If you are hoping for styling drama, the 2022 Subaru WRX will likely disappoint. The new vehicle is two inches wider than the outgoing model, yet the front end looks downright subtle, save for its signature hood scoop. Like the previous-generation car, the front fascia is graced with a relatively small hexagonal grille, which is bisected by a decorative bar and bookended by sharp-looking LED headlights.
Along the side, the 2022 WRX shows off some more significant changes. The profile is noticeably less busy than before (there's no character line protruding from the doors, for instance), although the inclusion of black plastic cladding is sure to find some detractors. That cladding, however, is not just for looks. At the trailing edge of the front wheel wells, you'll find air outlets designed to improve airflow. More interestingly, the cladding itself is actually textured with a hexagonal pattern that, like the dimples on a golf ball, helps cut down on turbulence and improve the aerodynamic properties of the WRX. Plus, it's a visual callback to the car's extensive rally heritage.
At the rear, you'll find a large plastic bumper stretching nearly halfway up the car's backside. The taillights feature a multifaceted design that's supposed to look like magma when illuminated. Quad tailpipes still feature. Overall, the new WRX looks a bit smoother and more streamlined than the previous one - although that body cladding can be a bit distracting on a vehicle painted a bright colour like our Solar Orange test car. Other notable details on our Premium-trim test car include LED fog lights, 18-inch alloy wheels painted a dark gray, and a subtle boot-mounted lip spoiler.
Inside, the WRX sees huge improvement. Sure, plenty of parts look like they were co-opted from other Subaru models, but the fit and finish are markedly better. A D-shaped, flat-bottom steering wheel, aluminum-alloy pedal covers, carbon-fibre-pattern trim accents and black cloth seats embellished by red contrast stitching help set the WRX apart - as do the sport seats, which are more comfortable than those found in many competitors. Ample bolstering helps keep you in place, but they don't feel too tight or claustrophobic. Between the comfortable seats and a forgiving clutch, the WRX makes for a legitimate commuter.
Under the bonnet, Subaru has ditched the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine found in the previous generation WRX in favour of its 2.4-litre turbocharged unit, which is also used in the Outback and Legacy XT models. The new engine is still a horizontally opposed four-cylinder motor, and in the States is rated at 271hp versus its predecessor's 268hp, although its torque output remains the same, at 258 lb ft.
That very marginal power improvement may come as a disappointment to anyone expecting lusty performance from their WRX - and, sure enough, we found ourselves wishing for a little more grunt from time to time. When compared with rivals like the Volkswagen Golf GTI, the WRX can feel a bit sluggish from a stop. After all, the front-drive GTI weighs less and delivers more torque. Powertrain figures haven't been announced for the forthcoming STI, which makes you wonder if Subaru has purposely held back a bit on power output to save room for the WRX's big brother.
Needless to say, all-wheel drive is standard on the WRX, and buyers will have the option to choose between a standard six-speed manual transmission and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), dubbed the Subaru Performance Transmission. The latter is programmed with eight shift points, which you can manage via paddle shifters if you so desire. It provides 30 per cent faster upshifts from second to third gear than the previous-generation car's CVT, and 50 per cent faster downshifts from third to second.
Interestingly, while the manual transmission works with a characteristic 50/50 torque split between the front and rear axles, the CVT employs variable torque distribution. There's also an available external transmission-fluid cooler, standard on the premium trim and up. A new trim joins the WRX lineup, too: the GT version sits at the top of the range and comes equipped with the CVT exclusively. It features Recaro seats, electronically controlled dampers, and a Drive Mode Select system with more settings options than are typically offered.
Of course, 85 per cent of Subaru WRX buyers opted for the manual transmission, so we expect that the majority of 2022 shoppers will skip the CVT. And for those shoppers, we have some good news: the manual transmission is a delight. Notchy and precise, it's easy to handle and you won't fight to find the right gear, although throws are a bit longer than we expected. The clutch pedal is equally satisfying. It offers plenty of rebound, making it easy to manage in traffic.
Most impressive though is WRX's new chassis. The model moves to the Subaru Global Platform (SGP), and the transition allows for some creative suspension tuning. The car's anti-roll bar is now mounted to the body rather than to the subframe, which helps reduce body roll in corners. Meanwhile, the suspension features longer strokes than before, making the WRX more forgiving over broken roads. Most carmakers conduct car launches on beautiful, blemish-free asphalt; Subaru sent us up and down mountain roads loaded with debris after a rainstorm and, while there was plenty of chatter and a little bit of drama, the WRX never felt unwieldy.
That ought to have made it perfect for the UK, but alas the car falls foul of the manufacturer's comparative lack of interest in Europe. In the States, the WRX has been around since 2001, and Subaru has sold more than 400,000 of them. Which is impressive when you consider how crowded the segment now is. Having said that, its primary competitors, including the Honda Civic Si, Hyundai Elantra N, and Volkswagen Golf GTI are all FWD models. If you want WRX levels of horsepower and torque with all-wheel drive, you'll have to look into luxury territory or consider a Volkswagen Golf R(which costs luxury money in America).
Subaru hasn't announced pricing yet for the 2022 WRX but indicated that it should stay within range of the 2021 model, which started at $27,495 (just over £20k at the current rate). That's great news, because few cars deliver AWD performance like the WRX, and fewer still do it for less than $30,000.
SPECIFICATION | 2022 SUBARU WRX
Engine: 2,387cc, turbocharged, 4-cylinder boxer
Transmission: 6-speed manual, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 271@5,600rpm
Torque (lb ft): 258@2,000-5,200 rpm
0-62mph: 6.0 seconds (est.)
Top speed: 150mph (est.)
Weight: 1506kg (DIN)
MPG: 22 (US)
Price: <$30k (est.)
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