December 19, 2012
The more I drove this ‘new’ 2013 Subaru WRX, the more it felt like a throwback to Japanese sports cars of the late 80s and 90s, where all the money was spent on chassis and drivetrain development with styling and interior as mere afterthoughts. The shifter grabs gears properly and the engine pulls away from a dead stop with authority, but neither could be called sophisticated. I did grind third gear a few times at first; a clear indication that I am out of practice with the WRX’s be-direct-and-forceful gearbox. The engine turns at 2,450 rpm at 100 km/h, and 2,950 rpm at 120 km/h, which isn’t bad for a transmission offering just five forward gears.
2013 SUBARU WRX. Click image to enlarge
What surprised me most about the WRX was the steering. Three years ago it felt fine; decent at best. But times have changed and it is overly light and lacks the feel the BRZ, or even the new 2012 Impreza. Subaru has a learned a lot about steering feel in the past year or two and I can’t wait for that to trickle down to the next WRX, but for now it remains over-boosted. That said, there is good feedback of road textures through the steering wheel and responses to my inputs were quick and accurate.
Like all WRXes out of the factory, this car loves to understeer. I know it is an automotive cliché, but the WRX is far too willing to continue straight for a vehicle with so many sporting credentials. It is the reason that one of the few upgrades performed on my WRX was a thicker rear sway-bar which solved this issue instantly. Being the middle of December, and the fact my test vehicle was equipped with 235/45R17 Blizzak Winter tires, no proper impressions on levels of grip can be made.
And now, time for some of my biased Subaru enthusiasm to shine through. I really like what the wide-body did for the WRX in 2011; a lot. It may not have made it any more modern looking, but it did make it much more aggressive compared to older models—especially the quad tailpipes. With the flared fenders, front skirt, and rear valance treatment, the WRX looks the part of a proper performance car, which it is, and not a pretender, which it isn’t. It’s too bad the interior didn’t receive a similar treatment in 2011.
When I bought my WRX three years ago, I did not buy it because of the interior. It felt hopelessly out of date then, and looks downright ancient in 2013. There are hard, ugly plastics everywhere, including the center armrest. This car has been in production since 2008 and recent niceties like menu screens and modern HVAC controls are absent. It does result in a foolproof user experience and is actually a relief compared some current complex over-the-top interfaces. Trunk space, at only 320 L, is also compromised due to the geometry used for the all-wheel-drive system.
Honestly though, anyone who buys, or doesn’t buy, a WRX based solely on the interior specs is one misguided consumer; the WRX is the sum of its drivetrain parts. By cheaping out on the interior, Subaru can keep the price low and ensure the WRX is the performance bargain it has always been at $32,495. There are nicer interiors in this class, like in the Volkswagen GTI or MINI Cooper S, but neither offer the flat-out performance of the WRX. On the flip-side, there are vehicles with a decent interior that can match the WRX in performance, like a Focus ST, Mazdaspeed3, or Genesis Coupe 2.0 R-Spec, but all are missing the WRX’s secret weapon; all-wheel drive. The Mitsubishi Ralliart does offer all the things the WRX does, but, it may well be the only vehicle out there with an even worse interior.