While a slew of vehicles has swum in its wake, nothing has been able to replace the Subaru WRX as the world’s favorite road-going rally car. Despite owing its own existence to the original Audi Quattro, the souped-up Impreza become synonymous with vehicular hooliganism and (for some reason) vaping.
Delivered onto the United States as part of the 2002 model year, the WRX has been maturing as slowly as its hardcore fan base of two decades. This remains apparent as the company has opted to give the car a new platform, new engine, and an updated appearance while adhering closely to the fundamentals. That means customers should be getting more of what they wanted out of the car — at least in the relative sense.
Now riding on the ubiquitous Subaru Global Platform, the 2022 WRX’s turbocharged 2.4-liter flat-four only sees a three-horsepower bump over its predecessor. Whereas the last incarnation of the all-wheel-drive model enjoyed 268 hp, the new one is delivering 271 hp and 258 pound-feet of torque. Gleefully, the manufacturer said the engine could be mated to either continuously variable automatic transmission or a six-speed manual (with a real handbrake) that’s likely to be the more enjoyable option.
While we’re wondering about the implications of the WRX suddenly sharing a platform with SUVs, the company claims the swap is providing the model with a lower center of gravity and superior rigidity. Subaru says suspension mounting points are now 75 percent more rigid (vs the previous generation) while the chassis’ overall torsional rigidity goes up by 28 percent. The upgrade also comes with electronically controlled dampers, improved steering feedback, and a swaybar that’s been mounted to the chassis (instead of the subframe) to reduce roll. Noise, vibration, and harshness are also supposed to be much improved.
Frankly, the marketing makes the old model sound like it was made out of sewn-together garbage. But don’t forget that the company now wants to sell you the new one and has every interest to make it sound like the 2022 model year is changing the game.
That may be true but you’re not going to notice that from the outside. Despite being loaded with touches to distinguish itself from prior generations, the 2022 model year isn’t mesmerizing to behold. The silhouette is largely the same as before, with the new model getting more modern lamps (fore and aft) and some toned-down touches from the VIZIV concept vehicles. Your author doesn’t find it particularly attractive, though that’s been true of most Impreza models — some of which later grew on me like a fungus (e.g. Blobeye, Bugeye, and VA).
Regardless, those who just want the car for its performance chops know that the aftermarket will have plenty of options to spruce up the exterior in a couple of years. Until then, the WRX comes with 17- or 18-inch wheels are available that you can get with Dunlop SP Sport Maxx summer rubber, big fenders, and a rather aggressive hood scoop.
But the sense we’re getting is that Subaru is trying to refine the car to appeal to a broader market and a core audience that’s no longer fresh out of high school. Press materials include a sizable amount of text explaining how the car is more comfortable than before, whilst retaining its existing performance chops. The previous central display (which topped out at 7.0 inches) now defaults to an 11.6-inch touchscreen (with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto) that’s clearly supposed to be the central focus of the cabin. EyeSight Driver Assist Technology with new safety and convenience features are likewise available. These are the kinds of things you’d expect to hear about the next Ford Explorer, not a zippy sport compact designed to be thrashed year-round.
Those dissatisfied with standard WRX may want to step up to the GT model. While other trims (Premium and Limited) focus on delivering amenities, the GT adds adaptive dampers with multiple suspension settings, unique 18-inch wheels, summer tires, and suede Recaro front seats. The STI model is also supposed to arrive in the near future with a motor rumored to output 400 horsepower.
Subaru’s recipe for the WRX has worked so well that the car has managed to outlive nearly all of its historic rivals. But peripheral competition has been on the rise of late, most of which has resulted in cars a bit more garish than Subaru is willing to get and manage to keep their prices low by sticking with front-wheel drive (e.g. Veloster N). We’re thinking Subaru wants to hold the space it has and target the WRX right between the less-powerful, front-wheel-drive Volkswagen GTI and harsher cars bent exclusively toward delivering performance. That presumably means enhanced livability at the expense of maximizing thrills. But a more comfortable WRX isn’t necessarily a bad thing (as Subaru was heading in that direction anyway) and we’ve yet to see how it stacks up in the real world. It may yet eviscerate everything else in its price range, which is TBD but likely to stay under $30,000, along with a few AWD vehicles carrying loftier MSRPs.
Become a TTAC insider. Get the latest news, features, TTAC takes, and everything else that gets to the truth about cars first by subscribing to our newsletter.