by Gerhard Horn
When it comes to perfecting the blend between practicality and retaining your gearhead credentials, the Subaru WRX ranks pretty highly. Picture this: it's time to grow up and your first child is on the way, but you have no intention of giving up your gearhead tendencies. So you take your spouse to see the Subaru WRX STI but one look at that wing and you are shot with a "you must be joking" stare. Relax, for there is a better, more comfortable, less giant rear-winged way of getting all-wheel-drive turbocharged boxer thrills. A smaller 2.0-liter turbocharged boxer engine powers the standard WRX, and it's available with a six-speed manual or CVT transmission. And while you don't get the full 300 horses the STI has, the WRX isn't that far behind with 268 horsepower. It's not as refined as some of its more modern rivals, but like all WRXs before it, it does have loads of character and charm.
For 2021, Subaru has added keyless access with push-button start on the Premium model. The previously available Performance package has also been discontinued. That's it, folks. Subaru is one of those manufacturers that updates its cars incrementally. No significant changes all in one go, but if you look at the updates over the last few years, you'll see that they add up.
See trim levels and configurations:
2.0L Turbo Flat 4 Gas
2.0L Turbo Flat 4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
2.0L Turbo Flat 4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
The WRX is not as aggressive as the STI that we review separately to the Subaru WRX. It does without the big, impractical rear wing, for example, making its exterior somewhat more demure. It's not as dull as the Impreza sedan, though. It's the perfect understated blend, perfect for the gearhead who wants to up his family game. It still has quad exhausts at the rear and a functional hood-scoop at the front. The base model has 17-inch alloys, while 18s are fitted to the mid-spec and top-spec variants. They look sporty, and they allow for a slightly higher profile tire, unlike the STI, which just has a lick of rubber painted directly on the alloy.
The Subaru WRX sedan has dimensions that mean it occupies the compact sedan class in the US. It's 180.9 inches long, 70.7 inches in width, and 58.1 inches tall. The wheelbase is 104.3 inches long, resulting in a large interior. The base model is the lightest, with a curb weight of 3,294 pounds. With its added features, the Premium weighs 3,340 lbs with the manual transmission and 3,490 lbs with the CVT. The top-spec Limited weighs 3,371 lbs with the manual and 3,512 lbs with the CVT.
The WRX is available in seven colors, available as a no-cost option across the entire range. These options are WR Blue Pearl, Crystal Black Silica, Ice Silver Metallic, Lapis Blue Pearl, Magnetite Gray Metallic, Pure Red, and Crystal White Pearl. To our eyes, the WRX looks best when painted in a bright color like Pure Red or WR Blue. If you're looking for something a bit more under the radar, it still works well in white and gray.
Even though Subaru hasn't entered a World Rally Championship for more than a decade, it continues to build the vehicles that found fame thanks to rallying. The current-generation WRX may not have raced competitively, but it still has all of the characteristics that have traditionally made these cars so much fun to drive. At the core of the formula are a 2.0-liter turbocharged flat-four engine and an all-wheel-drive system. The engine packs a 268-horsepower punch, with 258 lb-ft of torque, resulting in a 0 to 60 mph sprint time of about five seconds. The top speed is limited to 150 mph, which some competitors may scoff at. They're missing the point, however, as the WRX is not a numbers car. The WRX's talent is its ability to replicate this kind of performance even when the weather doesn't want to play along. The WRX's six-speed manual is loads of fun, but since this generation model was meant to be more user-friendly, Subaru also decided to include a CVT option.
The 2021 Subaru WRX line-up consists of three models, all powered by the same 2.0-liter turbocharged four-pot boxer engine. This engine develops 268 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel drive is also standard across the range. The six-speed manual is the default gearbox on all models, with the Sport Lineartronic CVT transmission adding an extra $1,900 to the cost of the Subaru WRX. The six-speed offers loads of fun as it's a more engaging driving experience. As any gearhead knows, self-shifting is a delightful form of self-expression.
As an old-school turbocharged engine without any twin-scroll or anti-lag trickery, the WRX initially feels slow off the line. Once it starts booting, it delivers a highly satisfying wave of torque. The addition of a CVT transmission might seem like heresy to some. The thing is, it works. A CVT can be a woeful transmission when mated to an underpowered, naturally-aspirated engine. Subaru's Impreza is a great example. CVTs tend to work well in conjunction with motors with a high torque output, which the WRX has. It does an adequate job of mimicking a traditional automatic, and it even has driving modes. The Sport mode offers a nice balance of brisk acceleration, but Sport Sharp may be a bit too much. The throttle is overly sensitive, giving you all of the power with very little throttle input. This isn't ideal for city driving, but is excellent when driving for the sheer pleasure of driving.
The WRX's predecessors offered the same sort of driving experience. As nose-heavy vehicles, they were prone to understeer on the limit. It's the safest way to let the driver know that they're pushing too hard, but it feels awful. The current model doesn't seem to be plagued by this problem. It can corner harder than previous models, and the symmetrical all-wheel-drive system does a marvelous job of clawing you out of the other end of the corner. The steering rack is on the quick side, considering that the WRX is supposed to be a more balanced offering. Some will like it; others won't. What we can all agree on is that electronic-assisted steering devoid of feel is a big no-no. The WRX only really starts providing feedback on the limit, which is relatively high considering the engine output and all-wheel-drive system.
The AWD is one of this car's many highlights. Not only does it help the WRX get off the line much quicker than its engine output suggests, but it lets you push much harder than you'd be able to in a rear-wheel-drive car. The grip, quick steering, and power delivery make the WRX feel much lighter than it is. It's confidence-inspiring. The suspension is stiff but not nearly as rock-hard as it is in the STI. The STI requires you to make serious sacrifices in the comfort department, while the WRX strikes a relatively nice balance between firmness and comfort. The WRX remains composed over bumps that would result in back surgery in the STI. Even so, it's still not as well-balanced as some of its rivals, but the upside is a fun factor that its competitors struggle to match. The standard brakes are impressive more than up to the task of reigning it back in.
Subaru's boxer engines are not the most frugal powertrains to begin with, and fitting a CVT transmission doesn't seem to help much. The CVT model has EPA ratings of 18/24/21 mpg for the city/highway/combined cycles. The manual does a little bit better, with EPA figures of 20/27/23 mpg. The WRX is equipped with a 15.9-gallon gas tank, resulting in a 365-mile range between refills for the manual. If these consumption figures are getting you down, take some comfort in the fact that the STI consumes even more. Its EPA rating is 16/22/18 mpg, which is worse than some bi-turbo V8 sedans out there. Whenever you pump gas into the WRX, just remind yourself of that fact, and you'll feel much better.
The WRX's interior is typical old-school Japanese, where function is far more important than form. It's not a terrible interior, but it's not memorable either. It just feels like a place to sit, with a few subtle clues to remind you that it isn't an Impreza. Most of the plastic is high-quality, but there are some hard surfaces in there. Luckily, they're not to be found in the places you regularly interact with as the driver. The seats are comfortable and offer ample support when driving enthusiastically, while the optional Recaros do an even better job. While the interior may not be equipped with modern interior adornments like a head-up display or track timer, it does have a lot of space, which is arguably more critical if you're approaching this purchase from a practical standpoint.
The WRX sedan provides seating for five adults. It can fit them comfortably as well, with loads of legroom and headroom. The driver can easily find a comfortable driving position, thanks to a six-way manually adjustable driver's seat on the lower two trims and a 10-way power driver's seat on the WRX Limited. Getting in and out is easy, and visibility is good. The WRX has 43.3 inches of front legroom and 35.4 in the rear. The headroom is 39.8 inches in the front (provided the moonroof isn't equipped, in which case it drops to 37.2 inches) and 37.1 inches in the rear. To put that into perspective, the WRX beats the BMW 3 Series in every department, except rear headroom, where the German has a 0.5-inch advantage.
As mentioned earlier, the interior is nothing special. The base model has Carbon Black Checkered Cloth seats as standard. The Limited trim comes standard with leather seats with red stitching. There are a few nice touches that hint at the WRX's performance potential. These include aluminum-alloy pedals, a touch of red on the shifter, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and some gloss black trim.
The WRX's trunk capacity is adequate but not class-leading. The total capacity is 12 cubic feet, enough for daily errands and luggage for four on longer trips. When you need additional space, the rear seats can be folded down in a 60/40 split. Interior storage spaces include water bottle holders in the doors, two cupholders up front, and a center console space for the basics like a phone, wallet, and keys.
The base model is a bit on the spartan side, considering what modern consumers are used to these days. A simple driver assistance system like collision warning is a fine example of something the WRX base model does not have. This feature is pretty much standard across the board these days. Instead, you get single-zone climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, cruise control, a rearview camera, and an info display above the center console that gives you some performance-related information. The Premium model now includes a keyless entry system with push-button start, a power tilt/slide moonroof, and auto on/off headlights. The Limited trim adds a 10-way power driver's seat, LED fog lights, and steering responsive headlights.
The base model is equipped with a 6.5-inch color touchscreen infotainment system featuring all the modern connectivity features, including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, HD radio, dual USB ports, and SiriusXM radio. On the Premium and above, the touchscreen is upgraded to a seven-inch display. All models are equipped with a six-speaker sound system, with only the Limited allowing you to upgrade to an optional nine-speaker Harman Kardon sound system.
While the infotainment system has all the modern features, it can be tricky to operate when not using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. It's also not as quick to respond as we would have liked.
The Subaru WRX is a remarkably fault-free car, boding well for overall reliability. It has been recall-free for the last three years. There were some initial teething problems back in 2016, but not a single issue since then. Subaru offers a limited three-year/36,000-mile warranty and a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty. In addition, a Wear Item limited warranty covers parts like brake pads and clutch linings for the first three years or 36,000 miles. Rust perforation coverage runs for five years with no mileage limit.
Safety reviews are a strong point for the Subaru WRX in the USA. The 2021 Subaru WRX scored five out of five for overall safety from the NHTSA. The IIHS awarded the 2020 WRX a Top Safety Pick. The award is only applicable to vehicles equipped with the optional front crash prevention and models with LEDs that respond to steering input. The latter feature is only available on the Limited trim.
The standard safety features are all present and accounted for, although driver-assist tech isn't standard. The base model and upward all have a rearview camera, ABS, stability control, traction control, tire pressure monitoring, and brake assist. There are front, side, and curtain airbags and an airbag for the driver's knees.
Subaru's award-winning EyeSight suite of driver assistance systems is only available on models equipped with a CVT transmission. This suite is automatically included when you tick the $1,900 Lineartronic CVT option. The base model misses out as it can't be equipped with a CVT transmission. EyeSight adds adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, sway warning, and lane-change assist. The Limited trim also adds the option of blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, auto high beams, and LED lights that respond to steering input.
There are better cars that offer a more rounded driving experience, but nothing is quite like the WRX. It takes a very old-school approach to performance, offering a manual gearbox and mechanical grip thanks to an all-wheel-drive system, while the torque vectoring system feels natural. It may have a dull interior that misses some gimmicky but likable gadgets, but it offers an unfiltered driving experience, and at the base price it asks, you won't find much better an experience. There is some lag, but it's all part of this car's unique character. Unlike its more significant, meaner brother (the STI), the WRX offers a better compromise between performance and day-to-day usability. It may not be as comfortable and refined as some of its rivals, but there's absolutely no reason not to use this car every day. The same can't be said for the STI. The WRX is affordable, reliable, and the right choice if you like something different.
The price of the Subaru WRX is indicative of its strong value for money. The base WRX has an MSRP of $27,495. There isn't a lot you can add to the vehicle, so that's basically what it costs. The Premium retails for $30,045, while the WRX Limited has an MSRP of $32,095. If you want the CVT transmission, it adds another $1,900 to the price of both the Premium and Limited. These prices do not include the $925 destination and delivery charge.
Be wary of the options, however. If you include a CVT gearbox, navigation, 18-inch STI alloy wheels, and an STI performance exhaust, the price quickly climbs to over $40,000. That's within spitting distance of the top-spec STI, not to mention a few other brilliant performance cars like the Honda Civic Type R.
There are three configurations in the 2021 range, with Subaru choosing not to offer a new Subaru WRX Series.White limited edition as was offered last year. For 2021, you can choose between the Base, Premium, and Limited.
The base Subaru WRX model uses the same 2.0-liter turbocharged flat-four as the rest of the range. It provides 268 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque but in this case it's only available with a six-speed manual transmission. Standard fare includes 17-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, brake assist, cloth upholstery, and a six-way manually-adjustable driver's seat. It also comes with climate control, a 6.5-inch color touchscreen infotainment interface, and a six-speaker sound system.
The mid-spec Premium adds the new keyless entry with a push-button start system, which is the only new feature for 2021. It also comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, auto headlights, and a seven-inch infotainment display. Opting for this trim also allows you access to more optional equipment like an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat.
Finally, the top-spec Limited adds a decent amount of comfort and safety features. It comes with a full leather interior, a ten-way power-adjustable driver's seat, and LED lights that respond to steering inputs. The optional extras on this model include auto high beam headlights, blind-spot monitoring, and lane-change assist. You can also upgrade the mediocre six-speaker system to a powerful Harman Kardon surround-sound system.
Add the CVT transmission to the Premium or Limited, and you'll also get Subaru's EyeSight safety systems, including adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and automatic emergency braking.
There are no packages available for the base model but rather a host of standalone features that allow you to spruce up the interior and sound system. If you'd like the WRX to be a bit more vocal, we recommend the $1,171 STI performance exhaust system. You can also add the previously-mentioned STI exhaust system and 18-inch STI wheels for an additional $1,785. The Limited grants you access to a package that's aimed at luxury and safety-minded customers. On the CVT model, it retails for $2,400 and adds navigation, auto high beams, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and a Harmon Kardon sound system.
The full-fat STI is all about performance at the expense of everything else. The WRX is a more balanced car worth keeping in mind when you choose what trim level you want. The base model with its manual box is appealing, but you don't get a lot in terms of comfort and amenities. For that reason, we'd go for the mid-spec Premium and its new keyless entry and push-button start system, among other features. We'd go with a manual, too. Not only is it more fun, but it's slightly more frugal as well. You do lose out on the advanced safety kit, but just pay attention when you drive.
The WRX offers such a unique driving experience that its main rivals come from within the same stable. The WRX STI is a good example of this in-house competition. It's a car like the WRX, but with everything dialed up to 11.
The STI gets a bigger 2.5-liter flat-four, pushing out 310 hp and 290 lb-ft in comparison to the WRX's 268 hp and 258 lb-ft. It's a manual-only kind of car, and it takes no prisoners. It's also easy to spot, thanks to a giant rear wing. Contrary to popular belief, you can have too much of a good thing, however. While we appreciate the added performance and the feel provided by hydraulic steering, the STI is simply too hardcore. It sacrifices everything else on the altar of performance, including comfort. As a driving experience, the STI kicks the WRX to the curb, but in every other way, the WRX is a better everyday car. Since our daily commute doesn't include a stint on a racetrack, we'd rather have the $10,000 cheaper WRX.
If you're in the market for a WRX, there's a good chance you're looking for a thrilling driving experience at less than $35,000. For that reason, you might also be interested in the BRZ, the only Subaru that doesn't come as standard with all-wheel drive. Instead, it's rear-wheel drive only. It's worth noting that there is no 2021 model year BRZ as Subaru prepares to launch the all-new 2022 version. Still, the current BRZ is a great, no-frills sports car. It's also powered by a 2.0-liter flat-four but without a turbocharger. The result is 205 hp, which doesn't sound like much. It only weighs around 2,800 lbs and comes with skinny, eco-friendly tires. That means loads of oversteer that even a novice can manage. It will put a grin on your face, that's for sure.
As a practical proposition, it falls a bit flat. It only has 6.9 cubic feet of trunk space, and while it is technically a four-seater, the rear seats are only suitable for small children. It boils down to paying more or less the same amount of money for a slower, less practical car. The tail-happiness of the BRZ is simply not enough to beat the WRX.
The most popular competitors of 2021 Subaru WRX Sedan: