The Subaru WRX has been a staple of the compact car performance arena for years, cementing its legacy in the hearts and minds of gearheads by tearing up the world’s rally circuit and digitally appearing in games like Gran Turismo and Forza. Its performance creds and relatively accessible base price made it a favorite of the tuner crowd, while its four-door profile made it a reasonable sell to your slightly skeptical significant other.
New for 2020: The Subaru WRX Series.White replaces Series.Gray as the special edition model in the line.
Based on the Premium trim level, it includes 18-inch alloy wheels with a matte bronze finish over Brembo brakes with red calipers. A high-performance Bilstein sport-tuned suspension is on board the Series. White, along with Recaro-design front seats and a moonroof-delete. This special edition model also earns steering responsive headlights, exclusive matte black badges, and exterior mirrors finished in Crystal Black Silica.
All models enjoy a snazzy driver’s front seatback pocket, with the WRX Premium trim adding welcome lighting and headlights that turn on/off in concert with windshield wiper operation
Technically standing for World Rally eXperimental, the company leaned heavily on its rally roots to market and promote the car. Having gained leagues of fans over the years, it’s no trouble to find WRX fan clubs and internet forums in equal measure. For 2020, Subaru has added a new model and updated a few minor features. One thing that hasn’t changed? The appearance of all-wheel drive and that unique exhaust snarl from its 268 horsepower boxer engine.
Pros/ Turbocharged fun / Cat-like AWD grip / Attractive base pricing
Cons/ Somnambulant styling / Morose interior
Bottom Line/ This talented boxer needs a few new moves
Table of contents
Subaru WRX Powertrain
The Subaru WRX is offered with two powertrains, the WRX is powered by the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder boxer engine cranking out 268 horsepower. It puts down power numbers that roughly splits the difference between versions of its competitors. For example, the dandy VW Golf GTI makes 228 hp while the hotter Golf R produces nearly 300 ponies. Similarly, the Honda Civic Si heaves out 205 hp but the Type R makes 306 hp.
The STI, powered by a bigger 2.5-liter turbo-boxer spits out 310 hp and on paper at least goes smack against the VW Golf R and the Civic Type R. Power is sent to all four wheels thanks to all-wheel drive (this is, after all, a Subaru). The 2.0-liter engine on the WRX gets the six-speed manual transmission as standard. One can opt for the CVT gearbox with paddle shifters if they want their left leg to be in a permanent state of rest. The STI models on the other hand are only available with a close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox (again, because Subaru).
Interestingly, the AWD system is quite different on WRXs equipped with a manual transmission compared to those fitted with an automatic. On the stick-shift car, a continuous all-wheel drive setup is deployed with a viscous-coupling locking center differential and nominal 50:50 torque split. The auto works in concert with variable torque distribution gear, a planetary gear-type center differential, and an electronically controlled hydraulic transfer clutch sending torque in a 45:55 split. When slip occurs in either system, it transfers more torque to wheels with best traction.
Subaru WRX Features and Pricing
WRX: Starts at $28,395
The WRX is the base trim and is the entry point into the WRX club. It is available with a six-speed manual transmission only which by consequence means that it doesn’t get the EyeSight Active safety suite. It is also devoid of an electric moonroof and keyless entry with push-button start. It does, however, get climate control as standard. The WRX is essentially the most bare-bones trim and you mainly pay for the powertrain and the AWD system with other basic in-car amenities.
WRX Premium: $30,695
Subaru offers the Premium WRX with standard features such as remote keyless entry, automatic climate control, and the expected power accessories. Incline Start Assist is also standard and will help drivers who are not fleet of foot when launching their manual transmission on a grade. Subaru Intelligent Drive and variable torque distribution however, is optional on both Premium and Limited trims. Both Premium and Limited WRX trims also get continuous AWD whereas the STI trims get switchable AWD. Suspension tuning and brakes are also different in WRX and STI models.
The Premium also skips on the push-button start and the Starlink emergency safety system. The EyeSight driver-assist tech, which includes adaptive cruise control, blind-spot detection, front collision mitigation, and lane departure warning is also an optional extra.
Models equipped with an automatic box (optional extras on Premium and Limited trims) also feature Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-DRIVE), a powertrain performance management system that allows the driver to tailor the WRX’s driving characteristics by choosing from among three modes—Intelligent, Sport and Sport Sharp—using a switch on the steering wheel.
An optional Performance Package, however, for the WRX Premium receives a significant update for 2020 as it now includes Brembo brakes front and rear. This bundle is offered exclusively on the six-speed manual transmission WRX Premium trim.
WRX Limited: $32,995
Limited trim comes standard with a six-speed stick, Keyless Access with Push-Button Start, and a 10-way power driver’s seat with power lumbar adjustment. Steering responsive LED headlights (low and high beam) and LED fog lamps to light the road ahead.
An automatic CVT is available on Limited and includes the aforementioned SI-DRIVE plus the brand’s EyeSight suite of safety kit. An optional package with navigation, Harman Kardon speaker system as well as blind-spot detection with lane change assist and rear cross-traffic alert is also available on the Limited but with manual transmission only. This same option package when added to CVT-equipped cars includes all that plus reverse automatic braking and high beam assist. Starlink safety and security however, comes in as standard which includes things like an immobilizer, remote services, maintenance alerts, stolen vehicle recovery, vehicle condition check, SOS emergency assistance and automatic collision notification among others.
WRX STI: $37,895
The STI trim is the holy grail of the WRX lineup and one of its top trims that gets its own powertrain and features exclusive to the STI. The STI trim gets a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder boxer engine which only comes mated to a close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox and the SI-Drive AWD system as standard. The driver-controlled central differential is also exclusive to the STI. One catch with the STI is that though it can run on 91 octane fuel, it is highly recommended that 93 octane gasoline be used for maximum performance.
The STI also gets its own set of tuned suspension that is not included even as an option on other trims. It also offers a Brembo performance braking system as standard. Recaro design front seats and a short-throw shifter are optional extras exclusive to the STI as well. Ironically though, active safety features like EyeSight Driver Assist tech, blind-spot detection of all levels and reverse automatic braking are not available on the STI and are only available as optional extras on the WRX Limited trim.
WRX STI Limited: $42,595
The STI Limited is the top of the crop WRX and commands quite a premium over the STI. It gets the eight-way electrically adjustable driver’s seat as standard along with Recaro Performance-design front seats. The EyeSight system has been skipped but the STI Limited does get blind-spot with rear cross-traffic detection. The Harman Kardon sound system along with the 7.0-inch multimedia navigation with gesture control, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is offered as standard as well.
Optional accessories include STI 18-inch alloy wheels, a lower profile trunk spoiler, all-weather foot liners, STI performance exhaust system, Thule crossbar set and Thule paddleboard carrier.
*All prices include a $900 destination charge.
Subaru WRX Recommended Trim
It will be of surprise to no one that we heartily recommend the six-speed manual transmission in this car, given that it provides a level of driving engagement not found with the automatic CVT. In a spurt of old-school traditional style, it also earns a better fuel economy rating than the automatic.
As for specific trim, consider sampling the Premium model. Priced $2,300 above the base car, it brings a lot of useful extra features to the table including automatic headlamps, heated seats, and a marginally better infotainment system. Outwardly, the Premium adds larger wheels, 40-series rubber, halogen fog lights, and a wiper de-icer.
Subaru WRX vs Volkswagen GTI
For the current model year, the entry-level Volkswagen GTI (there are four trims ranging from S to Autobahn) is priced right in line with the base WRX, stickering at $28,490. All-wheel drive is absent, of course, but the German hatchback grips the road through a VAQ limited-slip differential. Its hatch body style is infinitely more practical than the WRX’s sedan profile and comes with funkier seat colors than the Subaru. Its infotainment system is better, too.
Subaru WRX vs Honda Civic Si
The popular Honda Civic Si is frequently cross-shopped with the WRX, even though it is not available with all-wheel drive. The 1.5-liter turbocharged engine in the Civic Si makes 205 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque, paired with a six-speed manual transmission. The zippy Honda should accelerate to highway speed in just under seven seconds, about one second slower than the Subaru. Whether one selects the jazzy two-door coupe or a more practical four-door sedan, the 2020 Civic Si will cost $26,155 including destination.
Subaru WRX vs Toyota 86
Some readers will bleat that a rear-drive coupe doesn’t directly compete with an all-wheel-drive sedan. What those Luddites fail to realize is that both cars are targeted at customers who seek a fun driving experience at a price that won’t break the bank. Toyota’s offering starts at a wholly reasonable $28,015 and is powered by a 2.0-liter boxer four that shares lineage with the WRX mill. Like the Subie, Brembo brakes are available.
|Engine /||2.0L / 2.5L I4 Turbo|
|Horsepower (hp) /||268 / 310|
|Torque (lb-ft) /||258 / 290|
|Transmission/ Drivetrain /||6MT/CVT, AWD|
|Fuel Economy (mpg, city/highway/combined) /||21/27/23 / 18/24/21|
|Price Range /||$28,395 – $42,595|
Our Final Verdict
The 2020 Subaru WRX will appeal to faithful disciples of the Pleiades, folks whose childhood bedroom walls were peppered with pictures of blue-and-yellow Imprezas skidding sideways through a tough rally stage. Its 268 horsepower is more than enough to fuel daydreams about the late Colin McRae, while that jumbo-sized hood scoop gives an aggressive front-end appearance.
Still, the car could massively benefit from a new infotainment system and the inclusion of a few more technology features reserved for top-spec models. The former is particularly galling, since the car is aimed at a demographic who definitely care what’s posted to their Instagram account. Subaru has just deployed new tablet-style screen in some of its other cars and it can’t come fast enough to the WRX line. As always, we will also ask for more horsepower so that it can play on even keel with the too-serious Golf R and boy-racer Civic Type R.3.4
|Space and Comfort||7.0|