My new 2017 Subaru WRX is like modern sport sedan anti-matter. It is somewhat raw, visceral and involving to drive. A throwback to times when cars either handled or were luxurious, but not both, it is the former and not the latter. In a world of increasingly capable sedans, here is a car that will not bore me or allow me to forget about the need to pay attention when driving. I find this character highly appealing and the best feature of the WRX. It is like the Japanese Dodge Charger, a bit uncivilized and with a lot of motor, but lacking in polish and with an occasional rattle or idiosyncratic habit. Driving it is a joy. The pedals are well-spaced for heel & toe downshifts, the steering is very direct and accurate (if lacking in feel), the brakes are solid and the suspension is very capable on all kinds of roads. It is a hoot in the snow with dedicated snow tires and an all-wheel-drive system that puts the power down and loves to hoon. It's all about the driving,and everything else is pretty much secondary.
The powertrain is well set up for performance. The clutch is light and picks up right from the bottom of its travel. The accelerator is problematic, giving nearly 100% throttle with only half of its travel. it takes a while to get a feel for the delicate touch needed to launch smoothly, but downshifting and drifting out of corners comes easily (at least in the snow). The powerband is not especially smooth, being a bit laggy below 2,000 rpm and running out of breath much above 5,500 rpm. Nevertheless, the harder you drive it, the better it seems to perform. I'm just past my break-in and still finding the best techniques for extracting the best from the engine. It's geared pretty low, so the revs stay down when cruising on the highway, and I've been seeing about 26-27 miles per gallon. Around town it's closer to 20 mpg. I expect both to improve, although I have to say it's getting driven pretty hard right now.
Driving position & visibility
Other things I like about the WRX are its driver position, the seats and general visibility. Again, these all support the act of driving and encourage attention and care. There is good space in the interior, and room in the back seat for adults. Overall quality of materials with the Premium version (above the Base and below the Limited) seems solid, but not up to the quality of my previous VW Golf or my current Audi S4.
Doors close securely and quietly, and overall finish seems nice. Paint is easy to chip (found this out when mounting kayak racks on the hidden mounts in the gutters). Anyway, if driving fun and decent performance are most important to you, and you don't care so much about being coddled and cushioned, this might be your ride.
The car comes with 18" wheels and 245/40-18 summer Dunlop Sport Maxx tires, which are perhaps overly stiff and offering little sidewall flex. Steering response is immediate and the highway ride is jiggly, but larger bumps are handled well, and frost-heaved New England roads can be run hard without losing touch of the road. I immediately mounted 17" winter wheels with 225/45-17 Michelin Ice3 snow tires and the ride has improved immensely and the tire noise has decreased despite the aggressive snow/ice tread. The combination of all-wheel drive and snow tires is a revelation in the big snow storms we've had. We've climbed hills with no drama while the local SUV's are slithering off.
This is not a comfy cruising car. It's busy, somewhat noisy, and the electronics & sound system basically suck. I had hoped for Android Auto/CarPlay, but we get Starlink, Pandora, AHA, IHeartRadio and crappy slow performance and weak sound. Frankly, when you're driving the car enthusiastically, none of this stuff matters. It would not be my first choice for an urban commuter though. The stock summer tires are somewhat thumpy and loud, and transmit every freeway divider strip to the passengers.
Controls and instruments
I don't know what it is about the Japanese and multi-function displays, but the WRX has multiple options to customize a half-dozen or so different screens. There's an over-abundance of gass mileage monitoring, by minute, by tank, by cumulative driven miles, with graphs and throttle position monitoring and all kinds of crap. Very, very busy, and not expecially useful. I do like the big boost gauge display in the MFD (multi-function display? or is it mother frickin' display?). My 370Z had some of this gee-whiz video game display crap, and I see it cars like the Ford Focus ST as well. I prefer the instruments in my previous VW Golf and my various previous Audi's.
I don't hate the styling, but i don't especially like it either. The shape is pretty generic and the latest Corolla shares some of the same styling elements. I do love the World Rally Blue that we got, and also like the Red. Life is too short to be driving anonymous white, black, silver, grey etc. cars of NO COLOR! It's easy to pick out our car in a string of traffic, which is better news for cops than it is for me.
Safety & braking
This car is something of a throwback, and an anachronism in our electronic-car, androgynous style world. Most manufacturers make fast cars that are incredibly competent, but frankly I find them pretty boring. The WRX gets good IHSA safety scores, and I think the fact that it keeps its drivers involved and aware has got to be better for accident avoidance.
The bad news is the demographics of the buyer base makes the WRX expensive to insure and more likely to get attention from the police. There's a thriving enthusiast community for these cars, which is both good and bad news. Do you want to be typecasted as one of these people?