Beneath the top rung of performance Subaru Imprezas, the STi, there sits the original halo car, the Subaru WRX. Engineered to dominate the rally tournament it’s named after, the Subaru (W)orld (R)ally Cross(X) has been around since 1992 – but it’s the 4th generation VA-series now in our midst that presents the biggest leap forward for the car in its 25 year history. The recipe remains the same as always though – a Boxer 4 cylinder up front, a heavy dose of turbocharged boost, flared fenders and a big hood scoop, and all-wheel drive to plant the power to the ground.
Though there’s a new Impreza around, the WRX is based on the old one. As such, the interior is a generation behind. Though it’s more up-market than any WRX that’s come before, the design lacks artistic flair – it’s practical, and everything is logically laid out, but it doesn’t look special. Material quality has improved vastly, with soft touch materials and leather around the cabin – but the leather lacks the same quality found in German rivals like the BMW M240i, and certain trim pieces feel somewhat cheap.
Clever packaging, however, results in the best passenger space in class. Though the front sport seats are positioned a touch too high, head and leg room are still exceptional – only surpassed by the head and legroom for rear occupants. The trunk is also one of the largest in class, offering 12.0 cubic feet and a wide loading aperture. The rear seats fold flat in a 60/40 split for increased loading capacity.
Handling has always been a strong point of the Impreza WRX, but the VA-series WRX debuted brake-based torque vectoring for the first time in a WRX-badged model. The torque vectoring curbs understeer in the manual models with the 50/50 torque split, and in the CVT-equipped models with a 55% rearward torque bias it sharpens turn-in further and even induces oversteer. The razor-sharp turn-in is only matched by the crisp electronically assisted steering – recalibrated for 2018 to provide some of the best feedback of any EPAS system available.
For 2018, WRX also receives revised suspension tuning for improved handling and ride comfort. The WRX’s suspension is inherently firm, providing excellent support and resistance to body-lean when cornering. But the firmness compromises the ride quality on poor surfaces, with a choppiness arising on particularly rutted roads. Despite this, high-performance dampers soak up most imperfections to create a firm, yet pliant ride, and an unshakeable connection to the road.
Also new to the VA-series WRX, Subaru has ditched unequal length exhaust headers in favor of economy and efficiency – losing the traditional Boxer sound in the process. The new FA20 direct injection motor is 2.0-liters in displacement, and generates 268 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Symmetrical all-wheel drive is standard, as is a notchy 6-speed manual gearbox. Optional on some trim levels is a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with a rearward torque bias of 55% - a trait that aids handling, but robs it of straight line performance. It does however add an extra level of comfort.
The Subaru WRX is available in 3 trims, WRX, WRX Premium, and WRX Limited. WRX trim includes Subaru’s 6.2-inch Starlink multimedia suite, cruise control, and climate control, while the Premium model gets a 7-inch screen, a sunroof, and optional power-adjustable Recaro front seats. The Limited model gets LED headlights, 10-way power adjustable seats, leather upholstery, and keyless entry. Available on the Limited models is Subaru’s EyeSight safety technology, which includes blind spot detection, reverse auto-braking, and high beam assist. The WRX was awarded as an IIHS Top Safety Pick +, and scored 5/5 stars in NHTSA testing.
Not only is the VA-series Subaru WRX the safest ever built, but it’s the best to driver. Razor-sharp handling and chassis balance second to none make it the ultimate driver’s tool – but that comes at the expense of an interior lacking in premium feel, fit, and finish.