Alright, folks, this week’s 2022 Subaru WRX Sport-tech review sets a new precedent. In my seven-plus years of reviewing cars, I’ve reviewed nearly 250 different vehicles, throwing together a thousand or more words for each one by outlining my thoughts and observations to the general car-buying public. In making my part-time career driving cars loaned to me by automakers at no charge, I do recognize that I’m very fortunate to do what I do as a huge car nerd.
The big shift? This is the first time I actually went ahead and ordered a new car that I’ve tested, and I did so while I had Subaru Canada‘s test car in my possession! On top of that, given that I drive different cars every week, it doesn’t make an incredible amount of sense to own a new car that seldom gets used. Choosing to lease this WRX sports sedan is also going to be my first new car. Now, I know that it’s not the biggest looker with those fender flares, but no WRX over the last couple of decades has been known as the epitome of styling prowess (I’m looking at you, bug-eye). People have liked them for their performance, price, and practicality balance, and that’s usually about it.
Full disclosure: through friends and family, I do have access to certain Subaru deals that aren’t available to the average consumer (no, I can’t extend this deal to you, unfortunately). Even so, the WRX is known for having excellent residual values that can make leasing an attractive possibility. This fact, combined with a few extra discounts here and there, means that it doesn’t make financial sense for me to keep my beloved 2008 Acura CSX Type-S.
Unlike the top-trim Sport-tech test car, the Subaru WRX I ordered is the base model with a manual transmission, which is the one that delivers the most value when it comes to residual values. I do sacrifice a lot of features, but keep all of the performance.
A Tale of Two Transmissions
Subaru Canada was kind enough to let me spend a week with each available transmission on the 2022 Subaru WRX. While it’s expected that 80 percent of buyers will go with the six-speed manual, the “Subaru Performance Transmission” continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) has been heavily revised. The previous generation’s CVT wasn’t a very good car to drive from a performance perspective and felt lethargic in its rubber band-like operation.
For 2022, we’re glad to report that the SPT automatic is night and day better than the one it replaces. If you weren’t told it was a CVT, you might suspect that it’s a quick and slick-shifting dual-clutch transmission, or at the very least, a well-calibrated torque converter “slushbox”. In regular “S” and sporty “S#” (Sport-Sharp) driving modes, upshifts are lightning-fast and are worthy of the WRX name. It holds ‘gears’ through turns, and returns pretty decent fuel economy. For a transmission that doesn’t have any real gear ratios, it certainly doesn’t feel like it.
On the other side of the lineup, compared to the previous generation, the six-speed manual is also much better than it used to be. The old car was plagued with the phenomena known as rev hang – where the revs take an excessively long time to drop in between upshifts. It’s said that this is done for emission control reasons, but the real-world experience means that drivers have to either wait a long time in between shifts, or use (and wear out) the clutch to bring the revs down in a less-than-smooth fashion. The new unit has a tight shifter that’s fun to use, and the clutch is heavy but easy to modulate, all without the dreaded rev hang.
For the few that choose the SPT continuously variable automatic transmission, they get the added benefit of Subaru’s autonomous driver assistance safety system, better known as EyeSight. This system includes adaptive cruise control, emergency automatic steering, lane keeping and centring assist with sway warning, forward collision warning with automatic braking, pre-collision throttle management, and a lead vehicle start alert. Regardless of transmission, mid-level Sport and top-shelf Sport-tech trims also get a rear cross-traffic alert system, and Sport-tech models get adaptive headlights that swivel with steering input.
2022 Subaru WRX: Driving Dynamics
Subaru states that there is a 28 percent increase in torsional rigidity, as well as a 75 percent increase in suspension point mounting rigidity. In the real world, this translates to more responsive handling that’s more confident at the limit. While all Subaru models (except for the BRZ sports coupe) get all-wheel drive, the automatic and manual models do get significantly different designs for their drivetrain.
The automatics get an electronically-controlled variable torque distribution (VTD) setup that can automatically adjust the front-rear torque split based on driving conditions. Manuals get a tried-and-true fully mechanical viscous-coupling limited-slip centre differential with no electronic control, but the centre diff is still able to send power to the axle with the most traction.
Grip levels are strong in the WRX, with the VTD automatics seemingly having slightly less understeer through sweeping corners than the manuals with the viscous coupling. The ride is firm, although the base model’s 17-inch wheels (instead of 18-inch for Sport and Sport-tech) may help add some cushion. The steering feel in both cars isn’t a strong suit, with little to no feedback coming from the road. The weighting on the automatic SPT cars is also a bit overboosted, and while it results in steering that might be good for a Forester or Outback sport utility, it isn’t quite ideal here.
Overall, the 2022 Subaru WRX is still fun to drive despite its steering not being as good as it should be. The 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine is up by 0.4 litres compared to the previous generation. However, peak output remains pretty close, with 271 horsepower at 5,600 RPM and 258 pound-feet of torque between 2,000 and 5,200 RPM. The added displacement makes itself very well known when driving around town – things are much better at lower revs when outside the turbocharger’s prime operating range above 3,000 RPM. Cars like the Hyundai Elantra N offer more performance and driving engagement for similar or less money depending on the trim level, but have to make do with front-wheel drive only.
For Dads and Families
As a compact sports sedan, the 2022 Subaru WRX is happy to excel at family duty for those who have a kid or two. Rear-facing child seats are accommodated without sacrificing too much front seat legroom, and the LATCH anchors are neatly hidden behind Velcro-attached covers when not in use. The trunk space is decent enough to accommodate a large stroller, but the opening is a bit higher and narrower than other compact sedans.
2022 Subaru WRX: Bottom Line
The base 2022 Subaru WRX starts at $30,995 Canadian before taxes and fees, offering a pretty spartan interior to go with its great performance. The manual transmission Sport-tech is $39,295, and the SPT automatic is $41,895 with the EyeSight safety system as standard equipment. There’s also a mid-level Sport trim that goes for $35,495 or $38,095 depending on transmission/EyeSight. Amongst its peers, the Hyundai Elantra N is more fun but doesn’t have all-wheel drive. The Mazda3 with the turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive is in the same price ballpark, and while it’s more luxurious and comfortable, it doesn’t have the same performance. The new WRX is a good balance and jack of all trades, even though it’s a master of none. For that reason, I ordered one.