2017 Subaru WRX Limited
Near effortless grace no matter the pace
Sadly, in a dedicated, systematic effort to transform itself into the most yawn-inducing automaker the world has seen since Daewoo disappeared under the umbrella of General Motors, Mitsubishi has forsaken its countless performance fans along with decades of world rally heritage by giving up on the legendary Lancer Evolution series of compact sport sedans, so now the only Evo that might have a chance of unseating a new WRX will need to come from the pre-owned side of Mitsubishi’s dealer lots (or the used lots of Subaru retailers exchanging Evo trade-ins for new WRX STIs).
The WRX, on the other hand, is very much alive and better than ever, while its Subaru parent, despite no longer taking part in the World Rally Championship directly, still benefits from its decades of motorsport investment. In fact, Subaru’s U.S. division has been growing stronger every year, from just 187,208 sales a decade ago to a record 615,132 units last year, and this while many other brands have been steadily losing market share. For instance, Chrysler’s sales have plummeted from 543,011 delivers in 2007 to just 231,972 at the close of 2016, Chevrolet has fallen from 2,250,352 units a decade ago to 2,096,510 last year (with almost a third of that number just pickup truck sales), while Mitsubishi has dropped from 128,993 units 10 years ago to just 96,267 in 2016 (they’re probably wishing they still had a pickup truck, or a large SUV of any sort). The only other brand to lose ground over the same period is Toyota, believe it or not.
Speaking of Toyota, I find it interesting that the performance-oriented WRX and its even more energetic WRX STI sibling beat every type of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and EV on the American sales chart (other than Prius) last year with 33,279 deliveries (the mighty Prius dropped significantly to 98,866 do-gooder buyers). Even Chevy’s mega-advertised Volt didn’t come close with a best-ever 24,739 sales during the same 12 months, while Nissan’s Leaf plunged to 14,006 deliveries. Consumers always show their true colors with their wallets, and this is a clear sign that going green isn’t a big priority for motorists.
Of course, performance cars aren’t making up the majority of sales. Instead, practical shoppers are turning to compact sedans and hatchbacks like the Impreza, as well as compact SUVs like Subaru’s Forester and Crosstrek, but with respect to that last model, Subaru wouldn’t have cancelled the Crosstrek Hybrid and lost out on a significant investment if sales were reasonable. For all the constant fervor about the environment, greenhouse gases, climate change, carbon taxes, etcetera, and what the government, corporations, or somebody else aught to do about it, you’d hardly know there was a problem when consumers are faced with spending their own money on a new car or SUV. So therefore WRX fans, go ahead and guiltlessly buy the sport compact super sedan of your dreams, as it’s a helluvalot cleaner burning than the 20-year old Volvo wagon showing up at the climate change rally (or for that matter the celebrity-filled personal jets making regular photo-op pilgrimages to annual climate change summits, World Economic Forums, and the like).
I’ve driven the mighty WRX STI on many occasions and can heap nothing but praise on this legendary four-door (and previous five-door), but it’s hard to knock this slightly detuned “WRX lite” model either. For a reminder, the STI drives all four wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox powered by a 305 horsepower 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine with direct-injection, a twin-scroll turbocharger, and 290 lb-ft of torque. No autobox is offered.
Just saying that puts a smile on my face, the very thought laced with enough adrenaline inducing memories to keep me awake and alert all night. I’ve had plenty of fun with the entry-level WRX as well, mind you, one of such opportunities recently enjoyed while testing the car in these photos. It sports mostly the same engine downgraded to 2.0 liters resulting in 268 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, which while appearing domesticated compared to the wild and woolly STI, still sends plenty of oomph down to its Dunlop rubber for thrill-a-second acceleration from standstill, and even more when revs rise and multiple shifts ensue.
The numbers read 5.2 seconds from zero to 60 mph, 13.8 seconds over the quarter mile, and a top speed of 150 mph. Not bad for WRX Jr., a car still capable of a claimed 20 mpg in the city, 27 on the highway and 23 combined if driven more gingerly. The STI hits 60 in 4.6 seconds, blasts through the quarter mile in 13.2, and tops out a 158 mph.
Not many compacts offer anywhere near the levels of engine output or overall car performance as these near monozygotic siblings, nor the WRX’ wonderfully notchy six-speed gearbox, absolutely brilliant clutch setup, grippy symmetrical all-wheel drive with active torque vectoring, taut body structure, superbly sorted suspension, and monstrously capable four-wheel disc brakes. This is a serious performance car for people who prioritize the journey as much as the destination, although drive a WRX with anger and you’ll likely spend a lot less time on the road and more wherever you’re going.
The manual has been massaged to improve shift feel for 2017, something I immediately noticed and fully appreciated, while the optional auto is the best continuously variable transmission (CVT) I’ve ever experienced. It’s been a while since I tested one, but I remember its eight quick-shifting ratios that made it feel more like a conventional performance-tuned automatic than it had a right to. I’d still take my WRX with the six-speed without question, but I wouldn’t mock someone who opted for Subaru’s Sport Lineartronic CVT as it’s truly is impressive.
You’ll need to choose the CVT for selectable drive modes, the “S#” or Sport Sharp mode its most engaging and where you’ll find all eight forward “gears” (the paddles connect through to six pseudo speeds under default function), whereas the six-speed manual is all-sport all the time. OK, it’s not as intensely focused on the road as the STI that provides a driver controlled multi-mode center differential capable of dialing in extra rear wheel torque for a whole lot more fun in tight back road corners, on an autocross course or at the track, or inverted KYB shock absorbers for managing those curves and the ruts and bumps along the way, while the hyper-tuned model’s standard Brembo brakes bind like few others, but I repeat, the regular WRX is still one of the most fulfilling sport compact sedans in existence.
Subaru makes three WRX trim lines available, including a no-name base model, mid-range Premium, and top-line Limited (yes, pretty dull trim names for such an awesome car). Upgrades for 2017 include auto up/down for the front passenger’s window (previously it was only on the driver’s side), plus a higher grade woven fabric headliner. All this speaks of a refined cabin, and I must admit Subaru has come a long way with this car and the Impreza it’s based on in recent years. To be clear, the current 2017 WRX and STI are not formed off the back of the redesigned 2017 Impreza that rides on the new Subaru Global Platform and therefore received new sheetmetal, a much improved interior and a lot more late last year, the performance-oriented duo set to receive their full makeovers for 2020, but being that they were completely new in 2014 they’re nicely finished too.
Premium touches like a high-quality soft synthetic dash top join nicely padded perforated leatherette door inserts, even nicer leather-like armrests, and superbly crafted leather-upholstered sport seats in my top-line Limited tester, Subaru outlining most of the above with sporty red stitching. Likewise for the perfectly shaped flat-bottomed leather-wrapped sport steering wheel and shifter boot, the shift knob a more purposeful ball of tightly stitched leather and metal.
Metal surrounds the shifter too, with classy “WRX” branding embossed at center, while the same satin-silver finish brightens the steering wheel spokes, instrument panel vents, and center stack switchgear, the audio knobs particularly well done and the three automatic HVAC dials encircled in knurled metallic rims no less. Alloy foot pedals finish off the brightwork, while piano black lacquer surfaces and unique carbon-look inlays complete the WRX cabin’s sporting style.
A weakness in previous years, the new model’s duo of touchscreen infotainment systems is mostly up to par with compact peers. The base version measures 6.2 inches diagonally, comes filled with attractive graphics, plus a backup camera, Bluetooth phone integration with audio streaming, satellite and HD radio, plenty of apps including Pandora, iHeart Radio, Stitcher, and Aha radio, Starlink smartphone connectivity, plus much more. My upgraded 7.0-inch system features everything above plus Siri Eyes free (new this year), SMS text messaging capability, MirrorLink (also new) for relatively seamless Android phone connectivity, SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link (new again) for weather, sports and stock updates, SiriusXM Advanced Audio Services, and dual USB ports. My tester was upgraded further with navigation, featuring bright, clear mapping, and a great sounding 440-watt nine-speaker (including sub) Harman/Kardon audio upgrade.
Standard $26,995 WRX features not yet mentioned include 17-inch Enkei wheels, a low-profile rear spoiler, heated power-adjustable side mirrors, sport seats, a center stack-mounted 4.3-inch color multi-function display featuring a boost meter, vehicle dynamics monitor, digital clock, outside temperature reading, maintenance reminder, and customizable settings, plus AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio with aux and USB ports as well as iPod control.
Premium trim, at $29,295, adds 18-inch Enkei alloys, halogen fog lights, a windshield wiper de-icer, heatable front seats, the larger 7.0-inch touchscreen and everything that comes standard with it, and a powered moonroof.
The as-tested $31,595 Limited upgrade adds the aforementioned leather upholstery, a 10-way powered driver’s seat, while additional enhancements include auto on/off LED low-beam headlamps with dynamic cornering, LED fog lamps, proximity access with pushbutton ignition, and Starlink Safety and Security that includes automatic collision notification, SOS emergency assistance, enhanced roadside assistance, stolen vehicle recovery, plus diagnostic, security, and remote services functions.
Options include aforementioned navigation and Harmon/Kardon audio, which come together with LED turn signals integrated into the side mirror caps, blindspot monitoring, lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and reverse automatic braking for $2,100.
Additionally, that impressive sport-tuned CVT mentioned earlier will only cost you an extra $1,200 if so inclined, while my tester’s very well dressed coat of Crystal White Pearl paint won’t cost you a penny more, nor will Crystal Black Silica, Dark Gray Metallic, Ice Silver Metallic, Pure Red, Lapis Blue Pearl, or WR (World Rally) Blue Pearl, the latter a unique take on Subaru’s classic motorsport livery (minus the flashy gold wheels and yellow trim).
Exterior styling in mind, you give up very little cosmetically from WRX lite to the full rally-inspired version, only red “STI” badging on the grille, side fender garnish, backside, and wheel caps, the wheels themselves which look phenomenal in all STI trims (although my Limited tester’s were pretty sweet too), and the massive whale-tail spoiler atop the trunk. All the aero upgrades, sizable hood scoop, bulging wheel arches, and unique trim details are shared between both cars, which is a major bonus considering the entry-level WRX’ reasonable pricing. The STI starts at a more sobering $36,095, by the way, with its sole Limited trim upgrade topping things off at $40,895. Yes, $11,600 is a big spread between base and top-line trims, but any STI Limited owner will tell you the money was well spent.
From experience I can attest to worse ways of blowing through $41k plus freight and fees, which makes my as-tested $31,595 WRX Limited a veritable steal in comparison. Truly, no matter how you dress up or down your WRX, I’m pretty sure you’ll be satisfied. From the very first snarly blatt of its quad-tipped high-performance exhaust you’ll be addicted, and that’s even before hurling it through a mountainside or canyon road at unmentionable speeds, something any WRX will do with near effortless grace no matter the pace. It’s a rolling legend, and now with its archrival archived for good, it’s the only real rally-bred game in town. If you’ve got the desire, don’t hesitate. Get it.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press