The 2022 Subaru WRX Is Better in Real Life Than on Paper
Here in the real world, few cars combine price, performance and practicality like the WRX.
Subaru has come a long way since the days of Paul Hogan and pioneering LGBTQ-friendly ads. Back in the '80s and '90s, it was a scrappy upstart of a Japanese car company in the U.S. market, attempting to separate itself from the pack with fun features like four-wheel-drive and extra ground clearance. Obviously, that bet paid off. The brand saw sales rise for more than 70 consecutive quarters, as buyers responded warmly to the idea of many different flavors of vehicles that drove like cars but could play-act at being SUVs.
But it's also hard not to feel like a bit of the brand's delightful quirkiness was lost along the way — especially when it comes to sporty vehicles. Not so long ago, Subaru was building hotted-up versions of the Legacy and Forester, or offering not one but two high-powered Outbacks at the same time. Today, however, Subarus are better-known for their pet-friendliness than their performance.
There's one exception, however: the car affectionately known by some as the Rex. The Subaru WRX has been a staple of the affordable performance car market here ever since Subaru finally decided to bring it over for the 2002 model year. And while its more powerful STI sibling may not be returning anytime soon, the WRX is back for one more go in the saddle as an affordable, relatively simple, gas-powered performance car that you can also use as a daily driver. At least, that's the idea.
Before the new-gen WRX launched, hopes were high that it would see a significant power and performance bump over the previous model. On paper, however, the 2022 model isn't much of a leap over its predecessor; while it has a new engine, it makes just four hp more than the outgoing version, and the exact same amount of torque.
Still, out on the streets, the WRX is plenty powerful enough to be a hoot. This car turns freeway on-ramps into carnival rides; push right up to the limit of grip as you carve through the turn in second gear, then as you straighten out, mash the gas, ride it all the way to redline, then slam off the 2-3 shift as fast as you can. That's a thrill in many a sporty car, of course — but even if you're lucky enough to find one that still has a stick to let you do so, you might well be doing 20 over the limit in just a couple seconds. The WRX is potent enough to make it fun, while not being so powerful as to put you in license-losing territory every time you floor it.
The new WRX's looks also took a fair bit of heat when it came out, for everything from its taillights to its oddly extensive unpainted body cladding. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course — and while I wouldn't claim the Rex is beautiful, I would say it's reasonably handsome, especially compared to the rather milquetoast-in-looks Honda Civic or the exaggerated looks of the Nissan Sentra or Toyota Corolla. And while the cladding certainly does seem better suited to a crossover than a sporty car, it makes a bit more sense when you consider the WRX's rally-bred roots; anyone planning on hooning down dirt and gravel roads will likely appreciate the lack of touch-up paint they'll need. (Also, hey, as with the new BMW M3 and M4, if the exterior bits distract you, just order it in a dark color to minimize the difference.)
While the WRX and the Impreza it's based on may sit at the bottom of the Subaru lineup size-wize, it's surprisingly large inside. Gone are the days when compact cars were truly compact; the WRX is big enough to accomodate a quartet of six-footers, making it suitable — if perhaps less than ideal — for family duty.
And it's a pretty good deal, too. Granted, you can make it less of a good deal; opt for the top-shelf CVT-only WRX GT model (why, I'm not sure), and you'll spend $42,855; my Limited tester, which lies one rung down the ladder, had an MSRP of $36,995. The sweet spot of the lineup, however, is the Premium trim; it packs 18-inch wheels, heated seats, the larger portrait-style infotainment screen seen here, fog lights and dual-zone climate control for $32,565, or $34,440 if you want the premium Harmon Kardon stereo and a moonroof. That makes it pretty competitive against the likes of the VW Golf GTI and Hyundai Elantra N, and while those models may have their own appeal for various reasons, neither packs AWD, which is a killer app for some snowbelt buyers.
If that's still too much bread for you, the base model still packs all the performance at a starting price of $30,065. Granted, you'll have to do without heated seats, and you'll have to deal with 17-inch wheels instead of the 18-in units on other models, and you'll have an arguably ugly dashboard situation — but you'll still have one hell of a fun car for much less than most people pay for their new vehicles, while still having a capable ride that can carry a small family in any weather. Which, in effect, has always been in part what Subaru is about.
Price as Tested: $36,995
Powertrain: 2.4-liter turbocharged flat-four; six-speed-manual or CVT; all-wheel-drive
Torque: 258 lb-ft
EPA Fuel Economy: 19 mpg city, 26 mpg highway
Looking for a great new ride? Start looking here.