I still remember my first encounter with the Subaru WRX. Back in the mid-2000s, it was called the Impreza WRX; the manufacturer nixed ‘Impreza’ from the model name in 2015 with the introduction of the VA platform.
The formula back then for driving fun was quite simple: Get your standard compact econobox, put a turbo and AWD, upgrade the suspension, the brakes, and the wheels, and you’ve got a car that will give regular sports cars a run for their money.
Couple that with a ton of money invested in the World Rally Championship, and partnerships with a couple of video games, and you get a cult following that revels in the joys of racing humble four-cylinder cars as a replacement for displacement. A similar phenomenon happened at Mitsubishi with the beloved Lancer Evolution (sadly discontinued a few years ago).
Anyway, the Impreza WRX was the milder sibling to the hot-rod STI, with “only” around 220hp at the time. I had a demo car for a week, and outside of a track or a closed-course hill climb, the WRX had more than enough performance for a casual enthusiast.
Subtle it was not, with a gaping hood scoop, low-profile tires, and a bone-jarring ride. The clutch also doubled as a leg press workout. All good fun, and if you search Facebook Marketplace, you can see a couple of second- and third-generation models still selling for a small fortune. Later on, I also got to drive the STI, which was naturally even more fun to drive but also more expensive.
Subaru phased out the latter in 2021, leaving the WRX sedan and its wagon sibling as well as the BRZ in the lineup. In a market that can’t get enough of crossovers and pickup trucks, “fun” cars like the WRX are an increasingly expensive and rare sight on the road.
They’re toys for people with more than one car in their stable, and any practical shortcomings they have should be offset by the actual driving fun that can be had.
Today’s WRX has more power than ever before—271hp—but unless I’m mistaken, it has also never been as heavy. The second-generation Impreza WRX weighed a svelte 1,390kg; this WRX is a hefty 1,620kg. And it looks it.
Park an old Impreza WRX beside the new car, and the beefiness will be readily apparent. It’s a bit like seeing old high school photos of yourself and then looking in the mirror and seeing your current dad-bod physique.
The Impreza was never called beautiful back then, and nobody will say that the current WRX is easy on the eyes either.
It still has that functional hood scoop, the rear spoiler, the bulging fenders, and whatnot, but something about the general chunkiness lacks the charm of its predecessors. I still think the wedge-shaped, third-generation GR platform was the best-looking.
But you can’t deny that the extra heft has also created a roomier cabin. The old Impreza was a compact little thing, with not much legroom at the back and a cockpit that fit like a glove. Today’s WRX is fairly spacious; not limousine-roomy, of course, but much less claustrophobic.
The cockpit feels massive compared to its predecessors, but so much of that is also taken up by the ginormous infotainment screen and an overhead pod on the windshield for the EyeSight sensors and cameras. The climate control has physical buttons for temperature and blower.
The EyeSight system is a mixed bag. On the one hand, driver-assistance tech is a useful thing now what with so many distracted drivers who need their car to warn them if they’re about to hit something.
On the other hand, it’s all just added complexity, weight, and wasted space for a conscientious driver who just needs good sightlines all around and perfect ergonomics to make a car do his bidding.
The EyeSight pod takes up so much space at the top of the windshield that it blocks your view of traffic lights, and it always feels like you’ve got a giant sun visor down the middle of your sightline.
BUT. Take away the extra mass and the driver-assistance farkles, find an empty road with lots of turns and preferably some loose surfaces, and the WRX comes alive. Yes, even with an automatic (and worse, a CVT, a much-maligned type that prioritizes smoothness over responsiveness).
You’ll not be taking an automatic-equipped WRX to a track, but in the real world and on public roads, the transmission acquits itself well enough and makes the chore of driving errands a little less tiresome.
Put the car in the S# drive mode, click the paddle shifters, bury the accelerator, and the WRX surges forward with a lovely snarl from its signature flat-four motor.
One defining trait of AWD is that you have more grip mid-turn than a two-wheel-drive car, allowing you to ‘push’ the car through the initial onset of understeer. Or you can flick the tail for a little oversteer before ‘pulling’ it back in line with countersteer and some throttle.
At the limit, the WRX is a forgiving beast. The steering is sharp and precise, the body roll is almost nil, and the brakes are rock solid when you stomp on the pedal. It loves to be pushed hard, and you would have to be absolutely crossed up and over the limits of adhesion to stuff it in a ditch.
Lovely, beautiful playtime, and the car’s connected feeling will make you wish you owned your own mountain pass. You’ll want to ‘rest’ the CVT after several minutes of sustained high-intensity driving, though.
For our photo shoot with multiple high-speed passes and accelerations, the CVT made a noticeable thunk shifting from Drive to Park and back, although the car didn’t throw any warning lights on the dash.
A 20-minute break to cool the red mist from our eyes and let the transmission fluid cool down brought things back to normal. Get the stick shift if you plan to thrash your WRX with regularity.
Out on more benign environments like the expressway, the WRX can cruise comfortably at yawn-inducing levels with very little wind and road noise. That’s where the adaptive cruise control, the blind spot detection, and the lane-keeping tech prove their worth.
It’s only on choppy pavement that the sport suspension and the low-profile tires still remind you of the car’s hardcore nature, inducing a rhythmic ‘whack!’ and ‘ka-thump’ that had me wondering if the tires had multiple flat spots. Turns out the surface of C5 Extension was just really awful.
Ruined sightline aside, top marks for the WRX’s front bucket seats: Alcantara fabric, thick side bolsters, and power adjustability, including lumbar support. They’ll ruin you for a regular car’s seats, too. I felt like I was loose and flailing about when I got back in my own car.
A WRX with the EyeSight package and the CVT now costs P2,758,000. Quite a hefty sum for a four-door and not nearly as practical as your average crossover, but in the same ballpark as other performance-oriented cars. Besides, that’s the price you pay if you want some soul back in your ride.
Better yet, you can still get a manual-transmission WRX and without the EyeSight boondoggle for P2,608,000—a bit more than a BRZ with a stick shift, but roomier and slightly more practical.
It’s not for everyone and it still isn’t pretty, but everything is forgiven the moment you find yourself on a quiet road. If you want to feel alive behind a steering wheel and revel in those rare moments when you can push a car as hard as you dare, the WRX is as game for the task as it always has been. Just a bit more comfortable now.
SUBARU WRX CVT SEDAN
|2.4-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder turbo gasoline
|271hp @ 5,600rpm
|350Nm @ 2,000-5,200rpm
|4,670mm x 1,825mm x 1,465mm
|A lot of fun to thrash around. Comfortable enough to use as a daily driver.
|EyeSight windshield pod is an eyesore. Mediocre fuel efficiency of 5-6km/L in the city.