2022 Subaru WRX Premium Review – Small Step Backwards

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
Fast Facts

2022 Subaru WRX Premium Fast Facts

Powertrain
2.4-liter turbocharged horizontally opposed "boxer" four-cylinder (271 horsepower @ 5,600 RPM, 258 lb-ft @ 2,000-5,200 RPM)
Transmission/Drive Wheels
Six-speed manual transmission, all-wheel drive
Fuel Economy, U.S.
19 city / 26 highway / 22 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
Fuel Economy, Canada
12.3 city / 9.0 highway / 10.8 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price
$32,105 (U.S.) / $35,495 (Canada)
As Tested
N/A (U.S.) / N/A (Canada)
Prices include $995 destination charge in the United States and $1,825 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.
2022 subaru wrx premium review small step backwards

I’ve long been a fan of Subaru’s plucky WRX compact sports sedan. But as you’ll see when our next podcast drops, I found the 2022 Subaru WRX one of my most disappointing cars of the year.

“Disappointing” doesn’t mean “bad”, to be clear. The WRX is still a joy to drive and would still be on my shopping list if I was buying in this class. But it’s lost a step compared to the competitive set, in part because the newest version makes its flaws a bit more visible.


There’s still a lot to like here. The new 2.4-liter turbocharged “boxer” horizontally-opposed four-cylinder makes 271 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. That’s an increase of three horsepower and the same torque output, but like the previous car’s 2.0-liter four, it feels stout and torquey, even close to idle.

The six-speed manual has a shifter that’s fun to row but a clutch that’s a bit abrupt. The gearing seems optimized to make sure you’re always in the right spot in the power band, which I liked when it came to passing on the freeway, but it also seemed to keep the RPMs higher, which is likely a fuel-economy killer.

Handling remains one of the WRX’s strong suits – it’s fun to toss into a corner, and the dual-pinion electric power steering seems well-weighted. Of course, the WRX retains all-wheel drive as standard.

There is a ride sacrifice, though – this car is stiff. The previous-gen car was quite firm, too, but either this one is stiffer or the fact that I’ve aged since I last drove the previous car has made my back more sensitive. Either way, competing cars handle as well or better without riding nearly so stiffly. Sure, you expect a performance car to be more firm than soft when it comes to ride, but a Honda Civic Si or Volkswagen Jetta GLI or Volkswagen Golf R offer as much cornering joy without being nearly as punishing during mild commuting.

That’s the WRX in a nutshell – it’s all performance, all the time. That’s fine when it comes time to hit up the fun roads or to pass the slowpoke on the highway, but most sporty performance compacts in “regular” guise strike a balance between fun and comfort. Usually, you only make that kind of sacrifice if you’re paying for the “wild” trim – the WRX STI, the Civic Type R. Unless you pony up for the excellent Golf R.

Even the soundtrack – the WRX’s engine is always making guttural grunting sounds, even at idle. That’s fun most of the time, but it can be tiring on a long drive. Tire and road noise filter in, too. The WRX is just not as refined as its competitors from Honda or Volkswagen. Even the Hyundai Elantra N, which can feel high-strung in certain drive modes, is a step up.

This also extends to the look and feel of cabin materials, though Subaru did improve the infotainment situation with its tablet-style screen. It looks better than what was there before and is easy to use. Most cabin controls are – it’s not the sexiest interior, but everything is at least user-friendly.

Except for the seats – they exacerbated the aforementioned stiffness a bit.

I have a soft spot for the WRX’s unique looks. It’s never been the most handsome design, but I’ve always dug it, and the refresh pretties it up. Mostly. The problem here is that any improvement is marred by black plastic cladding on the fenders/wheel wells.

Standard features on the WRX include automatic climate control, torque vectoring, dual USB ports in the front and rear, LED headlights, hill-start assist, high-beam assist, performance exhaust, keyless entry, sport suspension (MacPherson up front, double wishbone in the rear), Bluetooth, and a rearview camera.

Subaru offers four WRX trims – base, Premium, Limited, and GT. The top-trim GT is automatic-only, so if you want to shift for yourself, you have to go with one of the lower trims.

My test unit didn’t have a VIN-specific Monroney, so I can’t say exactly how it was optioned (it was probably about $33K), but Premium models include the 11.6-inch infotainment screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, 18-inch wheels, satellite radio, summer tires, an All-Weather package (heated front seats, heated exterior mirrors, windshield-wiper de-icer), aluminum-alloy pedal covers, dual-zone climate control, keyless starting, LED fog lamps, and a trunk spoiler. A moonroof is optional, and so is Subaru’s EyeSight driver-assist safety system and a Harman Kardon sound system. Other options include an all-wheel-drive system that distributes torque based on need and SI-Drive Performance Management, which allows drivers to set up throttle response and how the transmission shifts. That last one is available only with the automatic transmission.

The Premium seems to be the right spec for stick-shift buyers – a quick glance at Subaru’s B and P site shows that the Limited might not be worth the extra few grand unless you really want factory navigation and leather seats and a few other trim bits (a couple of Premium options – the Harman Kardon and the moonroof – are standard on the Limited). The Premium bases at $32,105 before destination.

I still find the WRX to be a blast to drive. But while the previous car was also rough around the edges, it seemed more livable on a daily basis. It was loud, crude, and a bit stiff-riding but it always seemed like it would deliver enough joy that you’d put up with the sacrifice in terms of refinement. Besides, Honda’s competing offering was pretty high-strung itself. Now the Civic Si has become a bit more refined and it’s several grand cheaper (ADM is not factored in – we’re working strictly off MSRP here). The Jetta GLI is far more sedate for less money, as well, and Hyundai’s new Elantra N also strikes a better balance between fun and commuting. Although the Subie does offer AWD – something you can’t otherwise get in this segment unless you spend Golf R money.

Meanwhile, the WRX remained just as fun to drive but became a bit less refined, and the company made at least one baffling styling decision. It makes it harder for me to recommend the WRX.

I’m glad the car remains a joy to drive when pushed hard. I’m glad the infotainment system is much improved. I’m glad Subaru offers a mid-trim such as the Premium that doesn’t skimp on features. But I’m disappointed that WRX didn’t take a larger leap forward. If anything, it took a small but significant step backward.

What’s New for 2022

The 2022 Subaru WRX gets refreshed styling, a new engine, a new GT trim, and a new automatic transmission, among other updates.

Who Should Buy It

The Subaru brand loyalist, those who want AWD with their compact sports sedan, and those willing to trade refinement for performance.

[Images © 2022 Tim Healey/TTAC, Subaru]

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Comments
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2 of 19 comments
  • CoastieLenn CoastieLenn on Dec 28, 2022

    Maaaan I long for the days when this car had a lot of competition within it's segment and from above/below it. Evo's, Ford ST/RS, hell even the T5 AWD Volvo's (lets not also forget the S60/V70R). Now, Subaru has recognized that- other than the GTI, there's no real competition left since they've done away with the STi. The STi would have to compete with the Honda CTR, and well... honestly I don't see that car hanging on *long term* in the US. They waited too long to bring it here and now that it's here, the majority of the owners fall into an age group that are more frequently buying Tesla's and BMW's.

  • Slavuta Slavuta on Dec 28, 2022

    How stiff? Mini-Clubman - stiff?

  • Bca65698966 V6 Accord owner here. The VTEC crossover is definitely a thing, especially after I got a performance tune for the car. The loss of VTEC will probably result in a slower vehicle overall for one reason: power under the curve. While the peak horsepower may remain the same, the amount of horsepower and torque up to that peak may be less overall. The beauty of variable cam lift is not only the ability to gain more power at upper rpm’s on the “big cam”, but the ability to gain torque down low on the “small cam”. Low rpm torque gets the vehicle moving and then big horsepower at upper rpm’s gains speed. Having only one cam profile is now introducing a compromise versus the VTEC setup. I guess it’s possible that with direct injection they are able to keep the low rpm torque there (I’ve read that DI helps with low rpm torque) but I’m skeptical it will match a well tuned variable lift setup.
  • FreedMike My prediction: the Audi team fails when the water pumps in their race cars give out after lap 20.
  • FreedMike "...they’re often helpful in seeing behind vehicles without much reward visibility ..."Might want to fix that typo...
  • Oberkanone 5 years out if Toyota is only now considering a smaller truck. Engineering, certification, contracting parts supply, etc. take time.
  • Lou_BC I love the back up camera on my old F150 and on my ZR2. It was nice on the SuperCrew because the truck was 20 feet long. The ZR2 is short but with big fender flares and short tall box. The mirrors are too close to the doors as well. It makes it hard to see the rear corners. I don't rely on it 100% but as an adjunct to the door mirrors.
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