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Affordable And Comfortable Fun: 2018 Subaru WRX

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When AWD is a must-have, Subaru has the clear answer.

Our first showcase in this week's series was the brilliant 2018 Honda Civic Si coupe and sedan. Clearly we're smitten with that car, and consider it one of the benchmarks for overall build quality, daily usability, comfort, and fun to drive. But it does have one particular caveat for some buyers. It's front-wheel drive only. For anyone who lives in parts of North America where winters are brutal and snow piles up, front-wheel drive is of little to no use. Weather wins. Always.

But having all-wheel drive at your disposal is one of the best ways to fight back. So what's the best Civic Si alternative for similar money? That's easy, the Subaru WRX. We've become accustomed to the more powerful and enthusiast focused WRX STI receiving a majority of the attention from us auto scribes, so we figured this is the ideal opportunity to give the WRX some well-earned attention. Based on the previous generation Impreza compact sedan, today's fourth generation WRX remains powerful and fun to drive enough despite its age. It was launched for 2015. Although a replacement is expected to arrive in the near future, the 2018 WRX still has plenty to offer.

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Powered by a twin-scroll turbocharged 2.0-liter flat-four with 268 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, buyers have a choice between a standard six-speed manual transmission or a $1,200 CVT with paddle shifters. Trust us, stick with the stick. And because of its standard all-wheel drive, the WRX may win over some potential Civic Si customers. As with all Subarus, save for the BRZ, the WRX features the automaker's Symmetrical AWD technology featuring a horizontally opposed lightweight engine. This combination allows for all four wheels to equally bear weight, thus maximizing the AWD's potential.

The heavy transmission is also located close to the middle for a lowered center of gravity. This ideal weight balance translates to one of the best-handling cars in its class. In regards to performance times, the WRX is certainly no supercar killer, but that's never been its goal. Expect a 0-60 mph time of 5.5 seconds, a standing quarter-mile time of 14.2 seconds at 98 mph, and a top speed, according to Subaru, of 144 mph. Indeed, not especially impressive, but the WRX's excellent body control, outstanding brakes, and precise steering are its best traits. For 2018, buyers can opt for the $2,050 Performance package, available only with the mid-range Premium trim equipped with the manual.

This package adds Recaro performance front seats and high performance front brake pads, which nearly eliminate brake fade. It also deletes the moonroof. Perhaps the WRX's weakest area, just like the more hardcore WRX STI, is the interior. Subaru has never been known for breaking any new design ground when it comes to interior styling, but it's made some solid improvements with its newest models. The WRX's dashboard is very straightforward, with buttons and knobs generally well situated, but it is all rather plain-looking. A leather-wrapped flat-bottom steering wheel with red stitching and a boost gauge do help, but there's still no mistaking the fact this design dates back to 2011.

Modern amenities like Apple CarPlay and Android are nowhere to be found, and the touchscreen infotainment system is laughable compared to what's out there now. Put all of that aside, however, and you have a well-built, reliable and immensely satisfying to drive rally-inspired compact sedan that can be driven year round. The rear seat, while not class-leading, is comfortable enough for a couple of adult passengers, but fitting three will definitely be snug. There's also standard 60/40 split-folding rear seats for increased trunk space. Offered in three trim levels, base, Premium and Limited, the 2018 Subaru WRX carries a base price of $26,995 and tops out at $36,955 for a fully-loaded Limited.

There are a bunch of STI accessories, such as STI 18-inch alloy wheels ($1,895) and a performance exhaust system ($1,169). Yes, it does cost a little more than the Civic Si, especially when bumping up trim levels, but that's part of the AWD trade off. It's your call whether or not it's worth the extra dough.