By Joe Tralongo, Contributing Editor
Subaru’s 2017 WRX and WRX STI sports sedans deliver impressive performance on par with some of the best sports cars in the world, yet are priced within reach of the working class. Buried beneath the phalanx of modern driver-assist technology, integrated app and infotainment technology and creature-comfort technology is a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine offered in two temperatures: spicy and red-hot. With standard all-wheel drive, the 2017 Subaru WRX offers more grip than a Volkswagen GTI, Honda Civic Si or Ford Focus ST, although all-wheel-drive competitors like the less powerful VW Golf R and more powerful Ford Focus RS are a good match for the WRX STI. Those looking for a less conspicuous ride might consider a pre-owned Audi S3.
Who doesn’t love a powerful car with tenacious grip that is also a livable daily driver? The 2017 Subaru WRX’s Continuously Variable automatic Transmission (CVT) means everyone can be onboard for the fun, while all-wheel drive provides year-round driving confidence.
Subaru’s 2017 WRX performance sedan gains a tricot headliner and auto up/down front windows, while the base STI gains auto on/off headlights with wiper activation plus available blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert. The EyeSight collision-avoidance system is now offered but only on WRX Limited trim.
Whether you chose the 6-speed manual or advanced CVT automatic, Subaru’s WRX for 2017 delivers focused performance and driving thrills few others in this price range can match. Credit goes...
... in large part to Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive system that helps keep the WRX calm in the most unnerving corners. Try as we may, we couldn’t get our WRX to surrender traction even when pushed to what we thought would be the car’s limits. Despite the electrically assisted power-steering setup, understeer (a car’s tendency to lose traction at the front wheels) went unnoticed. And, unlike so many of its rivals, the 2017 Subaru’s WRX doesn’t sacrifice a comfortable ride and all-weather drivability in pursuit of perfect cornering capability. However, the story takes a different turn when it comes to the STI, where every bump and road blemish is rudely telegraphed into the passenger compartment.
6-SPEED MANUAL TRANSMISSION
While automatic transmissions have gotten better at shifting and conserving fuel, there is just no substitute fora good manual transmission. The precise action and positive engagement delivered by the WRX’s 6-speed manual make the intricate ballet between man and machine infinitely more enjoyable than just tapping paddles.
Given the wide and varying size of today’s drivers, finding a set of snug sport seats that can satisfy most is no small task. In the 2017 WRX performance sedan, Subaru’s use of high-grip fabric and aggressive leg and side bolstering keeps the driver firmly in place without cramping one’s style.
It used to be that the Volkswagen Golf R had an edge in refinement over its Subaru rivals. However, the 2017 Subaru WRX and WRX STI narrow that gap considerably, with soft-touch upper dash and door panels, a full-color driver-information display between the gauges, a leather-wrapped flat-bottom steering wheel, and available 8-way-power driver’s seat. As for functionality, remember that the Subaru WRX is based on the Impreza, giving you a comfortable rear seat, even for adults, and a trunk that offers more space and security than the Hatchback GTI or Focus ST.
Although still mechanically and stylistically based on the 2017 Subaru Impreza, the WRX and WRX STI no longer carry the Impreza label. This little sports sedan has taken on an identity all its own. The front and rear fenders flare aggressively, the "nose-cone" front-end design uniquely fits this aggressive sports sedan, and impressively thin windshield pillars provide better visibility for more confident high-speed maneuvers. Finally, less attention-hungry 2017 Subaru WRX STI buyers can substitute a smaller rear spoiler to replace the standard humungous rear wing.
The basic 2017 Subaru WRX sedan comes standard with automatic climate control, a rearview camera and a sleek audio system using Subaru's Starlink touch screen, which includes Bluetooth, Pandora, iHeart Radio and USB and auxiliary inputs. Performance items include a 268-horsepower 4-cylinder engine, 17-inch alloy wheels with performance tires, and Subaru's active torque-vectoring system that uses the brakes to control understeer. The Subaru WRX STI gets dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, 18-inch wheels, LED headlights and suede-like Alcantara upholstery. Safety features include seven airbags, a suite of electronic stability aids and Subaru's rigid body structure.
Subaru divides most of the options for its WRX and WRX STI into trim levels. WRX Premium models get an inverted-strut suspension similar to the higher-performance STI model, plus fog lights, an all-weather package that adds heated front seats, and bigger wheels and tires. WRX and WRX STI Limited models get a navigation system (optional on WRX Limited models), 8-way-power driver's seat, and leather upholstery. Stand-alone options include Subaru's rear-vision system, which features cross-traffic alert and blind-spot detection. Curiously, Subaru's EyeSight collision avoidance and active cruise control (includes Steering Responsive headlights and Reverse Automatic Braking) are available only on the Limited trims.
The standard 2017 Subaru WRX gets a 268-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbo connected to either a 6-speed manual or a continuously variable automatic transmission. Yes, a CVT isn't an intuitive first choice for performance drivers, but it works extremely well in the WRX. The 2017 Subaru WRX STI again comes with a 305-horsepower 2.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, and is available only with the 6-speed manual. Both models come with the symmetrical all-wheel-drive system designed to enhance traction in performance driving; its off-pavement settings are a nod to the car's World Rally Championship heritage, where most races are run on unimproved dirt roads. Last, it’s worth noting that both engines require premium fuel.
2.0-liter turbocharged flat-4
268 horsepower @ 5,600 rpm
258 lb-ft of torque @ 2,000-5,200 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 20/27 mpg (manual), 18/24 mpg (automatic)
2.5-liter turbocharged flat-4
305 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
290 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 17/23 mpg
Considering the performance envelope, the roughly $27,500 Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) for a basic 2017 Subaru WRX is pretty reasonable, and the CVT automatic adds $1,200 to that. The WRX STI starts higher, at a little more than $35,000, but even that undercuts the starting price of a new Volkswagen Golf R. A fully loaded WRX Limited will cost about $36,000, while a decked-out STI is a bit under $41,000. The Ford Focus ST and Scion FR-S start around $25,000, while the Honda Civic Si sedan and Hyundai Veloster Turbo begin in the low-$23,000 range; none of those cars offer all-wheel drive, though. Be sure to check KBB.com's Fair Purchase Price tool to ensure you get the best deal on your next car. Down the road, 5-year resale values for the 2017 WRX and STI should be topped only by the segment-leading Civic Si.