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Try mightily though they have, Subaru’s stylists could not hide the fact that the WRX is wholly derived from the Impreza sedan.
And so, here’s how we hit 60 mph in 4.8 seconds: We held the engine at the 6700-rpm redline, jumped off the clutch, shifted out of first at about 5300 rpm, and held on to second until the car hit the redline in second at 61 mph. To get down to a repeatable 4.8-second time, we subjected the WRX to this mechanical mayhem 14 times. To its credit, it didn’t utter a peep of discontent. The clutch didn’t slip, no driveshafts turned into fusilli, and the six-speed ’box shifted and responded exactly as it did when we started. Will you try this with your new WRX? We doubt it. And if instead you just ease off the line, your times will likely be somewhere closer to our 6.3-second rolling-start 5-to-60-mph figure.
A machine that takes a licking but keeps on ticking is deeply endearing. Just ask anyone who wears a Timex. But that’s not the only reason we’re charmed by the new WRX. Subaru has made its latest version into a handler, and that’s this generation’s big leap forward. Previously, the WRX left dynamic finesse to the pricier STI version. But compared with the old WRX, the new car’s structure is 41 percent stiffer for better handling fidelity, and the spring rates have been cranked up by 39 percent at the front and 62 percent in the rear to further sharpen up things. There are also larger anti-roll bars and firmer bushings, and the aluminum lower control arms of the strut front suspension are unique to the WRX. Sticky Dunlop Sport Maxx RT summer tires are standard.
To help keep the WRX stable in limit-cornering situations, the Active Torque Vectoring (ATV) system uses the front brakes to momentarily clamp one wheel, which helps steer the car through a corner. On the skidpad, our WRX test car clung fast at 0.95 g.
It takes less than a quarter-mile of driving to feel the newly stiffened WRX jiggling the untoned parts of your body. On patched pavement or over freeway expansion joints, the car will jostle you, but the rigid body quickly attenuates impacts. Compared with the Impreza upon which it is based—but with which it no longer shares a name—the WRX gets more high-strength steel in its A-pillars, a thicker floorpan, and additional gussets that connect the fire wall with the passenger cabin. The payoff for the firm ride is excellent body control and sports-car-like resistance to both diving under braking and squatting under acceleration.
To combat brake fade, Subaru fits 12.4-inch vented rotors (0.8 inch larger than the last WRX’s) and two-piston calipers up front, and 11.3-inch solid rotors with single-piston calipers in back. A larger master cylinder and a more responsive booster are intended to improve brake feel. Although they do feel better than before, the WRX’s brakes lack the bite and arresting grab of a Ford Focus ST ’s or a 2015 Volkswagen GTI ’s. That said, the WRX didn’t exhibit any fade when it executed back-to-back stops from 70 mph in only 160 feet.
Snaking in and out of the switchbacks on the Angeles Crest Highway above Los Angeles, the WRX is confident and stable but never boring. There’s a sense of playfulness here, with ample feedback from the chassis. The six-speed has pedals set up perfectly for heel-toe downshifts and boasts throws shortened by 12 percent over the old WRX’s five-speed ’box. Shifting requires a shove, but the gates are closely spaced and the action is precise. Turn-in grip is excellent, and next to its front-drive competition, the WRX isn’t quite as nose-heavy. And with four-wheel drive, the WRX has no problem turning its 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque into corner-exit speed. A new electric-power-steering system boasts Porsche-like tuning; spin the flat-bottomed 14.5-inch wheel, and the nose dives into corners precisely and predictably. Unlike many EPS systems, the WRX’s feels natural as the steering effort increases with cornering loads.
The flat-four under the aluminum hood is a member of the FA engine family that powers the turbocharged Forester XT and the naturally aspirated BRZ and Scion FR-S. Direct injected, the engine inhales 15.9 pounds of peak boost (or slightly more during brief overboost periods) and has a 10.6:1 compression ratio. Redline is painted on the tach at 6700 rpm when you get the six-speed manual, which you should, because the other option is a CVT. Power tapers off slightly past the 5600-rpm power peak. Around town, the throttle is jumpy, and it’s all too easy to get more boost than you really want.
In the interest of refinement, engine noise is muted so less of the flat-four’s characteristic growl makes it to the occupants’ ears. There is some low-rpm boom from the four-tip exhaust system, but the new WRX is no louder than before at full throttle. At a steady 70 mph, the WRX is slightly quieter than before. But on certain types of pavement, the Dunlops hum with a coarseness that we found unrefined and annoying.
We’d like more refinement in the interior, too. A modified version of what you’d find in a regular Impreza, the cabin offers soft-touch plastics throughout, but they have a sheen that won’t win over parishioners from the Church of the Volkswagen GTI. Bits of fake carbon-fiber trim attempt to inject some visual appeal, but the stuff is obviously counterfeit. This is not to say, however, that the interior is light on substance. Near the top of the dashboard sits a 4.3-inch multifunction display that provides audio and climate-control information, Bluetooth settings, a boost gauge, and a rear view while backing up. Automatic climate control is standard, as are extremely comfortable cloth sport seats. We found it easy to find a good driving position, and outward visibility is excellent for a modern car.
Aside from a 0.6-inch increase in length, the WRX is the same size as before, although a one-inch wheelbase stretch delivers a larger rear seat with almost two more inches of legroom. Despite the similar footprint, overall interior space is up, and trunk space has grown from 11.3 cubic feet to an even 12. On the safety front, there’s a new knee airbag on the driver’s side as well as three-mode stability control—on, off, and off with brake-based yaw control (ATV). The firmer structure and additional standard equipment have bumped up the curb weight to 3314, an increase of 64 pounds.
The WRX’s cabin would benefit from better materials, but the 4.3-inch multifunction display (bottom left) is a nice, helpful touch.
Hot-hatch aficionados will have to shop at Ford or VW stores, as the WRX is now available only as a sedan. And, aside from the nose, the new WRX is not a very pretty four-door. As we go to print, Subaru has not announced pricing, but we’re told it will be very close to the outgoing car’s. We expect that our mid-level Premium model with sunroof and heated cloth seats will wear a sticker of $30,000. Base versions will likely come in at $27,500, and a fully loaded Limited model with navigation and CVT automatic will likely crest $31,000.
If we were shopping in this class and really wanted four-wheel drive, we’d look no further than the WRX. In fact, the new Rex reminds us of the old, track-ready STI and has us speculating about the upcoming next-gen STI. If it is meaningfully more aggressive than this WRX, it will be one of the most extreme road cars ever to wear the Subaru badge. We hope the good people at Fuji Heavy Industries don’t chicken out.
Highs, Lows, and Verdict
Superb steering and body control, sports-car grip and acceleration, robust drivetrain, it’s not front-wheel drive.
Jumpy throttle, lumpy ride, some turbo lag, tire noise, just look at it.
A better-handling WRX retains the soul of a rally car.