2022 Subaru WRX matures into a righteous punk

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The last time I drove the Subaru WRX, in 2017, I complained that it was too loud and I was too old. Something has changed. And it’s not me getting younger. In my week of driving it around town and on the highway, the redesigned 2022 Subaru WRX was never too loud, too stiff, or too cranky, even when I was. 

It was a pleasure to drive, which is one reason it earned a TCC Rating of 6.2 out of 10. Here are some other reasons. 

Hit: Solar Orange Pearl…

Some may feel that orange is a color befitting only a fruit, but my tester’s Solar Orange Pearl coat was gnarly without being garish, and different without being obnoxious. It says life is too short for beige, but it doesn’t care what you think anyway. Other Subarus can unite under the Pleiades blue, or coexist in Subaru’s neutral earth tones, but orange is right for the punky WRX.

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Miss: …until the cladding

“What did they do to this?” One valet said to the other. Their opinions on Subaru migrating its SUV plastic cladding from the Crosstrek onto the AWD rally car were split, but at least they were unified in not caring what I overheard. The cladding is as unavoidable as tram lines shaved in the sides of heads, protecting the bumpers and the quad exhaust pipes out back, then running along the sides over the trapezoidal wheel arches and down the rockers. The cuts on the rear wheels are especially pronounced, with the door splitting the cladding in half, its cladded lips looking unfinished every time the rear door opens. But they’re functional in protecting the paint, and the front cladding has functional air intakes. 

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

Hit: A kinder, gentler machine gun hand 

The fifth-generation WRX rides on a new platform used throughout the Subaru lineup, resulting in a more rigid structure that allowed Subaru to dial down the suspension settings. This leads to more composure in everyday driving instead of that bolted on rough-and-tumble vibe of its predecessor, but it also feels stable when pushed. On cloverleaf ramps pocked with the road scars of a receding winter, the WRX lacked the wheel hop of its predecessor. On harsher corners, it turned in predictably and evenly, and let me carry more speed coming out. There’s some body lean and it rides firmer than other compacts, but the tradeoff for the sports car experience makes it much more livable. 

Miss: No STI

Not a shortcoming of the WRX, but Subaru’s decision to not offer a range topping STI to its performance lineup leaves a gaping hole at the worst spot—the top. The second-generation BRZ co-developed with Toyota welcomes youthful buyers to the brand with the rear-drive sports coupe, while the WRX adds more practicality while upholding Subaru’s AWD rallycross heritage. The STI remains the aspirational Subie, before the compromise of crossovers blankets the horizon of car shopping.

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Hit: Sweet manual action

Subaru offers a continuously variable automatic transmission for the WRX, but this car best delivers on its intent with the 6-speed manual. Not only is it more fun, but its forgiving clutch and seamless gate makes it a fine vehicle to learn how to drive stick. Clutch take-up isn’t too springy or too sensitive, and the leather-wrapped stick slides easily through the gate. If anything, the starter vibe might prompt WRX enthusiasts to call this iteration too forgiving and too soft. It’s also much more pleasant in the wide gaps of driving between rally fantasies. 

Hit: Outward vision

Like every Subaru I can recall except for the BRZ, the tall windshield and low cowl provide excellent outward vision, even with the bump ahead for the hood scoop. Thin A-pillars and door-mounted side mirrors keep the sight lines clear.  

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

Miss: Touchscreen infotainment

At this point in Automotive 2.0, it feels like we’ve compromised on a touchscreen for nav and apps, but please restore physical climate control buttons, not screen-based ones. Maybe that’s in my head. My tester had Subaru’s 11.6-inch touchscreen oriented like a tablet. It’s fine, but I’d rather avoid it or use only Apple CarPlay. Wedged at the bottom of the screen are climate control buttons that rise up into the screen to access seat heaters, fan speed, or vent position. Subaru made a half-step with hard buttons for defrost and temperature, but why not add the rest?

Hit: Roomier

The exaggerated styling of the new WRX might have something to do with Subaru covering more metal real estate: the WRX is 2.9 inches longer with nearly an inch longer wheelbase, and 1.2 inches wider. But it weighs 80 lb less. There’s more passenger and cargo volume, and rear riders get an extra inch of leg room. It’s easier to grow into as life’s milestones add more passengers and more stuff. 

This is all in line for making the WRX more usable without compromising what made it so fun in the first place. It’s a win across the board. 

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2022 Subaru WRX Premium 

Base price: $30,100, including $995 destination

Price as tested: $32,600

Drivetrain: 271-hp 2.4-liter turbo flat-4 with a 6-speed manual and AWD

EPA fuel economy: 19/26/22 mpg

The hits: Orange, roomier, kinder, softer, with a sweet stick and a more potent flat-4 

The misses: The cladding and the touchscreen

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