Fifteen years ago, the Subaru WRX introduced many Americans to the notion of all-wheel-drive sport compact performance. The 2017 Subaru WRX powers forward with a 2.0-liter "boxer" four-cylinder engine, just like the original, while the maximum-performance WRX STI variant gets a 2.5-liter boxer with even more verve.
Either way, there's certainly no shortage of speed. The base WRX checks in at 268 horsepower, while the STI boasts 305 hp. That's a lot of ponies for a sedan the size of a Corolla. Sure-footed all-wheel drive makes the most of that impressive output whether the road is wet or dry, joining with accurate steering and crisp handling to provide a true sport-sedan driving experience.
A purist-pleasing six-speed manual transmission is standard equipment, while a commuter-friendly continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is optional. Because gearless CVT transmissions can be unsettling for drivers accustomed to moving through the gears one step at a time, Subaru has programmed this one to "shift" through a series of simulated gear ratios. Consequently, it feels much like a regular automatic to the driver, even though there's no actual shifting going on.
Glancing at the sticker price of the WRX or especially the STI, some shoppers might expect luxurious appointments and a refined ride. These aspects are notably absent. The WRX is available in three different trim levels with a number of appealing amenities. But the overall experience remains relatively austere and intense, particularly with the STI's firmer suspension. There's also a fair amount of hard, cheap-looking interior plastic, which is disappointing in a car of this price range. The WRX family isn't for everyone; in other words, it's aimed at enthusiastic drivers who are willing to forego some comfort and polish in return for performance that inspires.
On the safety front, Subaru's EyeSight bundle — including lane-departure prevention and forward collision mitigation with automatic braking — is available, though only on the high-end Limited model (and only when equipped with the CVT). According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, crashworthiness improves from "Good" for the regular WRX to "Superior" for the EyeSight-equipped model.
Fuel economy ranges from 23 mpg (20 city/27 highway) for the manual transmission WRX to 19 mpg combined (17 city/23 highway) for the manual-only STI, with the self-shifting WRX splitting the difference. You can certainly find more fuel-efficient performance cars in this day and age, though the endearingly quirky character of Subaru's engines will add value for some shoppers.
At the end of the day, the 2017 Subaru WRX is an all-season athlete meant for those who want every trip to be a thrill ride. Just like the original all those years ago, the standard 2017 WRX is a no-brainer if you're looking for AWD performance on a budget, though again, pricier versions bring cosseting luxury-brand alternatives into play. If you're a fan, Edmunds' peerless reviews and pricing data can help you find the WRX that's right for you.