For a compact car that promises stirring performance, well beyond the customary, the subtly-styled WRX doesn’t necessarily attract much attention. Not unless it’s the racier and more potent WRX STI, rendition, that is, with a big, towering wing tacked onto its trunk lid. Visually, that one is hard to miss, but the wing can be deleted if desired.
For the 2019 model year, the WRX gets a new infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. All trim levels with a CVT include Subaru’s “EyeSight” driver-assist technology, including automatic emergency braking, as standard equipment. The higher-performance WRX STI gains a more powerful engine, with free-flow exhaust system.
A new Series.Gray edition, finished in Cool Gray Khaki with Recaro seats and upgraded brakes, has joined the lineup. Only a thousand were to be produced: 750 WRX and 250 WRX STI.
Last redesigned for 2015, the WRX shares some styling and interior elements with Subaru’s previous-generation Impreza. Base, Premium, and Limited trim levels are offered for the WRX. The WRX STI comes only in base and Limited form.
Beneath the WRX hood, a turbocharged 2.0-liter flat four-cylinder engine produces 268 horsepower, with 258 pound-feet of torque. Either a 6-speed manual gearbox or a continuously variable transmission (CVT) may be installed. The two transmissions differ in their distribution of power: mechanical with manual, or electronic with the CVT.
In the WRX STI, a bigger (2.5-liter) turbo four generates 310 horsepower and 290 pound-feet, mating with a 6-speed manual transmission. As expected in a performance-oriented machine, the STI gets a modified suspension along with Brembo brakes. Its all-wheel-drive system includes a driver-adjustable center differential.
Though incomplete, the WRX’s safety record is impressive. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated the 2018 WRX as a Top Safety Pick+ when fitted with LED headlights and a suite of collision-avoidance technology: namely, the EyeSight group, including automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and active lane control. Those features are standard on any WRX with the optional CVT, but not available with a manual transmission.
At federal government level, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not crash-tested the WRX. However, the 2019 Subaru Impreza, which shares its platform and basic structure with the WRX, earned five-star ratings overall, as well as for frontal and side impacts.
Prices do not include $885 destination charge.
Base WRX with manual ($27,195) includes the 2.0-liter engine, 6-speed manual transmission, 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, CD player, and a 6.5-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.
WRX Premium ($29,495 with manual, $31,395 with CVT) adds a 7.0-inch touchscreen with crisper display, heated front seats, foglamps, 18-inch wheels, and moonroof. A $2,050 Performance Package deletes the moonroof, adding upgraded brakes and Recaro seats.
The available CVT on Premium and Limited models includes automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, active lane control, and adaptive cruise control.
WRX Premium Series.Gray with manual ($29,495) is finished in Cool Khaki Gray and includes the Performance Package.
WRX Limited ($31,795 with manual, $33,695 with CVT) gets leather upholstery, LED headlights, and a power driver’s seat. Navigation and Harman Kardon audio are optional.
WRX STI with manual ($36,595) holds the 2.5-liter engine and 6-speed manual gearbox with revised third-gear. Equipment echoes WRX Premium (except for moonroof), adding a high-performance suspension and 19-inch wheels.
WRX STI Series.Gray with manual ($36,595) comes in Khaki Gray, adding Bilstein shock absorbers and Recaro seats.
WRX STI Limited ($41,395 with either a wing or lip spoiler) features leather-upholstered Recaro seats, navigation, a moonroof, and Harman Kardon audio.
Unlike typical high-performance automobiles, the WRX steers clear of aggressively-shaped fenders, body strakes, and other doodads. Instead, Subaru’s top performers come across as subtle styled, with crisp lines but a restrained, even ordinary, demeanor.
Sizable, bulging fender flares on the WRX make the 17-inch alloy wheels look bigger than their diameters suggest. Apart from the colossal rear wing out back, the WRX STI applies the same basic look to its 19-inch wheels.
Like its aging body, the spacious WRX cabin feels somewhat dated. Imagination seems to be lacking, though fit and finish score well.
Luxury may be limited, but comfortable front seats, upholstered with grippy fabric, elicit a sense of sportiness. Leather and synthetic suede trim on the available Recaro seats give the cabin an appropriately racy nature. Tighter-feeling, they’re standard in the WRX STI and optional for WRX Premium.
Outward vision excels. So does the back seat, which is surprisingly spacious and can accommodate three if needed. Interior furnishings fall well short of posh, but the body’s low beltline blends with thin roof pillars to give the cabin an airy feel. Leather upholstery on Limited models feels classy.
Only 12 cubic feet of cargo fit into the WRX trunk. Rear seatbacks fold to accept larger items.
Descended from rally vehicles, Subaru’s WRX promises strong performance and precise handling above all. Benefits of turbo power and all-wheel drive are especially noteworthy on a winding dirt road.
Razor-sharp steering and swift reflexes, summoned by hands on the thick-rim steering wheel, help the WRX excel when the pavement turns curvy. Road grip is great, especially when the surface is crumbling.
WRX suspensions are comparatively soft, ensuring comfort whether cruising or traversing urban intersections. When pushed hard, either turbo-four emits a visceral wail that amplifies the WRX’s exuberance. Either WRX demonstrates almost uncanny ability to tackle and conquer whatever lies ahead.
Any WRX provides effortless acceleration and passing power. The standard 6-speed manual transmission features fairly short throws and predictable clutch operation. The available CVT is tuned to be well-behaved in traffic, but also to keep the engine at its peak when in Sport or Sport Sharp mode. Eight paddle-selected ratios make it reminiscent of a dual-clutch transmission.
An available Bilstein suspension for the WRX STI sharpens handling further yet. Hydraulic steering on the STI sets the bar even higher, as do its hefty Brembo brakes.
Driven with restraint, a WRX can be fairly thrifty. With 6-speed manual, the WRX is EPA-rated at 21/27 mpg City/Highway, or 23 mpg Combined. CVT-equipped versions are far thirstier, at 18/24/21 mpg. The hotter WRX STI is EPA-rated at only 17/22 mpg City/Highway, or 19 mpg Combined. All versions need premium gasoline.
Either WRX can serve well as a family car, albeit one with plenty of potential for rewarding hours on any road. On nearly any surface, the WRX promises a swift run while conveying four passengers in reasonable comfort. Some rivals offer greater power, but the WRX duo prioritizes swift responses and dead-on handling capabilities over creature comforts.
Driving impressions by Andrew Ganz, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.