Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: January 19, 2020
The Subaru WRX may not be the most feature-rich, comfortable, value-oriented sedan on the market but it carries enough performance potential and a large all-wheel drive safety net to remain one of our most highly recommended AWD sedans under $30,000. Incredibly analog, demanding, and involving, the WRX reminds us of what performance cars used to be like before the injection of electronically-assisted everything.
Rally inspiration runs deep through the veins of the WRX, as if its acronym moniker wasn’t a big enough giveaway - WRX stands for World Rally eXperimental. The noisy and unfiltered interior further alludes to that heritage, which is a good and bad thing. The good? The lack of an insulating bubble means it lets in all manners of exciting turbo whistling, mechanical whirls, engine revs, and exhaust grunts. Your ears are treated to a turbulent symphony that will easily please diehard fans. The bad? Everything gets in, including excessive amounts of tire and road noise, and can become quite unbearable on long journeys where not even the upgraded Harman Kardon speakers can drown out the buzzing and droning. Some may enjoy the raw and visceral experience but it will be draining for those looking for a quiet four-wheel temple. Furthermore, the ride is more punishing and less absorbent than a Civic Si or Golf GTI, but it adds to the WRX’s outdoorsy and adventurous vibe. You feel close to the road thanks to excellent sightlines and outward visibility, and the steering feels alive under your fingertips.
In addition, the energetic flat-four engine will make you forget about the noise. This aging motor is a bit of a dinosaur in 2020 and sadly, the power delivery is far from linear. The low-end is lethargic and only when the needle carresses 3,000 rpm does the WRX truly wake up. What follows is an explosive surge of acceleration thanks to its impressive 268 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, enough for the WRX to hit 0-100 km/h in 5.4 seconds. Riding the tidal wave of boost is fun and exhilarating but predicting and learning when it rises takes some practice and forethought. It’s not a simple run and gun operation like in a Civic Si. Here you really have to think about proper rev matching and hitting those narrow rpm windows to ensure smooth and polished shifts.
The manual gearbox, though always the preferred route in a performance-oriented sedan such as the WRX, is not the friendliest or the most lenient, especially when compared to the buttery gearboxes powering Subaru’s closest peers. Ensuring gentle transitions and a less than nauseating car ride for your passengers carries a steep learning curve, especially with that first-to-second shift, where letting the revs hang just for a second before engaging the clutch flattens out the vibrations. Short shifting helps too. The gearing is quite tall too, like a Mustang’s, so those used to shifting quickly and frequently might have to readjust - you can nearly swing 100 km/h in second gear alone. The shifter gates are notchy and takes some elbow grease and accuracy to slot into the correct gear, and the clutch bite point is narrow, requiring finessing of your left foot. At least there’s automatic hill assist. In all, the WRX is not the most forgiving car for beginners learning to drive stick, but it’s all the more rewarding when nailed down correctly.
The interior is basic and dated when compared to other mainstream sedans, though it’s aged rather well in my eyes. The flat and thin door panels don’t scream luxury when you slam them shut, and the rocker switches for the heated seats scream 1998, but the thickly padded Recaro seats, new infotainment touchscreen with crisp graphics, brightly lit analog gauges, and heavily padded leather steering wheel adds that much needed garnish on an old dish.
The 2020 Subaru WRX starts at $29,995, putting it square with the like minded Subaru BRZ, Volkswagen Golf GTI, and Nissan 370Z, but don’t be fooled as the WRX is still prone to a swollen price tag when climbing up the trim ladder. Our WRX ran just a whisker under the $40,000 mark, creeping near STI territory. Loaded in Sport-tech RS guise ($39,695), it offers a few upgrades over the Sport-tech, namely 8-way powered Recaro front seats wrapped in leather and suede, Brembo brakes with red painted calipers, keyless entry, and push-button start.
But no matter the trim, the core essence that makes this rally-derived WRX such a joy to drive remains. The interior has stood the test of time but other parts are beginning to fall behind, like the nonlinear power delivery, poor cabin insulation, and steep learning curve of the manual gearbox. To some, those are inconveniences unworthy of their pretty pennies. But to others, learning and appreciating the fact that the WRX makes you work for your performance, only adds to the analog experience that modern day vehicles seem to lack through and through.
Model: 2020 Subaru WRX Sport-Tech RS
Paint Type: World Rally Blue
Base Price: $39,695
Price as Tested: $39,695
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,595 / 1,795 / 1,475
Curb weight (kg): 1,543
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged flat-four cylinder
Horsepower: 268 hp @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 2,000 - 5,200 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 12.8