2022 Subaru WRX Review: Grown Up But Still Down to Clown

The newest WRX is more refined than ever, but it can still make you smile.

byKristen Lee| PUBLISHED Feb 21, 2022 1:06 PM
2022 Subaru WRX Review: Grown Up But Still Down to Clown
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I will go to my grave chanting that a Subaru WRX is not a Subaru WRX unless it has unequal length headers. Inefficient? Yes. Who cares? Sounds awesome. But I realize this is very gate-keeping of me because the all-new 2022 Subaru WRX isn't any worse off without the noise. Today's version of the rowdy, rally-bred, all-wheel-drive sport compact is more civil, more efficient, and claddier than ever. 

Longtime WRX fans may cry foul, but this new WRX is the WRX of today. We criticize today's cars for being numb, dull, uninspiring. So while the latest version's personality might be hidden behind swaths of agreeable, everyday livability, it's there. You just have to dig for it a little bit.

2022 Subaru WRX Specs

  • Base price (as tested): $30,100 ($36,990 est.)
  • 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
  • Fuel economy: 19 mpg city | 26 highway | 22 combined (manual) 19 mpg city | 25 highway | 21 combined (automatic) 
  • Quick take: The new WRX is a polite commuter but is down to clown if you are.
  • Score: 7.5/10

Shut Up About the Cladding

Brad Iger penned a fuller and more in-depth rundown of the new, VB-generation WRX for us back in December, so I'll waste neither your time nor my very expensive internet ink repeating much of it here. What you need to know is the new car is now based on an SUV platform, is longer and wider than the car it replaces, uses a 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder instead of the 2.0, and wears dark plastic body cladding along all four wheel arches and fenders. This last bit is what I do want to talk about.

I hear you, aight? Your screeching was audible even up at the doorless tower from which I do all my blogging. You all haaaaate the cladding. 

"The plastic cladding around the wheel wells looks like it was pulled from a connect the dots page. So cheap-looking," oij groused. 

"The grey cladding instead of paint matching will now mean that any bright or light-colored cars look cheaper than they actually are," Jon Ben grumbled.

"Booooooooor-ing. Fuuuuuu-gly. Plaaaaaaaa-stic. Ho Hum," dgnovelty lamented.

"WRXs used to be exciting, unique, and cool… now they just look like Camrys and Civics. Now with extra plastic," FedSmoker’s Ghost griped.

With respect, you're all wrong.

Have you so quickly forgotten what the outgoing WRX—the VA generation—looked like? Do you remember feeling underwhelmed when you first clapped eyes on it? Hardly anything about it distinguished it apart from any other compact sedan. Sure, there was the hood scoop on the front. But from the side and rear? Totally unremarkable if you forwent the wing. There's something to be said of a good sleeper car, for sure, but this is a WRX, man! Let me see something unrulier, more rambunctious, uproarious.

Merely thanks to the cladding, the WRX's profile is now much rougher, bringing to mind something that looks like it's not afraid to get a little dirty, something that's meant to have mud spray up from its wheels. Is this not the road-going rally car ethos? The cladding is vented and squared-off, too, which makes a cool contrast against the dark-colored wheels and puffier fenders. 

There's a practical aspect to all of this, too. Cars are most likely to rust around their wheel arches because rocks and pebbles that get flung up there over the course of normal driving put chips in the paint, which then exposes the sheet metal underneath to the elements. Exposed sheet metal plus moisture equals rust. The WRX's new plastic cladding protects the car from this. What is so wrong with protecting your arches? A protected wheel arch means more overall vehicle longevity and longevity is hot. As is saving money by not going to the body shop for rust repair.

No Drive Modes, No Problem

A great thing about the new WRX, which is something I can say of all

the

Subarus

I've tested recently, is its visibility. It is one of the few sporty sedans currently on the market that's resisted the low roof/high beltline/tiny windows urge; the driver's seat raises nice and high and you can actually see out of the car with ease. The windshield is also pretty tall so you don't feel claustrophobic.

The seats were also comfortable and stayed supportive throughout the five-hour journey from New York City to northern Massachusetts. This was a good thing, as the ride itself is very stiff. You won't have to check your pelvic alignment after you get out, but you'll definitely notice which towns are better about taking care of their potholes than others. The car keeps you awake on boring stretches of highway, I can tell you that.

The WRX Subaru loaned me came with the blessed manual transmission. One complaint I remember having about the VA WRX was its gates were very ill-defined. I kept messing up shifts, going from fifth to second by mistake, garbage like that. And maybe this is totally subjective, but the VB WRX did feel slightly better. Yet, I still could have used gates that were just a few millimeters further apart; they were still spaced a little too close together for my liking. That being said, the shift action delivered nice, muted clunks as the shifter slotted into gear and was thankfully absent of the BMW M3 shifter's rubberiness. The clutch pedal itself was on the lighter and springier side but didn't tire out my left leg in stop-and-go traffic.

At 271 horsepower, the WRX doesn't feel like it has so much power that it'll run away from you, but you also have enough that flooring it on an onramp delivers a satisfying thrill—the keyword here being "flooring." That's the only way for you to feel like you're really sending it. The steering is light and responsive and brake-feel is more progressive than the rude, pinchy grab that you'd experience in other sports cars. The top-tier, automatic-only GT trim comes with a drive mode selector—where you can change up damper settings, steering feedback, and whatnot—but the Limited trim I drove came with no such selector. And you know what? I liked it that way. It was a car you could just get into and drive without worrying about fiddling with different electronically controlled whatevers for the optimum drive mode. Things felt old school that way, and refreshingly so.

It's certainly not quiet in the WRX—there's wind and tire noise that permeates the cabin—but you can also hear the four-cylinder boxer thrumming like a low bassline. It wasn't unpleasant—I dislike cars where you cannot hear the engine at all—and it sort of reminded me of listening to a heartbeat or breathing, even if my beloved unequal-length-header burble was missing. What I couldn't determine, though, is whether or not that noise was artificially piped in, because when I did my typical sports-car-goes-through-a-tunnel dance (you all know it: music off, windows down, drop it by three or four gears, floor it), the echoing exhaust note wasn't actually that loud. 

But the strangest thing about the WRX's exhaust note was the resonance at which it idled. In an underground garage, the noise sat at a low frequency that boomed in my ears. If the sensation of spinach teeth was distilled into a sound, it would be that.

By far the biggest, most discernible flaw had to do with the 11.6-inch tablet-style center touchscreen. True, there were still hard buttons and dials for the volume and temperature controls. But as Brad pointed out, changing something like your seat heater brought up a whole new touchscreen menu that I was forced to take my eyes off the road in order to look at. I feel like I would almost prefer the base system? But I'd have to try it out and see.

The Limited Trim

Since I drove the WRX before Subaru released its official pricing on Thursday, I don't actually know what the MSRP for the test car was. But it was in the Limited trim, which includes the bigger touchscreen, a 10-way power driver's seat, 18-inch dark alloy wheels, aluminum-alloy pedal covers, red dash panel stitching, red upholstery stitching, dual-zone climate control, automatic height adjustment headlights, a Harmon Karon 11-speaker system, a power moonroof, and a body-color trunk spoiler. Along with the six-speed manual, the MSRP should have come out to around $36,990, including destination.

Competitors

Maybe if I was writing this story 15 years ago, I'd have more options to bring to the table. Presently, though, I have very few; there aren't a lot of sporty, manual, all-wheel-drive sedans out there to buy. There are always the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Golf R alternatives, though the former is front-wheel drive and the latter is thousands of dollars more expensive. Then there are the Hyundai Elantra N and Honda Civic Si, though those are front-wheel drive only as well. The WRX leans more into the everyday usability of the GTI and the Civic Si, though. It's not tuned to be as hot as the Golf R or Elantra N. 

Predictably, the WRX's gas mileage isn't as great when compared to its front-wheel-drive rivals, but you'll probably have better traction than them when it snows and you have a good set of winter tires.

Verdict

Stiff ride or not, refinement is what I walk away from my time with the WRX remembering. The car is perfectly docile and well-behaved on commutes. But give it a stab of the throttle, a smack of the clutch for some rev-matching, and a personality will arise—one that's down for some playtime but also knows when to stop. That sense just doesn't swim as close to the surface as WRX fans might like. Regardless, the car is that coworker who's pleasant and gets the job done during the week but can throw down with you on the weekends. They just won't egg you on toward mutually assured destruction. That's the Veloster N's job

But what is perhaps most obvious about the 2022 WRX is that it feels like a solid baseline, whether for the yet-to-be-announced STI or modifications WRX owners are almost certainly going to install. It could use a little more power, but the transmission feels good, the handling is sharp, and the suspension rides solidly already. A foundation is there—and it's good—but there's room to build if you want more. Perhaps that's why it comes from the factory feeling tamer than it should be. 

Got a tip? Email me at kristen@thedrive.com.