HOME POPULAR The 2023 Subaru WRX Is All Grown Up

The 2023 Subaru WRX Is All Grown Up

Adam Allen Writer - Carpages.ca
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It happens to all of us.

One moment, you’re shredding the half pipe on your skateboard and scarfing down a Big Mac combo at lunch; the next you’re drooling over a graphite set of golf clubs and tucking into a kale salad. Getting old is an unavoidable proposition, unless you are Mickey Rourke with a penchant for plastic surgery, and that went well for him, right?

The fact is, no one can outrun Father Time. Many have tried- all have failed. The best way to approach grey hair and wrinkles is to just go with the flow and accept it, and maybe even enjoy it.

This maxim applies to the car world as well. Take the Subaru WRX, for example. In the hands of geniuses like Colin McRae, it dominated the World Rally Championships as a youngster, a flurry of chirping wastegates and four-wheel rooster tails of gravel. We can fondly recall when the WRX first arrived in Canada nearly 20 years ago much to the delight of speed freaks on a budget. Its cheeky looks and impressive performance made it a sought-after commodity amongst enthusiasts. It was very much like your humble narrator at that time- energetic, gobs of fun while embracing its penchant for hooliganism. But, the years go by as they inevitable do, and with the passage of time priorities change.

This was surely on the minds of Subaru engineers when it was time to sit down and plan the current VB generation which was released in the summer of 2021 as a 2022 model. It’s always a big deal when a company is tasked with a clean sheet redesign of an iconic model, and fans held their breath until it broke cover publicly for the first time. When it did so, the response was polarizing. Some praised the extra power from the new 2.4 litre engine and were relieved that Subaru kept the manual gearbox alive. Others thumbed their noses at the plastic body cladding and newfound refinement. The debate continues to rage on, but one thing is certain: The WRX has grown up.

The styling is the most divisive component of the WRX. It looks stodgier and more upright than its predecessors and of course, that black plastic cladding that’s been liberally splashed around the wheel arches is not what we’d call endearing, a sentiment echoed by its legions of fans who promptly panned it. The more we laid eyes on the WRX, the more we began to see it as the progeny of a BRZ and an Outback Wilderness. What it lacks in beauty it makes up for in the ability to instantly recognize it as a WRX. We admit that we warmed to the new duds eventually, but they aren’t everybody’s cup of tea.

It was a similar story with our tester’s transmission. Our tester was equipped with a CVT automatic that Subaru calls SPT which stands for Subaru Performance Transmission. It was out first time ever experiencing a WRX thusly equipped, and we tried to keep a straight face when we took it for a spin- after all, we thought, how could a CVT even come close to delivering a rewarding driving experience? After getting more intimately acquainted with SPT its virtues swam into focus. For 90% of the time when simply getting from Point A to Point B is required, the CVT goes about its business smoothly without attracting undue attention and keeps the turbocharged four banger near the sweet spot of its powerband when called upon. When you select the Sport # Drive Mode (that’s Sport ‘sharp’ folks, not hashtag) its character changes to become edgier and more responsive. There are paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, and they respond vastly better than some other so-called sports cars equipped with automatic transmissions. We would still overwhelmingly prefer the 6-speed manual that Subaru thankfully continues to offer, but for those who don’t know how to operate a manual gearbox or for commuters who rarely leave the urban grind, the CVT doesn’t suck.

Want to know what else isn’t a disappointment? The ride quality. Our tester was packing the available adaptive dampers which went a long way to gifting the WRX with excellent ride characteristics. Those with prior experience behind the wheel of WRX’s past would correctly categorize the suspension’s comfort level to a few notches above an ox cart, and longer trips become something to embrace rather than dread. Out on the highway it’s much quieter too, thanks to more sound deadening than before. Growing up isn’t all bad- the WRX is still frisky when the circumstances warrant but it now has ‘settling down’ as part of its repertoire.

Since the WRX was born on the stages of the World Rally Championship, those who count off-road shenanigans as part of their personal repertoire for having a good time can breathe a sigh of relief that despite the buttoned-down composure afforded by the adaptive dampers, the suspenders still offer the long travel bump absorption that have helped foster the car’s legendary status off the tarmac. Subaru’s signature Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive stands watch on the traction front, making sure that the wheels with the most grip are given the most power which supplies the driver with the confidence to push harder while maintaining control. We cannot wait to bid winter a final hosta la vista and the bone chilling temps that go along with that, but we do wish we would have had the WRX in the Carpages Garage during a toothsome winter storm to indulge our Travis Pastrana fantasies.

It is in situations like these where the underlying goodness of the WRX reveals itself. Sure, it may have matured and picked up some questionable styling cues along the way but darn it if it isn’t still capable of the sort of behaviour that so endears it to its legions of fans. Chuck it into a bend and the front axle bites and follows your corning arc obediently, the turbo wastegate chirps and gravel is flung towards the heavens courtesy of all four contact patches. In circumstances such as these, with your heart pounding and adrenal glands on full pump that the magic of the WRX still lives on.

There were only a few issues that caused us concern after our time with the WRX was up. Since we just told you how fun the WRX can be in its element, it seems like a proper segue into discussing the first issue we noted which is steering feel that is completely absent. It feels like those old arcade style video games where you could turn the wheel gently or rabidly turn it lock to lock- there is ZERO feel to be had and the driver is aware of the enthusiastic turn-in but not much about what exactly is happening at the front contact patches. Further, the effort is the same whether you’re negotiating a parking lot or diving into a high-speed corner. The other source of angst we noted was with the EyeSight suite of electronic safety nannies. Opting for the CVT unlocks access to all the safety tech, but we found it so annoying and invasive that we turned everything off, thus negating their benefit. It seems a bit weird that a car built for fun is constantly wagging its finger at you.

They say aging is a graceful process that we’re all subject to- does that mean we should admonish the WRX for trading some of its youthful exuberance for a more measured, mature driving experience? Hardly. For those trying to recapture their youth, any helpful Subaru sales associate would be pleased to direct their attention to the BRZ sports coupe at the other end of the showroom. Those thinking they’ll bide their time until they pull the wraps off a hotter Sti version will be disappointed to learn that Subaru has no plans to do that- we think that’s a missed opportunity, although if the chatter from Subaru fans gets loud enough for those making product planning decisions to hear, who knows?

No matter what course Subaru charts for the WRX, we are just happy that it even exists, and that it is still available with a manual gearbox. Yet who knows for how long that will remain? If you have any interest in a WRX, we urge you to act sooner than later to make that happen. Yes, it has grown up- but you should always remember that age is just a number. After all, Jay “The Juiceman” Kordich was making breathless, over-the-top infomercials right up until his death at the ripe old age of 93. It matters not if you are ‘old’ in terms of age or, in the WRX’s case, its driving experience- you are still a force to be reckoned with.

2023 Subaru WRX Sport-tech with EyeSight - Specifications

  • Price as tested: $43,620
  • Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger sedan
  • Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
  • Engine:  2.4 litre turbocharged Boxer 4-cylinder, 16 valves, DOHC
  • Horsepower: 271 @ 5,600 rpm
  • Torque (lb-ft.): 258 @ 2,000 rpm
  • Transmission: Subaru Sport Transmission (Continuously Variable Automatic)
  • Curb weight: 1,611 kg (3,552 lbs)
  • Observed Fuel consumption: 12.2L/100km (19 mpg)