Redesigned WRX still delivers the rally-car goods

·4 min read

Jul. 30—There's something endearing about mainstream sports cars that proudly, loudly and unapologetically wear their hearts on their fenders. Subaru's popular WRX is a case in point: It's a rally-inspired compact AWD sedan that seems to be asking to be driven and given a hug, in equal parts.

The 2022 WRX rolled into Subaru showrooms as a fully redesigned vehicle, a fact notable due to the previous generation's eight-year-long tour of duty. The new car rides on a new platform that sports a larger and more-powerful engine under its hood. This being a Subaru, all-wheel drive is standard across all trim levels.

There are four trim levels offered — Base, Premium, Limited and GT — all of which are powered by a 2.4-liter turbocharged flat-four engine making 271 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds of torque. The engine replaces last year's 2.0-liter turbo-flat-four that packed slightly fewer horses (268) but delivered an identical level of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, with a new-for-2022 continuously variable transmission (the manufacturer calls it a "Performance Transmission") offered optionally. The CVT is standard on GT-trimmed models.

Subaru has shelved the higher-strung WRX STI variant for the time being, with talk swirling 'round the rumor that the legendary badge will at some point re-emerge as a performance-minded electric vehicle, in the manner of Tesla.

Pricing starts a hair north of $29,000 for Base-trimmed models, and includes 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, automatic climate control, a raft of safety-sensing systems, six-speaker audio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration.

Sticker prices ascend as one climbs the trim-level tree, with added goodies like powered sunroofs, a larger center stack-mounted infotainment touch screen, bigger alloy wheels, a power-adjustable driver's seat, heated front seats, Harmon-Kardon premium audio, faux leather upholstery with grippy microfiber inserts, alloy foot pedals, carbon-fiber cabin inserts and lots more.

Our tester was dressed in all-the-way GT duds, and as such featured the standard continuously variable (OK, Performance) transmission. Subaru also has added adaptive dampers for the suspension system but only offers it when paired with the GT trim package's CVT system. Given that a majority of driving enthusiasts likely would consider anything but a stick-shift unthinkable, the company's choice here is a bit of a head-scratcher.

Unlike the rubbery-feeling CVT units in many other vehicles, though, this one feels well-matched to the turbo-four; acceleration is brisk in the best WRX tradition with none of the engine drone so often associated with this particular setup. The transmission also features a manumatic mode and pair of steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters that do a fair job of imitating an actual cogged gearbox.

The WRX GT's ultra-sharp handling, brisk acceleration (expect 60 mph to arrive in roughly six seconds) and interior appointments are all true to the model's calling. The newly sculpted exterior features a more dedicated design, especially with regard to the muscular rear fenders and ground-hugging profile. Likewise, the interior exudes a high-tech look and feel, particularly with the oversized, iPad-like touch-screen interface dominating the center stack.

Our GT's $41,895 base MSRP bagged everything in the WRX wish list. Standard equipment included the full range of Subaru's suite of safety-sensing systems (although we found the frontal-collision alert sensors to be overly sensitive), a set of 18-inch alloys shod in summer performance tires, eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat, performance drive-mode selection (which oddly operates via infotainment touch screen; a console-mounted selector would be easier to use), a pair of deeply bolstered Recaro sports seats up front, dual steel-tipped tailpipes, heated front seats and side-view mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, 11-speaker Harmon-Kardon sound system, and much more.

Given its rally-car roots, the WRX's sport-tuned suspension delivers a firm but still comfortable ride. The occupants are constantly aware of the road conditions passing beneath them, but sharp shocks from potholes or tarmac cracks are summarily damped and dismissed.

There's plenty of room for full-sized adults in the front seats (although the tight-fitting Recaros reminded me that I need to get serious about a weight-loss regimen). The 60/40 split-folding second offers a surprisingly gracious amount of legroom as well. The narrow but deep trunk will swallow up to 12.5 cubic feet of cargo.

JOHN COLE reviews automobiles for The Times-Tribune. When he's not driving cars he's driving the pen behind Times-Tribune editorial cartoons. Contact him at johncoletoons@gmail.com.