I’ve owned my Subaru WRX for a year and a half now, and I love it. It has more power than my BRZ, it has all-wheel drive and it has a usable back seat — while remaining a fun, responsive driver’s car. But sadly, I’m beginning to think it’s not the right car for me after all.
Like many people, my first exposure to the Subaru WRX was in the World Rally Championship and the original Gran Turismo video game. When the WRX first came to North America in 2002, it instantly became one of my dream cars. I already enjoyed driving my now-ex-wife’s basic 1996 Impreza L, and the WRX was that car cranked up to 11. Rally driver Colin McRae is one of my all-time driving heroes, and I aspired to be like him behind the wheel of a Subaru — preferably without as many crashes.
Though Subaru left the World Rally Championship ten years ago, the car it inspired lived on. Rather than the raw rally-inspired car it used to be, it started morphing into more of a street car. Critics said the car was losing its performance edge, but as Subaru went more mainstream, it was necessary to steer the WRX in that direction as well. But the basic platform still remained quite similar to the WRXs that had come before.
The complete redesign of the WRX for 2015 changed all that. It was still a bit raw by today’s standards, particularly when compared to the more comfortable and refined VW GTI or higher trim levels of the Ford Focus ST. But the WRX had transformed into an affordable sports sedan rather than a road-going rally car. (Not that the new WRX can’t rally. Quite the opposite — rally efforts in the U.S. and Canada have seen Subaru dominate multiple series with the new car.)
Despite this fundamental change in the WRX, it never left my dream car list. In fact, when I was looking for a car to replace my BRZ after getting married, buying a house and generally being an adult, the new WRX was an even more appropriate choice than previous versions. In fact, I actually preferred the more basic WRX to the STI version because I didn’t need all of the go-fast goodies that come with the STI in a daily driver. Plus, the WRX’s 268 horsepower was already quite close to the STI’s 305. A simple tune and a J-pipe on the exhaust could easily exceed it if I wished.
The WRX has been everything I’d hoped it would be — fun, powerful and sure-footed in all driving conditions. In fact, when I took it to the track, I discovered that applying the left foot braking techniques I learned at Team O’Neil Rally School brought out the inner rally car demon that lives on underneath the latest WRX’s practical daily-driver skin. Turn off traction control, and you can steer with the brakes, kicking the tail out as much or as little as you want to tighten a turn, or just have fun. And the power, while not at the level of the STI, is still perfectly adequate to shoot around that Prius going 10 mph under the speed limit when that solid yellow line becomes dotted.
But therein lies the problem: Almost none of my driving takes place in conditions where I can actually use the WRX for what it does well. About 99 percent of my driving is commuting in the MetroWest Boston area, and that means sitting in traffic. Part of my commute is on back roads stuck behind people driving well under the speed limit, which itself rarely exceeds 35 mph. On the highway, I’m either stuck in a line of traffic behind a left lane hog going well under the speed limit or stopped in a traffic jam, crawling along more slowly than the WRX will idle forward in first gear. Did I mention my WRX has a manual transmission? Crawling through traffic burns up the clutch and wears out my left leg.
I enjoy the WRX when I can, but I almost never get to drive in situations that actually allow me to enjoy it. I’d be better off sipping gas in a Prius or sitting on a sofa like in Tyler Hoover’s Buick Park Avenue Ultra. These boring everyday cars are much better at being everyday transportation than enthusiast cars like my WRX. Maybe if I lived and worked in a less-populated area I’d be able to enjoy the WRX more in everyday driving. But where I live, unfortunately, that’s not possible.
I even went as far as to take my WRX to Carmax to see what they’d give me for it. Unfortunately, their $18,000 offer doesn’t pay off what I owe on it, so it makes more sense to continue sucking up the monthly payments for awhile. But I suspect that as much as I love the WRX, its days in my fleet are already numbered.
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