The 2022 Subaru WRX Is Still a Rally-Bred Riot

Subaru's infamous compact sedan is all-new — and as wild as ever.

subaru wrx
Subaru

The Subaru WRX was one of my automotive white whales. It was a car I thirsted over in high school, one that helped stoke my lifelong automotive passion in its nascent years. But I had never had the opportunity to drive one. A move to NYC thwarted my plans to save for one post-college, and they've been hard to come by in media fleets since; after all, carmakers usually want journalists to drive what's new, and the last generation WRX launched back in 2014.

Fortunately, I can now use the past tense when talking about the WRX being my white whale — because Subaru recently invited me out with other journalists to foggy, rainy Northern California to drive the all-new 2022 WRX.

Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the WRX’s arrival in America. And while my tastes, comfort requirements, hormone levels, general regard for authority, hat bill orientation and insulation in the midsection have altered over the past couple of decades, the WRX has eschewed similar compromises. It continues to be the rowdy rally monster of adolescent dreams — and a surprisingly affordable and practical daily driver...if you chase your morning coffee with a can of Monster Energy before the morning commute.

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What is the Subaru WRX?
subaru wrx
Subaru

The WRX — aka the Rex — is Subaru's rally-bred, all-wheel drive compact sport sedan. It began as a hotter edition of the Impreza, but Subaru branched the WRX off into its own vehicle line in 2014.

The WRX is a performance car, but unlike the BRZ, it's not purely that. The WRX comes with four doors. It can drive in all weather, and its trunk can even accommodate a mountain bike.

Is the Subaru WRX new?
subaru wrx
Subaru

Yes. The WRX is all-new for the 2022 model year, and unlike many combustion sports cars biding time before the electric takeover, the changes are far from peripheral.

The WRX moves to the Subaru Global Platform that underpins most of the lineup. It employs a new (for the WRX) turbocharged 2.4-liter engine that puts out 271 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. And for the first time, the WRX shares no sheet metal with the Impreza. The two cars share as much similarity as they do with the Forester.

Why is the Subaru WRX special?
subaru wrx
Subaru

The WRX delivers affordable performance. The young, predominately male maniacs who buy them get a powerful, well-handling, not-overly-fussed-over sports car. They get it at a reasonable price point. And they drive them aggressively.

At a time when the manual transmission is dying off, Subaru could not kill it in the WRX. The stick shift's take rate in the outgoing model is a staggering 85 percent.

Wait, the new Subaru WRX has a lot of cladding
subaru wrx
Subaru

Yup. It's not often these days a new car gets worse-looking than its successor, but many would make that case with the new WRX. Subaru added some aggressive black cladding to the lower parts of the body. It's trendy for crossovers, and it's functional — the hexagonal pattern and vents reduce wind buffering around the wheel wells. But it's not the cleanest look. The rear end of the car also looks quite Honda Civic-like.

I didn't find the WRX appearance overly offensive or deal-breaking in person. If the cladding irks you, you can mitigate its effect by opting for black paint instead of the iconic Rally Blue or — as many WRX buyers will no doubt do — modifying it in the aftermarket.

I didn't get to drive the automatic Subaru WRX yet
subaru wrx
Subaru

Pandemic-related production delays meant Subaru could not get journalists the automatic version in time for the launch event — indeed, even getting the manuals there in time was a close call. Which was a shame, because unlike past generations, the automatic WRX won't be an afterthought.

Subaru heavily upgraded the CVT transmission, which is now the "Subaru Performance Transmission." (Subaru has banished the C-word.) They believe it can be competitive with if not outperform well-regarded auto boxes Volkswagen's seven-speed DSG. And the new top-of-the-line (until the STI comes out) GT trim will be Subaru Performance Transmission only.

New features like electronically controlled dampers, an intricate Drive Mode Select feature and Subaru's latest Eyesight safety tech (now available due to the Subaru Global Platform) are for now automatic-only.

But the manual Subaru WRX is still a beast
subaru wrx
Subaru

Drive routes on a launch event can tell you a lot about a manufacturer's confidence in the car. For the WRX, Subaru put us on the most aggressive mountain roads they could find for miles on end. That's basically all the driving we did with it.

The manual WRX is a refreshingly simple machine. There are no drive modes to futz around with. It's you, a well-weighted steering wheel, a pleasantly smooth stick shift, 271 horsepower and Subaru's state-of-the-art symmetrical AWD system.

For a car meant to be driven in attack mode, the WRX is surprisingly accessible and intuitive. The AWD system provides a tremendous amount of grip. And — while some may argue should have added more power — there's enough oomph to power through if you enter a corner in too high a gear. It's perfect for the driver who wants to feel like a Finnish rally driver but doesn't quite have that skill level (basically, everyone who buys a WRX).

The new platform brings a stiffer chassis and improvements to address noise, vibration and harshness. But the WRX would still be too high-strung for most daily drivers. You have to wring out the performance from it higher up in the rev range. You feel just about every bump with the sporty suspension. The WRX doesn't have a chill "I just housed a burrito and would like to get home without being jostled" setting.

The WRX's fuel economy is disappointing, though. The EPA rates the WRX for 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. Those numbers aren't great for a four-cylinder, base model compact sedan. And they are worse than the outgoing 2.0-liter model.

What's the Subaru WRX interior like?
subaru wrx
Subaru

Subaru describes the WRX's interior as "sport-inspired." It's ergonomically laid out for driving hard, and it presents information clearly with analog gauges to keep your attention on the road. It doesn't overwhelm you with sumptuous materials and unnecessary tech.

That's a positive spin on the WRX interior being basic and utilitarian, which is totally fine. Subaru is not a luxury brand. And an estimated 75% of WRX buyers will buy either the base model or the Premium trim one level up. A relatively spartan interior helps keep the price tag affordable.

How much does the all-new 2022 Subaru WRX cost?
subaru wrx
Subaru

We don't know yet. Subaru plans to announce pricing closer to when the new WRX goes on sale in spring 2022. What Subaru did say was to not expect the WRX pricing to "differ radically" from the previous model. The current generation starts at $27,495. So expect the next WRX to at least nominally start for less than $30,000.

What are some Subaru WRX alternatives?
vw gti mk8 bacarella red car front
Chris Bacarella

There isn't really a like-for-like competitor for the WRX on the market ever since Mitsubishi ditched the Lancer Evo. But there are several options for cheap, fun, stick shift performance cars. Subaru referenced the Volkswagen Golf GTI ($29,545) multiple times. You could also throw in the Honda Civic Si ($27,300) and the Hyundai Elantra N ($31,900). All three of those options, like the WRX, are all-new for the 2022 model year.

The 2022 Subaru WRX
subaru wrx
Subaru

Powertrain: Turbocharged 2.4-liter inline-four, 6-speed manual, AWD

Horsepower: 271

Torque: 258 lb-ft

EPA Fuel Economy: 19 mpg city, 26 mpg highway

Seats: 5

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