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2016 Subaru WRX: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader December 2015

The 2016 Subaru WRX joins a handful of affordable, compact all-wheel-drive super cars designed with performance in mind first and foremost. Because it is built from the Impreza platform, the WRX offers the added advantage of a roomy interior and large trunk. Although only offered as a sedan, the WRX is still a versatile sports car. However, if you absolutely must have a hatchback, newer competitors, like the Ford Focus RS and Volkswagen Golf R, can satisfy that itch.

Those who do go with the WRX get an enormous amount of performance for their money, with a choice between the 268-horsepower WRX or the 305-hp WRX STI, which also features a more sophisticated all-wheel-drive system, a stiffer suspension and a hydraulic vs. electric power steering setup. Best of all, unlike many high-powered performance cars, the WRX makes an excellent year-round companion because it's as comfortable being a daily driver as it is an animal on an enclosed track.

What's New for 2016?

The WRX and WRX STI gain some new safety features plus vastly improved audio and navigation systems. Limited models can be equipped with Subaru's EyeSight collision avoidance system, rear cross-traffic alert, a blind spot monitoring system, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist. Premium and Limited trims get new 18-inch alloy wheels and can be equipped with a 9-speaker Harman Kardon audio system and navigation. The STI trim can be fitted with a new, low-profile rear spoiler. The STI will also offer a Series.HyperBlue edition limited to just 700 models.

What We Like

Great bang for the buck; all-wheel-drive traction; impressive fuel economy; choice of powerful turbocharged engines; comfortable sport seats

What We Don't

A lot of road and wind noise inside the cabin; firm ride on STI; no hatchback model

How Much?

$27,390-$41,000

Fuel Economy

The 2016 Subaru WRX uses a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder boxer engine that produces 268 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy with the 6-speed manual is rated at 20 miles per gallon in the city and 27 mpg on the highway, while the automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) earns 18 mpg city/24 mpg hwy. The more powerful WRX STI comes with a turbocharged 2.5-liter engine and is offered only with a manual transmission. Environmental Protection Agency estimates for this model are 17 mpg city/23 mpg hwy.

Standard Features & Options

The WRX and WRX STI offer five different trim options: WRX, WRX Premium, WRX Limited, WRX STI and WRX STI Limited.

The base WRX ($27,390) includes a 6-speed manual transmission, 17-in alloy wheels, sport-tuned suspension, incline-start assist, steering wheel controls for audio and Bluetooth, cruise control, aluminum alloy pedal covers, Starlink 6.2-in touchscreen, AM/FM/CD/SiriusXM radio with six speakers and USB/iPod integration, HD Radio, Bluetooth streaming audio, illuminated power window switches, electric-assist power steering, automatic climate control, power windows, mirrors and door locks, sport seats, a rear backup camera and a tilt-telescopic steering wheel.

The WRX Premium ($29,690, manual; $30,890, CVT automatic) adds the All Weather package (heated seats, heated side mirrors and windshield de-icers), fog lights, 18-in wheels, illuminated vanity mirrors, power sunroof, SI-DRIVE performance-management system with two manual shifting modes (6-speed and 8-speed) and steering wheel paddle-shift control switches (automatic only), and a low-profile trunk spoiler.

The WRX Limited ($31,190, manual; $32,390, CVT automatic) adds an 8-way power driver's seat, leather seating, LED low beam headlights and welcome lighting.

The WRX STI ($35,490) brings a more powerful 2.5-liter engine, hydraulic power steering, LED low-beam headlights, Brembo brakes, front and rear center limited-slip differentials, Driver Controlled Center Differential (DCCD) and fog lights.

The WRX STI Limited ($40,790) includes an 8-way power driver's seat, 18-in BBS wheels, automatic on/off headlights, a blind spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist, power sunroof, keyless entry with push-button starting, navigation and a 440-watt 9-speaker Harman Kardon stereo.

Options for the WRX Premium include navigation radio with Harman Kardon audio and smartphone Aha app integration. EyeSight is only available on models equipped with the CVT automatic, although a blind spot monitoring system and rear cross-traffic alert can be added to manual transmission models. The Limited trim offers the navigation upgrade, as well as keyless access and push-button starting. There are also numerous dealer-installed options that include upgraded Kicker speakers and subwoofer, a performance exhaust and a short-throw shifter kit.

Safety

All WRX and WRX STI models come with front-seat side-impact airbags, front and rear side-curtain airbags, a driver's knee airbag, electronic traction and stability control and incline-start assist, which keeps the vehicle from rolling backward when starting off on an incline of more than five degrees. The STI is equipped with Brembo performance brakes for better stopping power.

The Impreza, on which the WRX is based, excels in both independent and government crash tests. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the Impreza five stars overall, with four out of five stars in the front-crash test and five stars in the side-impact and rollover crash tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tested the 2016 WRX and bestowed its best rating of Good in all crash-test categories, while also awarding the WRX a Top Safety Pick rating.

Behind the Wheel

We can overlook the noisy cockpit and hard plastic bits inside the WRX's cockpit. We can even avert our eyes when it comes to the WRX's frenetic styling. Why? Because the WRX is such a brilliant performer, offering the kind of performance that can shame cars that are twice, even three times, its price. On the track, the new 2.0-liter turbo proves a willing partner that's always ready to serve up ample power. The torque-vectoring system helps avoid understeer when exiting corners, and the firmer suspension holds this car in the curves as if the tires were glued to the asphalt. While a manual transmission is usually preferable in a performance car, we might actually trade the WRX's notchy 6-speed transmission for the new CVT automatic. With SI-DRIVE, the system simulates manual gearshifts (six in normal mode, eight in Sport Sharp) via a set of steering wheel paddle shifters.

In the STI, the ability to choose torque distribution and differential settings, coupled with the 305-hp engine, creates a driving experience worthy of the fastest supercar. It's no wonder the WRX has attracted many enthusiasts lacking the funds for an Audi S4 or BMW M, but won't let that ruin their good time.

Other Cars to Consider

2016 Volkswagen Golf R -- Volkswagen's all-wheel-drive Golf R is a new rival worthy of a test drive. The R has a much nicer interior, better navigation and audio systems, plus its ride is more livable. On a track, however, the WRX STI is still the more desirable car.

2016 Ford Focus RS -- The Ford Focus RS offers 315 hp and all-wheel drive in a 5-door hatchback. While competitively priced, the interior of the Focus RS is more refined than the WRX, as are its audio and infotainment setup.

2016 Volvo S60 T6 R-Design -- The S60 T6 R-Design costs about $10,000 more than the STI, but it offers a 325 hp with all-wheel drive plus a more luxurious and roomier interior, as well as more refined exterior styling.

Used Audi S4 -- 2010-2014 Audi S4 models are a great alternative to the WRX, as they offer a much better interior, more hp and a higher pedigree.

Autotrader's Advice

Unless you're a die-hard track enthusiast, we'd say the WRX is the preferable choice over the STI. It has plenty of power, offers the option of an automatic transmission, is as realistic as a daily driver and costs less.

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2016 Subaru WRX: New Car Review - Autotrader