2020 Subaru WRX
2020 Subaru WRX
The 2020 Subaru WRX is a proven sports sedan with strong turbo power from either of its two available engines.
The base WRX rides well enough and responds easily enough to be a comfortable daily driver. Its 268-horsepower turbocharged flat-4 engine is relaxed around town. The transmission choice might take some thought, because the WRX is an eminently suitable car for its standard 6-speed manual, but that makes for more work and less relaxation around town. The option is a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which comes standard in 2020 with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and active lane control. That collision-avoidance technology unfortunately isn’t available with the stick shift.
At least Subaru builds a good CVT. Paddle shifters allow drivers to sort through pre-set gear ratios that simulate a real automatic reasonably well.
The WRX STI is a different story. It uses a different engine, a 2.5-liter turbocharged flat-4 making 310 horsepower, plus a stiffer suspension, bigger brakes, bigger wheels with wide tires, and an adjustable center differential for the all-wheel-drive system. You can spot an STI by its big wing.
The WRX is based on the last-generation Impreza, which is hardly a benchmark for interior refinement. The cabin is roomy but has a dated feel, offset only slightly by user-friendly infotainment software and other controls.
Curiously, the WRX with a manual transmission gets better fuel mileage than with the CVT: 21 mpg city, 27 highway, 23 combined for the manual, versus 18/24/21 mpg for the CVT. The 310-hp WRX STI with a 6-speed is rated by the EPA at 16/22/19 mpg.
The NHTSA has not yet crash tested the 2020 WRX, but the IIHS gives it a Top Safety Pick+ award, when equipped with the CVT’s automatic emergency braking and optional LED headlights with automatic high beams.
The WRX comes in Base, Premium, and Limited trim levels.
The Base WRX starts at $28,400 and comes with only the 6-speed manual transmission. Standard equipment includes cloth upholstery, power features, automatic climate control, a 6.5-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.
The WRX Premium for about $30,700 adds a larger touchscreen, moonroof, and heated front seats. The 6-speed gearbox is standard, but the CVT with automatic emergency braking is optional for $1,900. Another $2,850 gets a Performance Package with Recaro front seats, Brembo brakes, and no moonroof.
The WRX Limited costs $33,000 and adds leather upholstery, a power driver’s seat, heated front seats, a power moonroof, a 7.0-inch touchscreen, and LED lighting.
The WRX STI lineup includes base and Limited trims, with a price of $37,900 for the base. Another $2,250 for Recaro seats is appropriate.
Being based on the last-generation Impreza, the WRX isn’t exactly stylish. It has a standard sedan profile, although with big front intakes, pronounced sills, and a wide rear diffuser, to mark it as a performance car.
If the big wing is too boy-racer for a buyer, it can be swapped for the plain WRX’s small spoiler on the trunk lid. You can still spot the STI by the big wheels and fat tires.
The cockpit strikes a serious driver’s tone, with no-nonsense cloth seats, a beefy three-spoke steering wheel, and simple clean gauges and climate knobs on a symmetrical dash. A digital display appears under a small hood and over a 6.5-inch touchscreen that is commonly upgraded to a 7.0-inch display. The materials are serviceable and the trim is pleasing, with matte silver and faux carbon fiber finishes.
The cloth seats are supportive for long periods, and turn to leather on the Limited. If you go for the optional Recaro bucket seats you also get Brembo brakes, but lose the moonroof. The Recaros are excellent, but aren’t for wide bodies.
The rear doors open wide and the rear seats offer good room. Three passengers can ride in reasonable comfort for short periods of time.
The trunk can hold 12 cubic feet, more than most coupes but less than most mid-size sedans.
People buy the WRX for its performance. You get a lot of thrills for the money. It’s got great handling, terrific steering, impressive grip, and hoo-boy acceleration.
The regular WRX uses a 2.0-liter flat-4 making 268 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Manual gearbox versions use an all-wheel-drive system with a viscous coupling in the center differential that splits the power evenly between the front and rear wheels, when conditions are dry and even, but shifts power to the front or rear wheels as traction demands. The 6-speed has relatively long throws, but a short-throw kit can be ordered through Subaru dealers–and to us it seems like a no-brainer. The gearbox isn’t as smooth as it might be, but the clutch engagement is excellent, and that’s important.
The optional CVT uses a different center differential, with an electronic hydraulic clutch that sends power to the axles based on sensors. Theoretically it should be quicker to react than the viscous system with the 6-speed, but we can’t say we felt it.
Driver-selectable Sport and Sport Sharp modes quicken the throttle response and hold the CVT in its range longer.
The CVT isn’t bad, with paddle shifters that enable the driver to shift up and down through gear steps that simulate a manual automatic, But the manual is our choice because it just feels better in this car with its torquey turbocharged engine. However, with the 6-speed you can’t get automatic emergency braking.
Cornering is extremely grippy, thanks to wide tires and especially the brake-based torque-vectoring system dabs the disc brakes on the inside wheels during aggressive cornering, to help pivot the car.
The WRX STI uses a bigger 2.5-liter flat-4 turbocharged engine making 310 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque. It’s a lot faster than the regular WRX, and its 6-speed gearbox is a blast. The suspension is very stiff. Many compromises are made for comfort.
Its all-wheel-drive system can be adjusted by the driver to send power to the front or rear wheels. It’s a feature that might be useful on a road or rally-cross field, but otherwise it’s overkill.
The 2020 Subaru WRX is high-spirited on the track, where it should be—and also on the street, where it’s more of a chore to drive. The STI is even tougher and more tenacious, and even more removed from the needs of daily-commute drivers.
—by Sam Moses with driving impressions by The Car Connection