As much as I’d like to think I’d be a great product planner, I really don’t envy the people in charge of bringing the new Subaru WRX to market. It’s a car that has to be a sport sedan that’s also a daily driver. It has to make you feel like you’re driving a street-legal rally car while also being practical enough to pick up the kids and make grocery runs.
It would be so much easier to develop a true sports car. Or a basic compact sedan. But the people in charge of designing the new WRX didn’t have that luxury. They had to make a sport sedan that could also be a daily driver while also drawing in buyers who don’t already want a WRX. And that’s always going to be an incredibly difficult job.
Unfortunately, after all the talk about going out on a high note and this probably being the end of the internal combustion engine for the WRX, it feels like the 2022 Subaru WRX has gotten a little too grown-up for its own good. After all, if this is (presumably) going to be the last non-electrified WRX, why not make it the best possible WRX that anyone could possibly make?
Instead, we get a car that’s much better than the detractors will admit but not nearly as good as it probably should have been. Subaru will probably sell a shit-ton of them, but is this really the car Subaru wants to end ICE production on? Really?
(Subaru wanted me to drive this car so badly, it paid for my flight, put me up in a fancy-ass hotel in California, bought me a bunch of food and wine, and didn’t complain when I couldn’t appreciate their curated wine pairings.)
Design-wise, it’s actually hard to get mad at the new WRX. I wanted to care more about the wheel arches and their plastic surrounds, but if I’m going to be honest, I really don’t. The appearance isn’t actually that bad when you look at it with your own eyes, and the car is still generally decent-looking. Maybe handsome?
I don’t really know. All I do know is that I thought I’d care about the body cladding, and after driving the car, I definitely did not. I thought I would, but the driving experience changed my priorities. You may care a lot about the body cladding, but I promise you, that’s not what’s going to make you mad. Instead, you’ll be mad the new WRX is too tame. You’ll be mad it isn’t WRX enough.
The driving experience just isn’t special enough for the swan song of the non-hybrid WRX. It’s probably a better car, but dammit, the haters might have been right. You do technically get more power, but does it really matter? Not at all.
I still remember driving the last WRX for the first time. I lived in Boston, and the ride was rough. But it was one of those cars that I enjoyed despite the roads being too rough for the suspension. But that was Boston. I now live in Detroit where the roads are worse. Do I want to drive a new WRX in Detroit? No, I do not.
To be fair, though, we only drove the manual. All the better opinions are tied up with the CVT. Would the ride probably have been better with the adjustable suspension? I’d like to think the answer is yes, but I didn’t get to drive the WRX with the fancy suspension. I was only allowed to drive the car Subaru North America was able to give me: a mid-tier WRX with a manual transmission, the large 11.6-inch touchscreen and no suspension modes. If you want an adjustable suspension, you have to get the CVT.
In that configuration, it was fine. It wasn’t great, but oh well. I’m not sure exactly how to describe the steering, but it wasn’t great. Loose? Numb? Definitely uncommunicative. Somehow, the steering was worse than the last WRX, but it wasn’t actually terrible. After spending some time behind the wheel, I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it. I just came to accept it.
Light steering isn’t automatically bad, but in this segment, uninspiring steering definitely is. And if you don’t already like the squared-off shape of the steering wheel, you’ll probably hate it. It didn’t fit my hands well, and I’m not a fan. At speed, though, it’s not bad.
But where’s the fun? That was my main complaint about the whole car. It’s certainly capable. You can go fast in the new WRX, and the car itself is quite competent, but it’s not a car that really encourages you to go faster. It’s quick, but it doesn’t always feel quick. The manual is good but not great. The seats are supportive but could be better.
You can tell they engineered a serious performance car, but it feels like after that was done, another team came in to dial everything back just a bit to make it more appealing to Toyota Corolla buyers. Even the exhaust note is quiet for a WRX. And since there’s a good bit of road and tire noise even at low speeds, that means you can really only hear the exhaust if you keep the revs above 4000 or so.
In a way, these compromises make sense from a business perspective. People who probably wouldn’t have considered the previous WRX may find themselves tempted to try it out thanks to styling that is definitely more attractive in person, the fact that it isn’t intimidating to drive, the unintrusive exhaust note, the spacious rear seat and Subaru’s all-wheel drive.
They’re not the kind of people who are going to care about the 50:50 torque split, the fact that it doesn’t share any body panels with the Impreza, how functional the vents are or all the little improvements Subaru added to make this WRX better than the old one.
What they probably will care about, though, is the fact that despite improvements, the ride is still quite stiff. The roads on our drive route were definitely worse than average, and honestly, it started to get old after a while. I can’t imagine someone considering upgrading to “the cool Impreza” or cross-shopping against a 3 Series will be happy with how rough the ride is.
As for enthusiasts, I have a hard time seeing them getting excited about the rest of the car enough to justify the stiff suspension. Not that the new WRX is a bad car or a bad sport sedan. It’s just not as inspiring as I was hoping it would be. You can drive it fast, but will you want to? Will you enjoy wringing it out?
Now, it’s entirely possible that the higher-end models with the CVT and adjustable suspension could change my mind. I just didn’t get to drive them. And considering Subaru says 85 percent of last-generation WRX sales were manuals, it doesn’t really make sense to lock the more desirable performance features behind the CVT. Maybe Subaru’s focus groups showed that non-enthusiasts were willing to spend more money than dedicated manual drivers? I don’t really know.
I do get the feeling that the new WRX is going to outsell the old one. It’s more consumer-friendly than before, and as I said, it’s not a bad car. From a business perspective, Subaru probably made the right call. It’s just unfortunate that what’s likely the last ICE WRX isn’t as exciting as it could have been.
That’s especially true when you consider I very recently drove the new Hyundai Elantra N. It doesn’t have all-wheel drive, but that’s a competitor I found much more thrilling to drive. Subaru has yet to release pricing for the WRX, but I assume it’ll be pretty close to the $30,000 mark. But even if it costs a few thousand dollars less than the Elantra, I’d still say go with the Hyundai.
Which is definitely a weird thing to say. Instead of buying the new WRX, get a Hyundai instead. If I didn’t know it was true from my own experience, I wouldn’t believe it myself. And yet, here we are.
That said, if you have enough space and turn off stability control, you can still do donuts in the new WRX. So maybe there’s still a little bit of the old WRX still in there.