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Ratings and Review: The 2018 WRX is sporty, stylish and worth all the Subaru wisecracks

“No, it’s not the STi.” Anyone who purchases the 2018 Subaru WRX will have to get familiar with that phrase and the mild disappointment that elicits. I sure did during my weeklong test drive. Is it fair to begin a review of the WRX in the shadow of its high-performance counterpart?

No, absolutely not. However, considering that is where it lives, it wouldn’t be right to start anywhere else.

2017 Subaru WRX Premium Front Right Quarter

The Subaru WRX has a fiercely loyal fan base, but can it live up to that hype?

(Kyle Campbell)

FOLLOW DAILY NEWS AUTOS ON FACEBOOK. ‘LIKE’ US HERE.[1] Like the STi, the WRX began as a sporty package on an already popular model, the Impreza sedan.

That is, until 2014 when it was broken off to live as an independent nameplate in the U.S. However, by that point, it had already developed a cult following of its own, one that, unlike the rest of Subaru’s granola-crunching outdoor-lovers, is more focused on what a symmetrical all-wheel-drive system can do on-road rather than off. The WRX has become one of the best-selling, purpose-built sport sedans in the country and for good reason.

It’s fun, safe, well-crafted and still available at a reasonable price. While some car lovers like to bash Subaru’s performance fan base, driving a WRX is well worth the stigma.

Design: 8.0 Rating

2017 Subaru WRX Premium Front Left Quarter

Subaru has toned down the styling of the WRX quite a bit during the past decade but it still has a distinct, performance-oriented appearance.

(Kyle Campbell)

Subaru’s design team has come a long way from the doldrums of the mid-aughts when it was cranking out boxy Impreza sedans with comically large trunk lid spoilers and towering hood scoops. That the WRX appeared to be a Japanese economy car wearing a ridiculous body kit only fueled the annoyance of skeptics and gave true believers another chip on their shoulders.

More than a decade later, today’s WRX still stands out in a crowd but in a much less polarizing fashion. The hood is powerfully unsmooth and features a less prominent (though still gaping) opening that sucks cooling air into the Boxer engine below. An angular front lip juts out to further solidify its sporty appearance while indentations along both sides and deep-set headlights give it a sort of gaunt look.

2017 Subaru WRX Premium Front Seats

The Performance Package adds Recaro seats with Ultrasuede insets and leather bolsters for a racecar-like interior.

(Kyle Campbell)

Inside, my WRX Premium test vehicle nailed the racecar aesthetic thanks to a £2,050 Performance Package, which brought Recaro seats with black suede insets flanked by side bolsters clad in red and black leather.

Also feeding into the illusion were the steering wheel, with its flat bottom, thumb grips and red, contrast stitching, and the Swiss cheese-like aluminum-alloy pedal covers. A boost gauge above the infotainment screen served no practical purpose for me but it certainly matched the motif. There’s nothing glamorous about the WRX’s design but there’s also nothing cheap.

Everything feels purposeful and thought out, creating an overall package that conveys a simple message: this is a car for drivers.

Comfort: 8.3 Rating

2017 Subaru WRX Premium Rear Seats

Rear seat passengers are also treated to suede upholstery and a good amount of legroom.

(Kyle Campbell)

When I was a kid, my parents found this high-backed loveseat at a garage sale, had it reupholstered and put it on display in our living room. I say “on display” because they refused to let this wood-trimmed diamond in the rough be destroyed by the lounging bodies of their three growing boys. This was a piece for impressing company, so it was sat upon correctly or not at all.

It was just as well because it was only comfortable when paired with perfect posture. Inside the WRX, the Recaro front seats were more enjoyable to sit on than my parent’s loveseat yet they, too, were not conducive for sprawling about or reclining. Like most racecar-inspired chairs, Subaru built these not for comfort but for speed.

If you like being propped up for an optimal view of the road and positioned to make quick adjustments, you’ll enjoy this cockpit and the ergonomic support the driver’s seat applies to your spine. However, if you prefer to pull the seat back and slouch while you drive, you might want to explore other options. Rear passengers get treated to Ultrasuede upholstery as well and, as far as sporty sedans go, few offer a more spacious backseat than the WRX.

At one point during my time with WRX, I had two adult passengers on the backbench–both women of above average height–and they reported plenty of legroom and no discomfort during the hour they were back there.

Controls: 8.5 Rating

2017 Subaru WRX Premium Steering Wheel

Subaru keeps the number of buttons in the WRX’s center stack to a minimum.

(Kyle Campbell)

Subaru has pretty much done away with buttons in the WRX’s center stack, opting, instead, to bake most things into the 7-inch touchscreen or into the touch-sensitive casing around it. Thankfully, it has kept knobs to control both volume and station tuning, functions that have yet to be properly translated into a digital interface. I wish the tuning knob and seek buttons weren’t so far away from the driver’s seat.

I understand the need for symmetry and sure, I could flip channels using the steering wheel controls, but sometimes I prefer surfing the old fashioned way. If you do too, you might find the layout a bit frustrating as well. Speaking of the steering wheel, Subaru was not shy with the controls in that department.

With buttons for cruise control, hands-free-calling, cycling through the digital information display and more, the world is at the driver’s fingertips. Subaru overloaded the left side of the steering wheel but I’m OK with that. Some automakers feel the need for absolute balance, to the point of installing fake buttons and that’s too much vanity for my liking.

Utility: 7.0 Rating

2017 Subaru WRX Premium Cargo Space

Measuring 12 cubic feet, the WRX’s truck is below average but flat-folding rear seats make it more utilitarian than one might expect.

(Kyle Campbell)

Looking at a list of specifications, the WRX’s cargo capacity does not impress.

Measuring 12 cubic feet of trunk space, it is below average even for a small sedan. However, the numbers don’t tell the full story. Some people enjoy expensive things but I prefer a good deal.

In my opinion, there’s not a better four-letter word in the English language than F-R-E-E. So, when a friend told me her neighbor was giving away a kitchen table and chairs just hours after I scavenged a second-hand store in vain for a well-priced set, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. My girlfriend and I folded the WRX’s backseat, took the legs off the table and stacked the four chairs in sets of two.

Believe it or not, it all fit inside with relative ease and saved me a couple hundred bucks and the hassle of trekking down to Ikea. Subaru makes plenty of high-capacity vehicles that can fit bikes, large hiking backpacks, tents and the like. The WRX is not one of those vehicles but don’t despair, it still utilitarian enough to get you of a jam.

Technology: 7.5 Rating

2017 Subaru WRX Premium Rear Left Quarter

Subaru’s StarLink system can tell when a vehicle has been in an accident and contact 911 immediately.

(Kyle Campbell)

Subaru’s Starlink interface has all the amenities of a modern infotainment system: Bluetooth connectivity, an XM radio receiver, apps that stream music and find nearby attractions, connective software for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and so on.

A voice-activated navigation system is available in the WRX Limited but other apps can be used to display on-screen directions in lower trim packages, you just have to punch the address in manually. Graphically, the operating system looks a bit dated compared to FCA’s Uconnect system, GM’s SmartLink and HondaLink, but it gets the job done. Two safety-oriented technology packages are available for the WRX.

Safety Plus, which is free for the first year and £99 annually after that, includes automatic crash notifications, SOS calling, roadside assistance and vehicle diagnostic services; it’s, essentially, a Subaru-specific version of OnStar. The Safety Plus and Security Plus package costs £49 for the first year and £149 after that; it includes a stolen vehicle recovery feature, remote locking and other protectionist functions. Owner’s who subscribe to these services can access them through the MySubaru app as well as the Subaru Starlink app, both of which are available on the Apple App Store and Google Play.

Plenty of small sedans are more tech savvy than the WRX but most of them aren’t nearly as much fun to drive. Enthusiasts will be glad Subaru focused more time and money on improving performance than making a cutesy infotainment display.

Safety: 8.3 Rating

2017 Subaru WRX Premium Profile

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has rated the WRX a Top Safety Pick three years in a row.

(Kyle Campbell)

Subaru has endeared itself to parents and others who have bought its SUVs, crossovers and hatchbacks in recent years because of the company’s dedication to safety. Some WRX customers might not hold that commitment in such high regard but they certainly should.

For the past three years, since it broke away from the Impreza, the WRX has earned a Top Safety Pick designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In 2016, it was named a Top Safety Pick+, the highest recognition the independent watchdog organization can bestow, and it seems the only reason it didn’t repeat on that front was because of a “Moderate” rating on the headlight examination, which has been something of a sticking point for the IIHS during its latest round of testing. In addition to building strong, protective frames for its cars, Subaru also has developed a formidable suite of advanced driver assistance technologies.

The EyeSight package includes adaptive cruise control, automatic braking and lane departure warnings but they are all exclusive to the Limited trim level and add £2,600 to its £31,000 base price. I’m not a fan of Subaru’s stinginess when it comes to driver assistance features but I’m willing to forgive it. Also, it’s worth noting that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the government’s in-house safety regulator, has never tested the WRX individually.

But, considering the Impreza has earned a five-star overall rating every year since 2013, I feel recommending the WRX anyway.

Power and Performance: 8.0 Rating

2017 Subaru WRX Premium Boxer engine

The WRX’s 2.0-liter Boxer engine makes 268 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque.

(Kyle Campbell)

Subaru is to four-cylinder engines what Jeff Gagliardi is to the Etcha-A-Sketch[2], an artist making masterpieces in maligned medium. While other automakers toil away with straight, vertical alignments, Subaru splits its cylinders into the horizontal configuration that we know as the Boxer engine, allowing for direct power delivery to all four wheels to create Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive system. The 2.0-liter engine inside the WRX makes 268 horsepower but it feels like substantially more than that because that output is direct, unfettered and boosted by a twin-scrolling turbocharger.

Subaru’s all-wheel-drive system also does wonders for traction, hugging the road and staying composed, even when driving over puddles, of which I hit a few during my rainy week with the WRX. In that sense, it helps performance and safety, Subaru’s two sweet spots.

2017 Subaru WRX Premium Shifter

The six-speed manual transmission is smooth and adds to the sporty feel of the WRX.

(Kyle Campbell)

My test vehicle was equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, which I highly recommend. The shifter is tall and slides nicely from gear to gear.

The alternative is Subaru’s Lineartronic continuously variable transmission, which I do not have personal experience with. It offers paddle shifters and simulated six- and eight-speed settings but so far I have yet to encounter a CVT that’s as rewarding as the real thing and it’d be a shame not to experience the power of the Boxer engine first-hand. Fuel economy was the WRX’s Achilles heel during my test drive, as I averaged just 22 mpg, slightly better than it’s alleged city average of 21 mpg.

I’ll take some of the heat for being a little aggressive on the accelerator but the EPA rates the WRX at 27 mpg on the highway, so there’s clearly a disconnect between projections and reality.

Ride and Handling: 7.8 Rating

2017 Subaru WRX Premium Wheel

Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel-Dive System improves traction for better performance and a safer ride.

(Kyle Campbell)

Absent a track to roll my loaned WRX onto, I took to the next best thing at my disposal: the vacant but well-maintained state park roads in New York’s lower Hudson River Valley. Cruising down the sweeping curves and straightaways, I couldn’t help but smile at the rush of acceleration and the purr of the engine, even without driving excessively fast. A stiff, low-slung suspension keeps the WRX close to the ground, which is great for cutting drag and maintaining traction, but things can get a little jolty when pavement is coarse or cracked.

I’d recommend swerving potholes whenever possible but, for the most part, the ride inspires confidence and made me feel happier for having driven.

Our Recommendation:

2017 Subaru WRX Premium Grille

Fun, stylish and surprisingly utilitarian, the only downside to the WRX is its frequent need for maintenance.

(Kyle Campbell)

When it comes to sports cars, few sell better than the Subaru WRX and it’s easy to see why. It’s a bona fide performance vehicle with amenities and a sticker price fit for everyday use. My test vehicle, in Premium trim with a Performance Package add-on, rings up at £32,205 after an £860 destination fee.

If I wanted to really live up to the Subaru stereotype, I could have a Kicker subwoofer thrown in the trunk for an extra £500 I still wouldn’t be breaking.

2017 Subaru WRX Premium Badge

A base WRX starts at less than £27,000.

(Kyle Campbell)

However, there is one significant knock on WRX and that’s in the service department. Subaru makes all of its cars overseas so they are typically costlier to service and parts are more expensive to replace. The Subaru WRX also had the worst score in the compact car segment of J.D.

Power and Associates most recent Initial Quality Study, so you might need to budget some extra money for repairs. Overall, the WRX is a fun, safe car with a surprising amount of utility. If you don’t mind spending a little extra money on repairs or getting a little greasy yourself, this might be the car for you.

Total Vehicle Score: 158/180

Overall Vehicle Rating: 7.9

For More Subaru WRX Information:

WRX STI Blue Teaser13 photos view galleryFirst Photos!

2018 Subaru WRX and WRX STI

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