I’m somewhere alongside the Kaslo Bay in southwest British Columbia, Canada, when it hits me. A smile. It’s infectious and followed up by giggles and wide-eyed excitement.
Engine: 2.0L turbo boxer 4-cylinder
Output: 268 hp, 255 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 6-speed manual/CVT
US Fuel Economy (MPG): 21 city, 27 hwy, 23 combined (6MT)/8 city, 24 hwy, 21 combined (CVT)
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 11.3 city, 8.5 hwy, 10.0 combined (6MT)/12.5 city, 9.6 hwy, 11.2 combined (CVT)
US Starting Price: $27,855
CAN Starting Price: $29,995
It’s a result of everything: these roads, this scenery and a car that feels right at home with the many left-right-left-right roads that swing side to side like a pendulum. The 2018 Subaru WRX I’m driving still has four-wheel drive and a turbocharged four-cylinder engine under the hood, but it’s here on these roads that things align very nicely to remind me that despite all the new sport compact cars arriving on the scene, it’s the WRX they have to beat, and that’s not an easy thing to do, at least in terms of driving fun.
ALSO SEE: 2018 Subaru WRX STI Review
To say I’m impressed with the most recent iteration of the WRX is an understatement. It fended off a whole gang of other sporty compact cars a few years ago and recently emerged victorious against the new EcoBoost-powered Ford Mustang in a recent comparison. It’s proven itself as a versatile four-door sport compact with a lot of power and handling prowess, which has also become refined over the years to give this car a head start for daily driving duty.
Subaru followers will notice that the WRX and the Impreza have now separated. Recently updated to use the new platform, the latest generation Impreza and all its awesome new changes do not make it to the WRX.
New and Old
It might seem like the new 2018 Subaru WRX isn’t very new at all. It still has the same turbo 2.0-liter boxer engine that sends 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels. It’s still only available as a sedan and will not be offered as a wagon or hatchback. It’s still pretty light at around 3,300 lbs. It still has a slow infotainment system and no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto support. The interior also won’t give you the impression that you’re in something more premium or high end. And, like before, the car is still lacking the sexy appeal of some of its competitors.
That’s a list of complaints that is quickly forgotten once you take the WRX on the road, and then glance at the $27,855 ($29,995 CAD) asking price. For car fans who like performance or having fun on the roads even a little bit, the WRX is going to stand out. But let’s get to what actually changed here. The front bumper has been slightly revised and the car now gets an option for full LED headlights, which are also upgraded with the ability to turn into a corner so visibility at night is improved.
ALSO SEE: 2017 Subaru Impreza Review
Cars that are equipped with the CVT instead of the six-speed manual transmission can get Subaru’s EyeSight suite of safety and driver assistance features — things like adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and forward collision warning. These vehicles also can be equipped with an automatic rear braking system so you don’t reverse into something by accident. In terms of performance upgrades, the changes to suspension and steering feel are very subtle. The manual transmission and steering have been tweaked as well to be smoother and less jerky. This change is a bit more noticeable especially in comparison to the hardcore, old school, brutal WRX STI.
Sporty New Package
Additionally, responding to demands from dealers and consumers, Subaru has revised the mount points for roof racks. The automaker is also offering new performance goodies in the form of a Performance Package (also known as the RS Package in Canada). Vehicles equipped with this package get sporty Recaro seats and new JURID brake pads with red calipers. There’s also a moonroof delete option that helps cut weight. In practice, these seats are very supportive and the brakes seem more responsive and confident, although Subaru warns us that they might be louder.
The interior gets new gauges that should be easier to read in lower light and there are more soft-touch materials in the cabin. The rear armrest now has a cupholder and the front power windows now have a power off delay, so you can roll them up after you turn off the car. Finally, Subaru has improved the sound deadening and has reduced a significant amount of cabin noise. This is a great change, although some enthusiasts who love to hear the car’s exhaust note will be missing out a bit. It still burbles when you let off the throttle, but you have to be listening to it.
Reading between the lines, Subaru is refining the popular sport compact. The rest of the car is the same old stuff we’ve liked before and there are no changes here that will upset the legions of loyal fans who have grown to love the car and the brand.
On the Road
The car attracts cheers and waves from other enthusiasts. Those flashy brake calipers and easily identifiable LED headlights help with that. The turbo boxer sound is still present for people outside the car to enjoy. And if the driver gets roads like these gorgeous ones in B.C., they’ll likely get stuck with the same goofy smile I had.
The turbocharged powertrain is a little laggy and the surge of power is noticeable in first and second gear. It builds up and sends you off. The car feels extremely capable in third and fourth gear, and you’ll be passing almost any slowpoke in your way on the highway with ease. The steering is electric power assisted and lacks the constant feedback that the big brother STI has (since it has old-school hydraulic assisted steering), but it moves very naturally and never feels overly artificial, making it feel perfect on these back roads. The suspension is capable and responsive without beating you up.
To emphasize the capabilities of the WRX, we took our testers to an autocross course and ran them on there for about two hours straight with limited cool-down periods. The brakes held up nicely and we were able to push the cars like real WRX drivers would. While these cars can also hit the track, those looking to do that more frequently will need a car with components better suited for that, like the big-dog Subaru WRX STI.
It’s worth pointing out how the WRX stacks up to its competition. In terms of power, the Ford Focus ST can’t keep up with the Subaru, and is only front-wheel drive. The Golf R is all-wheel drive and has more power, but is about $10,000 more expensive, making it more of a WRX STI competitor. Same goes with other German compact hatches that have more than 270 hp. It makes the WRX fit neatly into a number of segments.
The Verdict: 2018 Subaru WRX Review
The 2018 Subaru WRX is a winning combination of a number of things. The amount of power and performance is balanced with the refinements and price point of the vehicle to make it a compelling purchase if you’re at all interested in a sporty driving car. The bang for your buck in the base model is hard to beat, while higher trimmed models get more options and tweaks to make them worth picking up as well. While hardcore enthusiasts may skip this and go for the STI model, people who want a car that can operate as a fun daily driver will be more than content with the WRX.
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