2022 Subaru WRX First Drive Review: Wild Style Masks the Most Mature WRX Yet

Look past the aggressive sheet metal—improvements in daily drivability are the true focus in the fifth-generation WRX.

byBradley Iger| PUBLISHED Dec 20, 2021 9:00 AM
2022 Subaru WRX First Drive Review: Wild Style Masks the Most Mature WRX Yet
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The arrival of the 2022 Subaru WRX marks two decades since the WRX first made its way to U.S. shores. In that time, Subaru’s sport sedan has essentially cultivated its own performance subculture. More than 416,000 examples have been sold to date, and, according to Subaru, the people who are buying them represent the youngest performance car customer base in the entire industry. 

That is no small feat, considering the fact that nearly every automaker out there is constantly looking for ways to appeal to a younger audience, and it also certainly didn’t happen by accident. Subaru is keenly aware of who these buyers are, what they care about, and what they want out of their daily driver. So while the fifth-generation WRX is arguably more aesthetically distinctive than it’s ever been before—both from its competitive set and the Impreza on which it’s based—behind the hopped-up bodywork, there’s actually a stronger sense of maturity.

That might seem counterintuitive, but make no mistake, this is not a midlife crisis machine or a weekend toy for empty nesters. The new WRX is more of a multipurpose tool for enthusiasts. Performance has always been the headline act here, but it’s also a year-round commuter for folks across the country and often the go-to hauler for both outdoorsy types and growing families. So while there are significant changes afoot here, the end result is not as much of a dramatic departure from the outgoing car as you might expect. And that’s precisely the point. 

Bradley Iger

2022 Subaru WRX Specs

  • Base price: TBA
  • Powertrain: 2.4-liter turbocharged boxer four-cylinder | 6-speed manual or CVT automatic | all-wheel drive
  • Horsepower: 271 @ 5,600 rpm
  • Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 2,000 to 5,200 rpm
  • Cargo volume: 12.5 cubic feet
  • Seating capacity: 5
  • Curb weight: 3,297 pounds (Base, manual)
  • Fuel economy: 19 mpg city | 26 highway | 22 combined (manual) / 19 mpg city | 25 highway | 21 combined (automatic) 
  • Quick take: The fifth-generation WRX refines a proven formula rather than reinventing it. 
  • Score: 7.5/10

What's New with WRX

Now underpinned by the Subaru Global Platform, the 2022 WRX is three inches longer and an inch wider than the outgoing car. Despite the increase in size, the weight differences across the trims are negligible versus the outgoing WRX, and in a number of configurations, the new car is actually a few pounds lighter than the old one.

The new platform also yields significant increases in lateral and torsional rigidity, and that means less work for the suspension to achieve similar results from a dynamic standpoint. This allowed Subaru engineers to retune things for better ride quality while improving the handling in other aspects by doing things like mounting the rear sway bar directly to the body rather than the subframe and reintroducing rebound springs (which were present on the third-generation WRX but absent on the last one) to keep the inside wheels in better contact with the road while cornering. Also on hand is a new dual-pinion electric power steering setup that’s designed to deliver better steering feel and more predictability.

The new platform also allowed designers to get a bit more creative with the exterior design as well. None of the body panels are shared with the Impreza—a first for the WRX. It’s undoubtedly the most aggressive-looking factory WRX to date, with bulging fenders and molded wheel arches that give a nod to the model’s rally heritage. There are a lot of vents, scoops, and aero bits in the mix as well, but it’s all functional stuff. The cladding has been a hot-button topic since the car was shown in September, and while I suspect there'll be a lot of aftermarket delete kits produced, it's not all that offensive in person.

(Slightly) More Power

On the powertrain front, the turbocharged 2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder has been tossed in favor of a boosted 2.4-liter derived from the mill used in other Subarus like the Ascent, Legacy, and Outback. Peak output numbers now stand at 271 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque; decidedly modest gains considering the fact it’s a mere three-hp improvement (and no change in peak torque) over the old engine despite an increase of nearly half a liter in displacement. Regardless, the WRX remains comfortably ahead of rivals like the Volkswagen GTI and Honda Civic Si when it comes to power on tap.

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While it’s still available with a six-speed manual gearbox—the transmission of choice for 85 percent of buyers of the previous generation WRX—Subaru is hoping to sway more folks over to the SPT, or Subaru Performance Transmission. It’s ostensibly a revamped version of the CVT available in the previous generation WRX, but paired up with the new powerplant, it’s said to improve acceleration by 29 percent over the outgoing car when outfitted with the automatic. Power is sent to all four wheels regardless of which transmission you choose, with an even 50/50 torque split front and rear for manual transmission cars and a 45/55 split for automatics that provides a bit more rear bias. Unfortunately, Subaru was unable to bring any automatic-equipped WRXs out for the media preview event due to production delays, so I wasn't able to put the SPT to the test; my time was spent with a manual-equipped car in Premium trim. 

Inside, the 2022 WRX boasts a new flat-bottomed steering wheel with a revised button layout and redesigned sport seats up front with more aggressive bolstering and three-stage heat control. There’s also a new tablet-style, 11.6-inch touchscreen infotainment display available, which crucially retains physical buttons and knobs for frequently used functions like volume and temperature adjustment. The new generation also introduces a new top-tier GT trim level. It’s an automatic-only affair, but it includes some worthwhile exclusive features like electronic-controlled dampers, Recaro seats, configurable drive mode settings, and unique 18-inch wheels.

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Driving the 2022 Subaru WRX

Although the new WRX is longer and wider than the outgoing model, the expanded dimensions are more evident inside rather than outside, where increased legroom, shoulder room, and headroom up front make the cabin feel noticeably less cramped, especially if you’re a lanky dude like myself. The majority of the interior feels familiar, but the new infotainment system is where most of your focus will likely be trained anyway. While temperature and volume adjustments have their own physical controls, most everything else is done through the display, so would-be owners should expect to spend a lot of time with it. 

The good news is that the vast amount of screen real estate is a massive step up from the optional seven-inch display in the outgoing WRX, and the system is generally quick to respond to inputs. Controls for other HVAC settings are available at the bottom of the screen even while screen mirroring with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, while audio track information remains up top at all times as well. There’s some unnecessary convolution in the operating system—pressing the heated seat control brings up a new menu instead of changing the intensity, for instance—but on the whole, it’s definitely a worthwhile upgrade. 

Bradley Iger
Bradley Iger

Despite the WRX riding on a new platform and being pulled along by a new engine, the driving experience hasn’t changed all that much. Like the WRX models that have come before it, outward visibility is excellent and there’s enough adjustment in seats and steering column to quickly figure out a comfortable driving position. GT models have selectable drive modes, but the other trims do not, so there also isn’t much to fiddle around with here after pushing in the nicely weighted clutch and firing up that flat-four. The exhaust is a bit quieter than I’d prefer—though again, the aftermarket will provide. 

Subaru tells me that the 2.4-liter provides a broader torque curve than the 2.0-liter in the previous generation WRX did, but the cynic in me feels like this engine swap has more to do with the 2022 BRZ moving from the 2.0-liter to the naturally aspirated 2.4-liter (and Subaru’s potential desire to simplify its engine production) than it does with any notable benefit to WRX owners. To be fair, it does feel like there’s a hint of additional mid-range torque, but in this specification, the resulting improvement in acceleration isn’t transformative by any means. Peak torque is said to arrive at just 2,000 rpm and stay flat until 5,200, but out in the rolling hills and switchbacks of Mendocino National Forest, it feels like boost comes on after 3,000, and more than once it felt like the engine wanted to stall until I gave it some additional throttle while going up a driveway in second gear at about 10 mph. 

The chassis tweaks are more evident, though. Both at low speeds and out on the highway, the ride is noticeably more compliant than the outgoing WRX, yet body motions are still well controlled at higher speeds and during hard braking. The car feels reassuringly planted over mid-corner bumps even on rain-soaked forest roads, but it’s also worth noting that I elected to keep the stability control system on full alert for the duration of my stint at the helm because of the less-than-ideal conditions that we contended with throughout the day. Tail-out shenanigans will have to wait for another time. 

Spec to Win

The 2.4-liter boxer engine, all-wheel drive, a six-speed manual transmission are standard, the SPT automatic with an “eight-speed” manual mode is optional. A six-way adjustable manual driver’s seat, 17-inch wheels with summer performance tires, LED headlights, and a seven-inch infotainment display are also standard. The Premium package includes 18-inch wheels, the 11.6-inch infotainment display, and an external oil cooler. The Premium package in automatic-equipped cars also includes the SI-DRIVE engine performance management system, adaptive cruise with lane centering, and automatic emergency steering assist. A 504-watt Harman Kardon audio system comes as part of the Limited trim, which also includes a 10-way power driver’s seat, interior trim upgrades, blind-spot detection with cross-traffic alert, and a power moonroof. Meanwhile, the GT trim is available exclusively with the automatic. Key upgrades here include electronically controlled dampers, Recaro seats up front, and ultrasuede upholstery. 

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Even as one of the last cheap-ish driver's cars on the market, the WRX still faces a thicket of like-minded competitors in the $27,000 to $35,000 range. The Volkswagen GTI, the Honda Civic Si, and the Hyundai Elantra N are all right there. However, none of those offer all-wheel drive—giving the WRX a huge boost in bad-weather states. Subaru has not yet announced pricing for the 2022 WRX, but expect it to be right at $30,000. The base car is pretty bare-bones compared to a loaded model in GT trim, but the core performance elements are still there even in its most basic form, so there’s plenty of fun to be had regardless of how you decide to fill out the options sheet.

The Early Verdict on the New WRX

While the new look might be more in-your-face than ever before, the engineering behind it has yielded the most grown-up WRX that’s been produced to date. Some enthusiasts might perceive maturity as a detriment—as though the fun factor sits directly on the other side of the scale—but the reality is that the added civility makes this a performance car (a manual transmission sedan, no less) that you’ll want to drive more often. And isn’t that what being an enthusiast is all about anyway?

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