2021 Subaru WRX

By January 18, 2021

The 2021 Subaru WRX and its hotted-up sibling, the STI, earn performance street cred by way of a grippy chassis, big power, and rally heritage.

The 2021 WRX is almost absent any changes, save for newly standard keyless start on Premium models.

Like other Subarus, the WRX is powered by a flat-4 engine. This one, however, uses turbocharging to make 268 hp in standard form or 310 hp in STI trim. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard on the WRX, though buyers can opt for a CVT (that ironically includes paddle shifters). The manual is mandatory on the STI. All-wheel drive with a 50:50 power split is standard on both cars.

In base form with the manual, the WRX returns 21 mpg city, 27 highway, 23 combined. The CVT reduces those figures to 18/24/21 mpg, making this one of the few modern cars where the automatic transmission is less efficient than the manual. Those buying the STI should expect just 16/22/19 mpg.

Safety equipment varies by transmission choice. With the CVT, Subaru bundles in adaptive cruise control, active lane control, and automatic emergency braking. You won’t find any of those features on cars with the 6-speed.

Crash-test scores are commendable. The NHTSA awarded the WRX a five-star overall rating and the IIHS named it a Top Safety Pick.

Model Lineup

The WRX is only available as an all-wheel drive sedan, available in base, Premium, and Limited trims. The STI only comes as in base or Limited form.

The base model starts at $29,345 and gets automatic climate control, cloth upholstery, a 6.5-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and power features.

Moving into the $30,970 Premium brings a 7.0-inch touchscreen, keyless start, heated front seats, a power driver’s seat, and a sunroof. An optional Performance Package deletes the sunroof and adds Recaro front seats and Brembo brakes.

Pay $32,095 for the Limited and you’ll be treated to leather upholstery and LED lighting.

The WRX STI starts at $37,245 for a base model and $41,945 for a Limited. The base is equipped similarly to the Premium trim, while the Limited adds blind-spot monitors and Recaro seats.

Exterior

The WRX is a compact, angry-looking little sedan that shares only a passing resemblance to the rest of the Subaru lineup. It’s been given the edge that’s absent from other Subarus, and it still looks menacing after six years on the road.

It’s aged well. The front end is sporty, looking the part of a rally car with two big air dams on the front bumper and a gaping hood scoop. Fenders bulge out nicely, and at the back is a purposeful-looking diffuser.

If the shape doesn’t excite you very much, try the WRX STI. It adds a massive wing and bigger wheels, among other things.

Interior

The WRX’s no-frills look carries into the cabin. It doesn’t pretend to be a luxury car, even in Limited trimmings. It gets right down to the business of hard and fast driving.

Subaru offers either a 6.5- or 7.0-inch touchscreen depending on the trim. Other cars offer bigger screens and more tech, but the WRX’s setup is easy to use and gets standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Great sightlines and a comfortable driving position are a highlight of taking the helm. The base seats are aggressively bolstered, and the available Recaros only enhance the support.

The back seat isn’t huge—this is a compact sedan, remember—but it works in a pinch if you need to haul three passengers. Big windows make things feel roomier than they are.

Trunk space measures in at 12 cubic feet.

Driving Impressions

Every WRX rips and snorts with all the subtlety of an angry pit bull. This is a car whose powertrain commands attention, despite being cloaked in a rather unexciting four-door body. It wants to be driven with zeal.

Indudge it and you’ll be amply rewarded. In base form, the WRX makes 268 hp from its 2.0-liter flat-4, which allows for 0-60 mph runs in the five-second range. The turbo spools up quick when you get on the throttle and delivers a nice thwack of torque to keep things moving.

The transmission defines the experience. With the 6-speed manual, the WRX uses a viscous coupling to split power equally between the front and rear wheels and a brake-based torque vectoring system. In simple terms, we find this to be the more engaging and enjoyable setup. The CVT-equipped WRX, by contrast, doesn’t get the torque-vectoring and uses a center differential instead of the viscous coupling.

How could we not fall for the manual? It has a light clutch with a distinct engagement point that makes it easy to learn. The throws are a bit long but the shifter notches into each detent nicely.

The CVT is inevitably less fun, but it does get two drive modes that sharpen the throttle response and hold the simulated gear ratios a bit longer. It isn’t a bad consolation for anyone who chooses to forego the manual.

All-wheel drive provides plenty of grip, and it inspires confidence to drive fast even in inexperienced drivers. Hustle it through some hairpins and you’ll be amazed at how it holds its line and rockets out of the apex. The sharp steering provides constant continuous feedback.

The STI enhances all of this. It’s more loud, more raw, more capable. Its 310 hp brings 60 mph around in about 4.5 seconds. It gets a unique all-wheel-drive system that lets the driver alter the torque split. It rides much more harshly than the already-stiff WRX. No doubt, this is best reserved for the hardcore enthusiast.

Final Word

The 2021 Subaru WRX remains as fun and engaging as ever. It isn’t the most comfortable commuter or the most tech-savvy performance car, but it continues to provide cheap thrills on tight roads made of either pavement or dirt. Our choice is the Premium trim, if only so we can upgrade to the Brembo brakes and Recaros.

 

—by Anthony Sophinos with driving impressions by The Car Connection

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