2022 Subaru WRX First Drive Review: Lost Its Edge

The 2022 Subaru WRX is a fine performance car. Entirely rebuilt from the ground up for this year, it has a tighter chassis, sharper steering, and a turbocharged 2.4-liter engine that delivers more grunt. It even looks better, too, once you get a closer glimpse of the entire package in person. But in a segment that’s improved exponentially over the past few years, getting behind the wheel of the new WRX didn’t feel as special this time around.

I spent the day driving the WRX on a superb stretch of road that snaked through the sequoia forests and along the coast near Healdsburg, California – and immediately there was something missing. Sure, the new WRX still drives well enough, but the glory days of “rally car for the road” are long gone, and so too is that unique edge that made the WRX so special in the first place.

While Motor1.com strives to rate every vehicle we test, Subaru has not released pricing on the 2022 WRX. We’ll attach a rating once that information is available. For more on how Motor1.com rates cars, click here.

Chunky, Chunky, Chunky

My first up-close look at the WRX suggested that this “new” model was merely a facelifted version of the car it replaced. And yet, the 2022 model shares zero sheet metal with the previous version and rides atop a totally new platform. The company’s versatile global architecture sits underneath, making the WRX 3.0 inches longer and 1.0 inch wider than the old version.

Side-by-side, the new WRX definitely looks sharper than the outgoing car – if by just a smidge. Aggressive C-shaped headlights and a hexagonal grille line the front end, with the cleaner backside sporting what Subaru calls “Magma” taillights and a subtle lip spoiler. And there’s a ton of cladding… like, a lot.

Those chunky fenders ultimately protect the WRX from rocks and debris if you decide to take it on the dirt, but the hexagonal golf-ball–like texture of the plastic actually improves aerodynamics, as well. Subaru designers saw how the ridges of a golf ball affected air travel and applied that same thinking here; oncoming air travels smoother over the bumpy surface than it would perfectly flat plastic. Even the front underbody uses the same golf-ball–like texture to keep airflow underneath the body seamless.

And when you pair that cladding with a bright hue, like the new Solar Orange Pearl or Ignition Red paint, the contrast is jarring but interesting. Subtler hues, like black and grey, do a better job of hiding all that plastic. But it’s a Subaru, so why not embrace the funkiness?

Less polarizing is the cabin, which is basically a copy-and-paste job of the Legacy, Outback, and Forester. Front and center on our Premium tester is the same 11.6-inch vertical touchscreen found in other Subaru products, with a few tactile buttons for things like A/C and volume controls surrounding it. The base audio setup is less impressive. And there’s plenty of black pleather; still not interesting to look at or use.

The seats come in three different fabrics: base cloth, premium cloth (tested here), and Ultrasuede on the GT model, with an updated seating design that makes them more form-fitting than the buckets they replace. And they are indeed comfier, even if the rest of the car isn’t. Tire noise is prevalent, wind noise too, and over uneven surfaces, the suspension can be extremely harsh.

Torque, Please

Subaru swapped last year’s turbocharged 2.0-liter engine for a more-robust 2.4-liter unit borrowed from the Legacy XT, Outback XT, and Ascent. It’s good enough for most of Subaru’s small crossovers, but it only adds three horsepower here compared the previous model, and no additional pound-feet of torque.

With 271 horsepower and 258 pound-feet, the new WRX feels barely quicker than its predecessor. It also fails to address the main issue of the previous generation: lack of low-end torque. This car still has too much turbo lag and minimal oomph below 2,500 RPM, meaning you have to bury your foot deep in the throttle to get this car off the line with any sort of purpose. You won’t have that same issue in something like a Hyundai Elantra N.

With 271 horsepower and 258 pound-feet, the new WRX feels barely quicker than its predecessor.

My butt dyno tells and the specs sheet tells me this model will hit 60 faster than last year, although Subaru hasn’t released that figure. The WRX Premium model tested here loses 31 pounds over the previous version (3,351 vs 3,320) and offers a quicker response.

And overall, the powerband improves, offering a more linear experience and eliminating much of the nasty rev hang you might have experienced in the previous car. The throttle response is significantly better, too; no more mushy, vague reply when you put your foot on the gas. And although this car lacks torque down low, once you get past that 2,500 RPM threshold, there’s a strong surge of power that pulls it up to 5,500 RPM and keeps the car at speed with ease.

The standard six-speed manual is a dependable gearbox with a perfect clutch catch point and moderately short shifts. Even though it lacks the short throws of something like a Honda Civic Si, the majority of WRX shoppers will still prefer this gearbox over the optional CVT. Subaru promises that the new “performance” CVT is much improved over the one it replaces, but I won’t get that chance to test that theory until sometime next year.

Although power and torque aren’t hugely improved, the WRX is noticeably better at cornering. A 14-percent increase in lateral rigidity and a 28-percent uptick in torsional rigidity over the previous model make the WRX feel tighter, flatter, and more focused. The suspension is rigid – too rigid at times for the extremely bumpy pavement of NorCal forests – but responds uniformly, with the continuous all-wheel-drive system offering unbreakable grip on the wet and icy forest roads.

Gallery: 2022 Subaru WRX: First Drive








Tweaks to the steering rack yield an 11-percent increase in quickness, which means I’m able to flick the WRX into corners with impressive speed. Subaru ditched the previous single-pinion steering setup and assist motor for a more advanced double-pinion pairing here, which in turn reduces friction. But in the process, it also reduces feel; the steering is too lightweight and vague, and it paints an unclear picture of what the tires and suspension are doing atop those twisty forest roads.

I will temper my objections by saying that this road was so technical at times that I felt neither I nor the car was properly equipped for it. And on less aggressive switchbacks, the WRX did feel more engaging, slightly. But in the back of my mind, I knew that this same stretch of pavement would still be closer to driving nirvana behind the wheel of an Elantra N.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Another major downside of the WRX is that Subaru limits an optional adaptive suspension and drive modes to the CVT model, which means you’re stuck with the aforementioned over-boosted steering and stiff suspension if you want the manual. That also means no active safety equipment, like Subaru EyeSight, and no option for sportier Recaro seats either. The packaging of the WRX is all out of wack.

Subaru hasn’t announced pricing for the new WRX just yet, but expect a sub-$30,000 starting price for the base manual model, with the “performance” CVT asking just a bit more. That makes it still a solid option price-wise in this segment, but it’s hard to recommend this car when alternatives like the Honda Civic Si offer more engagement, and the Hyundai Elantra N offers more power for around the same price.

The WRX is still an admirable performer, and certainly more stylish than the car it replaces. That’s assuming you can look past all that cladding. But a few things prevent it from being an instant recommendation. The packaging is odd, the interior is bland, and low-end torque still isn’t a match for the competition. Plus, it just doesn’t have that intangible cool factor that it once did. In a market where four-cylinder performance cars have evolved impressively in just a few years, the new WRX already feels like it’s a step behind.

Competitor Reviews:

  • Honda Civic Si: 8.8 / 10.0
  • Hyundai Elantra N: Not Rated

FAQs

How Much Will The 2022 Subaru WRX Cost?

Subaru hasn’t announced pricing details for the new 2022 WRX just yet, but the previous model started at $28,490 for the 2021 model year (with the $995 destination fee included). Expect the base model to see a slight increase this year, with the optional CVT asking a bit more.

Does The 2022 Subaru WRX Have A Manual Transmission?

Yes, the 2022 Subaru WRX features a six-speed manual transmission, but also offers a “Performance” continuously variable transmission available as an option. The six-speed manual will go on sale first, with the Performance CVT arriving in dealers shortly thereafter.

How Much Horsepower Does A 2022 WRX Have?

The 2022 Subaru WRX gains three horsepower over the previous model, with a total output of 271 horsepower. Torque remains the same from the previous generatin, staying at 258 pound-feet.

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