2017 Subaru WRX Driving Impressions

The STI is definitely more powerful and corners harder, but it also rides with some rigidity, so the WRX is more relaxed and comfortable on the street. It’s still plenty fast, while the handling is balanced and electric power steering is precise.

The WRX likes transitions, and with its firm suspension and big stabilizer bars, it’s plenty taut and composed. It’s got electronic torque vectoring, a system that applies the brakes on individual wheels to help the car turn into corners, and reduce understeer. The traction control can be disabled, if it feels intrusive during those most spirited driving times.

The turbocharged 2.0-liter boxer four engine, with 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, is there when you need speed. It responds especially well because the torque is available from 2000 to 5200 rpm, thanks to the cams and valve springs. Because the cylinders are horizontally opposed, the engine is flatter and lower, dropping the center of gravity of the car and improving the balance, the key to Subaru’s good handling.

The all-wheel drive system depends on the transmission. The CVT can’t be called a gearbox, because there are no gears, just pulleys and belts that simulate the behavior of gears. The Subaru CVT is as sharp as any we’ve tested, thanks to its design and programming. In Intelligent mode, it constantly alters its ratio to produce the best gas mileage. In Sport manual mode, the driver can paddle-shift through six ratios that feel like gears. In Sport Sharp mode, it responds like a sequential automatic or dual-clutch transmission, with eight virtual gears and swift throttle response. In this mode it can accelerate from zero to sixty in 5.9 seconds.

The 6-speed manual gearbox offers fairly short throws. Its all-wheel drive uses a viscous-coupling center differential that splits torque 50/50, and moves it forward or back as traction demands. The setup is much quicker than the CVT, with zero to sixty times of 5.4 seconds.

Weak point to the WRX is brakes. The 17-inch Dunlop SP Sport Maxx RT tires are willing, but the brakes in the two cars we drove felt numb and needed a heavy foot to slow the car down.

The STI is another story. It’s sharper and stiffer, and its 2.5-liter turbo boxer four makes 37 more horsepower (305 hp) and 32 more foot-pounds of torque (290 ft-lb), but it’s not that much quicker in a straight line because of its gearing. Its 6-speed gearbox and all-wheel drive use a special driver-controlled central differential system, with a helical limited-slip front differential and a Torsen limited-slip rear differential. Its steering is quicker, with different front steering geometry and quick-ratio hydraulic steering. The brake issue is gone, with big Brembos front and rear.

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