The 2018 Subaru WRX is among the swiftest and best-handling compact cars around. It's not especially quiet or comfortable, but it's a reasonably priced performance car you can drive daily.
You might reasonably expect some rough edges in a car born of Subaru's decades-long participation in rally racing, a form of motorsport largely run in dirt, mud and gravel. But the real surprise is just how domesticated these cars really are. The WRX and even-faster WRX STI are powered by turbocharged four-cylinder engines optimized for performance but capable of decent fuel economy. The WRX delivers 268 horsepower and an EPA-estimated 23 mpg combined with the manual transmission, while the STI wrings out 305 hp and 19 mpg combined.
The WRX also offers a good serving of modern tech and convenience, either as standard equipment or options, including a choice of two multimedia systems, two audio systems, smartphone app integration, navigation, and driver aids such as blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, and automatic emergency braking. These attributes, plus comfortable seating, a roomy cabin and excellent visibility, make the WRX a legitimately practical daily driver and family car.
But there's no denying that the WRX can be a loud and raucous car. You'll hear plenty of road noise and feel plenty of road surface inside the cabin, especially in the STI, which can drive from dealer lot to weekend rally race and be instantly competitive. Key rivals such as the Volkswagen GTI and Ford Focus ST far surpass the Subaru for daily civility. To be fair, Subaru says it has made efforts to quiet the 2018 model with thicker glass, seals and insulation. We haven't yet driven the most recent model to hear the difference.
The 2018 Subaru WRX is a five-passenger sedan offered in five trim levels: base, Premium, Limited, STI and STI Limited. The base model comes ready for action with 268 horsepower and performance tires, while the Premium adds larger wheels and heated front seats. The Limited adds luxuries such as leather upholstery and has more available options. STI models start with Limited equipment but add a 305-hp engine and performance brakes and suspension. The STI Limited goes all in with sunroof, navigation, driver aids and more.
Base WRX models start with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine (268 hp, 258 pound-feet of torque), a six-speed manual transmission and all-wheel drive. The standard equipment list also includes 17-inch wheels, performance tires, heated side mirrors, cloth upholstery, a rearview camera, 60/40-split folding rear seats, Bluetooth phone and audio connection, and a six-speaker media system with a 6.2-inch touchscreen, satellite and HD radio, CD player, USB and auxiliary inputs, and smartphone app integration.
The WRX Premium adds 18-inch wheels, foglights, a sunroof, heated front seats, windshield wiper de-icers, and a 7-inch touchscreen.
The Limited builds on that with LED headlights and foglights, automatic high beams, a 10-way power-adjustable driver seat, leather-trimmed upholstery, keyless ignition and entry, and an optional continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) with paddle shifters.
Options for WRX Premium models with manual transmission include the 7-inch touchscreen, an upgraded Harman Kardon audio system, and a new Performance package that bundles Recaro front seats (including an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat), upgraded brake pads, and red-painted brake calipers. This package deletes the sunroof, however, in the interests of weight savings.
A manual-equipped WRX Limited is eligible for options including navigation, upgraded audio, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems, while Limited models equipped with the CVT can add Subaru's EyeSight system, which bundles features such as adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, automatic high beams, and adaptive ("bending") foglights that help illuminate corners and curves. The EyeSight system is not available with the stick shift, though.
STI models come equipped like the WRX Premium but with a bigger engine, 19-inch wheels, and no sunroof. The base STI adds a more powerful 2.5-liter engine engine (305 hp, 290 lb-ft), Brembo brakes, front and rear limited-slip differentials, and more aggressive suspension tuning. Options include Recaro sport seats, an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat, and keyless ignition and entry.
The STI Limited adds back the sunroof plus keyless ignition and entry, an eight-way power driver seat, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and the premium audio system with navigation. The lone option is a low-profile trunk lip spoiler. EyeSight is not offered for the WRX STI.
Several dealer-installed options are available for the WRX and STI, including a performance exhaust (base WRX), an auto-dimming rearview mirror, short-throw shifter, carbon-fiber trim, unique shift knobs and interior lighting accents.