Subaru buyers guide: WRX, Forester, Outback, BRZ, which is right for you?
With a full range of crossover SUVs and some compelling sporty options, which Subaru is right for you? Our buying guide is here to help.
Chris PaukertFormer executive editor / Cars
Following stints in TV news production and as a record company publicist, Chris spent most of his career in automotive publishing. Mentored by Automobile Magazine founder David E. Davis Jr., Paukert succeeded Davis as editor-in-chief of Winding Road, a pioneering e-mag, before serving as Autoblog's executive editor from 2008 to 2015.
Chris is a Webby and Telly award-winning video producer and has served on the jury of the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards. He joined the CNET team in 2015, bringing a small cache of odd, underappreciated cars with him.
is best known as the automaker that builds popular models like the
crossover SUVs, along with cars like the Legacy and
. Well-regarded for their offbeat combination of boxer engines and all-wheel drive, the Japanese brand's popularity has been on the rise for many years.
As the 22nd-largest producer of new automobiles globally, Subaru is still something of a small company in the car business, but thanks in part to a longstanding partnership with
, Subaru has been thriving in a consolidating and evolving industry where volume is king.
Subaru through the years
Like many other car companies, Subaru didn't actually start out building automobiles. The brand's parent, formerly known as Fuji Heavy Industries (now known as Subaru Corporation), was actually born in 1915 as the Nakajima Aircraft Company, a company best-known for building airplanes during World War II. After the conflict ended, the company transitioned into a new entity, Fuji Sangyo Co., which produced gas-powered scooters, among other things.
It wasn't until the Subaru 1500 of 1954 that the company began building passenger cars. Only a very small number of 1500s were built, but early Subaru would go on to build a number of much more successful small cars and trucks, including the oddball rear-engined 360 (which would become the first Subaru model sold in the US) and the Sambar utility vehicle.
Fast-forward to today, and Subaru is well regarded as a builder of dependable sedans, sporty cars, and particularly, crossover sport utility vehicles. As one of the very first automakers to enthusiastically incorporate all-wheel drive into its passenger cars and embrace car-based SUV body styles, Subaru's offerings have both defined the modern automotive market and been well served by where it has headed.
As a brand, Subaru is also well known for its rally racing heritage and for the broad and inclusive nature of its advertising and marketing efforts, with a particular emphasis on speaking to the LGBTQ community, as well as outdoor enthusiasts and pet owners. The company's offerings are also well regarded for their practicality, durability and resale value.
If Subaru has a major blind spot, it's been its reluctance to embrace alternative fuels. In an industry hurtling headlong toward electrification, the automaker offers just one such model, the Crosstrek Hybrid, a plug-in model with limited range and appeal. So far, though, that softness hasn't hurt the brand's growth.
So, which Subaru is right for you? Check out our buying guide below:
The 2019 Subaru Outback is ideal whether you're on paved roads or not
In any case, in the transition from ground-bound wagon to crossover SUV, the roomy five-seat Outback does pick up real utility chops, thanks mostly to a suspension lift that gives it a substantial 8.7 inches of ground clearance. It also receives a more rough-and-ready appearance thanks to blacked-out lower trim, a chunky roof rack and other features.
The 2019 Outback starts at $26,345 plus $975 delivery for the base 2.5i model, which includes a 175-horsepower, 2.5-liter flat four-cylinder engine paired with a standard Lineartronic continuously variable transmission and AWD. A pricer 3.6-liter flat six-cylinder engine is available on high-end Limited and Touring trims. It offers 256 hp and 247 pound-feet for improved acceleration, albeit at the expense of fuel economy. The price of entry for the larger-engined models starts at $34,995 before options and destination fee, but it does include more standard equipment.
Regardless of powerplant, all Outback models are rated to tow 2,700 pounds.
All Outback family models include EyeSight Driver Assist Technology, a suite of active safety features including adaptive cruise control, pre-collision auto brake and lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist. All trims are also outfitted with standard Starlink Multimedia, which includes popular features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, along with apps for iHeartRadio, Yelp!, and so on. An embedded TomTom-based navigation system is optional.
It's hard to go wrong with the Outback -- it offers ample space in an extremely versatile package with solid, car-like handling. While there's nothing wrong with the base 2.5i model, I'd be inclined to at least step up to the 2.5i Premium model, which starts at $28,445.
For that extra two-thousand dollars or so, you get a brace of life-improving features, including dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink and fog lamps. Not to be discounted, the 2.5i Premium also gets a larger 8.0-inch Starlink infotainment system with six speakers (base 2.5i models receive a 6.5-inch display and only four speakers).
The 2.5-liter four-cylinder has enough power to get around town, and it delivers strong fuel economy, with EPA ratings at 25 miles per gallon in the city and 32 on the highway.
Fuel economy (miles per gallon)
Subaru Outback 2.5i family
2.5-liter flat four, 175 hp and 174 lb-ft
25 city / 32 hwy / 28 combined
Subaru Outback 3.6R family
3.6-liter flat six, 256 hp and 247 lb-ft
20 city / 27 hwy / 22 combined
However, if you plan to tow frequently, if you live in the mountains or even if you just tend to haul around a lot of kids and clutter, it might be advisable to step up all the way up to the 3.6R Limited, which starts at $34,995. Yes, fuel economy is substantially worse at 20 mpg city and 27 highway, but you get a lot more power -- 256 hp and 247 pound-feet for easier passing and acceleration. You also get more creature comforts, including heated leather seats (front and rear), a 12-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system, plus standard blind-spot detection and bigger 18-inch wheels.
Assuming you're up for the 3.6R, there aren't many options to choose from. There's a $2,150 option pack that includes embedded navigation, a power moonroof, reverse automatic braking, and LED cornering headlights with high-beam assist. I think good headlamps are among the most important safety features you can buy, so I'd splurge for this option group. That brings my as-specced price to $38,120 delivered. That's not inexpensive, but the Outback 3.6R is a lot of vehicle for the dollar, and it's got excellent residual values when you get down the road a few years and want to buy something newer.
Speaking of newer, an all-new, sixth-generation 2020 Subaru Outback is due this fall. With better power and efficiency and a new look, it might be worth waiting for.
Buy the Subaru Outback if:
You want a roomy, hard-wearing all-weather wagon without the me-too SUV looks
Don't buy the Subaru Outback if:
You want the sharpest on-road handling or the lowest noise levels
Despite having only come on the scene in 1997, in just 20 years or so, the Forester has come to be regarded as the definitive Subaru in the eyes of many. Smaller than the Outback, this compact crossover is immensely popular, competing with models like the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4 and Volkswagen Tiguan in the heart of today's car market.
For 2019, the Forester range starts at $24,295 plus $975 delivery. All Forester-family models are powered by the company's 2.5-liter boxer four engine delivering 182 hp and 176 pound-feet of torque through Subaru's standard Lineartronic CVT and all-wheel drive. Fuel economy is solid, with EPA ratings coming in at 26 mpg city and 33 on the highway. Maximum towing capacity is limited to just 1,500 pounds regardless of trim. The top-of-the-line Forester Touring model starts at $34,295 before options and destination fee.
You might not immediately recognize it because it's so similar looking to its predecessor, but today's fifth-generation Subaru Forester is all-new for the 2019 model year. This model rides atop the Subaru Global Platform, a chassis architecture set to underpin most of the company's future models.
Whereas past-generation models offered a higher-performance model, this time out, Subaru has simplified the Forester range greatly. There's more standard features and there's still plenty of off-road ability, with 8.7 inches of ground clearance. There's even a new Sport model with blacked-out trim and wheels and racy red accents. However, if you're looking for actual better performance, you're going to need to splurge for an Outback with the 3.6-liter engine, or at least seek out some aftermarket solutions -- the Sport is just a visuals package.
Overall, the Forester is a competent jack-of-all-trades that offers above-average off-road ability, but its acceleration is pokey and its ride and handling balance is a bit roly-poly.
Since all 2019 Subaru Foresters feature the same powertrains, the only reason to move up the trim ladder is down to added features -- primarily creature comforts like leather seating and nicer audio systems, although there are a few safety features are optional.
Because there's no performance benefits for spending more money, I'm inclined to recommend speccing out a more basic Forester, an idea that's in keeping with the model's rugged, outdoorsy ethos.
For 2019, the Forester starts at $24,295 before options and $975 destination charge. The family tops out with the high-end Touring model, which runs $34,295 for starters. I'd start with the $26,695 Premium spec, one rung from the bottom.
Fuel economy (miles per gallon)
Subaru Forester family
2.5-liter flat four, 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque; all-wheel drive
26 city / 33 highway / 29 combined
On the outside, that modest $2,400 price walk gets you alloy wheels, a power moonroof, body-color mirrors, roof rails and a rear spoiler. On the inside, you get 4G LTE WiFi capability, a rear armrest with cup holders, and a six-speaker audio system with 6.5-inch Starlink infotainment (a larger 8.0-inch screen is optional on Sport and standard on Limited models). On the safety front, the Forester Premium also gets Subaru's Starlink Safety and Security telematics suite, which includes automatic collision notification, SOS emergency assistance, remote engine start with climate control and various other services.
Starting with that $26,695 Premium model, I'd add the $1,295 option grouping that bundles the blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, keyless access with push-button start, and the All-Weather Package that includes heated front seats, side mirrors and a windshield wiper deicer. All-in, my recommended 2019 Subaru Forester Premium rings up at a wholly reasonable $28,965 delivered.
Buy the Subaru Forester if:
You seek a compact SUV with above-average off-road chops and strong resale value
Don't buy the Subaru Forester if:
You want above-average acceleration and handling, or if you prefer to not see yourself coming and going
The Ascent is Subaru's newest model line, and it's also the biggest vehicle the company has ever sold. This three-row crossover SUV takes everything that people love about the Forester and super-sizes it for bigger families.
This new model even looks like an overgrown Forester, fitting right in with Subaru's rugged-yet-conservative aesthetic.
With seating for up to eight people and standard all-wheel drive, the 2020 Subaru Ascent starts at $31,995, with MSRPs ratcheting up to the top-shelf $45,045 Ascent Touring (before options and $1,010 destination fee). That pricing range places this Indiana-built SUV in the heart of the burgeoning upper mid-size crossover market, where it competes against segment stalwarts like the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander, as well as newcomers like the Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride and Volkswagen Atlas.
New for 2018, the Ascent is based on the same Subaru Global Architecture that underpins the current Impreza and Forester models. Powered by a 2.4-liter turbocharged flat four-cylinder engine, the Ascent delivers 260 hp and 277 pound-feet of torque. As with other Subarus, all-wheel drive and a Lineartronic CVT are mandatory. Most other vehicles in this class offer V6 power, but the forced-induction engine of the Subaru is in the hunt when it comes to overall power, and fuel-efficiency ratings (up to 21 mpg city, 27 highway) are class competitive, too.
Best for larger families or those who have regular towing needs (the Ascent can lug up to 5,000 pounds), this Subaru also offers above-average cargo space -- up to 86.5 cubic feet (47.5 of which is behind the second row).
The Ascent also offers plenty of tech features, including a wealth of standard active safety gear and Starlink infotainment with standard Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a 6.5-inch touchscreen. Optional features include a larger 8.0-inch infotainment system, 14-speaker Harman Kardon audio, a panoramic moonroof and a WiFi hotspot.
Overall, the Ascent is a well-rounded three-row SUV that doesn't really stand out in any particular area.
Roadshow's long-term 2019 Subaru Ascent is a big, comfy family-hauler
Because all Ascent models feature the same powertrains, speccing out your dream three-row Subaru is is really a question of how much you want to spend on cabin conveniences and the stray additional safety feature.
As this is a family vehicle and not a luxury car, I'm inclined to keep things simple and relatively low cost. This model range ascends (ahem) from base Ascent to Premium, Limited and Touring. I'd recommend starting with the $34,395 Premium trim.
On the outside, that means nicer 17-inch alloy wheels, body-color trim and a windshield-wiper deicer.
Fuel economy (miles per gallon)
Subaru Ascent family
2.4-liter turbo flat four, 260 hp and 277 lb-ft; all-wheel drive
up to 21 city / 27 hwy /23 combined
On the inside, that means the larger 8.0-inch Starlink infotainment head unit, heated front seats (with power articulation for the driver) and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter for the adults. Perhaps more importantly for a kid-friendly vehicle, Premium spec also includes second-row climate controls, stain-resistant upholstery, dual front- and rear USB ports and 4G LTE WiFi capability to keep everyone's tablets and
Finally, Premium also includes blind-spot detection with lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert.
Starting with the standard $34,395 Premium model, I'd spend the $1,460 to upgrade to the 8-Passenger Convenience Package, which includes all-important features like keyless access and a power rear liftgate. This option cluster also includes reverse automatic braking and an auto-dim mirror with HomeLink buttons.
While I like features like second-row captain's chairs or embedded navigation, things get very pricey very quickly. The latter is only available as part of the 8 Passenger Sporty Package, and that has a prohibitively high $4,260 cost. That's because it also includes features like a panoramic roof and 20-inch wheels, which look sharp but don't help ride quality. Pass.
All-in, my smart-money 2020 Subaru Ascent Premium rings up at a reasonable $36,865 delivered -- before hitting the dealer-installed accessories list.
Buy the Subaru Ascent if:
You've got a big family, you tow frequently, or you want to be a carpool all-star
Don't buy the Subaru Ascent if:
You want a large SUV that's particularly luxurious or fun to drive
If there's one model that's generally overlooked in the Subaru lineup, it's the company's Legacy sedan. That's a bit of a shame, because there's nothing really wrong with this midsize family four-door, and there's quite a lot that's right about it.
For starters, the Legacy has standard all-wheel drive, a feature that's still in short supply among midsize non-premium sedans. It's also available with six-cylinder power, which is also becoming something of a rarity in a class where most car companies are downsizing power offerings to four-cylinder engines. The entire range also features a good amount of active safety features.
The Legacy has been around since 1989, and it's now in its 6th generation in its final year. The new 7th-generation model (shown below) arrives this fall for the 2020 model year, and it shows signs of being worth waiting for. However, Subaru hasn't made the new model available for test drives, and it won't be in showrooms until later this year, so for now, your only choice is the 2019 model.
2020 Subaru Legacy: A new platform and turbo perk up Subaru's midsize sedan
The 2019 Subaru Legacy family starts at $22,545 (plus $885 delivery) for the base 2.5i, which comes with the brand's ubiquitous 2.5-liter boxer four putting out a modest-but-usable 175 hp and 174 pound-feet of torque. Fuel economy estimates are 25 mpg city and 34 mpg highway. The optional 3.6-liter horizontally opposed flat six-cylinder engine develops 256 hp and 247 pound-feet, a substantial increase, albeit with an equally substantial fuel penalty: the bigger engine only gets 20 mpg city and 28 mpg freeway.
The four-cylinder Legacy trim walk runs from base 2.5i to 2.5i Premium to 2.5i Sport to 2.5i Limited. The range-topping 3.6R Limited starts at $31,545 before options and delivery.
(The Legacy used to be available in a handsome and utilitarian station wagon model, but that body style has been supplanted by the Subaru Outback, a lifted quasi-SUV you can read about elsewhere in this buyer's guide. These days, if you want a Legacy, it's four-door sedan or nothing.)
First things first: Unless you're in a big hurry, I'd recommend waiting until this fall to see how the new 2020 Subaru Legacy shapes up -- early photos and details suggest the new model is a significant upgrade, and even though today's family sedan sales are slipping, the segment is a murderer's row of talented models, especially cars like the Honda Accord and new Nissan Altima (which now offers AWD).
Having said that, I'd recommend stepping up to the middle 2.5i Sport trim, which looks a bit racier and feels modestly more special inside thanks to features like larger 18-inch wheels, LED fogs and a rear spoiler. This $26,795 model also includes important safety features like blind-spot detection and nice-to-have amenities like electroluminescent gauges and heated front seats (including power articulation for the driver).
There's one major option group available, a $2,145 option package that includes 8.0-inch Starlink infotainment, a power moonroof, automatic high beams and reverse automatic braking. Those are all nice features, but since the standard infotainment system features Apple CarPlay for easy Waze or Google Maps integration, I'm saving my money. All-in, my recommended 2019 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Sport spec rings up at $27,680 delivered.
Fuel economy (miles per gallon)
Subaru Legacy 2.5i family
2.5-liter flat four, 175 hp and 174 lb-ft; all-wheel drive
25 city / 34 hwy / 29 combined
Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited
3.6-liter flat six, 256 hp and 247 lb-ft; all-wheel drive
20 city / 28 hwy / 23 combined
Buy the Subaru Legacy if:
You want Subaru's legendary all-wheel drive, but don't want a me-too crossover SUV
Don't buy the Subaru Legacy if:
You seek class-leading luxury, efficiency or edgy design
The 2019 Impreza is Subaru's entry-level offering, a compact range available in both four-door sedan and five-door hatchback body styles. Competing against popular rivals like the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla, the Impreza is most noteworthy for its standard AWD, strong safety equipment and an easy-to-use infotainment system.
The current fifth-generation Impreza has been on sale since the 2017 model year, and North-American-market vehicles are built in Lafayette, Indiana. The Impreza is notable for its solid handling and large cabin, but the model's biggest claim to fame is actually that it forms the basis for the high-performance
sport sedan, as well as the
compact SUV, both of which are covered elsewhere in this guide.
Subaru's most-affordable model, the Impreza starts from just $18,595 plus $885 delivery for the base 2.0i sedan. The five-door 2.0i hatchback commands slightly more, ringing up at $19,095, but its added utility seems worth the premium. Mid-level Premium models ($21,595 sedan/$22,095 hatch) give way to the 2.0i Sport ($22,195 sedan/$22,695 hatch) and finally to the high-end 2.0i Limited ($25,190 sedan/$25,690 hatch).
All 2019 Impreza models feature a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated flat-four engine delivering a modest 152 hp and 145 pound-feet of torque. Most models receive Subaru's Lineartronic CVT, but the base 2.0i sedan and Sport models receive a notchy five-speed manual transmission that isn't as much fun as it should be. (Importantly, Subaru's EyeSight suite of ADAS features is unavailable on stick-shift models).
Fuel economy figures range from a high of 28 mpg city and 38 highway for CVT-equipped models to a frankly disappointing low of 22 mpg city and 30 highway for the manual-transmission Sport.
While I typically celebrate the availability of manuals, I'd pass on Impreza models with three pedals, because the DIY gearbox isn't particularly rewarding in this car, and the transmission's fuel economy hit is substantial.
My pick of the litter is the 2019 Impreza 2.0i Premium 5-Door, which starts at a reasonable $22,095. I'd pony up $1,395 for the optional EyeSight Driver Assist Technology package, which incorporates blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert and steering-responsive fog lights. I'd also pay the extra $499 for the upgraded Rockford Fosgate audio system, because the standard system's sound is underwhelming.
All-in, my recommended-spec 2019 Impreza rings up at $24,874 delivered, a reasonable sum for a low-frills, utility-rich AWD hatchback.
Fuel economy (miles per gallon)
Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sedan
2.0-liter flat four, 152 hp and 145 lb-ft; all-wheel drive
Manual: Up to 24 city / 32 hwy / 27 combined; CVT: Up to 28 city / 38 hwy /32 combined
Subaru Impreza 2.0i 5-Door
2.0-liter flat four, 152 hp and 145 lb-ft; all-wheel drive
Manual: Up to 24 city / 31 hwy / 26 combined; CVT: Up to 28 city / 36 hwy / 31 combined
Buy the Subaru Impreza if:
You need a safe, inexpensive economy car, and you need it to be all-wheel drive
Don't buy the Subaru Impreza if:
You are looking for the most stylish or premium-feeling small car
It's amazing what a lift kit can do for a fellah. How else to explain the wildly successful Subaru Crosstrek, which outsells its Impreza cousin by around two-to-one?
The Crosstrek, a model formerly known as the XV Crosstrek (and previously the Impreza Outback) has definitely come into its own over the last few years. America's SUV-crazy consumers have found that they greatly prefer the Crosstrek over the Impreza, even though they're almost exactly the same vehicle.
The Crosstrek adds a generous amount of ground clearance (8.7 inches versus the Impreza's 5.1 inches), matte-black wheel arches, funkier alloy wheels and some more aggressive lower cladding, and… voilà! Instant SUV, complete with a price tag that's thousands of dollars more.
If that sounds a bit cynical, well, that's because it somewhat is. However, that doesn't mean that the Subaru Crosstrek isn't a good vehicle. In fact, the Crosstrek is downright likable as a compact crossover, and indeed, it has substantially more off-road capability than most other vehicles in its class, which includes vehicles like the Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona, Jeep Compass and Nissan Rogue Sport. Of all the vehicles in this very crowded class, only the Jeep can keep up off pavement.
The gas-only 2019 Crosstrek family starts at $21,895 for the base 2.0i model, and ranges to $27,195 for the 2.0i Limited trim (plus $975 delivery). All non-hybrid models are powered by a 2.0-liter flat four delivering 152 hp and 145 pound-feet of torque. In five-speed-manual trim, EPA fuel economy estimates check in at an unimpressive 23 mpg city and 29 mpg highway, but CVT-equipped models do much better: 27 mpg city and 33 mpg highway.
2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid is a plug-in with real compromises
Ah, yes, I did say "non-hybrid" earlier. There's one model in this family that stands apart from the others, and that's the Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid, a plug-in gas-electric that leverages technological partner Toyota's expertise. Sounds great, right? Regrettably, it isn't. It's the only Crosstrek we can't recommend, on account of its deeply compromised utility, high pricing, weird symphony of powertrain noises and underwhelming real-world efficiency.
This limited-availability model starts at $34,995 and delivers 90 miles-per-gallon equivalent, at least until this SUV's modest electric-only range of 17 miles expires. After that, you're left toting around 500 pounds of extra weight from the two motors and 8.8-kWh battery, plus you've got about 25-percent less cargo room thanks to intrusion from said pack. The Hybrid is built atop the 2.0i Limited's spec levels, but costs $35,970 delivered before options and any applicable tax breaks. Just say "no."
Call me crazy, but if I'm shopping the Crosstrek, I'm stepping up all the way to the $27,195 2.0i Limited trim. Yes, the 2.0i Premium trim is the better value, but if I'm going to spend the extra money over a regular Impreza 5-Door, I want my Crosstrek to feel as special as possible -- plus the Limited comes standard with a bunch of features I'd otherwise recommend optioning up to.
The Crosstrek Limited includes cabin enhancements like the upsized 8.0-inch Starlink infotainment system with six speakers and 4G LTE WiFi, heated leather upholstery with orange contrast stitching, a power driver's seat, auto climate control, paddle shifters, a 4.2-inch color multi-function in-cluster LCD and keyless access with push-button start.
Other changes for the Limited include steerable LED headlamps with high-beam assist, blind-spot detection, reverse auto-brake, turn-signal side mirrors and larger 18-inch alloys. Overall, the Limited gives buyers a good amount of bang for the buck.
23 city / 29 hwy / 25 combined (Manual and automatic)
Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid
2.0-liter flat four + 2 electric motors; 148 total system hp; all-wheel drive
90 miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe); 35 mpg combined
Options include a $1,000 moonroof or a $2,350 package that includes the aforementioned roof, eight-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio and embedded navigation. However, since even the base Crosstrek features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, I'm leaving these option boxes unchecked. As-delivered price? $28,170.
Buy the Subaru Crosstrek if:
The fire road to your favorite surf spot or hiking trail is too gnarly for an Impreza
From a product perspective, over the last 20 years, three models really burnished Subaru's public perception, turning the company from a niche brand to a hot seller with far broader appeal: The Outback and Forester put Subie on the shopping lists of mainstream consumers, and the WRX put the marque on the map with driving enthusiasts.
Originally coveted by the video-game generation that grew up on simulators like Gran Turismo, the Impreza-based Subaru WRX became a high-performance legend long before it reached North American shores. When it finally did reach US and Canadian dealers nearly a decade later in 2002, the turbocharged, rally-bred compact sedan became a sensation among driving enthusiasts, offering all-wheel-drive performance that far outstripped anything in its price class. A hero was born.
Today's WRX is actually based on the last-generation Impreza, having last been redone in 2014. As such, it's aging a bit, but it's still a very entertaining and potent performer in either standard WRX formula or extra-strength WRX STI tune. Powered by a 2.0-liter boxer in standard WRX trim, the four-cylinder turbo delivers a healthy 268 hp and 258 pound-feet of torque. The STI's 2.5-liter forced-induction mill churns up 310 hp and 290 pound-feet of torque.
While the original US WRX was a manual-transmission-only proposition, these days a six-speed stick is standard and Subaru's ubiquitous Lineartronic CVT is optional, albeit not on the STI. For maximum engagement, go with the three-pedal setup.
Standard AWD and that kind of performance means you shouldn't expect much in the way of fuel efficiency, and that's precisely what you get: The WRX nets 21 mpg city and 27 highway with the manual gearbox, and 18/24 with the CVT. The WRX STI nets out at 17 mpg city and 22 highway, and it recommends running 93 octane fuel (both models require at least 91 octane).
Today, the Subaru WRX is an aging legend, and it no longer has its arch rival, the Mitsubishi Evo, to battle against. Instead, primary WRX competitors include the Volkswagen GTI and Honda Civic Si, while the hotter STI variant goes up against the VW Golf R, as well as being a tempting cut-rate alternative to cars like the Audi S3 and Mercedes-AMG CLA 45, both of which are far costlier.
For 2019, the base WRX carries a $27,195 MSRP before options. A higher-content Premium trim starts at $29,495, and the top-spec WRX Limited starts at $31,795 (all prices plus $885 delivery). The higher-performance WRX STI starts at $36,595 plus destination charge, with the WRX STI Limited asking $41,395 plus delivery before hitting the options list.
While the WRX STI is thrilling, I'd recommend going with the standard 2.0-liter WRX, because it's plenty quick and a better value. That said, I'd splurge on the costlier Limited trim. Why? A number of reasons: First off, the base WRX looks a bit ordinary and dowdy these days. If the 'sleeper look' is what you're after, that's great. But if not, you're probably going to want the larger 18-inch wheels found on the Premium and Limited models. Given how quick the WRX is, you're also going to want all the candlepower you can get, especially if you're prone to high-speed night runs. As such, the $31,795 (plus delivery) Limited is your best bet, as it comes with auto-on cornering LED headlamps and LED fogs.
The WRX's interior is dated and rendered in ho-hum materials, so heated leather sport seats help elevate the cabin feel a bit, and the Limited's standard keyless entry with push-button start keeps the experience feeling somewhat modern. A seven-inch Starlink infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is no great shakes, but it is easy to use.
Standard active safety gear is in short supply on the WRX, but Subie's EyeSight suite of advanced driver assist features is optional on Premium and Limited trims, albeit only on CVT-equipped models. If you want blind-spot monitoring, it's optional on the Limited and not available on any other trim, let alone the STI. (You can forget about ADAS features altogether if you want an STI).
Fuel economy (miles per gallon)
Subaru WRX family
2.0-liter turbo flat four, 268 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque; all-wheel drive
Manual: 21 city / 27 hwy / 23 combined; CVT: 18 city / 24 hwy /21 combined
Subaru WRX STI family
2.5-liter turbo flat four; 310 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque; all-wheel drive
17 city / 22 hwy / 19 combined
As mentioned earlier, I'd stick with the six-speed manual for maximum fun -- the CVT is better tuned than you might expect, but it's still something of a buzzkill. Plus at $1,900, it's expensive. Save that coin, and instead put it toward the $2,100 Optional Package that includes embedded navigation, Harman Kardon audio and blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert. If you've still got a little cash sloshing around, Subaru also offers a freer-flowing STI exhaust for $1,170, but I'd probably pass, as the aftermarket can accommodate you less expensively, too.
All-in, my recommended 2019 Subaru WRX Limited retails for $34,780 delivered. Given this model's age, it's likely possible to wheel and deal to get a more attractive price. Any discounts will likely only get more plentiful as the WRX's expected replacement draws near for 2020.
Buy the Subaru WRX if:
You love rally racing or just want an extremely quick point-to-point sport sedan
Don't buy the Subaru WRX if:
You want luxury and refinement with your tire shredding
And now for something completely different. While the BRZ probably would've never existed without the WRX paving the brand's way with driving enthusiasts, this sports coupe is something of an outsider in the Subaru clan. That's by design. After all, the BRZ lacks Subaru's calling-card feature: all-wheel drive. The BRZ is a rear-wheel-drive proposition, and it's all the better for it.
Jointly developed and produced with partner Toyota, the Subaru BRZ is a mechanical twin to the Toyota 86 (formerly the Scion FR-S). This lightweight sports car, known by some enthusiasts as "Toyobaru," puts a premium on driver engagement over outright performance numbers. Philosophically, it's a bit like a somewhat larger Mazda MX-5 Miata, albeit without a convertible top.
Subaru did handle most of the engine and chassis development for the BRZ and 86, meaning there's still a flat-four engine under the hood. That's good news, because boxer-style "pancake" engines are inherently flatter and can be mounted lower in a car's chassis, a combination that makes for excellent handling.
Starting at $25,795 (plus $885 destination) for the base Premium model, this 2+2 coupe is one of the most fun-to-drive cars on the market at any price, thanks to its keen steering, firm brakes and playful disposition. However, with only 205 hp and 156 pound-feet from its 2.0-liter engine, the BRZ is hardly a quick car in a straight line -- you'll have to lose any pursuers in the corners.
A fun six-speed manual gearbox is standard, and a paddle-shift automatic with as many speeds is a cost option. We highly, highly recommend going with the former transmission, even if there's a fuel economy penalty (the manual gets 21 mpg city and 29 highway; the automatic checks in at 24/33).
One other note: the BRZ is getting on in years. It's received a number of incremental special edition models over the years, and there's been one subtle mid-cycle refresh, but this car has been on the market since 2012. Even when it was new, the BRZ's cabin didn't feel particularly premium or modern, and time hasn't done it any favors.
The BRZ is also unavailable without the advanced driver assist technologies that many cars have as standard-fit today, including auto emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and lane-departure warning.
Aside from the aforementioned Miata and its Toyota twin, the Subaru BRZ doesn't really have any other natural competitors -- few people will shop this car against something like a four-cylinder Ford Mustang or Chevrolet Camaro.
The 2019 Subaru BRZ comes in two basic trims, entry-level Premium ($25,795) and the $28,645 Limited. If you want to spec the optional automatic transmission ($1,100), you'll have to go with the pricier Limited, as it's not offered on the base model. In fact, there are basically no options on the low-end Premium model, just a brace of accessories like a subwoofer or STI wheels and springs.
I'd start with the Limited, which gets you basic convenience features like keyless access with push-button start, plus dual-zone HVAC and a slightly larger infotainment display with dual USB ports. This being a performance car, I'd also spec the optional performance package, which is a reasonable $1,195 for Brembo brakes, uprated Sachs dampers and unique 17-inch alloy wheels. All-in, including delivery, my recommended BRZ spec rings up at $30,725.
Fuel economy (miles per gallon)
Subaru BRZ family
2.0-liter flat four, 205 hp and 156 lb-ft; rear-wheel drive
Manual: 21 city / 29 hwy / 24 combined; Automatic: 24 city / 33 hwy / 27 combined
Buy the Subaru BRZ if:
You prioritize great handling over high horsepower
Don't buy the Subaru BRZ if:
You're a drag-racing junkie, or if your top priorities include a luxurious interior or active safety features