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The Next Subaru WRX Arrives in 2020, May Use Alternative Power Plants

A hybrid is a given, but Subaru's distinctive flat-four engine may not be.

The next generation Subaru WRX is due to arrive in 2020, according to AutoCar, and will likely stray away from the model’s historical combination of a flat-four gasoline engine with a symmetrical all-wheel-drive system.

It’s no surprise to anyone that Subaru’s VIZIV Performance Concept, which debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show, is a thinly veiled preview of the next WRX. Company design chief Mamoru Ishii told Autocar that feedback on the car’s appearance has been quite positive, indicating that not much may change between the concept car and the next WRX. Then again, quite a bit changed between the 2013 WRX concept that people generally liked and the current WRX that debuted in 2015. Where the concept was smooth and sleek with coupe-like body lines, the actual car was rather different and criticized at first for too closely resembling a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, one of its closest competitors at the time.

Styling aside, the most controversial potential change in the WRX would be the move away from its traditional drivetrain. Though the standard model’s FA20 engine offers good performance with excellent fuel economy (full disclosure: I own a 2015 WRX with this engine), the EJ25 of the WRX STI is an old design. Its 305-horsepower is below the competition and easily matched by a standard WRX with a downpipe and tune, while its 17 city/22 highway fuel economy is downright awful by modern standards. STI emissions, while they meet U.S. standards, are rather high by European standards, which is part of the reason Subaru dropped the STI in the U.K.

With performance, fuel economy, and emissions in need of improvement, Subaru is looking to what is now a tried and true solution: hybrid power, which has come a long way since this parody Toyota Prius racing set commercial. Hybrids tuned for performance provide a great deal of low-end torque, something Subaru’s FA20 engine has been criticized for lacking. With the next WRX using Subaru’s new Global Platform, it would be easy to add hybrid hardware to an architecture already designed to support it. The current WRX is already tuned for a more performance-oriented driving experience than the Impreza. From behind the wheel, it’s hard to tell they share a platform. This could continue to be the case with how each car’s hybrid system is programmed. While the Impreza can be tuned for smoothness and fuel economy, the WRX can emphasize performance.

“Four-wheel drive is critical to the power and performance levels our customers expect, but on the engine, we have more freedom,” design chief Ishii told Autocar, confirming what we suspected last month. He may have only been referring to the addition of a hybrid drivetrain, but his comments also allow for the possibility of an engine other than Subaru’s traditional flat-four. Though some have speculated that this is what’s happening, so far Subaru has given no reason to believe any change other than a hybrid system will occur.

I suspect that when we finally see exactly what the next Subaru WRX will be, our collective reaction will be something like Doctor Who‘s hero said just after regenerating from his fifth to the sixth incarnation: “Change, my dear—and not a moment too soon.”