The 2018 Subaru WRX isn’t an immediately likable compact sports sedan. It took me a few days of thrashing on a World Rally Blue Pearl WRX Premium to scale the car’s learning curve, but once I started meshing with it, it was clear there are few cars in the $30,000 price range that combine no-drama acceleration and slot-car handling like the WRX.
For 2018, the Subaru WRX is mildly updated, with revised tuning to the suspension, power steering, manual transmission shifter and clutch. There’s also a new Performance Package with upgraded brake rotors and more aggressive front seats. These changes take the WRX further away from its roots as the 2012 Subaru Impreza, which was a practical but awful car to drive (I know because I own one of those 2012s). It’s worth noting that the 2018 is mostly the same WRX that debuted in 2015, not the next-generation WRX we hope to see soon based off the great-driving, redesigned 2017 Subaru Impreza. Compare the 2018 WRX with the 2017 WRX here.
Fast and Loud
The WRX’s 268-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine may not seem like a powerhouse given that a 2018 Ford Mustang with turbocharged four-cylinder makes 310 hp, but the Subaru plants all its flat-four power without drama thanks to standard all-wheel drive. Prominent turbocharger lag is a downer, with noticeable delay between romping the accelerator and feeling the surge of acceleration. Mitigating the turbocharger lag to quickly accelerate from a stop takes a lot of engine revs and a balance of clutch and accelerator to keep revs high. When you do nail the launch, though, the WRX rockets like it has more power under the hood than the spec sheet says. It’s not that the Subaru WRX’s turbo lag has gotten worse, it’s that cars like the Volkswagen Golf GTI have gotten better, with quick turbocharger response and sharper acceleration. Back to our Mustang comparison, the `Stang’s turbo four is really good and responsive — and for 2018, it has a lot more torque.
Once the WRX levels out at cruising speed, there’s loud humming from the road that sounds like massive, knobby off-road tires whirring away at all four corners. Wind noise isn’t as much of an issue in the Subaru WRX as road noise, which is loud enough to make conversations difficult. The thud of tire impacts suggests the car has hit something big when it’s just road tar. I can’t say the Dunlop Sport Maxx RT summer tires are the culprit because I haven’t driven a WRX without them, but I had similar tire noise issues from a set of Dunlop summer tires on a 2017 Nissan GT-R (SP Sport Maxx GT 600).
The noise is forgotten at a first flick of the steering wheel onto a highway ramp, where the WRX sticks like the tires are covered in glue. It takes a lot of effort to unsettle the Subaru WRX despite it not having the fancier all-wheel-drive system of the WRX STI. The WRX’s electronic torque-vectoring brakes the front-inside wheel in corners and helps reduce understeer to the great effect of lightening the nose of the car. For 2018, Subaru retuned the front and rear shock absorbers and springs, as well as the rear stabilizer bar (19 mm versus the outgoing 20 mm), to improve steering stability and ride comfort. It doesn’t transform the ride quality, and while it’s hard to say for sure without back-to-back loops in the old one and new one, steering effort is lighter than I remember but not bad. The handling still isn’t as razor-sharp as in the Subaru BRZ coupe.