To start, I’d like to rattle off a few facts, as I am a statistics junkie (thanks Fantasy Football, you ass). Subaru is the ONLY carmaker in the world to get a 5-star crash rating on all of its cars. Subaru offers 8 distinctly different models (not accounting for hybrid, or GT/wagon variants) and that is the same amount of cars offered at Kia, 1 less than Hyundai, and only 3 less than Honda. None of those companies aced their crash tests. So by statistics alone, Subaru has an upper hand on its rivals in the safety department. Subaru also has all time AWD on all of their cars, less the BRZ, which is RWD, so that furthers the safety component in wet and snowy conditions. Lastly, according to a 2011 Forbes article, Subaru is 7th in brand loyalty behind such giants as Honda, Toyota, and Chevrolet. Clearly not #1, however it does show that Subaru is a quality car company that people do love and come back to year after year.
In my opinion, there really isn’t a bad Subaru. They’re all made well, priced competitively, and they’re not bad to look at less the Tribeca, which for some reason has the same grille as a Chrysler 200. Subaru’s are famously quirky cars that have a cult following and no other Subaru embodies this mantra more than the famous Impreza WRX.
The WRX is a rally-born, sports car that has been a cult hit with the tuner crowd since it’s inception in 1992. I’ve actually joined one of the forums to see what people say about this particular car, and there are no shortage of tuners on clubWRX.net. However, there are also people out there who keep it bone stock and use it as a daily driver. Many enthusiasts became fans when they saw Colin McRae win the World Rally Championship in a WRC Impreza model back in the late 90s. Can’t say I wasn’t one of them, but I never really considered the WRX to be in my top cars as a teenager. I was always more interested in the super or hyper cars than an AWD sedan with only 227hp.
Now, as I’ve become more educated on cars on the whole and since I really love how the WRX has it’s own community, this car really speaks to me. And there are so many variants to it. You have the base Impreza, the WRX sedan/hatchback, and the WRX STi sedan/hatchback. Each of which feature multiple engine and clutch options. There are endless options and ways to customize this car, and that’s just out of the factory. Subaru even provides tuned parts such as a stainless steel performance exhaust system and a short throw shifter with bushings. Subaru is as serious about the WRX as the people who buy them. I’d been lusting after this car for close to 2-3 years and the WRX is one of the top rated models in the segment, so I decided to go take a test drive.
Clayton, who sells for Ramsey Subaru in Ramsey, NJ, was a huge help and got me started with a test drive in a 2012 sedan. He assured me the 2012 would drive similarly to the 2013 Hatch I asked about so I got in touch with him on the message boards at clubWRX and he was more than willing to help me get in touch with my inner rally racer. Upon arriving, Clayton was with some customers and we (Kate and I) were told to wait in the seating area normally reserved for service. Stupid me, I scheduled a test drive on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. We ended up waiting an hour. But in the end it was worth it.
The Subaru WRX comes stock with a turbocharged 265hp/244lb-ft engine, 5 speed manual gearbox. Many have said that the normal throws in the WRX are quite long, but I did not notice as the car I test drove had the short throw shifter add on installed. It was quite smooth, but took a little getting used to as I was learning on a Mazda 3; a drastically different car. The Mazda 3 was smooth with the shifts and with the clutch while the WRX was a bit more savage. Overall though, this gearbox and shifting layout was easy to maneuver despite my limited time behind the wheel of a manual. I liked it a lot and the experience wasn’t lost on me.
It was rainy, but that was no matter as the WRX and its summer performance tires gripped the road with ease. The handling on this car, coming from the kind of cars I’ve driven, was second to none. Corners can easily be taken with reckless abandon if you were going to open it up on a back road. I didn’t find the AWD system took anything away from the handling at normal speeds. If it did, there would be a serious problem. The WRX was by far the best handling car I have driven so far and probably will drive from here on out.
The engine was fantastic. The power was quick and responsive and it sounded great. The WRX has a very unique sound for a sports car as it has a horizontally opposed, boxer engine. I loved the sound and the stock exhaust has a cool, grumbley noise. When I put my foot down I was suitably pressed back into my seat and I even scared my girlfriend who was along for the ride. Excellent power, check.
Other key areas the WRX performed highly in were braking and fun factor. Obviously you need good brakes to stop such a powerful car and the amount of fun you could have in this little pocket rocket can really only be topped by cars much more expensive. And you’ll need those brakes as the WRX pushes 3200 lbs in weight. For the price, you cannot find more fun in a hot hatch. The Focus ST is really the only competitor.
I was quite surprised by the interior and how roomy it was. I was fully expecting to feel cramped, but I felt more like a pilot. There was enough room for me, but someone over 6’ might feel a bit crowded. Our salesman, Clayton, was in the back and stood around 5’9” or 5’10” and had plenty of room. The hatchback version is a bit shorter than the sedan (7”) so rear legroom would be a bit tighter. I actually took a look in an Outback Sport they had on the lot as that would be the comparable hatch size of the WRX and it was roomy with the seats folded down. Definitely more than enough of cargo space for a run to Home Depot. The cabin was nicely appointed and the seats gave good support although I don’t think they would be good on trips 3 hours or longer. This is clearly a sports car and if you’re looking for one, you should know what you’re buying on the comfort side. If you’re ok with a harder ride accompanied by less lumbar support than you’d get in a family sedan, that’s fine, just don’t complain about it after you’ve made your purchase. Make sure you’re making the right decision for you and make sure you won’t have buyers remorse based on the seats. Personally, I wouldn’t be bothered by the these particular seats, but other passengers might not enjoy the ride quite as much. They’re not the ones who are engaged in driving. The ride was also a nice surprise as it wasn’t as hard as I assumed it would be. Even over bumps, the WRX was smooth, but still felt sporty. A better ride quality than my current car was apparent.
With the Limited trim option, a WRX buyer would get leather seats and HID headlights to add a bit of luxury to the equation. We did go to another dealer and sat in a Limited car and I felt it was quite nice. Leather was soft and supple and would improve the ride if you were looking to upgrade the interior.
There are, as with all cars, some downsides to the WRX. This is a sports car and no automatic is offered. I find that as no downfall, but the lack of that option might deter an average consumer. Then again, the average consumer for a WRX is not exactly Joe Schmoe. With that said, the WRX tech package does not even come close to the Sonata, Fusion, or Accord. Yes it has a nice 7” LCD navigation screen with hands free technology, but it just doesn’t seem to be up to par with other systems. Subaru is a very utilitarian car company and I feel the tech in this car exemplifies that ideal perfectly. Nothing I haven’t seen before and doesn’t blow me away, but does its job. Nothing special.
The cabin is also pretty loud and that mainly has to do with the engine. It is the loudest car I’ve driven, but the funny thing is it’s still quieter at 70 mph than my current car. A decibel meter I installed on my phone gave me a readout of 81dbl average with a peak of 94 over a 30 second span. My Honda Accord from 2006 gives an average of 84dbl with a peak of 97 over the same time frame at the same speed. Not much of a difference, but a difference nonetheless. All other cars test driven up to this point have been much quieter and will give you more cabin noise reduction, but those cars are family sedans. A family sedan, the WRX is not.
All in all, the WRX was exactly what I expected it to be with a few nice surprises. Can you use it as a tuner project? Yes. Can you use it as a daily driver? Yes. Can you get good value for your money? According to Intellichoice.com it has the least amount of depreciation over a 5 year span of any car I’m looking at AND it has insanely high resale value. Go look up 2011 WRXs on autotrader.com. You will be shocked at some of the prices you see. Is this car usable in everyday life? If you get the hatchback, which is my choice, yes as you can fit lots in the boot and if you get a roof rack, you’ll have even more room if you equip a Thule. I liken the WRX to the most appropriate of clichés, the Swiss Army Knife. It really can do it all.
Stay tuned for our next review, the Subaru Legacy. Full rankings for the WRX are below.