What is it: A four-door sedan for the boy racer inside all of us, the 2018 WRX gets a couple new performance touches to make it a little better than last year’s rumbling rally-bred rocket.
Key Competitors: Honda Civic Type R, Volkswagen GTI, Ford Focus ST
Base Price: $30,155 As-Tested Price: $32,205
Highlights: The 2018 Subaru WRX isn’t as rabid as the wing-rocking WRX STI, but it manages to avoid feeling watered-down. It’s a respectable and right-priced performance option in its own right. 2018 brings subtle changes, some all but invisible (heated exterior mirrors) and others, like a standard Sport Design instrument cluster and available performance seats and brakes, that enhance its look and on-road feel.
Subaru says it upgraded a wide range of interior materials for 2018.
Our Opinions: Is the WRX a toned-down STI, or is the STI a hopped-up WRX? I spent 1,100 miles or so in this car, driving to and from the incredible Duncan Imports JDM paradise in southwestern Virginia, and I can’t say for sure. I do know one thing: It’s very easy to live with, but still a hoot to push. If me saying that hardly seems like a revolutionary statement, well, remember that this is only a modest model-year update.
Still, steering and brakes are leagues ahead of what you’re going to get on a standard-issue Subie, and the 2.0-liter provides adequate power in a distinctive-feeling configuration that’s good clean fun to rev up and launch. And it won’t beat you up, even with the (surprisingly comfy) Recaros.
Can you say the same thing about the WRX STI, which is even sharper, but even harsher, on-road? Depends on your mental age and your tolerance for the occasional bone-rattling bump. But the WRX manages to be a kinder, gentler car that’s still a blast to drive on twisting back roads; it doesn’t feel like a diluted version, or a compromised form of, the car you actually want to get. It’s different, not inferior — a well-tempered (if somewhat noisy inside) expressway cruiser that still appreciates the roads less traveled.
Fortunately, there are a lot of good mountain roads between Detroit and Virginia, and I took the time to explore a tiny sampling. They’re the kind of roads where you can’t spend much time glancing at the speedometer or the tachometer, which is just fine because you’re not going to be going all that fast and the flat-four/six-speed combo is intuitive enough to make staying on the power a cinch.
Looked at another way, this is arguably a purer interpretation of the WRX concept. It’s a hopped-up version of a relatively pedestrian civilian-grade sedan, but there are no switches to toggle, no modes to fool around with. Just hop in and go, as mildly or aggressively as you’d like. The WRX STI can be fine-tuned to meet the demands of the moment, but I do like the simplicity of this one, its less aggressive cousin.
Will you notice that you’re down half a liter of displacement (and 37 hp and 32 lb-ft) over the STI? Sure, if you’re familiar with the hotter car. The overall experience is less intense but probably easier to live with day to day.
Ah, but the competition — how does it compare? Though we’ve acknowledged Subaru’s recent interior design and quality-improvement push, which has seen hard plastics replaced with nicer-feeling materials, I’d still give the in-cabin edge to the competition. That’s no reason to write this well-executed driver off your list, though.
More fundamentally, the WRX sits in an interesting position, because it gets AWD just like the WRX STI. With the Ford Focus ST/RS and the Volkswagen Golf GTI/R, the junior car gets front-wheel drive and the more powerful car is AWD. Then there’s the Honda Civic lineup, which offers only FWD whether you’re talking Si or Type R.
Point is, it’s a good time to be looking for slick, capable and relatively affordable performance cars. They all have different characters and are guided by different design and engineering philosophies; you’ll need a test drive to figure out which one best suits you.
On Sale: Now
Base Price: $30,155
As Tested Price: $32,205
Drivetrain: 2.0-liter DOHC turbocharged I4, AWD, six-speed manual
Output: 268 hp @ 5,600 rpm; 258 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,336 lb
Fuel Economy: 21/27/23(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)
Options: Performance Package: Recaro design seats w/ eight-way driver power seat, moonroof delete, Jurid performance front brake pads, red finish front and rear brake calipers ($2,050)
Pros: Tons of fun despite lower output than its STI cousin
Cons: Interior still not at GTI standards; lackluster fuel economy