- Gutsy turbo 4-cylinder
- Saving the manuals—adding gears, even
- Two flavors of all-wheel drive
- One of the better CVTs we've driven
- Doesn't look like it drives
- No hatchback model
- Wind and road noise
The 2016 Subaru WRX and WRX STI lineup offers an all-wheel-drive rocket for just about any budget, and the latest updates help make these performance machines even more livable day to day.
It's true the 2016 Subaru WRX and WRX STI share bits and pieces with other Subarus. The body shell is lifted from an Impreza sedan; the WRX's heart comes right out of The Car Connection's Best Car To Buy 2014, the Subaru Forester. And the standard all-wheel drive? It's a key to all Subarus—except the BRZ.
Make it big, and make it boxy; that's the ethos of the new WRX's styling, at least at the front end where the air intakes have never looked quite so massive, or the fenders quite so pronounced. Subaru says the deep front air dam and grille aren't the only pieces swapped out to make it so: the WRX has its own hood, fenders, bumpers, and lighting to distinguish it from the Impreza. Key details include the more deeply set (and functional) hood scoop, LED low-beam headlights on upgraded models, and new 17-inch wheels, standard. Somehow, with all that in place, it all still reads a bit dull—not nearly as compelling as the extravagant mechanicals that lie beneath the skin. The STI gets a big wing out back, although for 2016 the STI Limited can be optioned with a low-profile trunk spoiler that should call a little less attention to the car.
Inside, the WRX claims about an inch more of wheelbase, which translates into more interior space in a cabin that's also better-finished than in the last-generation Impreza and WRX. In the WRX, sport seats are specified and are covered in grippy upholstery. A power driver seat is an option, and so is leather upholstery, in case they're absolutely required for your next rally. Versus the last WRX, the new car gains almost two inches of rear-seat leg room, and a bit more trunk space. The STI gets slightly nicer trim as well as a light-up shift knob.
The WRX uses a lovely turbocharged 2.0-liter flat-4 engine outfitted with a twin-scroll turbocharger and intercooler as well as direct injection. Power output is set at 268 hp, while peak torque of 258 pound-feet is delivered from 2,000 rpm to 5,200 rpm. Distinct from the Forester's version of the same engine, the WRX engine has unique cam profiles and valve-spring rates.
The powerplant's coupled to either a manual or a continuously variable transmission (CVT), the first one ever in a WRX—and the choice of transmission nets the driver different versions of Subaru's hallmark all-wheel drive. With the 6-speed manual gearbox—up a cog over the 5-speed unit in the last WRX—the all-wheel-drive system has a viscous coupling at the center differential. It splits power 50/50 front to rear, and can shuffle torque side to side as traction needs arise.
With the CVT-equipped WRX, Subaru's ladling on all its latest thinking in performance and economy. The CVT gets a set of eight preset transmission ratios that give it the feel of a manual transmission, in Sport Sharp mode, or the usual CVT response when it's left in Intelligent mode, with an intermediate Sport mode offering six gear-like steps. This WRX also has an all-wheel-drive system with a rear bias set at 45/55, and variable torque distribution side to side, with the ability to reroute torque based on cornering forces and steering-wheel inputs. The WRX also gets electric power steering and a sport-tuned suspension, all riding on 17-inch, 45-series tires.
The result: a car that adapts to gas-saving features with aplomb. It still scorches the road utterly unlike anything in its class—maybe a Focus ST has the acceleration and grip, but not the WRX's beautifully balanced handling and spot-on steering. Braking isn't quite as great as we'd hoped, given the now excellent pedal feel and neat stops of most rivals.
As for the STI, it feels sharper and more vivid, but not all that much quicker. It carries forward with the exact same 2.5-liter turbo flat-4 as last year, making 305 hp and 290 lb-ft. It's mated to an improved 6-speed manual gearbox, and power is delivered via a special driver controlled center differential, bringing a helical limited-slip front differential and Torsen limited-slip rear differential. With it you get bigger Brembo brakes, a stiffer suspension tune (with revised geometry in front), and hydraulic-boost steering with a quicker ratio.
With new features and much-improved performance, and prices bumped up negligibly if at all (with the base manual WRX just $27,390), the 2015 WRX is looking like a stronger performance value than ever—and one that you could drive year-round, as opposed to a lot of other performance models.
Among other features, the WRX now comes with standard automatic climate control; a flat-bottomed steering wheel that tilts and telescopes; Bluetooth; and steering-wheel audio and phone controls.
In the STI, you get a lot of other extras, like leather and faux-suede seating, dual-zone climate control, an improved center console, and LED headlamps and turn-signal mirrors; and these altogether help erase some of the price differential.
Major options on the WRX include a power driver seat; heated front seats; a sunroof; keyless ignition; and a premium audio system with nine speakers, 440 watts of sound, navigation, and Aha Radio smartphone connectivity.
Changes for 2016 include the addition of several available safety features and new infotainment across the lineup, as well as the aforementioned under-the-radar STI spoiler. Subaru's camera-based EyeSight safety suite is now available on the WRX Limited with Lineartronic CVT, enabling adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and lane-keep assist. It is bundled in a package that also includes navigation and blind-spot monitors, lane-change assist, and rear cross-traffic alert. Some of those items are available on the top STI as well.
All WRX and STI models now come with at least a 6.2-inch touchscreen infotainment system, while navigation-equipped models upgrade to a 7.0-inch screen. The units run Subaru's new software, which is a slight upgrade from past systems that were a bit slow and hard to navigate.
And on the performance end of things, the WRX Premium and Limited models now come standard with 18-inch wheels wrapped in summer-performance tires.
2016 Subaru WRX
The cockpit of the 2016 Subaru WRX is finished better than it was in the past; but it's still neither outrageous or mature.
While the Subaru WRX models have always been attention-getting in their looks, it wasn't always the right kind of attention. To many, it looks exactly like a car where most of the development money was spent on the drivetrain, and that's the case to a certain extent.
It's not quite as bleak as that sounds, but the WRX is no pageant queen, though it is dolled up from the basic Impreza-sedan sheet metal. It's gone more subtle and discreet, just like the rest of the Subaru lineup. For the WRX, Subaru takes that basic outline and adds more massive air intakes—have they ever been this big?—and many, many other subtle changes. Outside of the roof and trunk lid, every metal panel's been tweaked to look wider and bolder. Even still, the WRX is nowhere near as kit-car-like as it was a decade ago.
The STI variant wears a big wing to differentiate it from the WRX and Impreza. For 2016, however, the top STI can be optioned with a low-profile trunk spoiler like the WRX's, perhaps for those who think the heritage-laden shelf calls too much of the bad kind of attention to the car.
The models are also no longer offered as hatchbacks in order to put all that money into the drivetrain, Subaru focused on just one body style and says the hatch won't be back. That could change, of course, as the last WRX was originally hatch-only and sprouted a sedan variant late in the generation.
As in the Impreza, the WRX and STI cabins are functional and straightforward. There's some mild relief from past WRXs and Imprezas: the dash isn't so fashionable as in a Sonic or Cruze or Elantra, but it's at least functionally well conceived, with a cowl over the primary gauges and a smaller one over the multi-function LCD display that rests in the middle of the dash. There's some light matte-silver painted trim to break up the vast expanses of black, and for the most part it comes off handsomely if generically. STIs get a bit more dress-up in the form of Alcantara accents and some different trim.
2016 Subaru WRX
The WRX and STI are in heady performance territory, with loads of grip and powerful turbocharged engines.
Both the WRX and STI have a turbocharged 4-cylinder and all-wheel-drive system as their centerpieces. The WRX is offered with a choice of transmissions, while the STI comes only with a 6-speed manual. While the STI is more powerful, the WRX's relative simplicity makes it arguably more fun on the street.
The WRX's turbocharged 2.0-liter flat-4 is a tart performer, waking up every joint in the car's suspension and using every gear cog (or virtual gear). The four's horizontally-opposed cylinders lie flatter and lower, giving it more weight closer to the ground—and all the while, those pistons are turning gas into 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, peaking on a wide plateau from 2,000 to 5,200 rpm thanks to different cams and valve springs versus the non-turbo flat-4.
The gearboxes—let's call them that for now—send that sizzling power to all four wheels through a center differential, the setup of which depends on the transmission you choose. With the 6-speed manual gearbox, you get reasonably short shifts and an extra gear compared to the last-generation WRX, along with a viscous-coupling center differential that splits torque 50/50 front to rear. It can distribute torque from the front wheels to the back as traction varies. Subaru claims a very conservative 5.4-second 0-to-60-mph run with this setup.
The other transmission technically isn't a gearbox, because there are no gears, just pulleys and belts that can simulate gearsteps. This continuously variable transmission (CVT) probably has better responsiveness than any other CVT we've driven thanks to clever programming: in its "Intelligent" driving mode, it alters its gear ratio constantly to deliver the best fuel economy. In Sport mode, it can be placed in a manual setting that allows the driver to paddle-shift through six preset ratios that act and sound like gears.
The CVT is at its best in Sport Sharp mode, where it responds like a good dual-clutch transmission, with eight virtual gears and swifter throttle response. With the CVT, the WRX gets a different all-wheel-drive system, one using a 45/55 rear torque bias and more software connections with the stability control. With the CVT in its most aggressive mode, this WRX can reach 60 mph in about 5.9 seconds.
The WRX revels in smooth power transitions, with tightly composed handling and very well-tuned electric power steering. With its stiffer shocks and springs, larger-diameter anti-roll bars, and stouter brakes, the WRX has a very taut—almost stiff—feel on some road surfaces. While this lights up its enthusiast fans, it can also dampen enthusiasm for it as a daily driver. For the fun-driving times, the WRX has electronic torque vectoring—light braking that helps it turn into corners easier, up to a point—and a traction-control system that can be disabled.
As for STI, it feels sharper and more vivid, but not all that much quicker, something that's in part due to gearing differences. It carries forward with the exact same 2.5-liter turbo flat-4 as in the last generation, making 305 hp and 290 lb-ft. It's mated to an improved 6-speed manual gearbox, and power is delivered via a special driver controlled central differential system, bringing a helical limited-slip front differential and Torsen limited-slip rear differential. Other differences include a stiffer suspension tune (with revised geometry in front) and hydraulic-boost steering with a quicker ratio.
Our major complaint with early versions of the new WRX we've driven has centered around the brakes. The 17-inch Dunlop SP Sport Maxx RT tires seem like a willing match to the chassis, but the brakes in two different vehicles we drove felt very numb and required a very strong foot to tame the drivetrain's eagerness. That's remedied in the WRX STI, which gets high-performance Brembo units in front, and larger stoppers all around.
For 2016, Subaru is including 18-inch wheels with sticky summer tires on WRX Premium and Limited models, which should bring the handling a step up. The improved grip may also help the brakes do a better job, but we'll need a test drive of the updated model to confirm.
2016 Subaru WRX
Comfort & Quality
There's a sea of black plastic here, but good storage and comfortable supportive seats redeem the cabin.
With the latest WRX and STI, Subaru has added another much-needed layer of refinement to a package that has always been light on comfort and convenience. There's more space inside and the materials have seen a big quality increase. It's by no means a luxury car, which does still separate it from some of the very upscale models in the compact-car class, but it is making moves in the right direction.
The Impreza and its WRX offshoots have grown in this generation, up about an inch in the wheelbase measure, with the result being more space in the back seat and in the trunk.
In front, that means lots of elbow room for average-size adults. The WRX's base seats are covered in grippy fabric and have manual controls, with power adjustment and leather trim on the options list. The STI gets leather trimmed in faux-suede, with big bolsters to hold you in place in high-g maneuvers. In back, almost 2 more inches of leg room work in concert with thinner front seat backs to provide good space for two adults. Three won't be happy for very long, as any middle-seater will feel pinched.
Interior storage is average, with generously sized bins and trays, and the trunk is a bit larger—up from 11.3 cubic feet in the last generation to 12 cubic feet. The rear seat folds down for expanded stow space—outdoor gear if you must, maybe a real spare tire if you're out hustling the WRX and find a nail. Of course, the sedans can't match the space offered by the last-gen hatchback, but Subaru claims it was able to make more advances to the models by concentrating efforts on the one body style, and we can appreciate that.
Like the Impreza, the WRX has a substantially nicer dash and batter interior surfaces than in the last-generation vehicle. It's mostly covered in soft-touch, low-gloss plastics, with simpler controls than in some other compacts—particularly some of its Asian competitors. It's not a very sexy treatment, and it suffers from the characteristically high amount of wind and tire noise common to most Subarus. The Impreza received interior updates for 2015 that brought it up to a standard closer to the WRX.
For 2016, the WRX and WRX STI get a much-improved infotainment system, with touchscreens standard on all models.
2016 Subaru WRX
The builds on the excellence of the Impreza small-car family and has excellent safety scores.
Subaru has upped the available safety content on the WRX and STI one year into this generation, with the 2016 model gaining a few systems for certain models. While the car already enjoyed good crash-test ratings, the additional equipment should further bolster its scores.
Subaru's camera-based EyeSight safety suite is now available on the WRX Limited with a continuously variable transmission, enabling adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and lane-keep assist. It is bundled in a package that also includes navigation and blind-spot detection, lane-change assist, and rear cross-traffic alert. Although EyeSight is not available on the WRX STI—it's not compatible with manual-transmission vehicles—the Limited STI adds blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert.
Boosting its safety over the last WRX, the new edition adds a driver knee airbag to its standard-equipment list, as well as a rearview camera.
Subaru also improved outward visibility with the current design, by slimming the pillars; and with a relatively high front seating position and somewhat low shoulder line, there's now good visibility in most directions. The side-mirror design introduced in 2012 is also 20 percent larger, providing a full field of rear view.
The NHTSA hasn't yet fully tested the WRX, although it gives the related Impreza five stars overall. For 2016, the IIHS has given the WRX its Top Safety Pick+ award, thanks to "Good" ratings across the board—including the difficult small overlap crash test—and its optional safety systems.
2016 Subaru WRX
Infotainment in the 2016 WRX could still use some help; otherwise the lineup is well-equipped with enough sporty add-ons to fit the mission.
The 2016 Impreza gets a host of updates but sees the base model's price increase a scant $300 to $27,390. The upgrades include new infotainment across the board, active-safety items, and bigger wheels and tires for top WRX models.
The base WRX comes with standard automatic climate control; 17-inch wheels; a 6-speed manual transmission; a flat-bottomed steering wheel that tilts and telescopes; an AM/FM/CD player; Bluetooth; a USB port; and steering-wheel audio and phone controls. A rearview camera is standard on the WRX, and its output is displayed on a new 6.2-inch LCD screen that doubles as a boost gauge display, a traction monitor, and an audio readout.
Besides the base model, Subaru offers Premium and Limited versions of the WRX, with both of them now coming with 18-inch wheels and summer-performance tires. The Premium and Limited are also available with the continuously variable transmission (CVT) for an extra $1,200. Models with the CVT can now be optioned with a safety package that includes the EyeSight safety system as well as navigation, a premium stereo system, and keyless ignition. The same package without the safety system and other add-ons is also available.
In the STI, you get a lot of other extras, like leather and faux-suede seating, dual-zone climate control, an improved center console, and LED headlamps and turn-signal mirrors; and these altogether help erase some of the price differential. You also get a electroluminescent gauge panel, as well as upgraded soft-touch materials for the dash, door trim, and armrest.
STI Limited models get leather upholstery, a power driver's seat, a sunroof, and a nine-speaker, 440-watt premium audio.
And the other new option for 2016 is an STI Limited model with a low-profile spoiler in place of the boy-racer rear wing. The swap is a no-cost option.
2016 Subaru WRX
Fuel economy is at its best with the CVT in its normal mode—if you're willing to sacrifice some enjoyment.
The Subaru WRX and WRX STI can't match the peerless gas-mileage numbers of their all-wheel-drive Impreza sibling, but for such a high-performance machine, they're in the above-average range. That said, WRX fuel-economy ratings get a 1-mpg dip for 2016, likely due to the change in wheels and tires for the Premium and Limited models, which make up the bulk of sales.
With the manual transmission, the WRX now earns a rating of 20 mpg city, 27 highway, 23 combined. (The numbers were 21/28/24 mpg for 2015.)
With a continuously variable transmission (CVT), the WRX is rated at slightly lower, at 18/24/21 mpg (compared to 19/25/21 mpg last year). Subaru says if you left the CVT in Intelligent mode all the time you'd edge closer to 24 mpg combined, but most drivers will probably leave the transmission set to Sport Sharp mode most of the time, somewhat negating the gains from the CVT.
The WRX STI is rated at 17/23/19 mpg. Its rating is unchanged from 2015. We expect the new low-profile-spoiler model will do slightly better than the standard big-wing version, as it likely creates less aerodynamic drag.
For comparison, the CVT-equipped Impreza sedan and hatchback now get 28/37/31 mpg rating. Manual numbers are somewhat lower, at 25/34/28 mpg, while Sport models lose 1 mpg in each rating.