From anti-bullying initiatives in grade school to trite adages like “don’t judge a book by its cover,” we learn from an early age not to make assumptions based on looks – and most of us make that effort, for appearance’s sake if nothing else. But when it comes to cars, sometimes we just won’t budge. If the four-wheeled appliance in question is ugly or unconventional, we straight up refuse to like it.
The 2022 Subaru WRX might encounter this pitfall, because boy is it an unusual design. When it was first revealed last year, the peanut gallery crucified the WRX’s extensive plastic cladding on the lower body, which looks more appropriate on a Forester than Subaru’s legendary sporty sedan. Adding to the drama is last-place fuel economy and an inexcusable lack of active safety when optioning the WRX with a manual gearbox.
But while it’s certainly not attractive – to my eyes at least – it’s not like folks fawned over the previous generations’ bug-eye or narrow-bodied designs when they were new. And does any potential WRX owner really care that much about pecadilloes like fuel economy and safety nannies? If you can get past those stylistic and logical downfalls, you won’t miss out on what a capable, comfortable, and snortingly fun four-door the 2022 WRX is.
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|Quick Stats||2022 Subaru WRX Limited 6MT|
|Engine:||Turbocharged 2.4-Liter H4|
|Output:||271 Horsepower / 258 Pound-Feet|
|0-60 MPH:||5.6 Seconds (est.)|
|Base Price:||$29,105 + $960 Destination|
- Exterior Color: WR Blue Pearl
- Interior Color: Black
- Wheel Size: 18-Inch
The Roo’s new face features a pointy grille and narrow headlights that help the car fit in better with the current Outback and Forester, and the creased taillights look far more modern than the outgoing WRX’s blob-shaped units. The chiseled fenders look like modernized box flares from the legendary Impreza 22B, and the huge hood vent for the intercooler is yet another WRX-signature cue. A lip spoiler adds just a touch of aggressiveness – hopefully Subaru will soon offer a big basket-handle wing to atone for discontinuing the STI.
But while the details are attractive, the overall product looks messy and downmarket. A peaked roof and sloping front hood give the new WRX decidedly economical proportions, a problem that plagued the previous generation but is made much worse by the new Subaru’s extensive cladding. Although the wheel arches themselves are round, they’re trimmed in unattractive, beveled plastic – a cue borrowed from the Outback Wilderness that looks merely acceptable on a crossover and totally out of place on a sporty, compact sedan.
There’s yet more textured black plastic on the front bumper, where it takes the form of an oversized faux vent on each corner – the previous-generation Honda Civic comes to mind – and a lower bumper. And nearly the entire rear bumper is done up in the stuff, but at least it’s shaped a bit more organically and unobtrusively, framing the quad-outlet exhaust while also providing some low-speed damage resistance and easier repair or replacement than a glossy, painted unit. Rallycrossers will likely find the cladding more appealing than most – a fitting niche for the WRX to fill.
The cabin is more universally appealing, making it a pleasant place to undertake the business of driving. An 11.6-inch touchscreen display takes center stage, with vertical HVAC vents and wing-shaped dashboard elements sparring out from either side. The flat-bottomed steering wheel’s rim is the perfect thickness, and the stylish, faux suede–trimmed seats look wholly appropriate to the WRX’s mission. There is definitely some cheap plastic inside, but it’s mostly confined to the lower doors and center console bits. Where it matters most – armrests, windowsills, knee bolsters, and the like – the Subaru is nicely padded.
save over $3,400 on average off MSRP* on a new Subaru WRX
- Seating Capacity: 5
- Seating Configuration: 2 / 3
- Cargo Capacity: 12.5 Cubic Feet
The decently constructed interior also helps the WRX feel pleasant and comfortable on the daily slog. Those well-bolstered front seats provide plenty of lateral support in sporty driving, but they’re also decently comfortable on long freeway stints. The 2022 WRX deflects untoward noises and harshness better than its former self, although occasionally, booming exhaust tones get in at certain part-throttle engine speeds. But it isn’t terribly intrusive, especially given the WRX’s intended mission.
The WRX features nearly best-in-class front head- and legroom, and there’s more than enough room for even tall drivers. The rear cabin is a bit more cramped, but it’s still spacious enough for most people, even on two- or three-hour nonstop trips. In-cabin storage isn’t phenomenal, with an adequately sized center console cubby and deep door pockets, but little else. The cargo area is also merely okay – at 12.5 cubic feet, it’s worst in its class by nearly two units, but it’s also shaped well for big boxes, and the 60/40 rear seats fold flat for long items.
|Interior Dimensions:||Headroom, Front/Rear:||Legroom, Front/Rear:||Cargo Volume:|
|Subaru WRX:||39.8 / 36.7 Inches||43.1 / 36.5 Inches||12.5 Cubic Feet|
|Honda Civic Si:||37.6 / 37.1 Inches||42.3 / 37.4 Inches||14.1 Cubic Feet|
|Hyundai Elantra N:||39.9 / 37.3 Inches||42.3 / 38.0 Inches||14.2 Cubic Feet|
|Volkswagen Jetta GLI:||38.5 / 37.2 Inches||41.1 / 37.4 Inches||14.1 Cubic Feet|
- Center Display: 11.6-inch Touchscreen
- Instrument Cluster Display: 4.2-inch
- Wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto: No
Subaru was one of the first mainstream automakers to put a big, vertical touchscreen in its cars, and the unit in both the mid-level WRX Premium and my flagship WRX Limited tester measures an impressive 11.6 inches – the base WRX gets a more modest 7.0-inch screen. The Limited distinguishes itself with standard navigation, as well. All models get a wired connection for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The so-called Starlink infotainment system works well. The graphics look a bit ‘90s – like a PlayStation One home menu, perhaps – but touch responsiveness is modern and the embedded navigation pans and zooms smoothly. The huge display portions plenty of space to smartphone mirroring, so there’s tons of real estate for maps, music, calendar notifications, and the like. When using Subaru’s embedded apps, a split-screen function reduces distraction.
However, I wish there were more hard buttons for the frequently used climate controls. You only get physical temperature adjustments, while heated seats, fan speed, and airflow are trapped in the screen.
- Engine: Turbocharged 2.4-liter H4
- Output: 271 Horsepower / 258 Pound-Feet
- Transmission: Eight-Speed Automatic
Now we’re cooking with gas. Predictably, the Subaru WRX comes into its own once you stop quibbling about buttons and styling and start putting the hammer down. Subaru’s corporate turbocharged 2.4-liter flat-four, already found in the Outback XT and Ascent, shows up in the WRX with 271 horsepower and 258 pound-feet. That’s an increase of just three ponies, but the new car feels gruntier and easier to drive than its slightly peaky predecessor. That’s not to say there isn’t some turbo whoosh that comes on strong near the power peak of 5,600 rpm, but it adds to the excitement rather than feeling flat-footed and laggy.
The 2022 WRX’s new engine has a low redline of about 6,100 rpm, meaning full-throttle upshifts arrive sooner than expected – embarrassingly, I hit the fuel cutoff more than once when blasting up the legendary Angeles Forest Highway. Luckily, the shifter is a willing playmate when that redline arrives, with short throws and a pleasantly mechanical feel. The clutch takeup point is a bit vague, but it’s also consistent and easy to operate, so a day or two of familiarization is all that’s needed to drive the Rexy smoothly and quickly.
That is, until it’s time to enter a corner. The driver’s relationship with the uncommunicative steering could stand for some couple’s therapy because it’s just so lacking in feel both on turn-in and once the WRX takes a set. Your toxic ex can’t hold a candle to the helm’s emotional unavailability. Subaru claims its new dual-pinion electric power steering is meant to improve the driving experience, but I don’t buy it. It’s far and away this car’s worst dynamic trait. As unfortunate as that is, the WRX claws back some points by having exceptional grip and chassis composure both in tight switchbacks and on broad sweepers.
Angeles Forest wasn’t in great condition – winter storms the week before my drive cracked the pavement and left it peppered with gravel and snowplow scrapes. Nonetheless, the Subaru WRX tracked beautifully through the corners, with zero understeer and some easily controlled oversteer when provoked (as if by trail-braking, for example). Grip from the standard summer tires is phenomenal, and the WRX’s stiff structure pays dividends via a compliant suspension that still controls body roll, mid-corner bumps, and brake dive very well. The WRX instills plenty of confidence once you’ve learned to trust the aloof steering.
- Driver Assistance Level: N/A
- NHTSA Rating: Not Rated
- IIHS Rating: Not Rated
The 2022 Subaru WRX gets a terrible score in this category because it doesn’t offer a single active safety feature with the standard manual transmission. That’s a genuine shame, because the automaker’s EyeSight suite – including adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assistance, and automatic emergency braking – is very good. Sadly, it’s only available with the WRX’s optional continuously variable transmission. I have no idea why EyeSight and a six-speed manual are mutually exclusive, since Honda has included adaptive cruise, automatic emergency braking, and lane-keep assistance in the manual-only Civic Si and Type R since 2020.
Neither the government nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have rated the new WRX in their battery of crash tests, but the previous-generation sedan got a five-star rating and was named a Top Safety Pick, indicating good crashworthiness. We expect no different from the newest WRX.
- City: 17 MPG
- Highway: 26 MPG
- Combined: 22 MPG
At 22 miles per gallon of premium fuel in the EPA’s combined rating, the WRX is the least efficient vehicle in its class. The Civic Si, for example, achieves an impressive 31 mpg, while the Volkswagen Jetta GLI can travel 28 miles and the Elantra N 25 miles on a single jug. Of course, the WRX has more power than the VW and the Honda, and it has standard all-wheel drive, unavailable on any of its primary rivals. That feature may be worth every bit of consumption for rally wannabes and snow-belt residents, though I bet an Elantra N with proper tires would be nearly as fun in an ice race without lining OPEC’s pockets quite as much.
- Base Price: $29,105 + $960
- Trim Base Price: $36,955
- As-Tested Price: $36,955
The WRX starts at a reasonable $30,065 with destination, but my Limited tester – the most expensive way to get a six-speed manual – was a bit dearer at $36,955. That’s a lot of cash for what is supposed to be a reasonably priced entrée into the world of sporty cars, especially one that doesn’t have many modern safety features and that will demand sacrifices at the gas pump. The Civic Si starts at $28,315 with all-season tires or $28,515 with summers and is a blast to drive in spite of its lower power. Meanwhile, the similarly powerful (but front-drive) Elantra N is $32,945.
The base Subaru comes with a smallish 7.0-inch touchscreen, but it’s a damn good value thanks to its power and all-wheel-drive traction – the WRX is a bit cheaper than the Elantra N and gives you 71 extra hp compared to the less expensive Civic Si. Many of the Limited trim’s best features, like the big touchscreen display, push-button start, and heated seats, come standard on the mid-tier $32,565 WRX Premium, which seems like the best balance of price, performance, and comfort. If you want a manual gearbox, can do without active safety, and have a thing for WR Blue paint (who doesn’t), such a spec would be hard to fault.