Subaru WRX 1st Generation 2015-2021 (VA) Review

Everything You Need To Know Before Buying A Used WRX 1st Gen

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1st-Gen Subaru WRX: What Owners Say

  • The Subaru WRX VA has nimble, safe and secure handling thanks to the symmetrical all-wheel-drive.
  • It's quite brisk off the line, especially in STI guise.
  • The 1st-gen Subaru WRX STI is unapologetically aimed at gearheads.
  • Underneath the zany body kit, it's a family-friendly sedan.
  • The interior quality of the first-gen Subaru WRX is inferior compared to rivals.
  • It's not the most reliable Subaru ever made.
  • The first-generation WRX STI has a particularly unforgiving ride.

First Generation Subaru WRX VA Facelift

The 1st-generation Subaru WRX was facelifted for 2018 and it was a subtle rework. Not that we mind, as we prefer the 1st generation's chunky styling over the mundane 3rd-gen WRX.

2018 - 2021 Subaru WRX 1st Gen Facelift Front Changes CarBuzz
2018 - 2021 Subaru WRX 1st Gen Facelift Front Changes

Subaru kept the same design for the headlights. The bumper is new and incorporates more aggressive slots on either side for the fog lights and turn signals1, and the lower air intake is now completely blacked out right down to spoiler level, whereas the lower lip was previously color-keyed to the body2. The grille loses its fussy three-tier design and is now simply a honeycomb mesh with a single horizontal black bar in the middle3.

2018 - 2021 Subaru WRX 1st Gen Facelift Rear Changes CarBuzz
2018 - 2021 Subaru WRX 1st Gen Facelift Rear Changes

The rear was carried over, but that's fine. It already looked intense thanks to dual exhausts on either side, an integrated diffuser, and a subtle spoiler.

2018 - 2021 Subaru WRX 1st Gen Facelift Side Changes CarBuzz
2018 - 2021 Subaru WRX 1st Gen Facelift Side Changes

Apart from the new alloy wheel designs1, the side profile remained the same. However, you can see the new front fog light and turn signal slots from the side2.

2018 - 2021 Subaru WRX 1st Gen Facelift Interior Changes CarBuzz
2018 - 2021 Subaru WRX 1st Gen Facelift Interior Changes

The WRX received a big upgrade in 2016, but it's worth noting that lower-trim first-year models did not have the touchscreen interface. Subaru only made it standard on all models from 2016.

In 2018, Subaru made more interior changes, removing the separate climate-control readout from the dashtop so that the color display screen situated there - now with totally redesigned graphics - can be made bigger1. The gauge cluster's numerals and main graduation marks are changed from red to white and the pointers from white to red2. Subaru added its Eyesight Driver Assistance package to models equipped with the CVT transmission. The system was optional on all but the top-end model but became standard fitment in 2020.

Engine, Transmission and Drivetrain

The standard WRX uses the basic hot hatch recipe known to all automotive enthusiasts. A 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine delivering 268 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The STI model uses a more traditional 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 305 hp and 290 lb-ft. These engines do share one commonality that you won't find on any other hot hatch. They're equipped with 4-cylinder boxer engines, giving them an extremely unique soundtrack. In the WRX it's muted, but the STI uses it to great effect. Another unique feature is Subaru's symmetrical all-wheel-drive, standard on all models. It's the main reason why both cars are so effective at covering ground at high speed. The AWD system inspires huge amounts of confidence, even in the hands of a novice driver.

The strangest thing about the VA WRX is the gearbox options. Naturally, Subaru includes a six-speed manual as standard on both the WRX and the WRX STI, but a CVT transmission is also available. Performance and CVTs aren't words meant to be used in the same sentence, but Subaru gave up on old-school torque converter automatics a while ago. In all seriousness, it's not all bad. The CVT does make the WRX more appealing to a broader audience, and the gearbox allows for more advanced safety features to be equipped to the car. The 2.0-liter turbo's maximum torque is also available from just 2,000 rpm. CVTs generally work better when bolted to engines with a high torque output, and the WRX's powertrain certainly qualifies.

2.0-liter Flat Four Turbocharged DOHC FA20F
268 hp | 258 lb-ft
Horsepower
268 hp
Torque
253 lb-ft
Transmission
Six-speed manual / CVT automatic

The former Impreza WRX used to use the same 2.5-liter flat-four as the STI, but when Subaru decided to ditch the "Impreza" part of the car's name, it also dropped 500 CCs. Actually, the FA20F 2.0-liter turbocharged flat-four works like a charm in what's supposed to be a less hardcore but still speedy vehicle. It's much smoother than the older 2.5 engine and less vocal. It also uses a chain drive for its camshafts. Some people miss the iconic Subaru exhaust sound, but it can be a tad annoying if you just want to get home after a long day at work. And besides, there are various aftermarket solutions available to fix this problem. It is mated to a TY75 six-speed manual transmission or TR690 Sport Lineartronic CVT. The engine is generally reliable, but because it uses direct fuel injection, it is prone to carbon build-up on the intake valves at higher mileages. It can also develop oil leaks.

2.5-liter Flat Four Turbocharged DOHC EJ257
305/310 hp | 290 lb-ft
Horsepower
305/310 hp
Torque
290 lb-ft
Transmission
Six-speed manual

The STI was not built for comfort. It's a physical assault on the body and a sucker punch to the senses. First, the 2.5-liter flat-four engine is a carryover from Subaru's rallying days, which means that is still the old EJ257 engine that was launched in 2004 with traditional indirect multi-point injection and a cambelt. The engine is unrefined and suffers from massive turbo lag. Once you get over that initial hesitation, it absolutely flies. Power output was 305 hp at launch and increased to 310 hp for the 2019 model year courtesy of optimized induction and exhaust systems.

The suspension is rock hard, and the shift via the TY85 six-speed manual transmission is meaty but satisfying. You can't have this model with a CVT gearbox. The neighbors will likely also complain about the noise the STI makes during a cold start too. Due to the cambelt changes, the EJ257 requires more routine maintenance than the FA20F in the standard WRX, and while it can be reliable, it is not really robust enough to withstand radical modification, so it's best left in stock form.

2015-2021 Subaru WRX 1st Generation Real MPG

According to the EPA, the standard manual WRX is the most efficient of the bunch. Yet another reason not to get the CVT. As expected, the STI decimates a tank of fuel when driven hard. In real-world conditions where people obey the speed limit, it's not that bad. The gas tank size is 15.9 gallons. Treat it gently, and you should get over 370 miles between refills.

EPA MPG (city/highway/combined)Real-World Combined MPG*
WRX 6-speed manual20/27/2328.7
WRX CVT18/24/2121.7
WRX STI / STI 6-speed manual16/22/1819.2
WRX STI Type RA 6-speed manual16/22/1817.5

* Real-world mpg and MPGe figures are provided by the EPA. Once a car has been on sale for a significant period of time, the EPA gets real-world figures directly from the customer base. These figures are then provided on the EPA website. Real-world figures are not available for certain models due to a lack of sales, or not enough people partaking in this after-sales survey.

Safety

2015 to 2017 models have a basic line-up of traditional active and passive safety features. These include traction and stability control, ABS brakes, a backup camera, tire-pressure monitoring, and seven airbags, including a driver's knee airbag. The Limited has automatic headlights with LEDs for the low beams; LED headlights are standard on all three STI trims, with the STI Limited getting auto headlights as standard. For 2016, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and lane-change assist are added to the STI Limited; these are optionally available on the WRX Limited. The EyeSight frontal-collision mitigation system is optional only on the WRX Limited with the CVT, because it cannot be paired to the manual transmission; it includes automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, cornering fog lights, and lane-keep assist. For 2017, automatic headlights are made standard across the board. The optional EyeSight package, still only offered on WRX Limited CVT, gains reverse automatic braking.

The blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert becomes optionally available on the base STI as well, but only for 2017; it disappears from 2018. The EyeSight driver-assistance suite is standard on both the 2019 WRX Premium and Limited trims with the CVT.

US NHTSA Crash Test Result 2021

From 2015 to 2019 the NHTSA never had the opportunity to test the WRX. It went over for a visit in 2020, equipped with the EyeSight driver assistance systems as standard. The WRX did exceptionally well, scoring the full five stars in every category.

Overall Rating:
(5/5)
Frontal Barrier Crash Rating:
(5/5)
Side Crash Rating:
(5/5)
Rollover Rating:
(5/5)

1st Generation Subaru WRX VA Trims

There are five trims in the range. The standard WRX is available in base, Premium, and Limited trims. The more hardcore STI is only available in base and top-spec Limited trim. We list the trims in chronological order, and every following trim has all the equipment of the preceding model unless otherwise noted. Some annual changes are applied to all trims in the line-up, such as the addition of the Starlink infotainment system for the 2016 model year, with a 6.2-inch touchscreen display in the center stack, smartphone app integration, and the addition of automatic headlights and auto-up front electric windows for 2017.

Along with the 2018 facelift, Subaru addressed complaints about noise levels by adding more insulation to dampen road noise, as well as fitting thicker glass and better rubber seals. The suspension was revised to improve both ride comfort and handling. In 2019, the Starlink touchscreens got bigger all round and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto became standard.

There were a few special editions as well:

  • 2015 STI Launch Edition. For 2015 only, there was an STI Launch Edition based on the base STI; on the outside, it is differentiated from the base car by its WR Blue Pearl paint and gold-finish 18-inch BBS alloys. It has the same seats as the base STI, but with blue accents, as well as an STI short-throw shifter, blue leather inserts on the doors, STI floor mats, a black Alcantara console lid, and keyless entry and start.
  • 2016 STI Series.Hyperblue. This is a limited-edition version of the STI in Hyper Blue paint. It comes with black STI badging, side mirrors, 18-inch BBS alloy wheels, and black Alcantara-and-leather seats with Hyper Blue stitching. Only 700 were made.
  • 2018 STI Type RA. In reference to the modified Type RA NBR race car that Subaru developed to set records on world-famous racing circuits, a limited-run of only 500 STI RA ("Record Attempt") cars were made for the 2018 model year. The manual transmission's third gear is given a shorter ratio, connected to a new short-throw shifter, while inverted Bilstein shock absorbers are used as part of the RA's track-optimized suspension. It gets a carbon-fiber roof and rear wing, lightweight 19-inch BBS alloy wheels with 245-series Yokohama Advan rubber, a new front splitter, and red accents on the grille and the rear bumper. Inside, it gets a numbered plaque and more red detailing.
  • 2019 Series.Gray. Based on the base WRX and STI, the Series.Gray special edition is painted gray, has black 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and start, automatic, self-leveling, and cornering bi-LED headlights, LED fog lights, and comes with the Performance Package as standard, which includes Recaro front seats (with eight-way power adjustment for the driver), red brake calipers, and more durable brake pads. The sunroof is deleted to save weight. Only 1,000 were made - 750 WRXs and 250 STIs.
  • 2019 STI S209. For 2019, the STI S209 limited edition is introduced with 341 hp. Only 209 were allocated to the US - it's very rare. It has special Brembo brakes, Recaro seats, Dunlop high-performance tires, Bilstein shock absorbers, and a carbon-fiber roof.
  • 2020 WRX and WRX STI Series.White. The 2020 Series.White cars are available with Ceramic White paint only, with matte-bronze 18-inch alloys on the WRX. The WRX STI Series.White inherits the matte-bronze 19-inch alloys used on the 2019 STI S209. The WRX Series.White is based on the WRX Premium but with the Performance Package fitted as standard, which includes Recaro seats, red caliper Brembo brakes, and a sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein dampers, along with matte-black badging and LED headlights and fog lights. The WRX STI Series.White is based on the Base STI and adds heavy-duty steering-rack mounts, Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, mono-block Brembo brake calipers, a mesh grille, and Cherry Red exterior accents.
WRX Base
2015-2021
Engine
2.0-liter turbocharged flat four
Transmission
Six-speed manual
Drivetrain
AWD

The 2015 base model is hardly basic. It has 17-inch alloy wheels, upmarket sports front seats upholstered in cloth, height adjustments for the driver's seat, 60-/40-split and folding rear seats, automatic climate control, leather trim on the shift knob and the manually tilting/telescoping steering wheel, power door locks and windows, cruise control, a backup camera, and a 4.3-inch dashtop vehicle-information display. From the start, every model came with an iPod/USB interface, a CD player, HD Radio, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack, Bluetooth audio and phone connectivity, and six speakers. This model only has access to the six-speed manual transmission.

The 2016 model gains the 6.2-inch Starlink infotainment system that adds smartphone app integration. The 2017 model gets optional navigation (with a seven-inch touchscreen), an additional USB port, automatic headlights, and auto-up front windows. The 2019 Base gains a larger 6.5-inch Starlink infotainment screen, now with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto included.

WRX Premium
2015-2021
Engine
2.0-liter turbocharged flat four
Transmission
Six-speed manual / CVT automatic
Drivetrain
AWD

The 2015 Premium has everything the Base car has but gains larger 18-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, a trunk-lid spoiler, a sunroof, a windshield-wiper de-icer, and heated side mirrors. On the inside, Subaru ramps up the luxury with heated front seat. This trim gains access to the optional CVT gearbox. Like all the other trims, the Premium also gets the range-wide annual updates applied to the base trim for 2016 and 2017, as well as 18-inch alloy wheels for 2017. Along with the 2019 infotainment improvements, the Premium trim and up gain the seven-inch Starlink touchscreen with full smartphone integration. The 2020 Premium gains keyless entry and push-button start.

WRX Limited
2015-2021
Engine
2.0-liter turbocharged flat four
Transmission
Six-speed manual/CVT
Drivetrain
AWD

Besides everything fitted to the Premium, Limited models have leather seats with eight-way power adjustment for the driver. The headlights are automatic and have LEDs for the low beams. Its 17-inch wheels are replaced by 18-inch alloys for 2017, in tandem with the Premium trim.

STI Base
2015-2021
Engine
2.5-liter turbocharged flat four
Transmission
Six-speed manual
Drivetrain
AWD

The STI matches the specification of the base WRX, but it comes with a few model-specific features like aggressive 18-inch alloy rims, that giant rear wing (which can be deleted in exchange for a low-profile spoiler), headlights with LED low beams, fog lights, various driving modes, a limited-slip differential front and rear, a driver-controlled center differential, larger Brembo brakes with performance brake pads, and body-hugging Alcantara-and-leather seats with red bolster accents. The climate control is also dual-zone, as opposed to single-zone as in all the WRX models. The 2018 facelift brings new 19-inch alloy wheels to all the STI trims, and 2020 introduces a new front bumper and push-button start.

STI Limited
2015-2021
Engine
2.5-liter turbocharged flat four
Transmission
Six-speed manual
Drivetrain
AWD

The STI is the raciest model with the most features. In addition to the base STI's features, this model has high-luster 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, leather upholstery, an eight-way electrically adjustable driver's seat, a power sunroof, a high-end single-CD 440-watt Harman Kardon audio system with nine speakers, navigation, and keyless entry and ignition.

First Gen Subaru WRX Features

WRX BaseWRX PremiumWRX LimitedSTI BaseSTI Limited
Back-Up CameraSSSSS
Bluetooth ConnectionSSSSS
Leather SeatsN/AN/ASN/AS
Keyless EntrySSSSS
Keyless StartN/AN/ASN/AS
HD RadioSSSSS
Alloy WheelsSSSSS
SunroofN/AN/ASN/AS

Interior, Trim And Practicality

Subaru WRX 1st Gen Interior Overview Subaru
Subaru WRX 1st Gen Interior Overview

While the WRX, and especially the STI may be racers for the road, they are surprisingly practical thanks to four doors, four seats, and a large trunk. Some interior trim is below par, but for the most part, it's a nice place to spend time. We just wish Subaru spent more time making it feel special. Apart from the contrast red stitching and the racy shifter in the six-speed manual model, there's not much to tell it apart from one of Subaru's generic crossovers. Ergonomically, it's fine. All of the major controls are easily within reach, and the climate control buttons are separate from the touchscreen interface. In early models, the touchscreen interface is a bit dimwitted, but the unit in later models runs Apple CarPlay and Android Auto without any lag.

Space is generous in the front and rear, though it's not the five-seater Subaru claims it is. The middle seat is simply too narrow, and there's a drivetrain tunnel where the passenger's feet are supposed to go. The total trunk capacity is 12 cubic feet, but the seats can be folded forward in a 60/40 split to increase the space on those odd occasions you need it. Otherwise, 12 cubes are enough for the weekly grocery shop, or a weekend away for a family of four.

Trim (2021)WRX BaseWRX PremiumWRX LimitedSTI BaseSTI Limited
Carbon Black checkered cloth seatsSSN/AN/AN/A
Carbon Black leather seatsN/AN/ASN/AS
Black leather and synthetic suede seatsN/AN/AN/ASN/A

2015-2021 WRX Maintenance and Cost

Like most cars, a WRX oil and oil filter change costs in the region of $150. The cost of annual maintenance varies depending on what needs to be done. Routine service and health checks are around $300 while replacing all the belts, spark plugs, flushing the coolant, and inspecting all of the major components can cost up to $1,500. For a car like the WRX and WRX STI, it might be smart to look at a third-party maintenance plan. Turbo and complete engine failure are not uncommon, and in that situation, you can expect to pay between $2,000 to $3,000 for a complete overhaul.

Keep in mind that the WRX and STI engines are quite different; the former has a maintenance-free chain drive but its valves are prone to carbon build-up due to its direct injection, while the latter has traditional indirect injection and no carbon problems, but it does have a cambelt that must be changed every 105,000 miles according to the manufacturer. On a performance car like this, we would never leave the belt for that long and 60,000-mile intervals provide more peace of mind. The oil should be replaced at 7,500 miles, but we recommend doing it at 5,000 miles instead, as these are performance cars. Stick to the lower interval anyway if you operate your vehicle in freezing or dusty temperatures, if it idles for prolonged periods of time, or if you occasionally track it. We list a few common service items below; for more information on anything ranging from the wiper-blade or oil drain-plug size to replacement light bulbs, your local Subaru dealer or auto-spares shop can help you out.

1st Gen WRX Basic Service

Engine Oil Change Including Filter

2.0-liter FA20F Engine (WRX):

Oil capacity: 5.1L (5.4 quarts)

Recommended oil type and viscosity: 5W-30 fully synthetic

How often to change: 5,000-7,500 miles

Average Price: Around $68

2.5-liter EJ257 Engine (WRX STI):

Oil capacity: 4.25L (4.5 quarts)

Recommended oil type and viscosity: 5W-30 fully synthetic

How often to change: 5,000-7,500 miles

Average Price: Around $62

Sparkplugs

2.0-liter FA20F Engine (WRX):

Part Number: 22401AA830

Replacement: Every 30,000 miles

Average Price: $109 for four

2.5-liter EJ257 Engine (WRX STI):

Part Number: 22401AA670

Replacement: Every 60,000 miles

Average Price: $79 for four

Air Filter

2.0-liter FA20F Engine (WRX):

Part Number: 16546AA10A

Replacement: Every 30,000 miles

Average Price: $24

2.5-liter EJ257 Engine (WRX STI):

Part Number: 16546AA12A

Replacement: Every 30,000 miles

Average Price: $25

Battery

All models

Size: Group 35

Part number: N/A

Replacement: Every 3 to 5 years

Average Price: $210

1st Gen WRX VA Tires

Here is the tire size for each WRX model:

WRX Base, 2015-2016 WRX Premium, 2015-2016 WRX Limited
Tire Size:
235/45R17
Performance summer:
$417-$1,000 per set
2015 WRX STI Launch Edition, 2015-2018 WRX STI Base, 2015-2018 WRX STI Limited, 2016 WRX STI Series.HyperBlue, 2017-2021 WRX Premium, 2017-2021 WRX Limited, 2020 WRX Series.White
Tire Size:
245/40R18
Performance summer:
$507-$1,222 per set
2019-2021 WRX STI Base, 2019-2021 WRX STI Limited, 2018 WRX STI Type RA, 2020 WRX STI Series.White
Tire Size:
245/35R19
Performance summer:
$836-$1,628 per set
Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 Extreme Performance Summer on STI Series.White:
$1,635 per set
2019 STI S209
Tire Size:
265/35R19
Performance summer:
$944-$2,048 per set

Check Before You Buy

Technical Service Bulletins according to the NHTSA. Check service book for:

2015-2021 Subaru WRX recalls are mostly minor. The most well-known is the Takata airbag recall, which also affected several other manufacturers and millions of cars. The airbag problems include missing rivets, incorrect installment, and propellant degradation.

Other common problems and recalls include incorrect seatbelt stitching and improperly tightened left and right front damper brackets. There are a few known engine recalls, though the first is more related to the fueling system. The vent shut float valve in the fuel tank did not meet specifications, and Subaru recalled around 9,000 WRXs because of the possible fire risk. The second engine recall was for premature piston wear due to the incorrect heat treatment during the manufacturing of the pistons. It's also sometimes known as the Subaru WRX misfire recall. Subaru picked up on the problem quickly and, as a result, only 270 cars had to be recalled.

In 2015 the WRX was recalled twice. The first time was for a subwoofer wire that may overheat and cause a fire, while the second was for a crack in the turbo intake duct. The latter problem carried over to 2016 models. 2016 models equipped with Eyesight were recalled for a collision-mitigation braking system that may malfunction. As it was only available on top trim models, this is a WRX Limited problem only. The 2018 and 2019 Subaru WRX fuel-pump recall was for a failing fuel pump that may cause the engine to stall.

Here are a few relatively common OBDII error codes to be on the lookout for:

  • The Subaru WRX P0000 error code indicates a general misfire condition. P0300 codes are all misfire codes, with the last digit indicating the number of the misfiring cylinder, so on a 2015-2021 Subaru WRX, P0302 would indicate that cylinder number two is misfiring.
  • On a 2015-2021 Subaru WRX, P000A, P000D, P0017, and P0024 indicate a camshaft-position issue that may be caused by any number of reasons.
  • The P0107 Subaru WRX error code indicates a problem with the manifold absolute pressure (MAP) sensor.
  • On a 2015-2021 Subaru WRX 2.0, a P0137 or P0420 code would indicate a bad oxygen sensor.
  • The Subaru WRX P0171 and P0172 error codes most often indicate the presence of vacuum leaks, leading to anomalous readings from the oxygen or MAP sensors.
  • The P0327 code on Subaru WRX 2015-2021 models indicates that a knock sensor is not working properly.
  • On a 2015-2021 Subaru WRX, code P0606 most likely means the engine or powertrain control module has failed.
  • P0852 and P113A on a 2015-2021 Subaru WRX are transmission error codes. P0852 indicates that there is a problem with the Park/Neutral safety switch and P113A indicates that
  • The P113A Subaru WRX 2015-2021 error code indicates a faulty exhaust gas temperature (EGT) sensor.
  • On any Subaru WRX, the P1604 code indicates a non-starting condition, usually due to a lack of fuel supply.

1st Gen Subaru WRXSubaru WRX Common Problems

EJ257 2.5-liter Engine Problems (WRX STI)

The Subaru EJ engine family predates the FB/FA, and all engines share similar design features - they're typically noticeably oversquare (the bore being significantly greater than the stroke), have traditional multi-point indirect fuel injection, and employ a belt to drive the overhead camshafts. The EJ engine was notorious for suffering head-gasket failure that took Subaru far too long to sort out. Though 2015-2021 Subaru WRX STI head-gasket problems can still occur, these issues were mostly sorted out by 2011 and will probably not affect the 2015-2021 WRXs. Meticulous maintenance with the cooling system always topped up with the correct water/antifreeze blend and topped-up oil is critical for the engine's longevity, especially because boxer engine's gaskets are always exposed to the coolant. Look for any evidence that the gaskets might be failing, like external oil or coolant leaks from the gaskets, as well as signs that the coolant and oil have mixed. Oil with coolant in it will appear milky, and oil will turn coolant murky and sludgy - and block cooling passages. Oil levels are critical too; low oil levels quickly lead to problems such as overheating, excessive wear and - in boxer engines in particular - to oil starvation of engine components under cornering forces.

The EJ257 can suffer from turbo failure, and this might happen as soon as 50,000 miles on abused and/or neglected engines, although it should typically last until 125,000 miles. Modifications and increased boost bring on failure earlier. A failing turbocharger might develop a whining sound, a drop in power, and will cause the engine to consume oil. Ringland failure is also not uncommon on many EJ engines such as the EJ257 with their high-silicone pistons that are very strong, but also relatively brittle. Ringland failure due to detonation, heat, bad tunes, high intake temperatures, abusive driving, and low-octane fuel will lead to improper support of the rings, but there are also other internal failures of various components that will usually be announced by knocking or ticking sounds, compression loss, smoke from the exhaust, loss of oil pressure, or excessive oil consumption. A reliable EJ257 must be stock standard, meticulously maintained, with all its fluids topped up, and running sweetly and quietly, because any repair will be expensive.

Oil leaks are common on boxer engines and one of the relatively common Subaru WRX STI problems, with the EJ257 being the exception, is with the seals and gaskets usually starting to leak from around eight years or 100,000 miles. This most commonly affects the valve-cover gasket, although oil-pan gaskets and main seals can also start to leak.

Mileage: Head gaskets on affected engines usually fail from 100,000 miles. Turbochargers can fail from 50,000 miles but usually last until 125,000 if kept stock. Many of the internal failures are due to mods, abuse, lax maintenance, overheating, or low oil levels and not mileage, which is why a full service history and a once-over by an expert is important on these cars.

Cost: Replacing the head gaskets will cost well over $1,000. Used turbochargers may be available for $500, but one from Suburu will cost at least $1,000, plus $600 to fit. Valve-cover gaskets will probably not cost more than around $50, but the labor for fitment is about $400.

How to spot: A blown head gasket may leak coolant and/or oil to the outside of the engine, so look for external leaks, a wet engine, and liquids on the floor underneath the car. A breach between water and oil galleries will cause coolant and oil to mix, turning the oil murky and milky and turning the coolant oily and sludgy - and the oil cap will have a foamy/oily deposit on it. Both coil and coolant levels will drop, overheating may occur, and steam (coolant) and blue smoke (oil) may come from the exhaust with the engine hot. Gasket failure may cause air to enter the cooling system and air in the heater core will cause the heater to blow cold - and bubbles will show in the coolant overflow reservoir with the engine idling. Various internal component failures like con-rod bearings, piston ringlands, and rings may cause knocking/ticking sounds, excessive oil consumption, smoke from the exhaust, or a drop in oil pressure. Oil leaks will be visible on the outside, with a wet engine, oil in the spark-plug holes, and on the floor. When it drips on hot engine parts, puffs of smoke and a burnt-oil smell will occur. The oil level might be low, with all the potential problems that follow on from that.

FA20F 2.0-liter Engine Problems (WRX)

The FA engine in the normal WRX shares the FB's chain drive, which should be maintenance-free if the oil is replaced at regular intervals. Remember that the engine has direct injection, so deferring oil changes will accelerate chain wear. Direct-injection engines also suffer from carbon build-up on the intake valves due to the oil vapors sucked in through the positive crankcase ventilation (PCV) system, with excessive build-up becoming a problem as early as 60,000 miles. However, you might have a clear run until 100,000 miles if you meticulously maintain the engine and replace the oil frequently. Turbocharger intake ducts can crack, causing an engine stall, but these should all have been replaced under a recall, so make sure the work was done.

Oil leaks are quite common beyond 100,000 miles from the valve covers mostly, but also from the oil pans and main seals on occasion. These are the most common Subaru WRX oil problems. Beware of modified engines, which fail far more easily than the stock engine if the boost is cranked up too high. Take an expert along to check out the vehicle and make sure the service history is complete, and there are no signs of neglect or abuse.

Mileage: Excessive carbon build-up usually occurs between 60,000 and 100,000 miles. Oil leaks occur from around 100,000 miles, mostly from the valve covers.

Cost: Walnut blasting the intake valves can cost between $400 and $600. Leaking seals and gaskets are cheap, but labor can add up, depending on what must be replaced.

How to spot: Exessive carbon build-up on the intake valves will cause irregular idling, misfiring, a loss of power, and stumbling. External oil leaks should be visible on the engine and the floor. Check the oil regularly and don't allow the level to drop, as this will cause additional problems.

Clutch Problems

Besides some commonly reported problems, there was never a 2015-2021 Subaru WRX clutch recall. The most common 2015-2021 Subaru WRX manual transmission problems are clutch-related and these issues mostly affect 2015-2016 models, becoming quite rare thereafter. There seems to be an issue around the flywheel bolt not being torqued correctly on the assembly line, leading to serious clutch and transmission problems. Owners reported sudden failure and gear shift and throw-out bearing problems, sometimes on the highway. Since a clutch is a wear-and-tear part, many dealers did not want to honor the five-year/60,000-mile drivetrain warranty. To be fair, Subaru had no idea whether the owners had potentially abused the cars, but the mileage of the failures start below 10,000 miles. That's extremely low, even for a performance car. Every new model year got better until the problem was basically solved by 2018. Clutch problems are rare on the STI.

Mileage: Around 9,000-25,000 miles.

Cost: From $1,470 to $2,400 for a new clutch.

How to spot: A car with a bad clutch will cause grinding gear changes, a sticky or loose pedal, and you'll struggle to engage a gear. Do an extended test drive and get the car up to temperature to see if it has shifting problems. Give it some stick and feel how it shifts. It is a performance car, after all.

Less Common Problems And Problem-Free Areas

The most common thing customers like to complain about in terms of 2015-2021 Subaru WRX CVT automatic transmission problems has to do with the character of the transmission. The gearbox is not as responsive as the owners were hoping, but we think it's just buyer's remorse. Subaru made a valiant effort to make the WRX more user-friendly, but perhaps it just wasn't meant to be.

Some owners complained about battery problems. One owner complained about a factory-fitted battery failing after two years. This is the only known battery problem we could find related to the WRX and WRX STI. Another owner had issues about an AC belt being noisy at startup, but other than that, there were few HVAC problems, with the odd owner suffering a leaky condenser and others experiencing minor problems.

Other lesser issues include 2015-2021 Subaru WRX Bluetooth problems. Earlier versions of the touchscreen infotainment weren't very good and sometimes refused to work at all. Other times the screen lagged, or the Bluetooth wouldn't automatically connect. On the other hand, there were hardly any 2015-2021 Subaru WRX traction-control problems or any others related to the driveline of well-maintained cars.

Which One To Avoid

Given the clutch problems, we'd avoid early models. The number of complaints steadily dropped each year, with 2015 and 2016 being the worst model years. We'd also avoid all models equipped with a CVT transmission, as there are better sporty sedans with more conventional automatic transmissions out there.

Which One To Buy

Any model built after 2016 with a manual transmission is good. Note that only 2019 models and later come as standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which makes the infotainment system much easier to operate. Since you can navigate using third-party apps, you don't need standard navigation. The base model has everything you need if you want a driver's car. The higher trims add frivolities you don't actually need. If you are reading this, you're most likely an enthusiast wanting to know if the STI is worth it. The answer is yes. There's nothing else quite like it, even though there are faster, more comfortable, and more practical performance crossovers available. But an STI makes a statement, and if you want one, nothing else will do the job half as well.

1st Gen Subaru WRX VA Verdict

2015-2021 Subaru WRX models are good cars. Previous versions of Subaru's performance sedan struggled with turbo failure and head gasket problems, but apart from the known clutch issue, the WRX and WRX STI seem to do just fine over a period of time - as long as they remain stock, were not abused, and were maintained according to the book. Be wary of modified cars and take an expert along to check the car out. The potential engine problems can be a deal-breaker, but the criticism does not necessarily reflect on quality, as these performance cars are often driven hard, and the buyer must be aware of this. They do feel outdated in the performance crossover world, however. There are much faster cars at more-or-less the same price, but the WRX caters to a very tiny segment that believes the rally-bred sedan is still the king. It has been surpassed, but the WRX and STI offer a very unique driving experience that you either get or don't.

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