The 2021 Subaru WRX doesn’t offer a modern aesthetic or a smooth ride, but it does have standard all-wheel drive and the ability to entertain driving enthusiasts. Its 268-hp turbocharged flat-four-cylinder produces a unique, grumbly soundtrack and pairs with a standard six-speed manual or an optional continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Too bad its engine is hindered by noticeable turbo lag and odd surges in acceleration; these issues make the WRX feel both slower than it is and difficult to drive smoothly. Those who don’t mind bouncing over bumpy roads will appreciate the Subaru’s racy suspension, because it makes the sedan more fun to drive on twisty roads. We’re not sure whether those people will also appreciate the WRX’s outdated interior and accompanying noisiness, but it’s all part of the rawness that makes the Subie either endearing or annoying—depending upon your point of view.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
The WRX earns its performance stripes courtesy of its standard turbocharged 2.0-liter flat-four engine. With 268 horsepower, 258 lb-ft of torque, and all-wheel drive to put it to the pavement, the sedan launches like a proverbial rocket whether it’s equipped with the standard six-speed manual transmission or the optional continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that’s available on Premium and Limited models. In daily driving, its laggy on-again-off-again power delivery is often more painful than pleasurable, as the turbocharged sedan expresses an initial hesitancy to get moving, followed by a surge of unexpected acceleration. As with its powertrain, the WRX’s chassis is best enjoyed when being pushed hard. The well-weighted and surprisingly feelsome electric-assist steering works with the standard all-wheel-drive system and sticky summer tires to inspire confidence that the car will go precisely where you point it. While its ride is on the stiff side, it’s never punishing. Still, the Subie lacks the polish and refinement found in vehicles such as the Mk7 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Credit the WRX’s standard summer tires, as well as the Performance package’s upgraded brake pads, for the sedan’s impressive and fade-free braking performance.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The EPA estimates that the WRX with the standard manual transmission will earn 21 mpg in the city and 27 mpg highway. Surprisingly, the automatic version sees those ratings drop to 18 mpg city and 24 mpg highway. The latter figures are worse than those of several mid-size crossover SUVs. While we’ve only tested a manual-equipped model on our 200-mile highway route, which is conducted at a steady 75 mph to simulate its real-world efficiency, it earned 30 mpg—3 more than advertised.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
The WRX is a car made for hard driving, not for cosseting its passengers. Dark, loud, and made of middling materials, its cabin is a bleak place within which to while away the miles. On the plus side, the Subie offers low windowsills and minimal blind spots, as well as simple secondary controls. While all models feature comfortable and well-bolstered seats, we’re partial to the optional Recaro front seats. Comfortable and supportive, the seats also feature red trim that adds some much-needed color to the otherwise somber cabin. A spacious trunk and a standard 60/40 split-folding rear seat provides the WRX with plenty of space for carrying cargo. Still, its limited interior storage areas leave few places for hiding various odds and ends.
Infotainment and Connectivity
While the base WRX comes standard with a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system, upper-end Premium and Limited models swap in a larger 7.0-inch unit. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, but built-in navigation is only available on the top-of-the-line Limited. A single auxiliary input and USB port are standard on the base model; however, the Premium and Limited add a second USB port.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
The WRX earned a five-star crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and it was named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Although every version comes standard with seven airbags, only the CVT-equipped WRX Limited has Subaru’s EyeSight system that includes driver-assistance technology.