2017 SubaruWRX Sport-tech Road Test

 Copyright: Canadian Auto Press Inc.

Near effortless grace no matter the pace

There's no shortage of high-horsepower sport compacts available on today's market, but none offers the motorsport heritage of the truly legendary WRX. This is evident in how it looks and more so in how it drives, whether choosing the less potent variant shown here or the race replica STI.

I've driven the mighty WRX STI on many occasions and can heap nothing but praise on this incredibly quick and wonderfully agile four-door (and previous five-door), but it's hard to knock this slightly detuned model either. As a reminder, the STI drives all four wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox powered by a 305 horsepower 2.5-litre horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine with direct-injection, a twin-scroll turbocharger, and 290 lb-ft of torque. No autobox is offered.

 Just saying that puts a smile on my face, the very thought laced with enough adrenaline inducing memories to keep me awake and alert all night. I've had plenty of fun with the entry-level WRX as well, mind you, one of such opportunities recently enjoyed while testing the car in these photos. It sports mostly the same engine downgraded to 2.0 litres resulting in 268 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, which while appearing domesticated compared to the wild and woolly STI, still sends plenty of oomph down to its Dunlop rubber for thrill-a-second acceleration from standstill, and even more when revs rise and multiple shifts ensue.


Superb performance yet still easy on fuel

The numbers read 5.9 seconds from zero to 100km/h, 4.1 seconds from 80 to 120 km/h, and a top speed of 240 km/h. Not bad for WRX Jr., a car still capable of a claimed 11.3 L/100km in the city and 8.5 on the highway if driven more gingerly. The STI hits 100km/h in 5.4 seconds, scoots from 80 to 120 km/h in 3.7, and tops out a 255 km/h.

Not many compacts offer anywhere near the levels of engine output or overall car performance as these near monozygotic siblings, nor the WRX' wonderfully notchy six-speed gearbox, absolutely brilliant clutch setup, grippy symmetrical all-wheel drive with active torque vectoring, taut body structure, superbly sorted suspension, and monstrously capable four-wheel disc brakes. This is a serious performance car for people who prioritize the journey as much as the destination, although drive a WRX with anger and you'll likely spend a lot less time on the road and more wherever you're going.

The manual has been massaged to improve shift feel for 2017, something I immediately noticed and fully appreciated, while the optional auto is the best continuously variable transmission (CVT) I've ever experienced. It's been a while since I tested one, but I remember its eight quick-shifting ratios that made it feel more like a conventional performance-tuned automatic than it had a right to. I'd still take my WRX with the six-speed without question, but I wouldn't mock someone who opted for Subaru's Sport Lineartronic CVT as it's truly is impressive.


Choose a five-speed manual or sport-tuned CVT with paddles

You'll need to choose the CVT for selectable drive modes, the "S#" or Sport Sharp mode its most engaging and where you'll find all eight forward "gears" (the paddles connect through to six pseudo speeds under default function), whereas the six-speed manual is all-sport all the time. OK, it's not as intensely focused on the road as the STI that provides a driver controlled multi-mode centre differential capable of dialing in extra rear wheel torque for a whole lot more fun in tight back road corners, on an autocross course or at the track, or inverted KYB shock absorbers for managing those curves and the ruts and bumps along the way, while the hyper-tuned model's standard Brembo brakes bind like few others, but I repeat, the regular WRX is still one of the most fulfilling sport compact sedans in existence.

Subaru Canada makes three WRX trim lines available, including a no-name base model, mid-range Sport, and top-line Sport-tech. Upgrades for 2017 include auto up/down for the front passenger's window (previously it was only on the driver's side), plus a higher grade woven fabric headliner. All this speaks of a refined cabin, and I must admit Subaru has come a long way with this car and the Impreza it's based on in recent years. To be clear, the current 2017 WRX and STI are not formed off the back of the redesigned 2017 Impreza that rides on the new Subaru Global Platform and therefore received new sheetmetal, a much improved interior and a lot more late last year. Instead, the performance-oriented duo received their full makeovers in 2014, and fortunately they're nicely finished too.

Premium touches like a high-quality soft synthetic dash top join nicely padded perforated leatherette door inserts, even nicer leather-like armrests, and superbly crafted leather-upholstered sport seats in my top-line Sport-tech tester, Subaru outlining most of the above with sporty red stitching. Likewise for the perfectly shaped flat-bottomed leather-wrapped sport steering wheel and shifter boot, the shift knob a more purposeful ball of tightly stitched leather and metal.

Metal surrounds the shifter too, with classy "WRX" branding embossed at centre, while the same satin-silver finish brightens the steering wheel spokes, instrument panel vents, and centre stack switchgear, the audio knobs particularly well done and the three automatic HVAC dials encircled in knurled metallic rims no less. Alloy foot pedals finish off the brightwork, while piano black lacquer surfaces and unique carbon-look inlays complete the WRX cabin's sporting style.


Nicely finished interior boasts impressive infotainment systems 

Impressively, even the base WRX receives 6.2-inch touchscreen infotainment filled with attractive graphics, a backup camera, Bluetooth phone integration with audio streaming, plenty of apps including Aha radio and Starlink smartphone connectivity, plus more. My upgraded 7.0-inch system featured everything above plus Siri Eyes free (new this year), SMS text messaging capability, MirrorLink (also new) for seamless Android phone connectivity, navigation with bright, clear mapping, SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link (new again) for weather, sports and stock updates, SiriusXM Advanced Audio Services, dual USB ports, and a great sounding 440-watt nine-speaker (including sub) Harman/Kardon audio upgrade.

Standard $29,995 WRX features not yet mentioned include 17-inch Enkei wheels, heated power-adjustable side mirrors, heatable sport seats, a centre stack-mounted 4.3-inch colour multi-function display featuring a boost meter, vehicle dynamics monitor, digital clock, outside temperature reading, maintenance reminder, and customizable settings, plus AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio with aux and USB ports as well as satellite radio and iPod control.

Sport trim, at $32,795, adds auto on/off LED low-beam headlamps, halogen fog lights, LED turn signals and welcome lighting integrated into the side mirror caps, a low-profile rear spoiler, an eight-way powered driver's seat, a powered moonroof, and blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.


Sport-tech trim is worth every penny 

The as-tested $36,095 Sport-tech upgrade adds the aforementioned leather upholstery, while additional enhancements include 18-inch Enkei alloys, proximity access with pushbutton ignition, plus the larger infotainment interface and better audio mentioned a moment ago.

Incidentally, that impressive sport-tuned CVT mentioned earlier will only cost you an extra $1,300 if so inclined, while my tester's very well dressed coat of Crystal White Pearl paint won't cost you a penny more, nor will Crystal Black Silica, Dark Grey Metallic, Ice Silver Metallic, Pure Red, or World Rally Blue Pearl, the latter a unique take on Subaru's classic motorsport livery (sans the flashy gold wheels and yellow trim).

Exterior styling in mind, the WRX gives up very little cosmetically from the full rally-inspired version, only red "STI" badging on the grille, side fender garnish, backside, and wheel caps, the wheels themselves which look phenomenal in all STI trims (although my Sport-tech tester's were pretty sweet too), and the massive whale-tail spoiler atop the trunk. All the aero upgrades, sizeable hood scoop, bulging wheel arches, and unique trim details are shared between both cars, which is a major bonus considering the entry-level WRX' reasonable pricing. The STI starts at a more sobering $37,995, by the way, with Sport trim coming in at $40,795 and the Sport-tech topping off at $45,395. Yes, $15,400 is a big spread between base and top-line trims, but any STI Sport-tech owner will tell you the money was well spent.


WRX satisfies in every way 

From experience I can attest to worse ways of blowing through $45k plus freight and fees, which makes my as-tested $36,095 WRX Sport-tech a veritable steal in comparison. Truly, no matter how you dress up or down your WRX, I'm pretty sure you'll be satisfied. From the very first snarly blatt of its quad-tipped high-performance exhaust you'll be addicted, and that's even before hurling it through a mountainside or canyon road at unmentionable speeds, something any WRX will do with near effortless grace no matter the pace. It's a rolling legend.

On top of all this, both WRX and WRX STI models won "Best Sports Car" in the 2016 ALG Canadian Residual Value Awards, meaning that you'll likely get more for this car in three years time than any other sports model, that is if you're willing to sell. This is the fifth time the WRX/STI has taken the top spot in eight years, while Subaru Canada earned the 2016 ALG Best Mainstream Brand award for the second consecutive year.


Any doubts? Believe me. If you've got the desire, don't hesitate. Get it.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press
Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

Copyright: Canadian Auto Press Inc.


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