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2022 Subaru WRX Test Drive Review
Evolutionary rather than revolutionary, the latest Subaru WRX benefits from Kaizen-style improvements to its powertrain, suspension, and technology.
The 2022 WRX delivers a cocktail of performance and all-weather practicality that remains unmatched at its price point. Although the introduction of Subaru’s 2.4-liter engine doesn’t result in a massive power bump for the WRX, the car still impresses—particularly in the handling department.
Look and Feel
If you are hoping for styling drama, the all-new 2022 Subaru WRX will likely disappoint. The new vehicle is two inches wider than the outgoing model, yet the front end looks downright subtle, save for its signature hood scoop. Like the previous-generation car, the front fascia is graced with a relatively small hexagonal grille, which is bisected by a decorative bar and bookended by sharp-looking LED headlights.
Along the side, the 2022 WRX shows off some more significant changes. The profile is noticeably less busy than before (there’s no character line protruding from the doors, for instance), although the inclusion of black plastic cladding is sure to find some detractors. That cladding, however, is not just for looks. At the trailing edge of the front wheel wells, you’ll find air outlets designed to improve airflow. More interestingly, the cladding itself is actually textured with a hexagonal pattern that, like the dimples on a golf ball, helps cut down on turbulence and improve the aerodynamic properties of the WRX. Plus, it’s a visual callback to the car’s rally heritage.
The rear fenders flare outward dramatically, and at the rear, you’ll find a large plastic bumper stretching nearly halfway up the car’s backside. The taillights feature a multifaceted design that’s supposed to look like magma when illuminated. Quad tailpipes still grace the rear. Overall, the new WRX looks a bit smoother and more streamlined than the previous one—although that body cladding can be a bit distracting on a vehicle painted a bright color like our Solar Orange test car. Other notable details on our Premium-trim tester include LED fog lights, 18-inch alloy wheels painted a dark gray, and a subtle trunk-mounted lip spoiler.
Inside, the WRX sees huge improvement. Sure, plenty of parts look like they were co-opted from other Subaru models, but the fit and finish are markedly better. A D-shaped, flat-bottom steering wheel, aluminum-alloy pedal covers, carbon-fiber-pattern trim accents, and black cloth seats embellished by red contrast stitching help set the WRX apart from more pedestrian Subaru models. But otherwise, this vehicle finally looks like its more modern stablemates.
The WRX is not to be confused with your run-of-the-mill Impreza. Truthfully, it shouldn't even be confused with a previous-generation WRX. Subaru ditches the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine found in the 2015-2021 WRX in favor of its 2.4-liter turbo, which is also used in the Outback and Legacy XT models. The new engine is still a horizontally opposed four-cylinder with its pistons firing toward one another (hence its “Boxer” name). Running the preferred 91-octane fuel, it makes a little more horsepower than the outgoing WRX’s did, at 271 versus 268, but its torque output remains the same, at 258 pound-feet.
Considering the car’s performance-focused (and generally youthful) customers, the minimal power improvement may come as a disappointment. And, sure enough, while driving the new WRX from Healdsburg, CA to the Pacific coastline, we found ourselves wishing for a little more grunt from time to time. Even if you ignore the numbers on the specs sheet, when compared with front-wheel-drive (FWD) cars like the Volkswagen GTI (itself a torque performer, with 273 lb-ft), the WRX can feel a bit sluggish from a stop. After all, the new GTI weighs less and delivers more torque. Powertrain figures haven’t been announced for the WRX STI, but we wonder if Subaru purposely held back a bit on power output to save room for the WRX’s big brother.
An all-wheel drive system (AWD) comes standard on the WRX, and buyers will have the option to choose between a standard six-speed manual transmission and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), dubbed the Subaru Performance Transmission.
We test drove the six-speed car through the mountains of northern California. Due to COVID-related supply issues, Subaru did not have any CVT-equipped WRX models available. However, the automaker provided some interesting statistics: The automatic is programmed with eight shift points, which you can manage via paddle shifters if you so desire. It provides 30% faster upshifts from second to third gear than the previous-generation car’s CVT, and 50% faster downshifts from third to second. While the manual transmission works with continuous AWD, split 50/50 between the front and rear, the CVT employs variable torque distribution. There’s also an available external transmission-fluid cooler, standard on the premium trim and up.
A new trim joins the WRX lineup, too: The GT trim sits at the top of the range and comes equipped with only the CVT—you cannot buy a GT with the six-speed manual transmission. It features Recaro seats, electronically controlled dampers, and a Drive Mode Select system with more settings options than are typically offered.
Of course, 85% of current-generation (2015-2021) Subaru WRX buyers opted for the manual transmission, so we expect that the majority of 2022 shoppers will skip the CVT. And for those shoppers, we have some good news: the manual transmission is a delight. Notchy and precise, it’s easy to handle and you won’t fight to find the right gear, although throws are a bit longer than we expected. The clutch pedal is equally satisfying. It offers plenty of rebound, making it easy to manage in traffic, and the bite point is also easy to find.
During our drive, we were most impressed by the new WRX’s suspension. The new car moves to the Subaru Global Platform (SGP), and the transition allows for some creative suspension tuning. The car’s stabilizer bar is now mounted to the body rather than to the subframe, which helps reduce body roll in corners. Meanwhile, the suspension features longer strokes than before, making the WRX's ride quality more forgiving on broken pavement. Most automakers will invite media to test their new cars on beautiful, blemish-free roads. Subaru sent us up and down mountain roads loaded with debris after a rainstorm. While there was plenty of chatter and a little bit of drama, thanks to its new platform and more forgiving suspension, our 3,320-pound WRX never felt unwieldy.
Form and Function
For those concerned with practicality, the WRX really does shine at its price point. No, there’s not a hatchback option offered anymore, but the 2022 model gets a cargo capacity bump from 12 cubic feet to 12.5 cubic feet, and it can expand further thanks to the rear seat’s 60/40 split-fold function.
The sport seats are more comfortable than those found in many competitors, too. They’re supportive and well upholstered, with premium cloth materials in the base and Premium trims or Ultrasuede in the Limited and GT trims. While the seats have ample bolstering and upholstery materials to help keep you planted in place, they don’t feel too tight or claustrophobic. Between the comfortable seats and the forgiving clutch, we could legitimately see this as a viable commuter vehicle.
And the inclusion of standard AWD just can’t be overlooked. Search the market for a performance-focused, AWD sedan priced in the $30,000 range, and you’ll end up looking at the WRX time and time again.
The previous-generation WRX was not exactly a technological marvel. Subaru’s Starlink infotainment system has routinely won praise for its easy-to-use interface and its bright, crisp graphics, but it’s hard to call it revolutionary, and the system found in the WRX was starting to look dated back in 2019, let alone 2021.
Pick a premium-trim or higher WRX in 2022, however, and you’ll likely be wowed by its 11.6-inch, tablet-style touchscreen display. It’s the same system that you can find in a newer Outback or Legacy, and while it has a few quirks and annoyances, it’s been around long enough that it’s well understood but still visually impressive.
Making it all the easier to operate are physical controls for climate control, power and volume, tuning, and defrost functions. Everything else is buried within the screen and accessed via touchscreen controls.
Curiously, the system falls down a bit when it comes to Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The latter displays across nearly the whole screen, but it looks like it was added as an afterthought. Android Auto doesn’t even get that far—it shows up on only the top half of the screen. The benefit to Android Auto’s half-baked design, however, is that it does allow you to view multiple functions (like Google Maps and SiriusXM satellite radio) at the same time.
Pick a base-trim WRX and you’ll be greeted with a much more unusual infotainment display. Rather than having a single, smaller screen, the base trim gets two 7-inch displays stacked one on top of the other. It’s not the most graceful-looking setup, but it may work fine—we did not have the opportunity to test it.
Finally, the WRX is also available with an 11-speaker Harmon Kardon stereo system. Our premium-trim test vehicle wasn’t equipped with this stereo, but if it performs as well as it does in other Subaru models, we certainly won’t have any complaints.
Safety in the WRX is a tale of two transmissions. CVT-equipped models come standard with Subaru’s terrific EyeSight suite of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). EyeSight is a camera-based system that includes automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and lane-tracing assist. On the WRX, EyeSight also adds an electronic brake booster, to improve response and performance in panic stops, and automatic steering assist, which works with pre-collision braking to help avoid collisions when driving under 50 miles per hour. In all, the EyeSight system is smartly engineered, and it works incredibly well and has won plenty of praise and accolades.
Buy a six-speed WRX, however, and you don’t get EyeSight—not even as an option. The reasoning is simple: Subaru doesn’t have a way to avoid stalling the manual WRX during panic stop situations initiated by the system’s automatic emergency braking. Logical, but disappointing nonetheless. The WRX enjoys the youngest customer demographic of any vehicle in its class, which is great for business but also indicates that safety features may be especially valuable. After all, anyone who’s shopped for insurance quotes for a WRX knows that it’s a car with a bit of a reputation for being put into touch-and-go situations.
Separate from EyeSight, Subaru packages blind-spot monitoring with lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert as standard features on the Limited (regardless of transmission) and GT trims, although those features are not available on the base and Premium trims. These systems don’t require the forward-facing camera sensors needed for EyeSight’s safety features, so they’re not hampered by the manual transmission.
Beyond active safety features, there’s some good news for 2022. The Subaru Global Platform absorbs more energy in a crash than the WRX’s previous architecture did, making it inherently safer. Additionally, the car comes equipped with seven airbags—including a driver’s-side knee airbag—as standard equipment.
Subaru hasn’t announced pricing yet for the 2022 WRX but indicated that it should stay within range of the 2021 car, which started at $27,495 for a base model. That’s great news, because few cars deliver AWD performance like the WRX, and fewer still do it for less than $30,000.
The WRX has graced U.S. roads since 2001, and Subaru has sold more than 400,000 of them. This is still a cut-throat segment, but primary competitors, including the Honda Civic Si, Hyundai Elantra N, and Volkswagen Golf GTI are all FWD vehicles. If you want performance car levels of horsepower and torque but you need AWD, you’ll have to look into luxury territory or consider a Volkswagen Golf R (which costs luxury money). If it has to be a sports car and a Subaru, the WRX will compete with its rear-wheel-drive (RWD) sibling, the BRZ, and the upcoming, more powerful WRX STI.
Subaru anticipates that roughly 35% of shoppers will opt for a base-level WRX, while the Premium trim will account for 40%. The Limited and GT trims should be less popular; Subaru projects they’ll take 15% and 10%, respectively. It is worth noting that the company hopes the top-level GT trim will serve as a conquest opportunity, luring customers from other brands.
Outside of the sales price and, of course, the cost of insurance, the WRX is not massively frugal to run. Subaru says it should return 19 miles per gallon city, 26 highway, and 22 combined, but this is a car that seems to ask to be driven hard. On our test drive, we saw just over 20 mpg, although we certainly didn’t take it easy on the accelerator.
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