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2017 Subaru WRX: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader November 2016

While there are only a handful of affordable, high-performance all-wheel-drive compacts to choose from, the 2017 Subaru WRX and WRX STI rank among the best for performance, reliability and affordability. Based on the previous-generation Impreza sedan, the WRX is blessed with a roomy rear seat, a comfortable interior and a big trunk, making the WRX sedan a remarkably versatile sports car. However, if you absolutely must have a hatchback, competitors like the Ford Focus RS and the 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 versus 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 being an animal on an enclosed track.

What's New for 2017?

Subaru adds a tricot headliner and auto up/down front windows to the base WRX, while the STI gains auto on/off headlights with wiper activation. A blind spot monitoring system and rear cross-traffic alert are optional on the WRX Limited and the base STI, while the EyeSight driver-assist system and reverse automatic braking are offered on the WRX Limited.

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; EyeSight only offered on the WRX Limited

How Much?

$27,515-$43,000

Fuel Economy

The 2017 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 ($27,515) includes a 6-speed manual transmission, 17-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, incline-start assist, steering-wheel controls for audio and Bluetooth, cruise control, aluminum alloy pedal covers, a 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 ($29,815 manual, $31,015 CVT automatic) adds the All Weather package (heated seats, heated side mirrors and windshield de-icers), fog lights, 18-in wheels, illuminated vanity mirrors, a power sunroof, a low-profile trunk spoiler and the SI-DRIVE performance-management system with two manual shifting modes (6-speed and 8-speed) and steering-wheel paddle-shift control switches (automatic only).

The WRX Limited ($31,815 manual, $33,015 CVT automatic) adds an 8-way power driver's seat, leather seating, LED low-beam headlights and welcome lighting.

The WRX STI ($36,015) brings a more powerful 2.5-liter engine, hydraulic power steering, LED low-beam headlights, auto on/off headlights with wiper activation, Brembo brakes, front and rear center limited-slip differentials, Subaru's Driver Controlled Center Differential and fog lights, but no sunroof.

The WRX STI Limited ($40,815) includes an 8-way power driver's seat, 18-in BBS wheels, automatic on/off headlights, a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert, reverse automatic braking, lane-keep assist, a power sunroof, keyless entry with push-button starting, navigation and a 9-speaker Harman Kardon audio system. Buyers can choose between the traditional tall STI trunk-lid spoiler or a low-profile spoiler.

Options for the WRX Premium include the 7-in Starlink radio with a Harman Kardon amplifier and nine speakers, plus smartphone Aha app integration. EyeSight is only available on the WRX Limited 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 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 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has not yet tested the 2017 WRX, but the nonprofit did test the 2016 WRX. It gave the previous year's model its best rating of Good in all crash-test categories as well as a Top Safety Pick designation.

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 who lack the funds for an Audi S3 or a BMW M but won't let that ruin their good time.

Other Cars to Consider

2017 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 and a more livable ride. On a track, however, the WRX STI is still the more desirable car.

2017 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 is its audio and infotainment setup, although the RS isn't as readily available as the WRX.

2017 Volvo S60 T6 R-Design -- The S60 T6 R-Design costs about $10,000 more than the STI, but it offers 325 hp with all-wheel drive, plus a more luxurious and roomier interior and more refined exterior styling.

Used Audi S4 -- A 2010-2015 Audi S4 model is a great alternative to the WRX, as it offers a much better interior, more power 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 and offers the option of an automatic transmission and the EyeSight driver-assist feature. Overall, it's a realistic daily driver that costs less.

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2017 Subaru WRX: New Car Review - Autotrader