The WRX twins are the bad boys of the lineup. With turbocharged engines and stiffly sprung suspensions and performance-oriented all-wheel drive, they're essentially road-going versions of Subaru rally cars.
The models offer two very different levels of performance. While the WRX is an exciting daily driver, the more extreme WRX STI is closer to a real race car straight out of the factory.
Only a handful of other rivals are offered in North America, including the original hot hatch, the Volkswagen Golf GTI, and the Honda Civic Type R, both lack all-wheel drive. Some also consider the Mercedes-Benz CLA45 as a worthy competitor, but it is in a price category one or two notches above these cars. The GTI-based Golf R has all-wheel drive and it is a worthy competitor for the WRX STI.
The WRX is new for 2022 and a WRX STI will follow soon.
MORE: Read our 2022 Subaru WRX review
The new Subaru WRX
The 2022 WRX ushers in the fifth generation of the nameplate, and it is now built on the Subaru Global Platform, joining the rest of the Subaru lineup (BRZ excepted). The platform improves torsional rigidity by 28%.
The redesign also includes a new trim level for the WRX: the WRX GT, which slots in above the Limited as the top trim level. The GT is only available with a continuously variable transmission and adds on an electronically controlled adaptive suspension, the first time one IS offered on the WRX. It also adds a set of Recaro front seats and 18-inch alloy wheels finished in matte gray.
Styling has been tweaked more than flipped. The last-generation car is clearly recognizable in the new car’s styling but the 2022 WRX is more expressive and dramatic with its bodywork. The fenders bulge more prominently and the rear diffuser has more creases and creeps further up the rear fascia. Up front, the signature hexagonal grille nestles between standard LED headlights and below a prominent hood scoop. The car grows 2.9 inches overall, 0.9 inch in wheelbase, and 1.2 inches in width.
The engine is new to the WRX, but not to the Subaru lineup. The 2.4-liter turbocharged flat-4 is shared with the Legacy, Outback, and Ascent, but features a different turbocharger and an electronic wastegate. The engine makes 271 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque in this application, which only represents a gain of three horsepower versus last year’s car. Fuel economy is middling at 19 mpg city, 26 highway, 22 combined with the manual.
The WRX still offer a pair of transmission choices: a 6-speed manual and the CVT, which Subaru now calls the “Subaru Performance Transmission (SPT).” The transmission gets quicker upshifts and downshifts, rev-matched downshifts, and lower fixed gear ratios. It also comes standard with a new transmission cooler (on all but the base WRX), to improve track performance.
The larger size gives the WRX about an extra inch of rear seat room, and the WRX can fit four adults in comfort. Up front, a 7.7-inch touchscreen comes standard in the base model, and all other models get an 11.6-inch vertically mounted screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
This generation WRX receives high marks for roominess, acceleration, and roadholding. Ride is firm but tolerable and almost smooth in the base WRX.
One reason to choose the CVT over the manual is safety. CVT-equipped cars come standard with adaptive cruise control, active lane control, automatic emergency braking, and blind-spot monitors. Manual models are only offered with blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alerts and adaptive headlights, and they're not even standard at the base level.
Subaru WRX and STI history
The WRX first arrived in 2002, and the STI followed two years later as a 2004 model. They were originally offered as two- or four-door sedans, and the five-door hatchback version arrived with the 2008 model year. Many running changes were made over the first few model years, including fender flares for 2005 and new front-end styling in 2006. In the last year of the former generation, a WRX STI Limited model was also launched to add a bit of luxury to the severe standard model. Its amenities included leather upholstery, an optional moonroof, a trunk spoiler, and fog lights.
The second-generation WRX, which arrived in 2008, wasn't well received by its fans in the first model year. They viewed it as underpowered and too softly sprung. Subaru listened to its buyers, and for 2009, the WRX's 2.5-liter turbocharged flat-4 engine got a boost of 41 horsepower, to 265 hp—and the STI was boosted to 305 hp. A 5-speed manual gearbox remained standard, with an optional (and somewhat outdated) 4-speed automatic offered as well. Maximum performance required revving the engines, as both models exhibited a fair degree of turbo lag.
For 2011, Subaru gave the WRX a new look, with flared fenders and a widened track to match the STI, which complemented the overall design. Sound systems were also all-new that year, adding standard USB and iPod connectors plus available satellite radio. While the rest of the Impreza lineup was thoroughly updated for 2012, the WRX and STI continued essentially unchanged into 2013.
New versions of the WRX and WRX STI arrived for the 2015 model year. Both wre based on the Impreza sedan, adding the right reinforcements and upgrades to transform the feeling and meld well with the all-wheel-drive system and turbocharged flat-4 engines. Though they may not have been beautiful, both models were plenty of fun behind the wheel. Unfortunately, a hatchback body style did not return.
The WRX stuffed the Impreza shell with a lovely 2.0-liter turbo-4, with twin-scroll turbocharging and an intercooler, for a net 268 hp. It was coupled to either a 6-speed manual transmission or a continuously variable transmission (CVT), and with different flavors of all-wheel drive, depending on the transmission. The CVT's programming to let it behave like an automatic transmission or a quick-shifting dual-clutch gearbox. The WRX also got electric power steering and a sport-tuned suspension, all riding on 17-inch, 45-series tires. Subaru made 18-inch wheels available as well.
WRX STI models had their own engine, a 2.5-liter turbocharged flat-4 that put out 305 hp; the powertrain wass mostly carryover from the last generation. The STI also had some additional chassis upgrades, with beefier brakes, a unique suspension tune, and a more intelligent and complex all-wheel-drive system. As in past versions, the STI had an adjustable differential, which let drivers fine-tune the torque split between the helical front and Torsen rear limited-slip differentials.
The wheelbase of the latest WRX and STI was about an inch longer than their predecessors, so interior space was better. The interior, especially the dash, was more nicely finished than before. This generation also gained almost 2 inches of rear-seat leg room, plus a bit more trunk space. There was no mistaking it for an Audi S4—either inside, or in sticker price—as its economy-car roots still showed through.
Among standard features, the WRX had automatic climate control, Bluetooth, a tilt/telescoping flat-bottomed steering wheel, and steering-wheel audio and phone controls. The WRX STI added synthetic suede-insert seats and LED-equipped headlamps.
Though compact cars, neither the WRX nor the STI were fuel sippers. The STI was only rated by the EPA at 17 mpg city, 23 highway, 19 combined. Fuel efficiency has always been the job of the base Impreza, while the WRX and STI offer performance.
For the 2016 model year, Subaru's WRX and STI added the company's exceptional EyeSight forward-collision prevention system. Blind-spot monitors became a new option, and Subaru's Starlink infotainment interface with a 6.2-inch touchscreen became standard on all WRX models. Several other options were added as well, including a small spoiler that can replace the shelf-like wing on STI models.
Changes for 2017 were minor. The headliner is improved and the WRX Limited model added reverse automatic braking when ordered with EyeSight. For 2018, the lineup saw a tweaked exterior look and some revised suspension settings. For 2019, Subaru added Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to the WRX and WRX STI and added a pair of new performance packages for even sharper handling. For 2020, cars equipped with the optional continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) came standard with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and active lane control. Changes were minor in 2021 in advance of a new model expected in the following year.