In the world of enthusiast-aimed cars, Subaru is a key player. Their rally pedigree has allowed them to produce some of the most involving, sharp machines around. Somehow, they also manage to sell these vehicles at a price affordable to the everyman, allowing modern turbocharged Subarus to earn a loyal following from a variety of automotive communities. Even though their halo model, the WRX and WRX STi, received a full model redesign for model year 2015, Subaru has made some improvements this year in hopes to entice buyers even more. I eagerly snagged the keys to a 2016 Subaru WRX Sport to see what it offers over last year’s model.
When the full redesign was done last year, my editor and content editor drove both transmissions, so I didn’t actually get any extended seat time with the new models. Even still, I’ll maintain that the last WRX I drove, a 2013 model, is one of the most engaging driver’s cars on the road. The latest model was said to be even more precise, with some bits that were on the sloppier side in the previous-generation model having been sharpened to a point of perfection. At first glance though, I wasn’t quite sold on the way the new car looks.
The WRX Concept we saw months prior to this car’s unveil was a bit misleading – it may just be a preview towards upcoming models, but I expected the production WRX to be more of a departure from the Impreza it’s based on. This is because Subaru now sells the WRX and WRX STi as individual models rather than the top-end of the Impreza line. Rightfully so, because buyers of the regular Impreza are usually mainstream compact buyers that are cross-shopping the likes of the Mazda3 and Honda Civic, whereas WRX buyers know exactly what they want and are also looking at the Ford Focus ST and Honda Civic Si.
Using the basic design of the Impreza, the 2016 WRX spices things up considerably. Flared fenders, unique diffuser and quad exhausts out back, a functional hood scoop, and WRX badging are only the start. WRX-specific wheels, a front bumper lip, and fog lights are also on board. Unlike the huge trunklid spoiler on the flagship WRX STi, the regular WRX gets away with a subtle lip on the trunk that I actually prefer. Even if I were to buy a STi (very probable), I’d scour the local Subaru club to find someone with a WRX trunklid to swap for a more inconspicuous look. Subtle is what the WRX does very, very well.
Where the WRX’s beauty lies is under the hood. This is a good-looking car, but nobody buys it for its face or body lines – they’re snapped out of dealerships before even arriving because of how well they drive. The 2.0L horizontally-opposed boxer four-cylinder has a twin-scroll turbocharger and intercooler. It also has electronic throttle control and direct injection. The result here is 268 horsepower at 6500rpm and 258 lb-ft of torque, peaking between 2000 and 5200rpm. The response is just unbelievable and the WRX pulls hard in every single gear.
Speaking of gears, our friends at Subaru Canada sent me a WRX with the six-speed manual gearbox, but it’s worth noting that the car can now be had with a Lineartronic CVT as well. Yes, a WRX with an automatic may seem like sacrilege, but it results in a more diverse customer group which means more sales for Subaru in the long run. But again, that’s a story for another day, because the CVT model is one I would definitely like to sample before criticizing in any way. The six-speed manual in my tester is a slick unit; the shifter itself is a bit on the taller side but changing gears is effortless and actually quite enjoyable. Clutch travel is lighter than before, with enough bite in the pedal to keep my left foot satisfied. I was rev-matching downshifts and shifting the car very well within minutes of picking it up.
The 2.0L motor itself was reworked for the 2015 model year, and the turbocharger pumps out just under 16psi of boost. Even when zipping down the highway in sixth gear, passing power is plentiful and the WRX never feels starved for power. The sweet spot for spirited driving is somewhere between third and fourth gear, where the engine just comes alive and the car accelerates like a bat out of hell. Even when driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic, the WRX didn’t tire me out or leave me wishing I was driving something softer, because the smiles per dollar ratio is one of the best out there today.
As with every other Subaru (except for the BRZ, of course), the 2016 WRX has Symmetrical all-wheel-drive as standard equipment. It’s a full time system and the car also includes a viscous-coupling limited-slip differential. When you combine this phenomenal setup with active torque vectoring in the brakes, the WRX suddenly climbs to the top of the enthusiast’s wish list. Simply put, the car is sensational to drive and corners like it’s nobody’s business. The steering is marvelous and packs more feedback than any other competitor, and the ability to fully disengage stability control systems means the car will be an absolute beast when the white stuff begins to fall.
The performance suspension on the WRX makes for excellent roadholding and overall handling prowess. However, ride quality does suffer, but this can be a relative thing. I spent a good chunk of my teens and twenties driving sport compacts with performance-tuned suspensions. These also included aftermarket spring and coilover setups, which resulted in dreadful ride quality. For a factory setup with the ability to expand significantly in the aftermarket, the WRX’s firm ride is definitely tolerable and is something I’m a huge fan of.
Previous models of the WRX were known to be gas-guzzlers, with emphasis put on engine performance and response as opposed to being the green choice. Subaru has ensured that the latest generation model is a bit more lenient at the pumps. Thanks to its turbocharger and high engine compression ratio, it still requires 91-octane premium fuel, but this isn’t an issue as most competitors require the same. Over two combined cycles and doing a considerable bit of highway cruising, we were able to keep the WRX’s average under 8.0L/100km. Even after some spirited driving including the annual DoubleClutch.ca season closer cruise, the readout was still no worse than 9.6L/100km.
Where the 2016 Subaru WRX falls short in my eyes is the Spartan interior. As with previous models, there has been so much focus and development put into the way the car drives (rightfully so, too!), the interior is a bit dreary. Though improved significantly for 2015 with a brilliant new steering wheel, the cabin is simply “adequate”. There’s a new LCD screen in the center stack that displays readings from fuel economy to all-wheel-drive information, and even has a built-in boost gauge.
New for 2016 is the addition of Subaru’s StarLink infotainment system, which replaces the archaic outgoing unit. The system integrates the car’s Bluetooth connectivity with a series of apps for streaming audio as well as standard fare radio setups. The touchscreen is responsive enough and provides ample customization, but I found it to be impossible to use with an Apple iPod. Not only does it reset the iPod (connected to the car via a handy USB port), it actually froze my iPod each time the car was shut off, requiring a manual reset. This isn’t an issue limited to the WRX, because my editor experienced the same issue when testing a 2016 Forester recently.
The WRX is actually a fantastic value proposition – the base model with the six-speed manual can be had for $29,995. The catch is, even though the base car includes all the necessary drivetrain bits, it lacks a series of things that are added to this Sport Package tester ($32,795). For instance, the base model lacks automatic headlights and automatic climate control. The Sport Package adds these things, as well as a power sunroof and a few other useful goodies. For an extra ~$2700, it’s likely going to be the model that most opt for. In fact, our content editor Louis has been rambling on for nearly a year that this exact car in a different colour is going to be his next car.
Another change made to the 2016 WRX is the addition of some new options to the colour palate. The Lapis Blue on our tester is a subtle hue, and I’m also a fan of the classic World Rally Blue. Competitors like the Ford Focus ST and the Volkswagen GTI are priced similarly, but don’t offer all-wheel-drive. Of course, the upcoming Focus RS is expected to be a game-changing STi competitor, but it will be priced accordingly. The 2016 Subaru WRX Sport is easily one of the bargains of this decade; it provides a driving experience like no other vehicle on the road and enough capability and durability to survive through the harshest of conditions. If that’s not a winning formula, I don’t know what is.