2022 Subaru WRX: First Drive Review
It’s been 20 years since the rally-inspired WRX first arrived for the U.S. market. The fifth-generation debuts for the 2022 model year, built on a stiffer Subaru Global Platform and powered by a turbocharged 2.4-liter flat 4-cylinder Boxer engine. In its first two decades on American roads, Subaru sold more than 400,000 WRXs — a respectable number for a performance model. The WRX has also helped raise the stature of the Subaru brand, leading to sales of other models not directly associated with the automaker’s World Rally success. The newest version of the WRX is scheduled to arrive in spring 2022, and Subaru invited us to be among the first to drive the latest iteration.
2022 Subaru WRX
2022 Subaru WRX Design
With exclusive body panels no longer shared with Impreza, the evolutionary design of the 2022 WRX features a larger hexagonal grille, smaller headlights sculpted back into the front fenders, a hood scoop, a revised front fascia, bulging fenders and somewhat controversial fender cladding. Subaru says the cladding improves aerodynamics, including its textured surface. The new design tapers at the rear with new connected taillights, a rear spoiler and aggressive quad exhaust.
The 2022 Subaru WRX continues to be offered in Base, Premium and Limited trim levels, as well as adding a new top-of-the-line WRX GT. Available only with the CVT Subaru Performance Transmission, the WRX GT includes sport suspension with electronic adjustable ride control, Recaro front seats, an 8-way power driver’s seat, Ultrasuede upholstery with red stitching, and an Ultrasuede dash with red stitching. The driver can choose between Normal, Comfort and Sport for the electronically controlled dampers, and Drive Model Select can also configure steering feedback and SI-Drive settings. Pricing will be announced closer to on sale date, although the cost is not expected to increase significantly over the previous model which currently starts at $27,495 for Base, $30,045 for Premium and $32,095 for Limited — not including a destination charge.
Under the Hood
The 2022 Subaru WRX is powered by a new turbocharged 2.4-liter engine producing 271 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, combined with a standard 6-speed manual transmission or available CVT Subaru Performance Transmission. The new engine is the most powerful standard WRX powerplant ever (not including STI versions), although it is only rated at 3 horsepower more than the outgoing model (with the same torque rating). According to Subaru, the SPT offers 30 percent faster upshifts and 50 percent faster downshifts and includes adaptive shift control for rev-matching downshifts during braking.
Standard All-Wheel Drive
As with all Subaru models except BRZ, all-wheel drive is standard on the WRX. With the 6-speed manual transmission, the continuous all-wheel drive features a viscous coupling locking center differential that distributes torque 50:50 front to rear under normal circumstances. When wheelslip occurs the system can transfer more torque to the wheels with best traction. When equipped with the Subaru Performance Transmission, the variable torque distribution all-wheel drive uses a planetary-gear-type center differential and an electronically controlled hydraulic transfer clutch to manage torque distribution between front and rear wheels. The normal torque distribution is 45:55 front to rear, and the system continually optimizes torque distribution based on driving conditions with input from steering wheel angle, yaw and lateral g-force sensors.
Stiffer Platform, Sport Suspension
The 2022 Subaru WRX gets built for the first time on the Subaru Global Platform for increased chassis stiffness as well as a lower center of gravity for improved ride and handling. The new platform has full inner frame construction and increased use of structural adhesives for a 28 percent increase in torsional rigidity and a 75 percent increase in suspension mounting point rigidity. A longer suspension stroke increases stability and lateral grip on uneven surfaces. The rear stabilizer bar is now mounted directly to the body. The sport-tuned suspension includes front struts with internal rebound springs. The WRX also has new dual-pinion electric power steering for quicker response, improved accuracy and better steering feedback.
Inside, the WRX’s sport-inspired black interior has red contrast stitching and carbon fiber pattern trim accents. The leather-wrapped, flat-bottom steering wheel includes controls for audio and voice recognition. New seats feature more panels, larger side bolsters and larger lower seat bolsters that are more comfortable and more supportive. The WRX Premium and above trims feature a new tablet-style, high-definition 11.6-inch center multimedia screen. Subaru Starlink in-vehicle technology allows the driver to control entertainment and vehicle settings with onscreen controls for audio, climate control and vehicle features.
Our press drive began in Sonoma County with hours of northern California backroads through redwood forests before connecting to Highway 1 and a lunch stop at Point Arena Lighthouse. With temperatures in the 40s, many of the shaded roads were damp with occasional leaves and dirt on the surface. The new WRX proved to be as fun to drive as we always remembered — stable and controlled, with smooth power delivery coming out of corners even when surfaces were rough, slippery or both. And even though the previous model was stiffer than its predecessor, this 2022 WRX feels stiffer, and the new suspension tuning feels less jarring although it’s still firm. The electric power steering is quick and precise although it lacks a lot of direct feedback.
On the Road
The 2022 WRX with SPT will be delayed because of supply issues, so we were only able to drive the 6-speed manual — our first choice anyway — and the choice of most WRX buyers. (Eighty percent of WRXs sold have been equipped with manual transmissions.) One thing about the new WRX that feels familiar yet slightly out of place: the tall gearshift. Shifts are crips and precise, but if the shifter were a bit shorter it would add to the overall sporty nature of the car.
Plenty of Power
The 2022 Subaru WRX has plenty of power that makes it incredibly fun to drive, and the 6-speed manual shifts cleanly and precisely. The car is predictable and balanced — a vehicle that instills enough confidence in the average driver to push a bit and have fun without getting into trouble. The all-wheel drive and active torque vectoring help stabilize the car through corners and accelerate out of turns with confidence — even when conditions are less than ideal. The WRX is a performance bargain with the advantage of standard all-wheel drive.
Stable and Predictable
Given the damp and slippery road conditions, my driving partner and I were reminded how fun, stable and predictable the WRX has always been, and we agreed that the new model is even better. We were also surprised by how well the Dunlop Sport Maxx GT 600A tires perform in cool conditions. Most of our spirited driving was in third gear, slowing for and accelerating out of turns without downshifting. Granted, at times second gear was probably needed; we would have liked more low-end torque for quicker acceleration in third gear.
Seeing the 2022 Subaru WRX in the wild on California roads, we appreciate the new exterior design since it possesses more differentiation from the Impreza; we grew to accept the fender cladding. The front end is crisp and clean, and the rear taillight design is attractive when combined with the aggressive rear diffuser and exhaust outlets. The interior is comfortable and sporty, offering the feeling of a sport sedan.
Right for You?
The 2022 Subaru WRX continues to be a performance bargain with commendable turbo power for its size, a 6-speed manual transmission and standard all-wheel drive. Everyday drivers can pilot the WRX with confidence thanks to its predictable handling, stability over rough surfaces and skill putting power down in slippery conditions. In other words, the WRX is plenty potent without becoming too difficult to handle. With its new, stiffer platform and firm suspension, the WRX ride is firm but not as jarring as the previous model on poorly maintained roads. The styling might be controversial to some but, for our money, the 2022 WRX is a performance bargain for driving enthusiasts and the best WRX thus far.
Pros: Turbo power; 6-speed manual; all-wheel drive; great fun.
Cons: Controversial cladding; low-end torque; tall shifter.
Bottom Line: After 20 years of refinement, the 2022 Subaru WRX is the best yet.
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