Mention the Subaru WRX in front of young adult males and you’re likely to become the most interesting man, or woman, in the world.
Subaru devotees are a, well, devoted lot, and WRX fans are darn near rabid. Face it, some folks, especially young males, love speed, and yet their wallets aren’t fat enough to go Corvette or BMW shopping and their egos or tastes may not desire a Mustang, Camaro or Challenger. So it comes down to two cars really, the race-ready Ford Focus RS I drove a month or so back, and Subie’s WRX.
Lucky for Subie followers, the WRX just happens to be revamped for 2018 already. But to my way of thinking, it blends in too much, not a problem with the winged Focus. WRX needs a more muscular look than just its shallow lower body cladding, splitter on the lower nose and gaping air scoop on the hood. It really doesn’t look fast at all. And don’t get me started on the rear spoiler. It’s virtually nonexistent on the tested Premium model.
Several co-workers asked if I had a new Corolla to test drive for the week – really!
Yet the tested bright blue WRX still has the guts that its young, mostly male, audience desires.
Subaru’s well-tested 2.0-liter, direct-injected, turbo Boxer 4-cylinder pumps an awesome 268 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds of torque. It flat out flies after second gear. There’s some turbo lag to be sure, but even if you ease into the throttle from second to third gear it’ll slam you back in the seat and take off.
The WRX, for all that power, delivers a light overall steering effort. It’s easy to control and won’t wear you out. Handling is superb, thanks in part to its standard all-wheel-drive system and because this was the Premium model, a set of summer performance tires. Grip was superb. During a wet commute, I tried to thrash this around several wide open corners and found no tire slippage at all.
Ah, but the WRX is a beater. Its sport-tuned suspension is so stiff it’ll beat you even over moderately bumpy roads.
Shifting comes from a six-speed manual gearbox that seemed to get stiffer and stiffer during my week’s drive. Ultimately the shifts, especially downshifts, were murky, often not sliding into gear smoothly as I’d expect on a Subaru.
There’s nothing quiet about the interior, either. The test car sounded like its front passenger-side window wasn’t up all the way sometimes, yet it was. There is tire and general road noise from under the car that drowns out the radio and other passengers.
Seating and controls inside are good. The cloth Recaro performance seats that are part of the $2,050 performance option package are supportive and comfortable, plus the driver’s seat is powered. These also had red leather trim on their edges. Compared with the Recaro seats in the Focus, these would be much more accommodating on a long trip, while the Ford’s are better suited to the track.
By adding the performance package, you lose the WRX’s sunroof, which several young colleagues bemoaned. I agree, I want both performance and sun!
I also like the WRX’s flat-bottomed steering wheel that both looks racy and provides drivers with a bit more clearance for their legs when crawling in and out of the sedan.
Dash layout is fine too, although I was surprised the WRX is key-start. While I like putting a key in to start the car, it seems a bit retro for this buyer demographic. Still, there’s a tilt/telescope steering wheel with cruise control, radio, phone and trip computer controls on the hub.
The WRX features a gloss black stack and touchscreen mid-dash with small volume and tuning controls. That was easy to use. Above the screen, layered into the dash top, is a digital clock and outdoor temperature readout, too. Easy to see. The Premium model also has a rearview camera but not a lot of other safety add-ons, like blind-spot warning or automatic braking.
In back is a reasonable-size trunk, and the rear seats will split and fold flat to increase cargo area.
Traditionally the speed segment’s buyers are not heavily influenced by gas mileage figures, and there’s no reason for that to change here or with the Focus. I got 22.8 miles per gallon in about 60% city driving and with a decidedly heavy right foot to “test” the car’s acceleration. I might have been even bolder in the Focus, but managed 23.8 mpg. The Subaru is rated 21 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. Both racy vehicles use premium fuel.
Entry cost is where the Subaru excels. A base WRX lists at $27,855 including delivery, and the Premium starts at $30,155, including freight. This added only the performance package to settle at $32,205. That’s a lot of fast fun for a reasonable price.
The Focus RS is basically a $40,000 car, although both the Subaru and the Ford can be had in various trims for less.
The WRX also is available with an automatic transmission, although that seems to be defeating the car’s purpose. And note there’s a much racier STI model with a 305- horsepower 2.5-liter turbo Boxer 4 that starts at $36,955 and goes all the way to $41,755 at its top. That more seriously competes with the 350-horsepower Focus RS.
Ultimately I’d rather have the Focus if I was going racing and the Subaru WRX if just looking for a fun daily driver. But I’d like a racier look, and the ride could be a long-term issue.