- Gutsy turbo 4-cylinder
- Saving the manuals
- 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 2017 Subaru WRX and WRX STI are astonishing all-wheel-drive performers for the price, with good space and all season capability, but their looks and interiors aren't up to the driving engagement.
Subaru WRX styling and performance
Make it big, and make it boxy; that's the ethos of the 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. In addition to the deep front air dam and unique grille, 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 17- and 18-inch wheels. 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, though buyers can opt for a low-profile trunk spoiler that should call a little less attention to the car.
Inside, the cabin is fairly roomy and decently finished though barely above budget grade. In the WRX, sport seats are specified and are covered in grippy upholstery. A power driver's seat is an option, and so is leather upholstery. The rear seat will accommodate a pair of adults nicely, but not three, and the trunk's cargo space is average for a compact car. 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.
The powerplant is coupled to either a manual or a continuously variable transmission (CVT), and the choice of transmission nets the driver different versions of Subaru's hallmark all-wheel drive. With the 6-speed manual gearbox, 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 ladles on all its latest thinking in performance and economy. The CVT gets 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. An intermediate, Sport mode offers six gear-like steps. This version of the WRX has an all-wheel-drive system with a 45/55 rear bias. It can distribute torque variably side to side, and reroute it based on cornering forces and steering-wheel inputs. The WRX also gets electric power steering and a sport-tuned suspension.
The result: a car that adapts to gas-saving features with aplomb but still scorches the road with beautifully balanced handling and spot-on steering. Braking isn't quite as great as we'd hoped, though.
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 of torque. It's mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox. 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.
Subaru WRX safety and features
Subaru's camera-based EyeSight safety suite is available on the WRX, but not the STI. It enables adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and active lane control. Newly available this year is reverse automatic braking for the WRX Limited when ordered with EyeSight. The WRX gets good safety ratings from the IIHS, earning the Top Safety Pick award, but it hasn't been tested by the NHTSA.
The WRX is a strong performance value, with prices starting above $26,000, and you can drive it year-round, as opposed to a lot of other performance models. The WRX is offered in base, Premium and Limited models, and the STI comes in base and Limited. The STI tops out over $40,000. Compared to the WRX, the STI comes with leather and faux-suede seating, dual-zone climate control, an improved center console, and LED headlamps and turn-signal mirrors
The WRX is fairly efficient for a performance car. Fuel economy for the WRX is as high as 20 mpg city, 27 highway, 23 combined, and the WRX STI is rated at 17/23/19 mpg.
2017 Subaru WRX
Wider and more aggressive than the Impreza upon which it's based, the 2017 Subaru WRX is neither outrageous nor mature.
As in the Impreza, the WRX and STI cabins are functional and straightforward. The dash isn't fashionable, 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.
We like the WRX's aggressive look, but wonder if Subaru could have either gone further or aimed for a more sophisticated audience, which merits it a 7. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
While the Subaru WRX models have always been attention-getting in their exterior looks, it wasn't always the right kind of attention. To many, it looks like 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 and 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. 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.
Unfortunately, this generation does not offer a hatchback body style for either the WRX or STI.
2017 Subaru WRX
Powerful turbocharged engines, lots of grip, and standard all-wheel drive put the WRX and STI in heady performance territory.
Both the WRX and STI have a turbocharged flat 4-cylinder engine and all-wheel-drive (AWD) system as their centerpieces. The WRX is offered with a 6-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission (CVT), while the STI comes only with the manual. While the STI is more powerful, the WRX's relative simplicity makes it arguably more fun on the street—it's an easy 9 for performance. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The WRX revels in smooth power transitions, with tightly composed handling and very well-tuned electric power steering. With its stiff shocks and springs, large-diameter anti-roll bars, and stout 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 performance driving, 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.
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, pushing the 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 Subaru's non-turbo 4-cylinder.
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. The CVT technically isn't a gearbox, because there are no gears, just pulleys and belts that can simulate gearsteps. This one has better responsiveness than any other CVT we've driven thanks to clever programming. In its "Intelligent" 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 unique 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 5.9 seconds.
With the 6-speed manual gearbox, you get reasonably short shifts, 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 rears as traction varies. Subaru claims a very conservative 5.4-second 0-to-60-mph run with this setup.
Our major complaint with the WRX 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 early versions we drove felt numb and required a very strong foot to tame the drivetrain's eagerness.
As for STI, it feels sharper and more vivid, but not all that much quicker, due in part to gearing differences. Its 2.5-liter turbo flat-4 makes 305 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque. Power is delivered via a special driver controlled central differential system, bringing a helical limited-slip front differential and a 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. The STI also gets high-performance Brembo brakes in front, and larger stoppers all around, fixing the the brake issue we have with the WRX.
2017 Subaru WRX
Comfort & Quality
There's an excess of black plastic, but the cabin is redeemed by supportive seats and good storage space.
The WRX and STI have always been light on refinement, comfort, and convenience, but the latest models have at least some nicer materials and creature comforts. This year they get a higher quality headliner. The dash is 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.
It's by no means a luxury car, and that continues to separate it from some of the very upscale models in the compact-car class, which is why it's a 7 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Interior space is decent for a compact car. In front, is has 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, there is 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 offers a middling 12 cubic feet of cargo space. 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.
2017 Subaru WRX
Like the Impreza small-car family, the 2017 Subaru WRX offers plenty of safety equipment and has excellent safety scores.
It's too early for a full set of ratings, but the WRX performed well in IIHS tests. The IIHS gave 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. Federal regulators haven't tested the WRX.
Notable standard safety features include a driver knee airbag and a rearview camera and automatic emergency braking is available, but we can't assign the WRX a score until the NTHSA tests it—and that could be a while, since performance models are rarely tested by the feds. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Subaru's camera-based EyeSight safety suite is available on the WRX Limited with the 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, active lane control, and rear cross-traffic alert. New this year is reverse automatic braking for the WRX Limited model equipped with EyeSight. Although EyeSight is not available on the WRX STI—it's not compatible with manual-transmission vehicles—the Limited STI adds blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic alert.
With slim pillars, a relatively high front seating position, and a somewhat low shoulder line, there's good visibility in most directions. The side-mirror design introduced in 2012 is also 20 percent larger, providing a full field of rear view.
2017 Subaru WRX
The features of the 2017 Subaru WRX focus on performance over luxury, but it is still well-equipped.
The base WRX comes standard with automatic climate control, a flat-bottomed steering wheel that tilts and telescopes, steering-wheel audio and phone controls, the Starllink multimedia system with a 6.2-inch touchscreen, a trunk spoiler, a 6-speed manual transmission, and 17-inch alloy wheels. Starlink comes with a rearview camera, a boost gauge display, a traction monitor, an audio readout, an AM/FM/CD player, satellite and HD radio, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, a USB port, news and weather info, and access to the Pandora, iHeart Radio, and Stitcher apps.
WRX doesn't lack much—but it also doesn't have too many whizz-bang features, which means it's a 7 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Besides the base model, Subaru offers Premium and Limited versions of the WRX, both featuring 18-inch wheels and summer-performance tires. The Premium and Limited are also available with the CVT. Models with the CVT can be optioned with navigation; a 440-watt, nine-speaker Harman Kardon audio system; keyless ignition; blind-spot monitors; rear cross-traffic alerts; and Subaru's EyeSight safety system. The same package without EyeSight is also offered.
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. Taken together, these features 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 the Harman Kardon premium audio system.
Also offered 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.
Pricing starts at $27,515 for the WRX and $40,815 for the STI Premium.
2017 Subaru WRX
Fuel economy isn't the point, but 4-cylinder power makes this performance sedan fairly efficient, and the CVT in its normal mode is the thriftiest but certainly not the most fun.
The Subaru WRX and WRX STI can't match the peerless gas-mileage numbers of their all-wheel-drive Impreza sibling, but for such high-performance machines, they're in the above-average range.
You'll get better fuel economy in practice with a WRX or WRX STI, but none really sip premium unleaded and thus they rate a 6 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
With the manual transmission, the 2017 Subaru WRX earns EPA fuel economy ratings of 20 mpg city, 27 highway, 23 combined. With the CVT, the WRX is rated at slightly lower, at 18/24/21 mpg. Subaru says if you leave the CVT in Intelligent mode all the time you'll 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.