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Rally Appalachia – Day Three

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Review and photos by Mike Schlee

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As with any tidbit of information that may appear biased, this review needs a disclaimer. Chances are this review may turn out one-sided. During my week with the 2013 Subaru WRX Sedan, I swore to myself I would be impartial and display Swiss levels of neutrality; but deep down, my inner Subaru “fanboi” tried his hardest to make an appearance. Phrases like “this interior isn’t out-of-date, it is retro chic” would circulate inside my head before I returned to my senses and realized a spade is a spade; the interior is old. Oh, and while I am embarking on an editorial confessional, I guess I better fess up to the fact that I also use to own a WRX until less than a year ago—a 2010 Limited Hatchback model.

2013 SUBARU WRX. Click image to enlarge

For 2013, the Subaru WRX is still based on the previous ‘GR’ Impreza platform and not the all new GP/GJ Impreza that debuted in 2012. Being based on a chassis that is now in its sixth model year, Subaru has made periodic improvements to the WRX to keep it relevant, like the addition of the 265 hp motor in 2009 and the standard wide-body refresh in 2011.  But it is now 2013, and it is safe to say the WRX is showing its age and an all-new version should show up in a year or two.  Until that day, we will continue to get this completely unrefined but solid, high-performing vehicle—the automotive equivalent to a 10-kg sledgehammer.

At the heart of any good WRX is a turbocharged Boxer four-cylinder engine.  The 2013 WRX continues to feature the most powerful flat-4 engine ever installed in a WRX; the 2.5L EJ255 engine unleashing 265 hp, 244 lb-ft of torque to all fours wheels through Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system.  Combined with the only transmission choice, a five-speed manual, the 1,455-kg WRX can rip from a dead stop to 100 km/h in 5.4 seconds according to Subaru’s website, although, some U.S. magazines have been able to hit 96 km/h (60 mph) in 4.7 seconds thanks to calculated clutch abuse.

Hammer the WRX up to its 13.3 PSI boost peak, and the engine erupts into a symphony of intake, turbocharger, and exhaust noises.  When the WRX went wide-body in 2011, the standard single tip exhaust was replaced by the STI’s quad-tip, dual exhaust system.  This new exhaust setup is louder than the old single outlet exhaust and gives the WRX a bit more Boxer-rumble at low rpms.  It is still nowhere near the levels of an aftermarket exhaust system, but a nice addition compared to the old pre-2010 exhaust.

Keep off the addicting boost and the WRX will return acceptable fuel consumption.  Officially rated at 11.1 L/100 km in the city and 8.0 L/100 km on the highway, I was able to achieve an average of 11.2 L/100 km during my week with the car.  Not bad for a very green car in the winter; the odometer read 160 km when I picked it up and 575 km when I dropped it off.  I broke in my 2010 WRX from new and found fuel economy kept improving until hitting around 5,000 km on the odometer.  I averaged 10.0 L/100 km in that WRX and would expect the same in this car once it has a few more thousand clicks on it.

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.

If you want to have your cake and eat it too, there is the Golf R, which offers the performance of the WRX along with unmatched sophistication and luxury.  But this is one pricey cake that dollar for dollar lines up with the far more powerful street-legal rally car Subaru WRX STI.

2013 SUBARU WRX. Click image to enlarge

So, is this car still relevant in 2013?  Yes, if for no other reason than its performance-per-dollar ratio.  Sure, Subaru’s own BRZ is more neutral, has better steering feel, is more engaging to drive, and, of course, is cheaper. But, the WRX would still be crowned the victor at most speed contests around a racetrack.  Regardless of your preference, it is amazing that a company as small as Subaru offers two dedicated performance vehicles (3 if you count the WRX and STI separately), while others, like Toyota and Kia for example, offer none.  Keep it up, Subaru!

Pricing: 2013 Subaru WRX Sedan
Base price: $32,795
Options: None
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,695
Price as tested: $34,190

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Crash test results
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

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