After seven years, there's a new Subaru WRX and the faithful are...
Ambivalent. Some of that is just what comes with the territory when a car has a small-ish but fiercely devoted fan base. And over the years, the WRX has earned that devotion---turning an unassuming economy sedan into a true sporting machine. If you haven't read my review from a 30-minute drive at last summer's Western Automotive Journalists Media Days yet, click here now to see what all the shouting's about.
As great as the last WRX was, I don't think there was anyone who didn't think it was time for a new one. So let's go over what Subaru did here.
There are a lot more angles and creases in the new body. It's a distinct departure from the gentler curves of the outgoing model. Reading online comments from WRX fans, the word "fussy" comes up a lot. There are concerns it won't age gracefully. And seemingly no one likes the black plastic cladding that wraps around the lower regions of the entire body.
The old 2.0-liter BOXER turbocharged four-cylinder, which made 268 horsepower, has been replaced by a new 2.4-liter BOXER turbocharged four-cylinder, which makes...um...271. Torque stays steady at 258 pounds per foot and the specs say the torque curve is still that wide swath of the tachometer from 2,000 to 5,200 rpm, but that's not the way it feels.
Maybe it was just our tester, but 5,200 is about where it felt like the engine was waking up, which is way too close to the 6,100 rpm redline to have a lot of fun before you have to grab the next gear. Now, our tester had a six-speed manual, and this may be a case like the new Toyota GR86/Subaru BRZ, where the automatic with the drive mode set to "SPORT" is the way to go, maximizing the power on tap and eliminating the need to keep a watchful eye on the tach to avoid bouncing off the rev limiter once the fun starts, but---the old car (also a six-speed stick) felt better. The old WRX had an EPA fuel economy estimate of 18 city/24 highway with the automatic and 21/27 with the stick. The new one? Better with the automatic at 19/25...but the stick? 19/26.
Thinking you'll fix all this (well, apart from the fuel economy) by spending a bit more and getting the new WRX STi? Three days before I sat down to write this, Subaru threw cold water on those plans. There won't be an STi version of this WRX. It'll be back, once Subaru electrifies the next-gen WRX. Your guess at a timetable for that is as good as anyone else's.
The starting price of the 2022 Subaru WRX Premium is $31,605. There is a base WRX for $29,105, but it rides on 17-inch wheels instead of 18s, has no fog lights, no heated front seats, no USB ports in the back seat, no vanity mirrors in the sun visors and no option for a moonroof.
The base WRX also does not have the 11.6-inch tablet-style center screen.
No, it has dual seven-inch screens...one for infotainment, one for HVAC and some vehicle data. Meaning that no matter which way you go, instead of the old WRX's three perfectly sized, perfectly placed knobs allowing you to adjust the climate control without taking your eyes off the road, you're going to have to look at a screen to do it now.
The good news about the big screen on every WRX but the base model is that you don't have to dig through the menus to get to the climate. They've set it up so it's always there, at the bottom. And there are physical buttons for temperature adjustments. But they're no substitute for this, especially in a driver-focused car:
Upsides? Well, the instrument cluster nails it. Much bigger than the previous, bright, clear and easy to read at a glance:
The only option on our test vehicle was $1,875 for the Harman Kardon premium audio system and moonroof (bundled as a package). So with $960 destination and delivery, the as-tested price of the 2022 Subaru WRX Premium is $34,440.
Regular readers know that my reviews are rarely this harsh. And look, it's way easier to replace a car no one cares about than to improve on a great one that has a rabid fan base. The biggest risk is always disappointment. The WRX is still quick, still reasonably priced (especially for the performance) and still one of the best-handling cars you can buy. Allowing a bit more ferocity to creep back into the cabin and ditching that black plastic cladding would go a long way toward fixing the missteps with the new one.