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The All-New 2022 Subaru WRX Proves That Moderation Can Indeed Be Exciting

Bridging the wide gap between boredom and brutality

  • Redesigned for 2022
  • New engine and transmission
  • Updated technology along with a large tablet-style infotainment screen
  • Roomier interior
  • Launches the fifth WRX generation

What is the WRX?

Subaru's hotly anticipated 2022 WRX follows the successful original recipe of a sport compact sedan fitted with a punchy, turbocharged flat-four engine that powers all four wheels. The outgoing generation lasted longer than usual — from 2014 to 2021 — and was sorely in need of an update. This redesign is wonderful news for its existing, and potentially new, fan base. It'll face off against primarily front-wheel-drive competition, including the Honda Civic Si and Hyundai Elantra N. The Mazda 3 with its optional turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive is another possible rival.

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Rabid enthusiasts were riled up when the last-generation WRX debuted a very watered-down exterior design. Subaru remembered this and has gone for something more distinctive this time around. Notably, the new WRX has sharper and more aggressive styling, accentuated by dramatically flared fenders to complement its inspiring and playful driving dynamics.

How does the WRX drive?

The 2022 Subaru WRX gets its power from a turbocharged 2.4-liter horizontally opposed (boxer) engine that produces 271 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Initially, the only available transmission will be a six-speed manual with standard all-wheel drive. A continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) will be available soon after the WRX goes on sale.

The automaker calls the CVT the Subaru Performance Transmission and says it's been modified specifically for the WRX. For instance, it can make fixed-ratio gear shifts or maintain a gear ratio, just like a regular automatic. You can also put it in an eight-speed manual mode and bang through gears using the paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

So far we've only driven the WRX with the manual transmission. For those who don't know how to drive a car with a stick shift, the WRX may be one of the best incentives to learn. The WRX is easy and fun to shift, with a clutch pedal that's appropriately weighted and has a friction zone intuitively located in the pedal stroke. That means your leg won't get fatigued in traffic and it's easier to keep from stalling than in other cars with trickier-to-use clutch pedals.

The shift gates are a little clunky at first, but with just a bit of practice, it gets easy to quickly toss the shifter into your desired gear. Those well-spaced gear ratios also do a great job of keeping the power on tap while you enjoy the signature boxer engine warble coming from under the hood and the quad exhausts.

Acceleration is pleasantly brisk though not awe-inspiring, which is what we'd expect. It has enough power to have a lot of fun on a tight, winding road or an autocross, but not so much that it becomes unwieldy during a bumper-to-bumper commute. The brakes are easy to modulate for smooth stops in routine driving and also inspire confidence for more enthusiastic driving. The brake pedal is optimally in tune with the location of the throttle pedal to allow for effortless throttle blips if you know how to perform heel-toe downshifts (one of the most gratifying of manual transmission skills).

Historically, handling performance has been one of the WRX's great attributes and this new model follows suit. Our initial test drive took place on challenging rain-slicked roads in California's wine country, and even here we found the little sedan to be composed and trustworthy. There's enough grip from the all-season tires that it makes it difficult to kick the rear wheels out in turns (which was probably for the best in those rainy conditions). When midcorner ruts and bumps are encountered, the suspension ably keeps all four wheels on the pavement. They don't bounce nervously creating a busy ride quality. That allows spirited drivers to playfully bound from turn to turn, living out their rally racing fantasies.

In essence, the 2022 WRX has the right amount of performance to fill the gap between the comparably mundane Subaru Impreza and what we expect will be a forthcoming WRX STI with more power and capability.

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

How comfortable is the WRX?

The WRX's increased handling abilities do reduce ride comfort compared to the regular Impreza, but not terribly so. You certainly feel every imperfection in the road resonating through the wheels, body and seats, but impact harshness is well managed. The suspension tuning demonstrates a good blend for those who want a fun weekend car that won't punish them Monday through Friday.

For the first time in WRX history, adaptive dampers will be available, but only on the top GT trim that comes with the automatic transmission. Those dampers promise a smoother ride in the normal Comfort drive setting and deliver similar handling prowess as the standard suspension in the Sport settings.

The front seats feature strong side bolstering to keep the driver well planted when cornering. In higher trims, the addition of faux suede upholstery inserts make you feel as though you're Velcroed to the seats. Average-size occupants should have enough space, though larger passengers may feel a bit constrained. Over many hours in the seat, we remained comfortable, with no hard points or fatigue to report.

We did notice quite a bit of road and wind noise, however. Even at sub-highway speeds, there's noticeable tire noise when you're on coarser road surfaces. Water spray and debris kicked up under the car are also louder than what we'd expect, making the WRX sound rather hollow and tinny. Wind noise is also detectable around the mirrors well before you reach highway speeds.

How's the WRX's interior?

The WRX's new interior isn't what we'd consider chic or stylish, but then again, we prefer intuitive layouts and ease of use over flashy design any day of the week. The horizontal dash is dominated by a large 11.6-inch vertical touchscreen that is flanked by a handful of convenient physical buttons and knobs. Materials used throughout the cabin are noticeably improved from the previous-generation WRX, making this new one competitive against other sedans in the class.

There's excellent outward visibility from the driver's seat. Much of the credit goes to the thin front roof pillars that give you a nearly unimpeded view through sharp turns. For those in the rear seats, there's plenty of foot room and legroom for the average adult, while headroom should be adequate for those shorter than 5-foot-8 or so. Materials quality here is lower than in the front, with more hard plastic surfaces, but that should improve durability and longevity if you have kids back there.

How's the WRX's tech?

The large central touchscreen is easy to use thanks to large on-screen buttons and a logical menu structure. As is the case with most vehicles, we prefer using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto over Subaru's native infotainment interface, and we're pleased with the way the iPhone interface (which is what we tested) displays in an on-screen square format. Responses to your touches are quick.

Unfortunately, if you're looking for Subaru's comprehensive EyeSight suite of advanced safety features and driver assistants, you'll have to pick the automatic transmission. As it stands, a blind-spot monitor is one of the few features available on the manual-transmission WRX.

How's the WRX's storage?

The trunk can hold up to 12.5 cubic feet of cargo. That figure is a cube or two smaller than the average sedan in the class, but the space itself should be plenty for the typical user. Helping matters are 60/40-split folding rear seats, a wide trunk opening and low liftover height that will reduce the effort needed to stow larger objects.

Storage for small personal items is barely adequate. Cupholders are on the small side but feature a removable divider for added flexibility. The bin under the front armrest is quite a bit smaller than those in competitors, and the rubberized phone tray under the touchscreen is too small for large smartphones. The door pockets are pretty small too.

How economical is the WRX?

With a projected starting price in the $30,000 neighborhood, the 2022 WRX can cost several thousands more than rivals that include the Honda Civic Si, Kia Forte GT and Hyundai Elantra N. That said, none of these competitors offer all-wheel drive, which comes standard on the WRX. The turbocharged Mazda 3 does come standard with AWD and starts just over $30,000. As a sporty little sedan, you'll be paying for the aforementioned performance rather than a nicer interior or added refinement and tech of the Mazda.

Once past the purchasing stage, you'll also be spending more to operate a WRX compared to other sedans. Subaru says to expect EPA-estimated fuel economy of 22 mpg combined in city/highway driving for the manual transmission and 21 mpg for the CVT. Most other rivals are higher. The Elantra N with its manual transmission gets 25 mpg combined, for example, and the Mazda 3 with the turbo engine gets 27 mpg. Subaru also recommends premium fuel in order to take advantage of the engine's full potential, but it can run on regular unleaded with a likely decrease in power output.

Edmunds says

Among other higher-performing (but not high-performance) sedans, the all-new 2022 Subaru WRX is a bit rougher around the edges. That may sound like a drawback for those seeking comfort and refinement, but it's a ringing endorsement for those familiar with the WRX's rally racing heritage and Subaru's history of producing fun and engaging vehicles.