2018 Subaru WRX Review

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2018
The Car Connection
2018
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Aaron Cole Aaron Cole Managing Editor
March 30, 2018

The 2018 Subaru WRX looks tame compared to its newest rivals. Step on the gas and you’ll be convinced otherwise.

Newly promoted young professionals with money to burn, listen up: The 2018 Subaru WRX is a new-car pick that you won’t have to lie about to your parents.

That’s because it still sports standard all-wheel drive, four doors, and a reasonable trunk. Most versions look like ringers for run-of-the-mill, smart compact sedans—although you and I both know better.

Under the hood is a turbocharged flat-4 that can melt its weekday duties into raucous fun, but it’s really Loverboy anyhow—just working for the weekend.

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It earns a 7.2 on our overall scale thanks to its performance and safety—again, the ‘rents will appreciate. This year, the WRX gets a mild update up front with bigger air intakes and painted calipers. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The WRX has a sense of humor about itself, but it’s not as tiring as the Honda Civic Si coupe—and far from annoying like the Civic Type R. Yes, the WRX STI sports a high wing from the factory, but it can be deleted in favor of a small decklid spoiler.

The fenders bulge and the scoops widen on the WRX compared to the outgoing Impreza from which it’s based. The WRX is aggressive without being braggadocios—whether by design, or by budget.

The money was spent on the powertrain, and we’re thankful for that. The WRX offers a 2.0-liter turbo-4 with horizontally opposed cylinders that makes 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque mated to a 6-speed manual or an automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT). Standard all-wheel drive and helps plant power down for sub-6-second runs up to 60 mph in both cases.

It’s accessible speed on any road or surface thanks to Subaru’s smart suspension tuning and brake-based torque vectoring that tucks the WRX neatly into corners with ease.

The WRX STI gets a 2.5-liter turbo-4 that makes 305 hp and 290 lb-ft, although its trick is a sharper suspension tune. Its history may be in rally, but the summer tires are an indicator: both performance Subarus are built to chew through roadways. Will that promotion pay for many new tires?

Based from a compact sedan, the WRX’s dimensions are convenient and friendly. Adults will fit in the back seat with enough room for average body types, and the split-folding rear seat tumbles down for more cargo space beyond its 12-cubic-foot trunk.

Safety is a Subaru selling point, and the WRX offers good crash-test scores along with available advanced safety features. Those features are pricey however, and relegated to the automatic transmission only—we wish they’d reconsider both.

Equipped nicely at nearly $28,000 to start, the WRX boasts a 6.2-inch touchscreen (upgradeable to 7.0 inches), cloth seats, Bluetooth connectivity, and a leather-wrapped shift knob.

It can cost north of $40,000 with everything thrown at the STI, but we’ll just tell your parents that you bought an all-wheel-drive sedan instead.

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2018 Subaru WRX

Styling

The 2018 Subaru WRX won’t draw much attention for how it looks—that’s what the performance is for.

The 2018 Subaru WRX isn’t shy about its worldview: Who needs a laugh?

It’s not as extroverted as competitors with butch diffusers and shocking accents, but the WRX has a sense of humor and the STI snickers at traffic with a silly high wing.

Most of the impressive stuff is still under the hood and sheet metal, which lands us at a 7 out of 10 for a good exterior and a smattering of interior color that saves it from scoring lower. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Performance sedans and hatchbacks these days are a young man’s game, but the WRX manages to be the most livable for the rest of us. That could be by design, or by inattention—we’re not sure. The WRX is an aggressive look for the homely last-generation Impreza, with which it shares many common parts underneath. The hood is scooped for functional (and aesthetic) purposes, and the fenders and scoops are a little bigger to announce its presence.

The basic boxy shape remains, even though the WRX and STI never shared body panels with the Impreza from which they were based.

The WRX STI steps up the aggression further with a big wing out back (it can be removed if it draws the wrong types of stares) and red seatbelts inside (those can’t be removed).

The interiors of both are plainer than their contemporaries, with a large touchscreen or driver information display planted in the center stack to break up large patches of black plastic. STI versions are dressier with red synthetic suede trim pieces to match the red seatbelts.

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2018 Subaru WRX

Performance

We’re head over heels with the performance of the 2018 Subaru WRX—we’d even put a ring on it.

The Subaru WRX’s hallmark always has been, frankly, hauling ass.

The turbocharged flat-4 mated to all-wheel drive and a 6-speed manual or continuously variable transmission (CVT) can hustle around corners and sideways around dirt roads better than nearly anything else we’ve driven. It’s an easy 9 out of 10 for performance. The WRX STI isn’t much quicker, but it’s sharper and trades some of the comfort for hard-edged performance that we appreciate—but we’re not sure we’d want to live with every day, we cover it below. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The perky 2.0-liter turbo-4 lays its cylinders flat for lower weight distribution and Subaru’s signature sound. Fire it to life and the boxer engine turns gas into 268 horsepower and 258 pound feet of torque on a wide power plateau between 2,000 and 5,200 rpm. Thank the turbochargers, which along with different cams and valve springs, bring life to the relatively limp Impreza family.

A 6-speed manual is standard on all Impreza models, and if it weren’t for better safety gear in the CVT-equipped model, it would be our unanimous pick in the sedan. The shifter clicks through all six gears with relatively short throws and the reliable clutch take-up lets our toes tap around the footwell with confidence. Subaru says the manual can speed the WRX up to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds.

The CVT is a remarkably good one, if you’re into that sort of thing. WRX Premium and WRX Limited trim levels offer customizable drive modes—Intelligent, Sport, and Sport Sharp—that transform the transmission’s behavior. In Intelligent, the CVT works similarly to every other pulley-and-belt system to keep the WRX efficient and mostly quiet. Dial the WRX into Sport and the transmission offers six paddle-shifted steps to simulate gears that sound and act like the real thing.

Dial it into Sport Sharp and the WRX acts better like a dual-clutch automatic with eight selectable ratios that click through quickly. Subaru estimates that when pressed, the CVT does the 0-to-60-mph hustle in 5.9 seconds.

The all-wheel-drive systems operate differently depending on transmission. The manual gets a standard 50/50-split mechanical all-wheel-drive system with viscous coupling center differential that moves power around based on available traction. The CVT version offers a 45/55-split electronically controlled version with a planetary gearset center differential that monitors driving conditions to move power around.

The WRX is tuned for performance driving with stiff springs and stout antiroll bars that make any commute entertaining—even when we’re not in a laughing mood. The electric power steering is tuned well and offers sharp and precise cuts through traffic or in curvy roads. We’ve noticed some issues with repeated, hard braking, so performance pads could be on the short list for any spirited buyer.

WRX STI

The WRX STI uses a different engine than the WRX and is available only with a manual transmission. The 2.5-liter turbo-4 makes 305 hp and 290 lb-ft, but the power difference between the WRX and WRX STI is less than one might imagine.

The STI focuses first on handling and suspension, highlighted by its driver-controlled rear differential that dials in more or less slip from the Torsen rear differential via three programmed settings or six individual steps.

The suspension is stiffer with inverted front struts and aluminum A-arms for sharper damping. Subaru has upgraded the brakes this year with six-piston front stoppers (vs. four-piston last year) and bigger, cross-drilled rotors for better cooling.

The STI still uses a hydraulic rack for steering, which provides better road feel—the heavier steering and manual transmission-only STI could reasonably replace arm and leg day with a spirited drive.

Around the streets and in twisty mountain roads, the 2018 Subaru WRX STI is alive with the same verve and appeal that it’s had since its arrival almost two decades ago.

Bigger brakes are noticeable with plenty of power when the stoppers are pressed into service—bordering on grabby.

The STI sports summer tires as standard equipment, which should serve as notice: all-wheel drive is meant to serve as a performance bonus, not hold court as a trail-ready climber.

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2018 Subaru WRX

Comfort & Quality

The 2018 Subaru WRX is spacious and comfortable—and quieter this year too—albeit somewhat plain compared to its rivals.

More sound-deadening material this year makes the WRX (and especially WRX STI) nicer places to be for longer, but the small Subarus have always suffered next to competitors when you climb inside.

This year, better interior materials and a bigger driver information screen brighten an otherwise dark interior. The dash is covered in soft-touch materials, and the controls scattered throughout the center stack are a little simpler than some of its competitors.

It won’t be confused for a luxury car anytime soon, but it should be comfortable for front-seat passengers and offer enough space for five in a pinch—four aboard is a much better idea. We give the Subaru WRX a 7 out of 10 for comfort. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The WRX is based from a compact car, and its roots show. The base seats are shod in grippy cloth, but don’t have the same embrace as the upgraded cloth. Tonier WRX STI versions sport leather and synthetic suede inserts that are better dressing for when company asks for a ride.

Average-size adults will fit in the rear fine, but the 35.4 inches of rear leg room can shrink quickly for 6-footers or taller.

The interior offers several cubbies and in-door storage bins and the trunk is adequately sized with 12 cubic feet of room. When more space is needed—say for track tires, just a suggestch—the rear seats can tumble down for better space. The WRX and WRX STI haven’t offered a hatchback body style for several years, and despite our temper tantrums, we’re not sure it’s coming back.

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2018 Subaru WRX

Safety

The 2018 Subaru WRX is a safe pick, but to make it safer requires a small bundle of additional cash.

Independent testers have given the Subaru WRX top scores in crash tests and for crash prevention. The IIHS calls the sedan a Top Safety Pick+ but federal testers have stayed on the sidelines so far. Top scores from the IIHS and available crash prevention on models equipped with a CVT automatic transmission is how we arrive at a 7 out of 10 on our safety scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

On WRX models with an automatic transmission, Subaru makes available its EyeSight suite of advanced safety systems that includes adaptive cruise control, active lane control, and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking. Blind-spot monitors are included in the pricey premium package, which costs $3,300 and also includes navigation and premium audio. Our preference would be for the safety equipment to be offered outside of the larger bundle.  

On WRX and WRX STI models with a manual transmission, only blind-spot monitors are available as options.

All WRX and WRX STI sedans are equipped with a standard complement of airbags, safety and traction control systems, and a rearview camera.

Beyond traditional safety gear, Subaru’s sporty sedans are standard with all-wheel drive, which aids traction and maneuverability—an overlooked safety feature that is also raucous fun.

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2018 Subaru WRX

Features

The best feature of the WRX is its performance—the rest isn’t bad.

There’s a measure of comfort necessary to make the 2018 Subaru WRX’s kind of performance practical, and it largely succeeds. Although the exterior has slightly changed for this year, the interior and its amenities haven’t.

Base versions of the WRX are equipped with cloth upholstery, automatic climate control, 17-inch wheels, Bluetooth connectivity, heated side mirrors, a leather-wrapped shifter, a 5.9-inch driver information screen perched atop the dash, and a 6.2-inch touchscreen for infotainment including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

There are few options beyond trim levels and the WRX isn’t very customizable by sports car standards. Still, we give it points above average for good base features and another for its touchscreen. It earns a 7 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The next step is the Premium trim level, which adds 18-inch wheels (with available summer tires), fog lights, moonroof, heated front seats, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment. An optional performance package adds sportier front buckets with power adjustment for the driver’s side.

The WRX Limited trim level adds leather upholstery, LED headlights and fog lights, and Subaru’s telematics system. On CVT-equipped models, Subaru offers its advanced safety systems that we cover above. Navigation and premium audio from Harman Kardon are extra-cost options.

Base WRX STI models offer cloth upholstery, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, LED headlights, Subaru’s telematics, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Deeper sport seats are available as a spend-up option on base models.

The WRX STI Limited trim level adds leather upholstery, blind-spot monitors, navigation, keyless ignition, and a moonroof as standard equipment.

Swapping the high rear wing for a smaller decklid spoiler is a no-cost option.

Prices start at $27,855 for a WRX and range to $41,755 for a WRX STI Limited.

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2018 Subaru WRX

Fuel Economy

There are more efficient sedans than the 2018 Subaru WRX, but very few of them are as fun.

The 2018 Subaru WRX and WRX STI aren’t fuel-efficient for small cars, but that’s not the point.

Both require premium fuel and offer 6-speed manual transmissions that are in line with their performance pedigree.

When equipped with a 6-speed manual, the WRX manages 20 mpg city, 27 highway, 23 combined. That’s good enough for a 6 out of 10 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The CVT for the WRX fares worse than the manual—fuel-efficiency and beyond. The EPA rates those at 18/24/21 mpg, although a tender right foot may improve mileage.

The WRX STI is rated at 17/23/19 mpg and the new RA version shaves 1 mpg from every one of those numbers, which isn’t very good for a turbo-4 sedan. It is good for a low-flying plane, if the rear wing is any indication.

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$26,995
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7.2
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 7
Performance 9
Comfort & Quality 7
Safety 7
Features 7
Fuel Economy 6
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2018 Subaru WRX Pricing Insights

  • 2018 WRX as in-demand as ever
  • Still sells close to MSRP
  • Lease from $295 for 36 months
  • Get 2.9% APR for 63 months
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