The 2023 Subaru WRX feels like an honest-to-goodness Subaru. There, I said it. It’s something that isn’t trying to be what it isn’t, and that makes it a quintessential Subaru — for better and worse — but nonetheless charming.
Finished in World Rally Blue, it’s hard to mistake the new WRX for anything else. Tack on the controversial black body cladding and it definitely won’t look like your typical grocery getter — the hexagonal wheel arches are accentuated with a couple inches of black plastic, and the rear bumper is virtually all black plastic, not unlike a base model car from the 1990s.
I agreed with the internet’s sentiment at first. In photos, it looked weird, but after spending a few days with the WRX, I’ve grown to sort-of love the quirky styling. It gives the WRX a rugged, rally-car look at feels so Subie. We all clamour for uniqueness and cars being less appliance-like, so for once, let’s applaud Subaru for at least trying to maintain a modicum of individuality, even if it may not be to your liking.
There’s more to the WRX than all that plastic. The headlights are a nice evolution over the previous model, the grille is — gasp — normally sized, and it’s attached to a body that has some aggressive character lines. The hexagonal wheel arches house some attractive 18-inch multi-spoke wheels, and the signature hood scoop still looks great in this new generation. I also appreciate the fact that World Rally Blue lives on, especially as a no-cost option, instead of Subaru doing what other manufacturers do by giving up on their roots and instead, give us new stuff for the sake of being new. All this to say, I suggest you reserve judgment on the WRX’s looks until you see it in-person.
Inside, the WRX is still typical Subaru, which is to say, unspectacular. It all starts with the 11.6-inch, iPad-like screen, which is too dim and doesn’t work well in its vertical orientation. Take Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, for example: these apps are designed to display on a widescreen, so when you plug your phone in — wireless connectivity isn’t available — it shows up on this vertical screen occupying perhaps 40 per cent of overall real estate. The space feels wasted, and this issue presents itself again with the back-up camera feed. The user interface itself also looks dated, although I do appreciate that the climate controls always appear on-screen.
The 11-speaker Harman Kardon sound system isn’t much better, either, with poor sound-staging and low-quality bass overall. It’s not the worst option out there, but in this instance, don’t think the Harman Kardon badge is going to please your ears. The Bose system in the Civic Sport Touring hatchback blows the WRX out of the water.
The analog gauges, on the other hand, are easily legible and a colour centre display can be configured to show a number of readouts — I chose the boost gauge, because why wouldn’t I?! Along with the gauges, the WRX seats are another highlight, wrapped in a grippy, two-tone suede-like material. Kudos to Subaru for stitching in ‘WRX’ in the headrest, which is something for which I’m sure a certain German manufacturer would charge $1,000.
The rest of the interior is typical razor-thin Subaru plastics. Open the door and it feels unusually thin; tap on most any of the plastics and they feel hollow. Compared to something the new Honda Civic or a Mazda3, the WRX feels comparatively low-rent. I will grant that, despite the touchpoints not ‘feeling’ particularly good, it’s a decent-looking interior overall.
The WRX’s interior is apparently built to a price, but that’s because all the money went into the mechanical bits. Full-time all-wheel-drive remains a staple, but power now comes from a 2.4-litre four-cylinder turbocharged Boxer engine. It makes a healthy 271 horsepower at 5,600 RPM and 258 pound-feet of torque at 2,000 RPM, all flowing through a six speed manual in our tester, or a surprisingly good CVT we sampled earlier this year.
Power feels decidedly old school, with a surge of boost hitting closer to 4,000 RPM and beyond, making you want to rev it out to extract maximum performance. Unfortunately, outside of the cool turbo noises, the engine itself doesn’t sound particularly refined, much like the BRZ. The six-speed stick isn’t the example I’d use when making the case to #SaveTheManuals, either, but I’d still choose it over the CVT, despite how good everyone else in the DoubleClutch office says it is. The six-speed is tall and notchy, but feels like you can hustle it without fuss. The clutch on the other hand, is short and abrupt, which I’m learning is a bit of a Subaru trait. It takes a minute to get used to it, and has less margin of error than something out of a Honda.
The suspension isn’t adaptive, so what you see is what you get. It’s a tad harsh, but rewards you with great chassis control and feels relatively flat around corners. It’s genuinely fun to take the WRX down some backroads, with the suspension and all-wheel-drive system giving you a level of confidence you wouldn’t have expected. The one letdown is steering, which feels far too light and overboosted — but the WRX isn’t the only car to suffer from this.
Our WRX tester, the fully loaded Sport-tech, tops out at $43,152 as-tested, including freight and PDI. I’m finding it hard to position the WRX; it’s certainly flawed, missing key features like adaptive cruise control with the manual, a digital gauge cluster, wireless Android Auto or CarPlay connectivity, adaptive suspension, a decent sound system, or even decent trunk space. It rides a tad harsh, road and wind noise is pretty high, fuel economy is mediocre at best, and the interior isn’t the nicest place to be.
Then again, the 2023 Subaru WRX inspires a lot of confidence on a backroads and sure-footedness in the winter that would be unmatched by its rivals. It’s a fun car to drive enthusiastically, and it also looks unique in its ruggedness not trying to imitate an entry level luxury car like many of its competitors. The WRX is a good value if you enjoy driving and want to stand out in a sea of Civics and Jettas in a parking lot. Just make sure to get it in World Rally Blue.