2022 Subaru WRX: New Powertrain Delivers Speedy Track Performance
Subaru finally debuted its sporty all-new 2022 WRX sedan and it arrives with an enhanced powertrain, revised styling and an expanded lineup that includes a performance-oriented GT variant.
The Japanese automaker showed off the fifth-generation WRX at The Thermal Club near Palm Springs, California during a track-side event that replaced a traditional auto show reveal.
For 2022, the WRX gets a new 2.4-liter flat-four cylinder engine mated to a new continuously variable transmission (CVT) that it dubbed, somewhat unimaginatively, the Subaru Performance Transmission (SPT).
The trim-topping GT model features the trick CVT, as well as adaptive suspension drive modes and Recaro racing seats. Buyers looking for the six-speed stick shift will need to stick with the base, Premium or Limited trims, essentially choosing between tech features to go alongside identical drivetrains.
WRX Joins Subaru’s Tried-And-True Platform
Subaru finally added the WRX to its global platform, which means designers needed to further differentiate the four-door, mid-level performance sedan from its economical Impreza sibling, which joined the shared-chassis lineup in 2015.
The refreshed WRX exterior features more rounded edges, LED headlights, blister fenders and what will almost certainly stand out as the most controversial design decision: Subaru calls them “wheel arches” and claims aero benefits but are really a bolted-on set of plasticky fender flares with carbon fiber-ish details.
The overall package measures longer, lower and wider than the outgoing fourth-gen WRX, though specific dimensions remain under wraps. A handful of new color options also join the mix. All told, the design improves on the weighty feel of the past two generations, with swooping lines—not to mention taillights—that certainly feel competitive with the Honda Civic Type R’s aggressive styling.
But unlike the Honda, Subaru claims all the exterior venting and inlets remain functional, including the extra-wide hood scoop that borders on STI boldness.
The massive hood scoop does feed a top-mounted intercooler, in traditional Subie style, helping the new turbocharged 2.4-liter Boxer produce peaks of 271 horsepower at 5,600 RPM and 258 pound-feet of torque across a wide power band of 2,000 to 5,200 RPM. Surprisingly, the increased displacement only notches minimal improvement over the outgoing 2.0-liter’s 268 horsepower and identical torque rating, though the mill employs an electronically controlled wastegate and air bypass valves to reduce turbo lag and improve throttle response across the rev range.
The six-speed manual gearbox benefits from optimized gear ratios, while the new SPT boasts eight “gears” and paddle shifters, despite being a CVT without discrete input and output gear ratios. Subaru claims 30% faster shifts between second and third, plus 50% faster downshifts from third to second, to go along with shorter programmed gears down low and a 4.44 final drive ratio.
The new global platform also allows for a 28% increase in torsional rigidity and a 75% increase in suspension mounting point rigidity, plus a rear sway bar attached to the body itself rather than the subframe as in previous model years. Higher suspension mounting points produce a longer suspension stroke and more travel thanks to taller shocks and springs.
Subaru’s WRX reveal at the Thermal Club replaced the conventional auto show experience, but the revised format lent an opportunity for media to ride shotgun in the new sedan with former F1 and current rally driver Scott Speed. He showed off the WRX’s capabilities in a Limited variant with a manual as well as an automatic-equipped GT.
Climbing into the six-speed Limited, its comfortable cloth seats with moderate bolsters and large new 11.6-inch touchscreen stood out compared with the outgoing model. Speed, living up to his name, mashed the throttle. Over three laps, he demonstrated the all-wheel-drive sedan’s considerable grip—eventually pushing well beyond traction with all driver’s aids turned off (Subaru reps confirmed traction control can be fully defeated).
From the passenger position, I did not get to experiment with the WRX’s new dual-pinion electric power steering, the clutch pedal weight or the shifter’s throws.
All four wheels squealed and the WRX’s brakes slammed me forward into the seatbelt as Speed carved through the corners, despite clearly not pushing the car 100% to the limit. On the straights, the engine’s 271 horsepower delivered, but the WRX isn’t about all-out power.
Grip and handling came to the fore, though the turbocharged flat-four sounded great and provided competent—if not warp speed—acceleration. Speed admitted to giving the WRX plenty of warm-up and cool-down time to keep the brakes from overheating, a common sacrifice when flogging a road-going car to nearly full throttle on a track.
Next, Speed and I slipped into the GT with SPT and Drive Mode Select, where he fiddled through each individual setting to enable the most aggressive programming. Throughout three more laps, he played with the suspension modes, demonstrating how much selecting Comfort over Normal or Sport improves damping on rougher roads at the cost of increased body roll. Compared with the more traditional suspension on the stick-shift WRX Limited, Sport felt a tad firmer and Comfort felt significantly softer, making new the feature an extremely attractive addition.
The handful of WRXs in various trim levels on display revealed that buyers will be able to choose between 17- or 18-inch wheels, the former shod in 235mm tires and the latter in 245s. Another little detail I gleaned from the quick time with Speed in the GT was that the SPT will upshift for you, won’t bounce off the redline and won’t downshift despite flicks of the paddle if it deems the resultant engine revs unsafe.
Whether the automatic WRX could log faster lap times without the SPT faking shifts remains an outstanding question that nobody on hand could answer. And a quick session at the track did not offer the greatest setting to explore more features in Subaru’s EyeSight suite of advanced driver-assistance technology, including Advanced Adaptive Cruise Control (a combination of adaptive cruise control and lane centering) and Automatic Emergency Steering, a new function that will help drivers avoid a collision with steering support.
Choosing Between WRX, STI and the Competition
The biggest gripe—after the plastic wheel arches—will likely surround Subaru’s decision to withhold the Drive Mode Select adaptive suspension (which uses electronic valving in the shocks, not magnetorheological fluid) on the bottom trims outfitted with the manual transmission. And no manual option on the GT trim.
This was my first question after the big curtain-pulling unveil, to which I received the same answer from multiple reps: “No comment.” Further prying into whether the choice will nudge potential buyers toward an STI led to the same response.
Pricing remains unannounced for any of new WRX trims though, as usual, the do-it-all Subie stands alone with a surprising dearth of true peers on the market.
A stick-shift Volkswagen Golf R costs more but the GTI (or a Honda Civic Type R) only offers front-wheel drive. Perhaps an Audi A3 with the turbo 2.0-liter and Haldex-based Quattro will compete with the GT trim’s automatic—a battle Subaru seems likely to lose barring a significant price gap.
Meanwhile, good luck finding an economical, sporty, AWD four-door at an MSRP near the lowest-spec manual WRX, which receives the simplest cloth interior and two small screens for its infotainment system. The base 2021 WRX costs $27,495 and the current range-topping Limited with a CVT skims $34,000 (opting for a manual drop $1,900).
Subaru optimistically expects WRX deliveries to commence in February or March of 2022, though early pre-orders may receive cars sooner. In an ideal world, more information about a new STI will accompany specific pricing tiers for the 2022 WRX sometime soon.