2022 Subaru WRX Review: Rally-bred for Performance Cred
Sadly, however, the STI is dead.
Driving enthusiasts waited a decade for Subaru to send its vaunted WRX model to the United States. After the first ones landed on U.S. shores for the 2002 model year as a bug-eyed sport compact in sedan and wagon form, equipped with turbocharged power, all-wheel drive, a manual gearbox, serious performance, and plenty of personality, more than just Subie fans were smitten.
Redesigns arrived in 2008 and 2014. Then, when the Impreza on which Subaru bases the WRX got a complete overhaul for 2017, the performance model didn't. Instead, Subaru kept the WRX and its high-performance WRX STI variant on the already excellent older platform until it knew it could deliver a replacement that lived up to the legend.
That time has come, and the 2022 Subaru WRX is new from the tire contact patches up. But the STI model is gone from the lineup, the new engine is barely more powerful and slightly less efficient, and the top trim with the go-faster goodies comes only with a CVT. Is this progress? For the first time in the performance car's history, perhaps not. But only a test drive could help to answer that question.
So, for this 2022 Subaru WRX review, I test-drove the GT version in Southern California. It came with standard equipment and wore a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $43,390, including the $995 destination charge. Subaru provided the vehicle for this WRX review.
2022 Subaru WRX Review: The Design
Look at the new 2022 WRX, and you'll notice plenty of protective plastic cladding on the bumpers, wheel arches, and lower body. Subaru's official explanation is that the unpainted plastic is more aerodynamically beneficial than if the company rendered it in body color. But, given the WRX's rally-racing roots, it's probably pretty good at protecting against rock chips should you drive it down roads and drift it around curves composed of dirt or gravel. That doesn't make it appealing. But it makes sense.
Subaru is known for purposeful practicality, not sensual styling. So the new car's homely appearance is in line with expectations. The interior looks and feels familiar, too, but is also an improvement in quality and aesthetics. From the elegant vent detailing and simulated suede on the dashboard to the infotainment display refinements that debut in the WRX, the car improves through cleaner design, better organization, and improved materials.
With GT trim, the WRX includes performance-bolstered Recaro front seats wrapped in simulated suede. The driver's seat offers eight-way power adjustment, so it's easy to find a perfect driving position behind the thick-rimmed steering wheel. If you're a larger person, like me, the seats will remind you about sticking to your diet and exercise plan every time you drive the WRX. They can also hamper entry and exit unless you've got a relatively strong core. But they certainly hold you in place while exploring this Subaru's handling limits.
Considering that the WRX is a compact sedan, the back seat is surprisingly comfortable. You sit high on a cushion offering good leg support, and Subaru covers the front seat backs in soft, padded material that is kind to knees and shins. Headroom could be an issue for taller people, though. Also, Subaru didn’t provide rear air conditioning vents, so your passengers may swelter a bit on hot and sunny days.
Storage space is reasonable for a compact car, and the trunk is larger than before, now measuring 12.5 cubic feet. You can expand the capacity by folding the rear 60/40-split folding back seat. Subaru encloses the trunk lid hinges to help make sure you won't crush anything when closing it but doesn't provide a grip or handle to use to swing it shut.
2022 Subaru WRX Review: The Technology
The base WRX has two 7-inch touchscreens on the dashboard. The top screen is for infotainment, and the bottom one is for climate control and other features. Standard infotainment features include Bluetooth smartphone connectivity, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio, and a basic package of Starlink connected services.
Upgrade to Premium trim or higher, and the WRX features an 11.6-inch touchscreen mounted in portrait rather than landscape orientation. It bundles everything into one screen, including controls for a dual-zone automatic climate control system, and comes with additional Starlink connected services. In addition, a navigation system and a Harman Kardon premium sound system are available, depending on the trim level.
This larger touchscreen is similar to what Subaru offers in other models, and it has physical controls for stereo volume, radio tuning, and temperature adjustment. Subaru says the WRX is the first of its vehicles to get an improved screen layout that can show more data to the driver without changing to a different display. That improvement is likely one reason the WRX's technology did not cause as much aggravation during my evaluation of the infotainment system.
However, the voice recognition system still leaves something to be desired. If you regularly use Siri, Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, or similar voice-based digital assistants, the WRX's embedded tech will frustrate you. My recommendation is to connect your smartphone and carry on business as usual.
Remember, you need the Subaru Performance Transmission (SPT) to get EyeSight. Since the SPT is standard with the GT model, the test car had forward-collision warning, evasive steering assist, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, lane-centering assist, and adaptive cruise control. However, you'll need Limited or GT trim to get blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and steering responsive headlights that help you see better in curves and corners after dark. These driver-assist features are unavailable on other versions of the WRX. In addition, a reverse automatic braking system is standard on the GT trim.
EyeSight is a camera-based safety system, and this year, Subaru claims it has a broader field of view coupled with improved software to make it even smoother and more refined than before. The automaker says it has also upgraded the lane-assistance and braking systems for a smoother and more natural feel to the driver.
Unfortunately, during testing, the lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist tech irritated me and sometimes proved inaccurate with its alarms and steering inputs. As a result, the WRX was better to drive without them active. However, the adaptive cruise control and the lane-centering systems worked well on highways.
As I write this review, neither the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) nor the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has performed crash tests on the new 2022 WRX. However, Subaru builds the car on a more robust global vehicle architecture employing its traditional ring-frame reinforcement engineering, so the automaker crafts the WRX's underlying construction to earn high marks from each organization.
2022 Subaru WRX Review: The Drive
As you expect, the 2022 WRX is fun to drive – even with the SPT CVT. Of course, I'd rather have test-driven the one with the manual gearbox, but you can't get the six-speed with the GT trim level. Besides, with fewer people able to drive a car with a clutch, it's essential to sample the automatic-shifting alternative.
While I am not a fan of CVTs, I must admit that several car companies have figured out how to make them sound and feel more natural to the driver. That list now includes Subaru because the SPT CVT is the best example of this type of transmission I've ever experienced. Even when driving the WRX in the manner for which Subaru intends, the transmission rarely behaves in an unbecoming manner.
So here's the deal. The CVT pairs with the WRX's new turbocharged 2.4L four-cylinder engine, which makes 271 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque between 2,000 rpm and 5,200 rpm. Though the engine is larger than the previous turbo 2.0L, it is only fractionally more powerful (3 hp) while taking a small step backward in terms of fuel economy (21-22 mpg instead of 21-23 mpg).
The CVT, the less efficient transmission choice, has eight programmed gear ratios. For 2022, it switches between those ratios up to 50 percent faster than before, and if you use the steering wheel paddle shifters, the engine will match revs when you downshift. Subaru also programs it to hold revs through corners, but I found manually shifting using the paddles to be the most effective way to blast up a mountain road with a rapid gain in elevation. Otherwise, the powertrain can feel a little flat-footed after clipping an apex.
Also, the transmission occasionally exhibits those CVT attributes that nobody likes. Rarely, but sometimes, it can sound like it's hanging at steady revs and suffers slushy ratio changes. But this happens infrequently enough that you might forgive the car for such instances.
When you choose the SPT CVT with Base, Premium, and Limited trim, Subaru also includes EyeSight. Additionally, instead of getting the continuous AWD system with the stick, you'll receive a variable torque distribution AWD system with SI-Drive powertrain management technology. Finally, the WRX GT trim has exclusive driving modes and an adaptive damping suspension.
On the highway, Normal mode is fine. I preferred Sport mode in urban environments, which helps to keep the powertrain ready to assist with slicing and dicing through traffic. Sport+ is best for canyon carving. Comfort mode isn't best for anything, and if you think you'll want to use it, a Subaru Legacy might be more your speed. At all times, the Subaru chugs its signature bleating exhaust note, which, in addition to love, is part of what makes a Subaru a Subaru.
For 2022, Subaru says a new dual-pinion electric steering system with a quicker ratio adds to the fun, while a new electronic brake booster improves both braking feel and modulation. The WRX GT's adaptive damping suspension is also new for 2022 and adjusts firmness according to the driver's chosen driving mode.
Thanks partly to its 18-inch wheels and sticky 245/40 Dunlop Sport Maxx GT 600A summer performance tires, the WRX is legit when you're in Sport+ driving mode and using the paddle shifters. Every component is tuned to give a driver confidence in the car's abilities, and the adaptive dampers keep the rubber glued to the road without beating drivers and their passengers up. As a result, regardless of the pavement surface, the WRX feels relentless in its pursuit of rapid transit. In addition, the testing day was a roaster, and the WRX's brakes barely grumbled in discontent when repeatedly called upon to reduce speed in a hurry.
However, as pleasing as the new 2.4L turbocharged engine is, it's not so powerful that you'll think Subaru is right to cancel the STI. There remains room for a bonkers version of this car, giant trunk wing and all. Also, if you drive the WRX enthusiastically, you're not going to get the advertised fuel economy. On the evaluation loop, the test vehicle returned 19.4 mpg, coming up short of the expected 21 mpg in combined driving.
Is the 2022 Subaru WRX a Good Car?
Yes, the new WRX is a good car, but based on time spent in the GT with the Subaru Performance Transmission, adaptive damping suspension, and multiple driving modes, it may be getting too refined for its own good. That is an overall trend at Subaru, a natural outgrowth of its transition from a quirky low-volume automaker to one of the more popular brands in the U.S. All of the company's cars and SUVs feel and drive like they're all grown up, and while that's fine for something like a Subaru Ascent three-row crossover SUV, it suggests a loss of the plot with a car like the WRX.