If you're looking for a grocery-getting sedan with best in-class fuel economy, a comfortable driving experience and a reserved demeanor, you've come to the wrong review. The 2017 Subaru WRX is as akin to those things as Congress is to bipartisan deal-making. Instead, this is a compact four-door offering an entirely different group of virtues: a raucous rally-based heritage, beefy turbocharged power and precision handling and steering.
The WRX and even-faster WRX STI are powered by turbocharged, four-cylinder engines. Both offer decent fuel economy but place the emphasis on power: 268 ponies in the regular WRX and 305 hp in the STI. You can make the most of this power, too, thanks to the extra traction provided by the WRX's sophisticated all-wheel-drive system. Hit the gas exiting a tight turn and the WRX won't lose any power due to overzealous wheelspin. Of course, there's the traditional benefit, too: all-wheel drive provides extra traction in wet weather.
Precise steering and track-worthy handling are other WRX hallmarks. Unfortunately, this focus on performance comes at the detriment of some modern creature comforts. The WRX interior is outfitted with decent tech, but it's not going to wow you with superb build quality, low levels of road noise or stylish design. Granted, those concerns fade away pretty quickly when you're testing the limits of grip along an empty canyon road on your day off. It's therefore a simple question you need to ask yourself: Are you willing to trade a bit of comfort and practicality for fun?
Before you answer that question, though, you should take a look at what the competition is up to. The standard WRX goes up against cars like the Ford Focus ST and Volkswagen GTI. All three are quick and reasonably priced, but the ST and GTI are a bit more grown up. Their interiors and on-road performance are a bit more refined, and they offer enhanced practicality thanks to their hatchback body styles. On the downside, though, their front-wheel-drive layouts don't give you as much performance potential.
If you're looking for rivals for the more powerful WRX STI, you'll again be seeing Ford and Volkswagen badges. This time, it's the Focus RS and Golf R. Both share the same benefits noted above, but they have all-wheel drive to put them back in the running, along with some serious power upgrades of their own. Overall, we think the 2017 Subaru WRX is undoubtedly fast and fun to drive, but that competition is stiff. A test-drive is probably the best way to figure out which is your favorite. Just be sure to ask for a route with plenty of curves.
Every WRX model gets standard traction and stability control, antilock disc brakes, active front head restraints, a rearview camera, front seat side airbags, side curtain airbags and a driver knee airbag. Blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and lane departure warning systems are optional.
Subaru's EyeSight is optional on the WRX Limited with a CVT. The package adds automated pre-collision braking (both forward and in reverse), lane departure warning and intervention systems and independently operating, steering-responsive foglights to help illuminate curves.
In Edmunds brake testing, a WRX with summer tires stopped from 60 mph in a short 106 feet. A slightly heavier (by about 100 pounds) STI actually took a tiny bit longer at 108 feet in our test. To its credit, the STI's upgraded brakes didn't fade as much after multiple panic stops, compared to the regular WRX.
The WRX received the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's highest rating of "Good" for small overlap and moderate overlap frontal-offset collision tests, as well as a "Good" score in the side-impact, roof-strength and seats/head restraints (whiplash protection) tests. The WRX's EyeSight option received the highest possible rating of "Superior" for its optional crash avoidance and mitigation technology.
trim levels & features
The 2017 Subaru WRX is only available as a sedan. There are a total of five trim levels when you split up the standard WRX and the more powerful WRX STI. The standard WRX can be had in base, Premium and Limited trims; the WRX STI comes only in base and Limited trim levels.
The base WRX comes with 17-inch wheels wrapped in summer performance tires, a trunk-lid spoiler, cruise control, sport front seats with cloth upholstery, automatic climate control, a 6.2-inch vehicle information display, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, a rearview camera, 60/40-split folding rear seats, Bluetooth connectivity and Subaru's Starlink six-speaker infotainment system with a 6.2-inch touchscreen, satellite and HD radio, CD player, USB and auxiliary inputs and smartphone app integration.
Next up the trim ladder is the WRX Premium, which adds 18-inch wheels (also with summer tires), foglights, a sunroof, heated front seats, windshield wiper de-icers and heated mirrors.
The WRX Limited model adds to that with an eight-way power driver seat, leather-trimmed upholstery, LED low-beam headlights, keyless ignition and entry and a 7-inch Starlink touchscreen.
WRX Premium buyers who stick with the manual transmission can also get the optional 7-inch screen, plus a premium nine-speaker Harman Kardon audio system.
The WRX Limited with a manual transmission can be ordered with navigation and the premium nine-speaker media system, plus optional blind spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert systems. Limited buyers who select the continuously variable transmission (CVT) can also get those features, plus Subaru's optional EyeSight front collision mitigation system. It includes adaptive cruise control, automated emergency braking and lane departure warning/intervention systems, plus an electronic parking brake and steering-responsive foglights that help illuminate corners and curves. The EyeSight system is not available with the stick shift, though.
WRX STI base models come with all the WRX Premium items except the sunroof. The base STI also adds a more powerful engine, Brembo brakes, front and rear limited-slip differentials, driver-selectable modes for the center differential, a more aggressively tuned suspension and dual-zone automatic climate control. Step up to the STI Limited and you'll get back the sunroof and add unique 18-inch BBS wheels, keyless ignition and entry, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and the premium audio system with navigation.
Optional for the STI Limited is the no-cost choice between the iconic rally-style tall wing spoiler and a low-profile trunk lip spoiler. Note that EyeSight is not offered for the WRX STI.
There are also several dealer-installed options available for both the WRX and STI, including a performance exhaust (for the base WRX), an auto-dimming rearview mirror, short-throw shifter, various carbon-fiber trim, unique shift knobs and interior lighting accents.
For the standard WRX, power comes from a turbocharged 2.0-liter, horizontally opposed four-cylinder "boxer" engine that puts out 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. All-wheel drive and a manual transmission are standard.
A CVT with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters is optional for WRX Premium and Limited trim levels. Those paddles let the transmission impersonate either a six- or eight-speed automatic, depending on driving mode.
When we tested the standard WRX with the manual transmission, it went from zero to 60 mph in just 5.4 seconds. Subaru says the WRX with a CVT takes 5.9 seconds to cover the same distance. For some perspective, a VW GTI we tested (with the DSG automated transmission) took 6.1 seconds to accelerate to 60 mph. A Ford Focus ST takes 6.4 seconds to get to 60 mph.
EPA-estimated fuel economy for the WRX with a manual transmission is 23 mpg combined (20 city/27 highway), while CVT-equipped models are rated at 21 mpg combined (18 city/24 highway).
Power for the STI comes from a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder boxer engine rated at 305 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque. A beefed-up six-speed manual is the only transmission you can get with the STI. In our testing, the STI accelerated to 60 mph in just 5.0 seconds. That's quicker than a Golf R with the manual (5.3 seconds), but a Golf R with the DSG automatic rocketed to 60 mph in just 4.3 seconds in our testing.
EPA fuel economy for the STI is 19 mpg combined (17 city/23 highway) for the STI.
Regardless of engine/transmission choice, the WRX is a blast to drive. It steers nimbly and sharply, and you can utilize the all-wheel-drive system to put the power down a lot more quickly coming out of a turn than you can in a front-drive rival like the Focus ST. The WRX does exactly what Subaru meant it to be: it's a thrill machine that grips and rips with enthusiasm.
The standard WRX's turbocharged 2.0-liter engine bogs down a bit if you try to pull away quickly at low rpm, but it's strong throughout the rest of its operating range. There's a big surge of turbocharged power in the midrange that becomes quite addicting. The manual transmission's clutch is tricky to modulate smoothly, but given the overall enjoyment to be had from shifting your own gears, it's a small price to pay, in our opinion. If you don't want to row your own, the CVT is a good consolation prize, with steering-wheel-mounted shifter paddles and driver-selectable operating modes to present plenty of opportunity to make the most of the engine's output.
The more powerful, larger engine in the WRX STI raises the bar a few more pegs. Combine it with limited-slip differentials, hefty Brembo brakes and a beefed-up six-speed manual and you've got a truly serious performance sedan. It's a blast to drive and makes the most of its all-wheel-drive traction. The STI has a very stiff ride quality, however, which is jarring even for this class of car.
With the WRX, the emphasis is clearly on the performance, not the interior. As a driver's car, the driving position is spot on, as are the firm, nicely bolstered sport seats. Thin roof pillars provide for excellent outward visibility, and large side mirrors make it easy to monitor conditions to the sides and rear.
Interior design and layout are basic, with simple and easy-to-use controls, but not much in the way of frills. Audio quality and infotainment usability were previously sore spots for Subaru, but with this generation of WRX, things have improved quite a bit. Especially improved are the base audio system and the standard 6.2-inch screen.
The WRX has 12 cubic feet of cargo space in the trunk. This is below average for a small sedan. Also, most of the WRX's rivals are offered as more versatile hatchbacks (the GTI can hold up to 22.8 cubic feet of cargo behind its rear seats, for instance).
edmunds expert review process
This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.
We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.