2022 Subaru WRX Review: Not ready to rumble
The first article I wrote for Everyday Driver dissected why the 2017 Subaru WRX I owned at the time was a great car but not a great enthusiast car. Since that piece went live exactly four years ago today, the world of automotive enthusiasm has evolved to push heavily on dedicated cars for specific purposes, or “tools for the job” as the Everyday Driver cohort cheekily calls it. I fell guilty to this mantra and my pursuit of those sports car dreams led me to sell that WRX a few short months after putting words to internet paper. Not all enthusiasts can swing multiple vehicles, and years later the WRX remains a go-to do-it-all one car solution. With the outgoing generation around since 2015, the car world (myself included) eagerly awaited a new iteration and finally the newest “VB” generation launched for the 2022 model year. Recently I stepped into an Ignition Red 2022 Subaru WRX Limited to see how the model has evolved.
Subaru proudly touts the fifth-generation WRX is all-new and now lives on the Subaru Global Platform which gives it 28% better torsional rigidity and 75% better suspension mounting point rigidity versus the outgoing model. It’s three inches longer and one inch wider than the last WRX, and now has aluminum front fenders for a negligible five pound weight savings. Unlike past models, the base Impreza and the WRX don’t have body panels in common, making this the most bespoke mass-produced WRX yet.
And yet, the 2022 WRX could easily be mistaken for its predecessor from afar. Only when examining the fine details like BRZ-inspired taillights and extensive cladding treatment do differences appear. Controversial plastic had Instagram commenters carrying proverbial torches. Like any new WRX, people called it ugly and continue to call it so despite only minor styling differences. The dichotomy of any WRX’s design is that in a year everyone will be used to it, and then a few years later upon the release of the subsequent generation WRX that will inevitably look quite similar but be called outrageously heinous, everyone will talk about how the prior car (this VB) was actually good looking. The VB's cladding doesn't bother me that much, but I've also owned a Chevy Avalanche and Isuzu VehiCROSS.
Moving inside, my favorite thing about the old WRX’s interior was the outward visibility. With a seating position that puts you square in the middle of the glass and a huge greenhouse to view the outside world, it had one of the best forward views of any car short of a Tesla. This makes driving both easy and freeing (not to mention safer), the antithesis to many of today’s cars with small concept-car-esque windows that make sitting in the cabin feel like wearing a welding helmet. The excellent visibility is thankfully unchanged here, and is still appreciated.
The rest of the interior is better than before but still falls in line with the drab-but-purposeful mantra that has always befitted the WRX’s cabin. My biggest gripe with the outgoing WRX’s living quarters was that the seats lacked support, bolstering, and adjustability. They simply weren’t comfortable. Thankfully the new driver seat is much improved: Grippy, plenty adjustable, and soft while still providing ample cushioning. It’s a huge improvement. The same cannot be said for the passenger seat as its comfort is supremely compromised by adjustability limited to backrest angle and sliding forward/backward. The base is fixed at an awkward position and finding a comfortable way to situate your legs is nearly impossible. Cost-cutting strikes again.
Subaru modernized the WRX Limited’s interior with an 11.6” touchscreen that dominates the center stack. (We won’t discuss the laughably outdated looking setup in the base car). From afar it looks decent but this is not the case in practice. It’s slow to respond to inputs, not laid out in a logical manner, and is perpetually too dim even when on its brightest setting. Aggravatingly, the interior swings and misses with needlessly integrating other controls into the screen, too. Heated seat dials that used to be standalone rollers are frustratingly now integrated into the touchscreen which means more fiddling with the poor interface. It’s tricky to get clicks right when stationary, let alone while in motion. Like VW, Subaru shot itself in the foot in trying to design an ultra-modern MMI but by letting technology get in the way of practical thought.
While updates like a big screen will wow those who look at the WRX’s interior without considering its all-new powerplant, we do need to discuss the elephant in the room. Somehow Subaru missed the industry-wide meeting in which it was decided a new car has to make more power and be faster all-around than that which it replaced. It’s forgiven in small, light cars that shed weight from generation to generation (i.e., NC to ND Miata) but that’s hardly the case here. The outgoing WRX’s 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder made 268 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque and the new 2.4L turbocharged four-cylinder makes 271 horsepower and the same 258 lb-ft of torque. The WRX is torquier down low and the newfound thrust makes the car quicker around town and easier to use in everyday life, especially when tooling around at the very bottom of 2nd gear in a parking lot or in traffic, but it’s still lacking versus the competition.
Worse, despite the WRX staying roughly the same weight from VA to VB, gas mileage has dropped from 20/27/23 MPG city/highway/combined to 19/26/22. In a world of ever-increasing electrification and emphasis on efficiency, this is extremely puzzling; if the fuel expense came due to much more power it would be excused, but to an untrained butt-dyno and in most scenarios the new car’s drivetrain feels too similar in both power delivery and acceleration to forgo any gas mileage whatsoever. If nothing else the 2.4 does sound slightly better, or at least less bad, but it’s impossible to decipher if it’s real or fake noise played through the speakers trying to convince occupants that the car is making sounds it isn’t. Aftermarket, do your thing.
The aftermarket will hopefully also eat up the WRX’s suspension. The VA was soft enough for most daily use while tight enough to still be a good dance partner on a twisty road. The VB car rides harsher without the corresponding increase in precision. Bumps and potholes now radiate directly through your spine. Road feel was increased, but it’s no more direct or willing to corner. Somehow the car seems louder inside as well at all speeds. I acknowledge the car I drove is a press car that has been beaten on and which was either a pre-production or very early build, but some of these bothers are beyond curious.
Let’s jump back a few years. In 2017 I was downsizing my two-car life consisting of an Isuzu VehiCROSS and a Dodge Challenger (R/T 6MT with the Super Track Pack) to one vehicle. The WRX in World Rally Blue was a natural choice. Dynamically better than the Challenger it replaced, I enjoyed the WRX as a capable daily driver on my at-the-time ~100 mile round-trip commute. It tackled road trips with ease, achieved surprising fuel economy (~28 MPG in 75/25% highway/city driving), was well-outfitted for a car costing ~$31k, and was decently fun in autocross and back-road driving. At the time, at least. Worries about longevity should I start down the rabbithole of modifying became overwhelming. Having added a 4th generation Toyota 4Runner for off-road duty and snow-day needs some time into owning my WRX, the Subaru’s dynamics left a lot to be desired for something that didn’t have to regularly tackle unplowed roads regardless of snowfall amount. A fixation on RWD took hold and after multiple Miata and Corvette experiences I sold the WRX and never looked back, though I do occasionally miss the easy-minded nature of having one car that seemingly did it all. But I don’t miss actually driving the WRX in any conditions other than a snowstorm.
Which leads us to the WRX’s fun-factor, so let’s talk about what matters most with the WRX: Driving. Unless you have substantial seat time in both the VA and VB cars or drive them back-to-back on identical surfaces and in identical situations, it’s hard to tell them apart from a driving dynamics standpoint. The first impression is that the newfound torque means the bottom of second gear is actually usable on a tight mountain road, and the car wants to be lively even at low speeds. But as I spent more time piloting the new WRX I began to notice things, or rather not notice things that one would want to feel in a WRX: Clutch, shifter, and steering. Feel across these three crucial pieces of the WRX formula are effectively zero. This is more forgivable in the clutch and shifter than the steering, as most will use their WRX as a daily driver and fighting stop-go traffic tends to be at least a small part of a buyer’s commute, but the lack of steering feel is truly disappointing. Tires can’t be blamed as the test car had Michelin Pilot Sport All Season 4 rubbers, and while true summers would help it’s not a make-it-or-break-it factor. The steering is just totally devoid of life.
Once I noticed the absence of sensations coming through to my hands and fingers I couldn’t not think about it. Subaru claims the new EPS unit has more feel but that’s simply not the case: The new power steering setup is decidedly more numb than that in the VA car. While the steering is direct, the most information you get is “right or left.” No information is transmitted through the flat-bottomed wheel, and even larger road imperfections are isolated out entirely. Good for long-haul fatigue, bad for a wannabe-sporty sedan. This is a WRX; we want to feel the road and that in this car nothing is transmitted through the wheel to your fingertips is a sincere shame. It’s disappointing when some SUVs and CUVs have more steering feedback than does a car with the famous badge of rally car heritage. This may not bother the casual car person, but for us die-hard enthusiasts it’s a huge misstep and an almost unforgivable one at that, especially as other cars around the WRX have improved in the amount of sensation translated to the driver’s extremities. This sin hurts the most.
On the cornering front, the WRX still gets around corners just fine, if not quicker than before. But what used to be fun about a WRX was that it felt like it had pace and grace that a car of its price and nature (i.e., a four-door reasonably inexpensive sedan) was not usually privy to. With the VB car there’s no thrill, no shock, no wow factor. The WRX has become a known entity in a world of surprises. This is a good thing if you simply want the next, newest WRX, but the incremental handling improvement is negated by a decline in theater, which used to be part of the WRX’s charm. Rowdy, not reserved. The coin has flipped.
So has the money aspect: As with everything, prices have jumped. The entry-level 2017 WRX’s base price was around $27,500 and pricing for the 2022 WRX starts at $29,105. My well-optioned 2017 WRX Limited cost ~$31,000 after negotiation while the 2022 WRX Limited starts at $35,995 (Note: The Harman Kardon stereo and sunroof I optioned on mine are now standard and included in the Limited’s price). These numbers represent a 5.8% price increase for the base car and 16.11% increase for a similarly-optioned Limited (inflation not considered). The WRX is safer than before but it’s nowhere near that percentage better to drive; if anything, it’s that much less exciting. Stepping up to the new-for-2022 GT adds adaptive dampers and Recaro seats exclusive to this trim, but a CVT is the sole gearbox available and the car stickers at $41,895. Subaru is clearly targeting the DSG-equipped VW Golf R here; the VW is more expensive but the Subaru is down 44 horsepower and 52 lb-ft of torque, and the WRX’s CVT is nowhere near as good as VW’s 7-speed dual-clutch.
Years ago if you wanted a fun car with room for four at a relatively affordable price you picked between the WRX/STI or Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. The latter is sadly long gone, leaving the WRX in a field of one. The Subaru falters in that its excitement factor has waned while that from new competitors like the Hyundai Veloster N and Elantra N and Honda Civic Si and Type R has skyrocketed, leaping past that of the WRX. These aren’t all-wheel-drive but modern snow tires on a FWD car will do 95% of the job of an AWD car, and chances are that the last 5% of winter capability will be negated in the WRX’s case by ground clearance. Meanwhile, the Hondas and Hyundais are more fun both in everyday life and to throw around a good road. We understand if you hate FWD, but the competition can’t be ignored, especially when there are plenty of other “four-seaters” (i.e., RWD two-plus-two coupes) out there for only slightly more money that trounce the WRX dynamically. The WRX hasn’t kept up with the times.
Still, the WRX has to be respected as the model responsible for kicking off car enthusiasm for many. Or, at least it used to: It made you feel things, made you excited to drive it, and made you feel like a hero behind the wheel. Today it does the same as a gateway drug, if marginally better as a daily driver and less so as a car putting its fun foot forward. The new WRX isn’t the pinnacle of performance, but it never was; nostalgia has given us rose-tinted glasses and the WRX of yore, in any generation, is always better in hindsight than it is in reality, possibly because the newest generation never makes us feel tingly the way the originals did. It’s the same for the car’s driving dynamics as it is how it looks. Subaru built its reputation on manufacturing all-wheel-drive cars that are safe, and the new WRX is certainly so, but for the wrong reasons and in the wrong way. It feels like one step forward and a half-step back while other brands are working on their long-jump. At least it will help us #savethemanuals.
The nonsensical saying goes that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Automotive enthusiast culture and taste has evolved quicker than the WRX has, and for better or worse the Subie remains stuck in the past. The VB WRX needed more than what Subaru gave it, at least for us to continue to fawn over it the same way we once did. If It opens the door for the STI to be the car we’re pining for. We know Subaru has it in them with the brand churning out greats like the BRZ and the Wilderness models, but that magic is missing from the new WRX. Subaru will always have a special place in my heart, but this new WRX won’t.
Hi, my name is Ross. I write for Hooniverse.com, ATVRider.com, UTVDriver, and Everyday Driver (obviously). I also co-host the Off the Road Again Podcast. As you can guess, I’m an off-road enthusiast/self-proclaimed expert but I love all things automotive.