The first time I was ever scared in a car—for my life, mind you—was back in high school in a first-generation Subaru WRX. I remember it clear as day. (Actually, it was night.) My buddy, Joe, had one, and he was ready to show me exactly how well all-wheel-drive worked in this compact, rally-bred sedan. We clawed, ripped, and snarled our way around multiple neighborhood turns in an effort to impress upon me the Japanese engineering and racing pedigree. All I heard was my internal monologue praying that the car would outperform this teenager’s driving. Well, thankfully, it did. I’ll never forget how much of an impact that had on my understanding of mechanical grip and AWD capability. Three generations later Subaru is still making their bread-and-butter machine more user friendly, faster, and more powerful.
The thing that Subaru does better than anyone else is equip every (OK, almost every, with the exception of the BRZ) one of their cars with AWD as standard. But this isn’t just some sort of marketing gimmick; the cars are engineered with capability and performance in mind no matter the conditions, especially the WRX. The acronym comes from “World Rally experimental,” leaving no doubt to its potential.
Subaru labels their Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive as a safety feature, but on the WRX, it’s more of a performance advantage. (Read: It helps you dig around corners faster than a greyhound out of the hole.) Understeer, a concern with any all-wheel system, is present at slower speeds when the power is applied abruptly and the turbo is spooling, but once settled, the rear kicks in and settles with more power applied, and all is right in the universe as it grips and rips. You’ll find yourself in the powerband—4,000rpm to a little below redline—approaching corners, setting up, then prompting your right foot to bury into the carpet right after the apex of the turn, whooshing out of there with vigor.
The “thrum-thrumup-thrum-thrumup” noise the 2.0-liter direct-injection boxer engine makes when at low idle is comparable to industrial machinery turning the gears of a factory running the world—Ayn Rand might find it sexually arousing. It’s in no way an unpleasant noise; if anything it’s addictive, and the new exhaust does enhance it. The march of the boxer churning 268 hp and 258 lb.-ft is intoxicating, though it could benefit from an aftermarket exhaust system. Let that be the first modification you do. While there is a huge torque plateau from 2,000-5,200, unless you’re in first gear, torque doesn’t seem to punch you in the gut as much as you might want. Make sure you keep the revs up for the most giddyup.
Seriously quick steering (probably the quickest rack I’ve tested all year) and a taught suspension pull in the whole package while you’re tackling turns and mastering smooth, spirited on- or off-road driving. However, while the mechanical mastery and race-winning grip is legendary, Subaru still has to work on its interior. While it has all the components and underpinnings of a decent interior, for almost $30,000 the materials feel cold and devoid of inorganic life. Some cars give you a feeling of warmth that transmit from the cabin, the WRX feels surprisingly lacking of that. It’s more purposeful than personable.
When push comes to shove, or a turn approaches in the distance, or the road becomes unforgiving, the Subaru WRX continues on a long lineage of performance traditions and rally experience, which delivers to drivers a relentless ability to grip the tarmac and do it well. Cars like the WRX will continue to make boys dream of piloting spaceships, flying jets, driving monster trucks, and become gearheads for years to come. The simple formula of AWD and turbo power all wrapped up in a neat little package is the stuff legends are born from.
Efficiency: 21/28/NA mpg (city/highway/combined)
0-60 MPH: 5.0 seconds
Top Speed: 145 mph
Horsepower: 268 horsepower @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 2,000-5,200 rpm
Cost: $28,495 (base)/ $29,290 (as tested)
Photography by Michael Crenshaw.