I think this is my new favorite way to do a test drive.
As written previously, the WRX was still in the running for my next car purchase. There’s a lot of appeal in something that can seat four adults, provide a potent AWD drivetrain, and land under $33k with my desired trim and options (Premium w/ Recaros). On the other hand, I’d much prefer a hatchback body style, which this fails to provide. To see if the driving experience could help make up for that shortfall, I needed to get behind the wheel.
Thankfully, a semi-impromptu trip to Seattle and access to it’s (waaaaay better than KC area) Turo listings provided a great opportunity to do just that. The specific car I booked was a 2017 base model WRX with a manual transmission and about 20k miles on the odometer. Four days later, I had managed to add about 400 miles from traveling through a variety of environments including busy downtown streets to long highway jaunts to winding scenic drives.
I already had a chance to poke around the inside of a WRX at last month’s KC Auto Show, so I spent most of my time focusing on how it all translated into general comfort on longer drives.
The cloth seats had a pleasant amount of give to them and remained comfortable for 2+ hour long drives. Their grippy texture and moderate bolstering also did a decent job at holding me in place during more spirited driving activities. They’re good, but not good enough to stop me from wanting the optional Recaros.
In terms of NVH, things were slightly better than expected overall. The suspension tuning is a little more towards the sporty side of things, but with enough compliance to remain comfortable over all but the worst of road surface flaws. Wind noise was minor, but road noise, on the other hand, got really bad at times depending on surface and speed.
HVAC, infotainment, and vehicle information displays were all well-laid out and easy to use. I especially liked that the HVAC display was present next to the screen on top of the dashboard, unlike many other cars which stick it next to the knobs much further down the center stack. The only noteworthy issue I could come up with was the lack of a dedicated hill hold toggle button. It can be disabled, but requires about a full minute of work while parked.
I know 20k miles doesn’t translate into a lot of wear and tear, but for what it was worth, everything still looked and felt like new, with no creaks, rattles, or loose switchgear.
I’m not too picky when it comes to looks, but I do think this one is a little hit and miss with its sporty-looking front and rear affixed to a mid-section that can’t quite make up its mind on what to do with the body lines coming from each end. With that out of the way, I’ll try to focus on some of the more practical aspects here.
I have to applaud Subaru for continuing to maintain a healthy greenhouse on these cars. I hadn’t driven a sedan in a while, so being able to see clearly while acclimating to its size was very helpful. I didn’t find myself leaning around the A-pillar or having any trouble spotting traffic around me at all.
The trunk opening and size didn’t look particularly large, but it still had enough room for two medium-large duffel bags and two medium-large backpacks with a fair amount room to spare. Do I still want a hatchback? Of course, but this would realistically have me covered 99% of the time.
I did find a small amount of annoyance coming from the side skirts of all places. They’re more aggressive than they look and extend the bottom of the door sills quite a bit. It took a lot more effort than I expected to not step on them while entering and exiting the car.
One of the first things to stand out behind the wheel was the power delivery. After spending years with a laggy Outback XT and high-strung FR-S, this felt like straight-up cheating. I knew turbo 4s had come a long way in the last decade, but that didn’t make the gobs of torque available below 3k RPM any less entertaining. My husband initially admonished me for short-shifting all over the place, so I tossed him the keys after our next stop. One brief pull out of a slow roll later and it was “HOW?! This just isn’t fair.”
Unfortunately that honeymoon period was cut short once I found an opportunity to wind out first and second gear. I already knew to expect the power to fall off near the top, which it did to some extent, but the rev hang was the real buzzkill here. I could seriously fit in a full 3-Mississippi while waiting for the revs to fall. I eventually learned to work around it, but it still bothered me by the end of the trip. I know it can be tuned out, but I’d be really reluctant to put the warranty at risk.
Steering effort and feedback landed squarely between sportiness and comfort. Compared to the FR-S, there’s less heft and the amount of feedback is a bit more restrained. This helped make longer drives a little less fatiguing, but slowed the build-up of my confidence in its handling abilities. I did eventually get comfortable though and was able to get the most out of some travels through places like Whidbey Island and Chuckanut Drive.
I got along well with the transmission throughout the trip. The shifter, while not the most mechanical-feeling thing, moved with enough accuracy and feedback to keep me happy. The clutch was a little heavier than expected and was blunted by some manner of delay or damping mechanism, but had a relatively wide and easy to modulate range of engagement to help make up for it. It isn’t a super rewarding box to drive, especially when coupled with the aforementioned rev hang, but it does at least make it easy to drive smoothly.
This WRX rental also marked my first encounter with hill hold. Even though this particular implementation was a little generous in what it counted as a “hill” at times, the communicative clutch did a great job of helping me quickly figure out when and how much the “hold” was engaged. I definitely appreciated it early on in my trip, but could see myself eventually turning it off unless I had plans to travel somewhere with some really crazy hills.
Fuel economy at the end of the trip landed around 29-30 MPG as calculated at the pump (since the car was about 10% optimistic). This was with a city/highway mixture similar to my home environment with some more spirited driving sprinkled on top, so I could see the WRX hitting 30+ on a regular basis if I were to get one.
Similar to how this car started out on paper for me, the driving experience was very positive overall with only a few noteworthy drawbacks. I could see most of the things I complained about fading quickly into begrudging acceptance over time with possibly the exception of the rev hang. It sure was annoying, but I’d hesitate to call it a show-stopper considering how good the rest of the car is. It also might just be the nature of these sorts of engines now, given how often I hear complaints about it in reviews of other cars.
Could I see myself owning one? I think so, yes. It ticks most of my boxes and strikes a healthy balance between being fun and reasonable. There are a few flaws and compromises that keep me from falling entirely in love with it, but it’s still the first of a handful of cars on my test drive to-do list. I’m also working within a relatively narrow range of options here, so there may just need to be certain things I’ll have to accept.
Now to go try and convince some dealerships to toss me the the keys to their Golf Rs, STIs, and so on. That’ll be fun, I’m sure.