2018 WRX New Car Test Drive
The Subaru WRX is a high-performance version of the Impreza compact sedan, made so with substantial engineering changes, not just bolt-on parts. The engine is more powerful, the chassis is stiffened, and it has its own all-wheel-drive system. Unlike the Impreza, the WRX is not available as a popular five-door hatchback. For 2018, the WRX gets bigger air intakes in front, and painted brake calipers.
There is also a WRX STI model, that goes even farther, and makes fewer compromises for civility on the road. It has more features in the cabin, but the suspension is sharper and stiffer. It's a bit faster, with an engine that is bigger and more powerful.
Neither the WRX nor STI are known for refinement, comfort, or convenience. Road noise is high. They are considered five-seaters, but only two people will be comfortable in the rear because the middle seat is slim and hard. The rear seat folds down for more cargo space, but the Impreza Sport or Crosstrek are better able to carry sports equipment.
Yet it was the Subaru Impreza WRX, along with the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, that captured the imagination of enthusiasts through rallying, with performance coming from small but powerful engines, well-designed suspensions, and four-wheel drive. No one does this better than Subaru and the WRX makes the point. WRX, after all, is intended to stand for World Rally Championship.
The WRX uses a turbocharged direct-injection 2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder engine with a twin-scroll turbocharger, making 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque that comes at 2000 rpm and lasts until 5200 rpm. It's mated to either a 6-speed manual gearbox or a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The 6-speed manual uses all-wheel drive with viscous coupling at the center differential that splits power 50/50 front to rear, and is variable from side to side.
The Subaru CVT is as sharp as any we've tested, thanks to its design and programming. It has eight steps that make it feel like a sequential automatic transmission in Sport Sharp mode, or six steps in Sport mode; it behaves more like a CVT in Intelligent mode. Its all-wheel-drive splits power 45/55 front/rear, and moves it from side to side depending on traction needs. Additionally, the torque moves around between wheels based on cornering forces and steering-wheel inputs. There's electric power steering, and naturally the suspension is sport tuned.
The WRX STI gets chassis bracing, a stiffer suspension with revised front geometry, 305-horsepower engine, its own 6-speed manual gearbox, bigger brakes, quick-ratio hydraulic-boost steering, and an edgy all-wheel-drive system that's better for the track.
With the standard transmission, the WRX gets an EPA-rated 20/27/23 mpg City/Highway/Combined; it's 2 mpg less with the CVT, which is unusual because CVTs are all about fuel mileage. However, Subaru says in Intelligent mode the CVT delivers nearly 24 mpg Combined.
The STI is rated at 17/23/19 mpg.
The NHTSA hasn't tested the WRX, but the IIHS give it its Top Safety Pick Plus rating, with the best scores across the board, including the difficult small overlap crash test. A rearview camera is standard.
The 2018 Subaru WRX ($26,995) comes with manual transmission, steel wheels and base tires. WRX Premium ($29,295) and Limited ($31,595) offer the CVT as an option ($1200).
Standard equipment on the WRX includes cloth upholstery, automatic climate control, 17-inch wheels, Bluetooth, heated side mirrors, a leather-wrapped shifter, a 5.9-inch driver information screen perched atop the dash, and a 6.2-inch touchscreen for infotainment including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.
Subaru's camera-based EyeSight safety suite is available on the WRX with the CVT. It includes adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and lane-keep assist.
The higher performance WRX STI ($36,095) is only available with a manual transmission. WRX STI Limited ($40,895) adds leather and faux-suede upholstery, dual-zone climate control, fuller center console, and LED headlamps with turn signals on the sideview mirrors. The big rear wing can be deleted.