2022 Subaru WRX Manual Review: Unique is not enough

Cameron Neveu

There’s no car quite like the Subaru WRX. Not in 2023, anyway. The spacious Subaru sedan has: a 271-hp, turbocharged engine whose twin banks of two cylinders are arranged end-to-end, “boxer” fashion. A manual transmission. Four driven wheels. Five seats. And a starting price of 30 grand.

We’re thrilled the WRX is back for a fifth generation, something that was not guaranteed from a brand that makes far more money off its humdrum crossovers and SUVs. That said, fans are rightfully peeved that Subaru hasn’t done much to improve the car’s performance since the first models came to the U.S. in early 2000s. The 2002 WRX made 227 hp from a 2.0-liter turbo-four and hit 60 mph in 6.1 seconds. Even with 44 extra horses and 2.4 liters of displacement, today’s version isn’t much quicker. (Subaru didn’t provide an official 0-to-60-mph figure, but based on our unscientific test and the results of some of our competitors, 5.8 seconds is a reasonable estimate).

Almost two decades later, one could argue that the WRX is still trading on street cred earned by that OG hotted-up Impreza which Subaru first homologated for road use as part of its participation in the World Rally Championship (WRC).

Subaru withdrew from the rally series in 2008, but the WRX continues to fly the flag for all-weather performance in the brand’s lineup, even as the car strays further and further from its roots: As of 2015, the first model year of the fourth-gen (VA) car, the WRX was no longer based on the Impreza. As of 2022, it evolved onto the global platform shared with SUVs like the Forester, Outback, and Ascent. There won’t even be an all-out STI version of this WRX, as there has been for each previous generation, which means the iconic combination of WR Blue (for World Rally) paint and gold BBS wheels may soon fade into the history books.

Many of the brand’s most visible fans—beanie-wearing YouTubers who love the WRX’s attainable price and tuner-friendly four-pot—are barely old enough to remember any of the brand’s six WRC titles. But the appeal of a scrappy hero like the WRX endures, especially when that hero has no direct competition.

The WRX remains a tantalizing one-car solution for the enthusiast on a budget, especially if you live where winters get nasty. True, all-wheel drive is represented in hot hatches old and new (see more-expensive VW Golf R and limited-production Toyota GR Corolla), but there are no sporty sedans in the $35,000 range that spin all four wheels, all of the time, via a manual transmission. The question is whether the Subie’s novelty—and legacy—are enough to mask its flaws.

It’s a tough call. We tested a loaded Limited model, whose dash-mounted screen is as uselessly large as its graphics are 2000-late. With the car’s trunk and back seat laden with a 90-pound dog and weekend bags, a mysterious chime rang for minutes at a time and for no apparent reason, over rough highway pavement at 70+ mph, dimming the music and providing no alert message to help diagnose the situation. The Premium model tested by Hagerty’s Sam Smith in May bricked its electrical system twice in 300 miles. The Limited’s 11-speaker Harman Kardon stereo, despite the volume, was still hollow in character. The plastics are cheap, dark, and everywhere.

Then again, the WRX is a better all-rounder than it ever was. As it shifted the WRX to that global platform, Subaru lowered the center of gravity, stiffened the chassis, and increased the suspension travel. The clutch pickup may be high, and the pedal relatively stiff, but the ride strikes a nice balance between sporting and squishy: None of the Crosstrek or Outback’s gooshy, teeter-totter ride here—you can commute in this car and still get a grin flogging it on the twisties.

That stiff chassis and all-wheel-drive give the WRX a planted, secure feel, even on cold, wet back roads. A broad torque band and pedals well-spaced pedals for heel-toe shifts encourage you to spin the revs up, seeking 5600 rpm, at which horsepower peaks. You can easily forget the unrefined interior, even if the controls don’t lend a feeling of delicacy: The shifter clunks rather than snicks, the turbo-four is hardly sonorous, and the steering wheel is fat and Vibram-esque to the touch. But a car that’s happy to rev and always stable on its feet? That’s the good, clean fun we want from a daily driver on the weekend.

Shoppers weighing the Recaro seats exclusive to the auto-only, $42K+ GT trim against the performance chairs of cheaper models should prioritize gearbox over seats: You can replace the latter far more cheaply, and the seats found in the Limited are fine—neither great nor awful. Our main complaints were the brake pedal, which engages slowly and feels numb and disconnected, and the exhaust; Hyundai’s front-drive Elantra N sedan brings fun pops and crackles from the factory, and this WRX sounds underwhelming.

Specs: 2022 Subaru WRX Limited (manual)

• Price, base / as-tested : $37,490 / $37,490

• Powertrain: 2.4-liter, turbocharged boxer four-cylinder; six-speed manual transmission

• Horsepower: 271 @ 5600 rpm

• Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 2000–5200 rpm

• Layout: All-wheel-drive, front-engine, five-passenger sedan

• Curb weight: 3390 pounds

• EPA-rated fuel economy (mpg), city/highway/combined: 19/26/22 mpg

• 0–60 mph: 5.8 seconds (est.)

2022 Subaru WRX manual review
Cameron Neveu

Even if you live in fairer climes, you’ll find the WRX both practical vehicle and fun around town. The trunk is cavernous, the cabin easy to see out of. (At least when the sun isn’t spearing through the sunroof and glancing off the 11.6-inch screen into your eyes.) All 258 lb-ft of torque are available to shove around the car’s 3400-odd pounds at low-to-moderate engine load (2000–5200 rpm), lending the WRX manageable spunk and scoot.

2022 Subaru WRX manual review
Cameron Neveu

Performance-minded Subaru fans should also consider the excellent, rear-drive BRZ. This two-door coupe has fewer adult-sized seats and frills, but it’s 10 grand cheaper, comparably equipped, and a far more deft handler. If you also have an SUV to handle big loads and long distances, and can afford multiple vehicles with more specialized talents, the WRX’s one-size-fits-all proposition becomes irrelevant.

In fact, if you aren’t committed to the Subaru brand, more polished contenders beckon. Honda’s front-drive-only Civic Si is just as entertaining, with an interior and price tag ($29,000) that best the WRX’s. And if you’re looking at the $36,990 WRX Limited, the comparably priced Acura Integra A-Spec boasts a fantastic audio system and fancy adaptive dampers. The VW GTI‘s dual-clutch transmission is the best automatic gearbox in the space. A Mustang or Camaro look like real sports cars, and an Elantra N promises more out-of-the-box track capability.

2022 Subaru WRX manual review
Cameron Neveu

The truth is that there are a number of compelling, daily-drivable sports cars in adjacent genres, though admittedly few with all-wheel drive at this price point. Despite some improvements, however, Subaru failed to raise its own bar here. The latest WRX offers nostalgia to brand loyalists, but it’s a characteristic dimmed by clad-heavy “life-styling” that echoes the more charming Crosstrek and Outback.

Even to an expectant and sympathetic buyer, the 2022 WRX is less magical than the stories foretold. We wouldn’t blame the Subaru faithful for investing their loyalty in previous generations, or simply looking for new heroes.

2022 Subaru WRX Limited (Manual)

Price, base / as-tested : $37,490 / $37,490

Highs: True all-weather capability, manual transmission, all in a practical three-box sedan. It’s not a truck or SUV—hallelujah!

Lows: Busy interior dominated by plastics. Cartoonish touchscreen is not as useful as it could or should be.

Takeaway: A rally legend that’s become a tame lion, for both better and worse.

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    260 pounds heavier than 2001 (for example).

    If they’d pulled a Ford and tossed some more aluminum into it and got it 260 pounds lighter than it used to be I think you’d have a different situation.

    People that really play with these (and still road use them) are tossing the factory exhaust, stripping parts of the interior out and so on.

    I think price creep up is hurting Subaru overall, as they have a much younger interested demographic than many others.

    Maybe the title should be: Subaru WRX – compromises abound. The car that tries to be everything to everyone across generations, lifestyles, and budgets, but in doing so, never manages to get itself above mid-pack in any of the criteria areas.

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