All-wheel drive in the sport compact/hot hatch marketplace seems to only be reserved for the upper echelon; the upcoming Ford Focus RS, Subaru WRX STI, Volkswagen Golf R, and the outgoing Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. Step down one rung and most sport compacts send power to the front wheels. Ask why most automakers don’t add AWD and you might get an answer of it would ruin the balance of the vehicle or it would be too expensive. But one automaker does have AWD in their sport compact and that would be Subaru. Ok, Subaru has AWD in most of their vehicles, so adding AWD to their WRX sedan isn’t a problem. But it does give the WRX a big selling point in a growing class.
The WRX is based on the Impreza, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at the exterior. Subaru has made a number of changes to the exterior to make the WRX seem like its own model. The front end gets a new rectangular grille and a large hood scoop. Around the side are seventeen-inch wheels finished in gray and WRX nameplates on the front fenders. A rear diffuser with quad exhaust tips and a lip spoiler complete the rear. Sadly, the WRX and WRX STI don’t come in a five-door like the last-generation.
Move inside and you can tell this is an Impreza. Subaru has tried to dress up the WRX with a flat-bottom steering wheel, sport seats, improved interior materials, and faux carbon fiber trim. But for the $32,855 as-tested price, it looks and feels very spartan. Many fans of the WRX and STI will argue that you don’t buy these cars for the interior, you buy them for the performance. While I can see some validity in that argument, the fact that for the same amount of money as this WRX, you can get into a fully loaded Ford Focus ST or a nicely equipped Volkswagen GTI with much nicer interiors.
There are some positive points to the WRX’s interior. The sport seats have the right amount of bolstering to hold you in place when your playing around and don’t make you feel uncomfortable on long-distance trips. The rear seat provides a decent amount of headroom, but legroom is tight for taller passengers. Subaru has also gotten rid their aftermarket-looking infotainment system for a system that looks more appropriate. The seven-inch touchscreen features Subaru’s Starlink infotainment system that boasts features such as Pandora integration and hands-free text messaging. The combination of quick performance and large touchpoints makes the system one of the easiest in the industry.
Under the hood is a turbocharged 2.0L boxer-four with 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. This is paired with Subaru’s well-renown all-wheel drive system and either a six-speed manual (what I had) or Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT. Power comes on a very smooth and linear fashion throughout the rpm band. This is due to the turbo building boost at a quick rate and the wide spread of torque from 2,000 to 5,200 rpm. Also, I like that you can hear the woosh of the turbocharger working.
The six-speed manual is somewhat clunky to use as the shift action feels somewhat limp and you have to make sure you have the lever fully in the position of the gear, otherwise you are not moving. At least, the transmission has a defined pattern so you know where you are in the gear pattern.
In terms of fuel economy, the 2016 WRX with the manual is rated by the EPA at 20 City/27 Highway/23 Combined. My average for the week in the WRX landed around 21.6 MPG. Not great, but I’ll admit I was driving this a little bit hard just to hear the turbo working.
Despite not participating in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), the WRX retains a lot of that pedigree. Point the WRX down your favorite road and it transforms into a rally car. Body lean has gone away and the all-wheel drive system provides tenacious grip. I pushed the WRX around some tight corners and the car never showed any signs of struggle. More impressive is how the all-wheel drive system keeps the WRX planted on gravel roads. Yes, you can turn the traction and stability control off if you want to live out your fantasy of being a rally driver. Steering is very responsive and provides good feedback of the road.
As for the daily grind, the WRX’s suspension is on the firm side. But it is a small price to pay for the performance you get. Some will complain there is a fair amount of road and wind noise coming into the cabin.
One other item that should be mentioned; Subaru’s EyeSight system which uses stereo cameras to scan the road and feed the data to the adaptive cruise control, forward collision mitigation with automatic braking, and lane-departure warning system is only available on the top Limited trim equipped with the CVT. If you opt for the manual, you don’t have that option. I have reached out to Subaru to find out the reason for this and will update when I get a response.
The 2016 Subaru WRX is an interesting option in the sport compact class. At the moment, it is the only model in the lower echelon of sport compacts that come with all-wheel drive. For some, this is what they want in a sport compact. But the high price tag and spartan interior may have you running towards the Ford Focus ST which offers the same performance level and a nicer interior.
It really comes down to what you are looking for in a sport compact. Personally, I really liked my time in the WRX. But I would likely go for either the base WRX or a lightly optioned Premium to make me feel at ease with the purchasing decision.
All-Wheel Drive Traction
Looks that standout
Interior still lags behind the competition
Manual transmission needs to go to finishing school
High price tag
Disclaimer: Subaru Provided the WRX, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
Engine: 2.0L Twin-Scroll Turbocharged DI Boxer Four-Cylinder
Driveline: Six-Speed Manual, All-Wheel Drive
Horsepower @ RPM: 268 @ 5,600
Torque @ RPM: 258 @ 2,500 - 5,200
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 20/27/23
Curb Weight: 3,386 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Kanto, Japan
Base Price: $28,895
As Tested Price: $32,855 (Includes $795.00 Destination Charge)
Navigation + harman/kardon Audio System - $2,100