Getting behind the wheel of this 2019 Subaru WRX is like reuniting with a good friend. This generation of the WRX, after all, launched in 2014 and has had only mild changes since. For the 2018 model year, Subaru restyled the car's fascias, tweaked the suspension and fettled with its clutch and gearbox. For 2019, the only real changes are an upgraded infotainment system and the launch of the Series.Gray special-edition package seen on this test car.
Just like an old friend, the WRX has both its charms and its annoyances. Still a screamer on a backroad that'll deliver big driving fun, it also still feels a smidge behind the times in terms of things like refinement, fuel efficiency and technology compared to its competition. That isn't a reason to avoid the Subaru WRX, but rather a byproduct of its take-no-prisoners attitude to sportiness. And perhaps, above all, that's part of the WRX's charm.
Series.Gray is the latest in a long line of special-edition packages from Subaru that focus more on aesthetics than actual performance. For $3,100, you get Cool Gray Khaki paint, which looks blue rather than gray; black, 18-inch wheels; blacked-out badges and mirrors; plus the addition of push-button start and LED fog lights. It's a pretty sharp look, and given that Subaru will only sell 750 WRXs so equipped, fans will surely appreciate the package's limited nature.
The package does not, however, bring any major mechanical tweaks. It's based on the WRX's existing Performance package, meaning the car does without a sunroof, to save a little weight, and adds upgraded Jurid brake pads behind the 18-inch wheels and Recaro bucket seats inside the cabin.
Not that tweaks are needed to the WRX's performance. With its turbocharged, 2.0-liter, flat-four engine serving up 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, it furiously pulls through its gears. The notchy, mechanical feel of the six-speed manual and the aggressive clutch allow for swift work dispatching all that power. And, as is the WRX's calling card, standard all-wheel drive means you can unleash the engine at any time.
That said, there's a big difference in the engine's on- and off-boast performance. Catch the engine unawares at low revs and it might stumble and hesitate for a bit. Then once the revs swing up and turbo kicks in, it does so with a big slingshot-like effect through the engine's midrange. With peak horsepower arriving at 5,600 rpm and dropping off precipitously after, short-shifting the WRX below its 6,700-rpm redline is no big deal.
Quick steering with lots of driver feedback makes cornering exciting, too. The WRX's suspension is stiff and firmly damped, so the car digs in eagerly when the road gets twisty. It's pretty hard to upset the chassis, which keeps its poise no matter how rough the road or aggressive your inputs. And the optional Recaro seats do a reasonable job of holding me in place, without being too cumbersome to get in and out of. It all makes for a car that feels at its best when driven hard and thrashed through the gears.
As to living with it everyday? Well, the Subaru WRX lacks the polish of some its best competitors. The suspension jars and bounces over the road, the engine drones at highway speeds and the cabin is overall quite loud -- turn that radio up higher than you expect.
City driving is the WRX's weakest point for two reasons. First, the on-off nature of the turbo engine makes for less-than-smooth progress and can sometimes leave you wanting for power if you're not prompt on your downshifts. Moreover, even after the tweaks for the 2018 model year, the clutch take-up is grabby and the shifter relatively high-effort. Of course, we do allow for performance cars to be a little trickier to drive than everyday commuting machines, but the WRX is a little rougher around the edges than, say, a Volkswagen Golf R, to say nothing of FWD rivals like the Ford Focus ST and VW GTI.
Its fuel economy is lacking, too, considering its power outputs. Rated for 21 miles per gallon city and 27 mpg highway, the WRX is a little thirstier than the similarly powerful and also AWD-equipped VW Golf R (21/29 mpg with a manual transmission). Unsurprisingly, it also drinks far more than FWD competitors. Again, for enthusiast drivers, this might not be a make-or-break data point in the decision to buy the Subie.
Despite the fuel-economy penalty, it's worth remembering AWD is a big selling point for the WRX. Stick some appropriate rubber on the Subaru and you can keep enjoying the car's performance all winter long. It's no wonder the WRX is so popular in the Snowbelt. (My own internet search history often features "subaru wrx used" around this time of year.)
The inside of the Subaru WRX immediately reminds that there was a schism between the regular Impreza and the WRX; where the former is now on a new platform with a vastly improved cabin design, the WRX is still based on the old Impreza. That means that, despite lots of glossy carbon-fiber bits, red accent trim and the aforementioned Recaros, the interior does feature a lot of hard and coarsely grained plastics.
Visibility is outstanding in every direction, with a low belt line, thin pillars and big window glass almost negating the need for blind-spot monitoring. The instrument cluster is no-nonsense, with big analog speedometer and tachometer dials, plus a digital speed readout. There's a small configurable trip computer in the cluster, as well as a larger, more detailed display atop the dash that can show everything from turbo boost to fuel economy.
A relatively large car for its class (it's over a foot longer than a Volkswagen Golf R, for instance), the WRX offers plentiful backseat head- and legroom. A generously sized trunk swallows 12 cubic feet of luggage, which is good, though less than the trunk of a Honda Civic Si sedan.
The standard 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system works well enough, though it has relatively slow responses to inputs on the display. Support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is built-in, as is SiriusXM satellite radio, a CD player and even integration for Aha and Pandora internet radio. Higher trim levels of the WRX can be equipped with a 7-inch touchscreen with navigation.
Active-safety features are unfortunately in short supply. Only models with the WRX's optional continuously variable transmission can be equipped with EyeSight, Subaru's package that provides precollision braking, adaptive cruise and lane-keeping assist functions. And blind-spot monitoring is offered only as an option on the pricey Limited trim level. That means that my Series.Gray tester has only the federally required back-up camera and no other safety tech.
My 2019 Subaru WRX would be the Performance model, primarily because I like the Recaro seats and -- don't judge -- the red-painted brake calipers. Doing without a sunroof is a bit of a shame, but I'll tell myself that I can notice the reduced curb weight and lower center of gravity on the road. That would set me back $32,430, or a little less than my test car's sticker of $33,480. Pricing for the 2019 car remains reasonably affordable overall, running from $28,080 (with destination) for the base manual-transmission model to $34,580 for the CVT-equipped WRX Limited.
No matter the configuration, the Subaru WRX is an absolute riot that'll have you searching out excuses to go for a drive. While it's not the most polished or grown-up car in its category or price range, its rawness, speed and rally-car heritage continue to make the WRX a beloved and cherished choice for anyone who likes affordable performance cars.