Or did the competition just get better?
Is there a car that can do everything for $40,000? Take the kids to school, handle the morning commute, have fun at track days, go canyon carving, and tackle the occasional snowstorm. Previously, our firm answer would have been the Subaru WRX Sedan. Subaru's winning formula of four doors, four-wheel drive, and six manual gears is a combination that few automakers have ever attempted to copy, making the WRX essentially the only game in town for several years. But is that still the case in 2022?
We recently tested the 2022 WRX, which is now entering its second generation after being detached from the Impreza line. This latest WRX features a bit more power, some controversial styling changes, and notable improvements to the interior. However, with the turbocharged, manual, AWD segment soon to be occupied by Toyota with its 300-hp GR Corolla, the WRX is no longer the obvious choice.
The WRX arrives controversially with large plastic fender flares that would make an Isuzu VehiCROSS blush. Most people love or hate this design, but we stand somewhere in the middle. We get what Subaru was going for here; it wanted to make the WRX look like a rally car for the road. Those fenders do serve an aerodynamic purpose and they are likely more protective if the WRX is driven on a dirt road. Unfortunately, we doubt many owners will ever take their WRX off-road.
We think the design would have worked better if Subaru went the Volvo CrossCountry route and turned the WRX into a lifted sedan or even made a Crosstrek WRX. The wheel arches would then have more of an actual purpose because the car would have sufficient ground clearance.
If you hate the arches but still want a WRX, we'd suggest buying this car in black, like our test car. Unlike the bright orange launch color, the black hides the plastic arches so they stand out less.
For 2022, Subaru replaced the outgoing 2.0-liter turbocharged boxer-four in favor of a larger 2.4-liter unit. Despite the healthy displacement bump, the engine only produces three more horsepower (271 total) and the same amount of torque. Subaru says the magic lies deeper than the numbers, where the new WRX is more responsive with a broader torque curve. That's all well and good, but since we didn't drive the old WRX back-to-back with the new one, we were hard-pressed to feel a major difference.
This is a quick car, hitting 60 mph in around 5.5 seconds. However, front-wheel-drive competitors like the Hyundai Elantra N and Honda Civic Type R feel sharper and more enthusiast-focused. It doesn't help that the Elantra sounds like a world rally car and the WRX sounds like any other boxer-four... lousy. The WRX also maintains this odd balance of a firm ride and paradoxically squishy handling, an attribute that's not exhibited by the Honda or Hyundai.
All of our complaints with the WRX's lack of thrill would have been addressed with the upcoming STI variant. There's just one major problem: Subaru will not make an STI from the current WRX platform as it waits for electrification technology to evolve. This is a crushing blow to enthusiasts, who have been begging Subaru to replace the EJ engine that has powered the WRX STI since 2005. With a massive wing, more power, and better tires, the current WRX could be transformed into an AWD weapon for the street. Sadly, we'll never see it happen.
Starting at a hair under $30 grand ($29,605 for the base model), the 2022 WRX is still the most affordable path to get an AWD performance car with a manual. Even the Elantra N and Civic Type R cost more. We don't know how much the Toyota GR Corolla will cost, but it will almost certainly cost more than $30,000. This gives Subaru a slight advantage, but that lead quickly crumbles as you move up the trim ladder.
At a bare minimum, we'd opt for the WRX Premium for $32,105, which adds keyless entry, 18-inch wheels, a larger touchscreen, and more. Our Limited trim tester starts at $36,495, making the WRX more expensive than most of its rivals. And that's not even the most expensive option. The new-for-2022 GT trim costs a whopping $42,395, but is only available with Subaru's Performance Transmission (a CVT). Sadly, the GT is the only way to get the Recaro seats and adaptive dampers, two options we'd absolutely want on a WRX. Locking these features to the automatic is a baffling move that makes zero sense to us.
In a vacuum, the Subaru WRX represents the same experience it always has - a turbocharged manual car with AWD, wrapped up in a practical four-door package. If anything, Subaru has made the WRX more livable with a nicer interior, better technology, and a more manageable torque curve. It's a genuine improvement. But these improvement weren't made in a vacuum. The competition is stronger now.
The Honda Civic Si offers similar practicality (without AWD) for thousands less, while the Type R is sharper and more exciting. Hyundai's N division now offers three options that put a much larger grin on your face (again, without AWD). Subaru's claim to fame is its Symmetrical AWD system, making it the option for enthusiasts who live in a cold climate. But the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla is coming with all of its 300-hp three-cylinder fury, surpassing the Subaru with an adjustable AWD system that can send up to 70% of its power to the rear wheels. Once it arrives, we're afraid the WRX may be forgotten.
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