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2022 Subaru WRX first drive review: Better than it looks

The new look takes getting used to, but the 2022 WRX brings an even better balance of all-season performance and comfort.

2022 Subaru WRX Limited
The 2022 WRX is all-new, inside and out, but still feels like an evolutionary update.
Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

The 2022 Subaru WRX is a new car with a new platform, a new engine and new sheetmetal, though it may not seem so at first glance. The broad strokes and even many of the specs stick so closely to the WRX's established formula that you'd be forgiven for thinking this is just an evolution of the previous car, rather than a total overhaul.

New design

The styling leans into the rally side of the WRX's racing heritage with thick black cladding around the wheel arches and lower sills to combat kicked-up gravel and mud. The headlamps are smaller and pushed out toward the corners, while the grille grows to fill the space. At the rear, the new taillight shapes remind me of the new BRZ, but with a unique, volcanic-magma three-dimensional sparkle.

The WRX's trademark widebody grows an inch wider for this generation and is now a full 2 inches wider than its contemporary Impreza. Fun fact: This is also the first year that the WRX shares no body panels with the Impreza. From bumper to bumper the exterior design is unique to the performance variant. The new WRX is also 3 inches longer than last year, with a wheelbase that's grown by an inch.

The new look is divisive and many have complained about the Crosstrek-esque cladding. It will take some getting used to, which is to be expected. I can't think of a single WRX redesign that was ever universally loved at debut, from the bugeye to the hawkeye and beyond -- I think we'll always be "getting used to" the WRX's style. That's mostly because WRXs aren't so much designed as they are engineered; given the choice between function and form, I reckon Subie is more than happy to deliver an ugly fast car. To that end, all of the WRX's aerodynamics and vents are functional, from the classic hood scoop to the new wheel arch vents, from the functional kick-up spoiler to the undertray that generates downforce.

Turbo four

Under the WRX's hood is the newest version of Subaru's 2.4-liter turbocharged boxer four-cylinder engine. It's tuned for performance, making 271 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque on 91-octane fuel. You may note that, despite a 25% boost in displacement over the old 2.0-liter engine, the new WRX only makes 3 more horsepower and no extra torque. Subaru says it's focused on boosting midrange torque while improving responsiveness and minimizing lag with upgrades like an electronically controlled turbocharger bypass and wastegate valves. To its credit, the new WRX does feel more eager and awake than the already plenty powerful predecessor.

Of the over 416,000 WRXs sold to date, 85% were outfitted with a manual transmission, so of course, a six-speed and three pedals are offered as standard equipment. At the business end of the powertrain is Subaru's all-wheel-drive system with a viscous coupling locking center differential, shuffling power to standard 17-inch wheels (or optional 18s) with 50:50 default torque split. The short-throw shifter has a light touch, but satisfying engagement as it locks into place at the end of each gear change. The same goes for the clutch; it's light and effortless, but not at all vague.

The new 2.4-liter turbocharged engine retains its top-mounted intercooler and features one of the best oil filter placements I've ever seen.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Suspension and ride improvements

Over rain-soaked mountain roads and along the Northern California coast, the WRX earns its reputation as an all-weather, multipurpose performance tool. The sport sedan is planted and stable around tight switchbacks and fast sweepers.

The new Subaru Global Platform that underpins the 2022 WRX is stiffer, which allowed the engineers to focus on improved damping of vibration and harshness, increased suspension travel and more refined ride quality for daily driving. The ride is still controlled and quite firm, but strikes a better balance between being supple enough to soak up big bumps without harshness or discomfort. Rather than eliminate body roll outright, the new suspension geometry controls the roll and uses it to create a more natural feel through direction changes and boost midcorner rotation.

Meanwhile, the new dual-pinion steering system feels pretty good -- I'd like a touch more feedback, but the light steering communicates enough about the road surface to instill confidence around corners. As is, the tuning strikes a good balance to serve double duty as both a weekend toy and a commuter.

Backed by the burbly soundtrack of the boxer exhaust, the WRX is a rewarding and exhilarating drive when pushed hard, but also a comfortable one that's not exhausting during long drives -- one that can be loaded up with a family, friends or kids and not rattle their fillings out around town.

The cladding definitely won't be for everyone.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Dashboard and safety tech

Cabin tech has never been the WRX's strong suit, but the 2022 model comes with some noteworthy improvements, at least for the upper trim levels. While the base model makes do with a pretty crunchy-looking display audio setup with dual 7-inch screens, Premium, Limited and GT models step up to the same 11.6-inch vertical infotainment system that debuted on the current-generation Outback.

The interface can be a touch awkward to use at times -- during my drive, a glitch prevented me from inputting more than one letter at a time in the destination search -- but it mostly gets the job done. Plus, it works with gloves on, which is nice for colder climates. The big screen comes standard with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity via USB -- unfortunately, not wireless -- which helps cover up any shortcomings you may have with navigation and media.

The 2022 WRX is available with the fourth- and newest-generation Subaru's EyeSight driver-assistance suite, but only when also equipped with the automatic transmission. Going manual means no collision mitigation braking, no lane-centering assist and no adaptive cruise control. What you do get are seven standard airbags, including a driver knee airbag, so drive safely.

2022 Subaru WRX Limited

The cabin is home to 11.6-inch vertical infotainment and redesigned sport seats with deeper, more supportive bolsters.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Optional CVT

I wasn't able to test an example equipped with the continuously variable transmission. Supply chain delays due to COVID-19 mean the automatic transmission will be delayed, arriving in the middle of next year. The CVT has a slightly lower final drive ratio than the manual, adds Subaru's SI-Drive modes and comes with a transmission oil cooler for Premium and higher specs. It also features a different all-wheel-drive system with a planetary gear center differential, an electronically controlled transfer clutch and a slightly rear-biased 45:55 default torque split. 

Subaru insists that despite the bad rap continuously variable transmissions get from enthusiast, this CVT delivers track-tuned performance and is updated with faster shifts through its eight virtual speeds. After riding along for a few hot laps when the WRX debuted earlier this year, I'm hoping for the best, but reserving judgment until I can drive it.

At the top of the 2022 model year lineup is a new GT trim level. It's only available with the automatic transmission, upgrading over the Limited model with Recaro seats and electronically controlled dampers with four settings.

The 2022 Subaru WRX should begin reaching dealers in spring 2022. Pricing hasn't been announced.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Available next spring

Subaru hasn't yet announced pricing, saying only that we shouldn't expect a radical increase over the current $30,000-to-$35,000 range. I expect that the new top GT spec will nudge the upper limits of that gamut a bit closer to the $40,000 mark.

All-new, yet somehow still very much the same as before, the essence of the Subaru WRX hasn't changed because its mission is still the same: striking an excellent balance between thrilling performance, daily-drivable comfort and practicality, and sure-footed safety. In those respects, mission accomplished.

Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.