The Subaru WRX Is One of the Safest Cars On Sale, But There’s a Big Catch

The IIHS has bestowed the honored title of “Top Safety Pick+” on Subaru’s hot compact. Only issue is, the safest version is the one you probably want the least.

When it comes to cheap speed, it’s hard to do better in the new car marketplace than the Subaru WRX. The compact sedan delivers stellar performance both in turns and on the straights, thanks to its grippy all-wheel-drive system and potent turbocharged engine — and all at a base price roughly $10,000 below the average new car price today.

But the Rex, as it’s often called, isn’t just fun. Like pretty much all Subarus these days, it’s also safe. Really safe, in fact: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has named the WRX one of the safest cars on sale in America today, awarding the hot Subaru the title of Top Safety Pick+ in the independent industry safety group’s 2019 model rankings.

There is an asterisk on that TSP+ title, though. Read the fine print, and you’ll see that the highest honor only applies to Subaru WRXs equipped with and the optional EyeSight active crash prevention technology and the optional LED headlights packing automatic high beams. EyeSight only comes on WRX models equipped with the optional continuously-variable automatic transmission; you can’t get it paired with the standard six-speed manual. The LED headlights with auto high-beam function, for their part, only come on the Limited trim at the top of the lineup. In other words, IIHS’s safest WRX is the most expensive and least desirable one.

Situations like this, where only heavily-optioned trims win top marks, aren’t that uncommon in IIHS testing. (As Cars Direct points out, only two cars earn the title in base form: the Honda Insight and the Genesis G90.) IIHS’s Top Safety Pick+ designation requires not just top marks in the driver-side small overlap front, passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests and and “advanced” or “superior rating” in the front crash prevention test, but it also demands the best score in the headlight performance category, which requires both low and high beams doing well on five separate tests. Those stringent standards tend to mean only cars with high-end headlight technology (LED or HID light sources), curve-adaptive beams (ones that point into a turn), and/or automatic high beams ace the visibility challenge.

Still, that’s not to suggest the cheap manual WRX you’ve been pinching pennies for is unsafe: All WRX variants aced the IIHS’s volley of crash tests. And, of course, the sporty Subie’s nimble nature means active safety — avoiding the accident in the first place — is theoretically easier than in heavier, more flat-footed vehicles. (That’s incumbent on you paying attention to the road, of course, but you really oughta be doing that regardless of what car you’re in.)

And if you’d rather explore other options, know that the Rex wasn’t the only fun car to earn a spot on IIHS’s list of the safest cars. Among other entertaining vehicles that scored either TSP or TSP+ ratings in the 2019 rankings: the much-loved Volkswagen GTI, the delightful new Toyota Corolla Hatchback, the perennially-delightful Honda Accord, the all-new BMW 3 Series, and the BMW M5.

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