2012 Subaru WRX Hatchback: Introduction
For a performance car whose main appeal and success has come from the younger (and for some reason backward baseball cap wearing) segment of the buying public, the 2012 Subaru WRX hatchback has what amounts to one of the most pitiful standard audio systems we have experienced in a car at this price. At even moderate volumes the sound inevitably dissolves into enough obnoxious buzzing that you may become convinced that a swarm of bees has taken up residence in the door panels.
Either Subaru needs to redesign their standard 6-speaker audio system (with USB/iPod integration, CD and XM, Sirius pre-wiring) or savvy buyers will need to fork out the extra cash for the upgraded 10-speaker premium unit that comes with the optional in-dash navigation system (a $2,000 option). It is available with every WRX model barring the base version so it will push your out the door price very close to $30,000 mark but seriously, AC/Delco GM radios in the 1970’s radios were about as fun to listen to as the base WRX’s stereo system.
Now, we apologize for just bringing up the 2012 Subaru WRX’s one real Achilles Heel (besides the fact that it did not move over the new platform introduced with the mainstream 2012 Impreza that just launched), but you can always just decide to simply evel in the glorious warble that the 2.5 liter 265 horsepower horizontally opposed “boxer” 4-cylinder turbo emits as you approach the reverberating thrum of redline.
But to our way of thinking, driving a serious hot hatch like this requires driving music to go along with that perfect stretch of tarmac. Other options like leather upholstery in the top of the line Limited model can wait for when you get a junior executive cubicle but with the 2012 Subaru WRX we feel there needs to be a sound system as capable as this car’s very unique engine and proven all-wheel drive system.
Now, everyone knows Subaru has built a reputation for its all-weather capability but did you know that they are the only mainstream car company besides Porsche which still builds engines with cylinders that are “horizontally opposed?” No, they don’t belong to opposing political parties which means the pistons in the cylinders would appear to be punching at each other like boxing gloves when looked at from above.
Hence this is also one of the reasons that this engine also has been known as a “Boxer” engine but part of that could also stem from the throatily macho thrum these motors tend to make. The main benefit of this engine design is the fact that they are not as tall as other motors and can thereby be mounted lower in the engine compartment thereby improving handling. But a lower center of gravity and the laws of physics are only part of what makes Subaru models like the WRX so fun to drive. Have we mentioned the turbo yet? If not, we will.
2012 Subaru WRX Hatchback: Exterior
Now, we don’t want to get any WRX owners angry enough to attack Autobytel headquarters with pitchforks and torches, but has Subaru ever built a single one that was ever actually considered to be pretty or handsome? Usually they come out bug eyed, freakish and out of proportion which is why the 2012 Impreza, what with its casual stylishness, seemed like it would make for a great WRX line RIGHT NOW! But perhaps Subaru’s sports car engineers were busy with their recently launched joint project with Toyota/Scion that Fuji Heavy Industries (Subaru’s parent company) is simply calling the BR-Z.
So even though Subaru is replacing the Impreza with a totally restyled model for 2012, the company saw fit to give its hot hatch icon a wider track, more aggressive wheel arch flares, an angrier front fascia and a serious injection of visual bad ass during the last model year. A 5-door 2012 Subaru WRX like our blue tester essentially now looks like a Venice Beach steroid cautionary tale as a result but just as with our favorite Finnish Rally Car Drivers, we like a Subaru WRX to look mean, ornery and to be the visual antithesis of a slick and shiny VW GTI.
2012 Subaru WRX Hatchback: Interior
Despite the subpar audio quality from the standard 6-speaker audio system, the interior of our base model 2012 Subaru WRX 5-door hatchback ($25,695 to start) felt expertly assembled from materials that were spare, simple and utilitarian but what do you want from Subaru? A headliner lovingly covered in Chenille and seats made from the finest Bavarian cowhides that were softened by trained artisans over a grueling 3 month treatment process? No, the WRX has simple cloth sport seats that are comfortable and are meant to hold you in place during illegal maneuvers around town.
Our WRX came standard with a five-speed manual transmission, 17-inch alloy wheels with summer tires, automatic climate control, Bluetooth, power windows, door locks and mirrors, aluminum alloy pedal covers, USB/iPod integration and a leather wrapped sport steering wheel with cruise and audio controls. The interior layout was simple and some have said “unimaginative” but when you really only came to drive the car does it matter how visually stimulating the dashboard is?
Considering the performance on offer from the 2012 Subaru WRX (especially its improved handling due to a revised suspension set-up that debuted with the 2011 model), this all-weather performance hatchback still stacks up as a pretty good deal. Just check with your insurance agent about the cost of your premiums if you happen to be under 25 of age as rates could then be prohibitively expensive. The 2012 Subaru WRX is a quick car and trouble will one day find you and haul you to traffic court should you buy one. It is a car that is difficult to resist.
The dashboard design and gauge cluster appearance (which does glow a sporty red) was very simple in appearance much like you would find in a Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart, which is another admittedly less well known rival performance car that does compete with the WRX in price and power. But the Subaru’s interior differs from the Lancer’s cabin in that the Subie’s plastics don’t scratch at the first sign of a dog’s toenail or heaven help you—a work boot!
So while the 2012 Subaru WRX may not have an interior that will inspire and amaze for its revolutionary design flourishes, it is roomy enough for four adults and the hatchback body style is very handy. Also, all of the controls and switches are straightforward and easy to use. Also consider the fact that the sedan variant has a rather minute 11.3 cubic foot trunk while the hatch offers 19 cubic feet behind the second row and that this figure can grow to 44.4 cubic feet when you fold the 60/40 split rear seats. So given all of that extra utility it is easy to see that the 5-door WRX variant is the smarter buy.
2012 Subaru WRX Hatchback: Driving Impressions and Safety
Only once you are safely ensconced behind the wheel of the 2012 Subaru WRX and you start up the engine will you finally see what makes this unique sporting icon so special. The WRX drives, steers, sounds and feels like no other hot hatch that tries to compete with it and it is that free thinking spirit that makes it compelling. It’s not for everyone but then the most interesting cars always build their reputations based on their one of a kind spirit and not how well they followed the herd.
For starters, the 2.5 liter 265 horsepower/244 lb. feet of torque turbocharged 4-cylinder emits a throaty rumble at low revs which surprisingly sounds well suppressed from a noise perspective at cruising speeds. But once you near the redline this low slung 4-cylinder becomes another beast entirely, emitting a beastly roar one might only ever hear coming out of the mouth of a and surly Home Depot employee who had a 6-pack of Bud Light, half a hot dog and a Tic-Tac for breakfast. Yes, you hear the WRX’s engine but this is a sports car so the noise it makes was never meant to whisper a dainty warning that it might just kick your ass if you keep pressing the accelerator pedal to the floor.
One of the biggest complaints that WRX loyalists had about the pre-2011 facelift WRX version was that the suspension felt too soft and that there was far too much body roll. Well, after taking an ex-owner of a 2009 WRX for a ride, he confirmed for us that this problem had been solved. We took him at his word thanks to this 2012 WRX’s knack for flat cornering at ludicrously high cornering speeds which made for a low stress drive for all in the car that day.
Also, if you live in a part of the country that has rain, ice and snow (meaning anywhere but Southern California), then you will no doubt appreciate the Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system which usually divides power 50:50 front and back but can apportion up to 100% to the opposite set. We didn’t have any bad weather during out test time with the WRX but the benefits of this system were apparent even on dry roads.
Steering feel was nicely weighted and there was no unfortunate tugging at the wheel under hard acceleration like you get in turbocharged MINI Cooper S models and the MazdaSpeed3. But then it’s not quite as finely weighted as a VW GTI’s steering or as direct as the unit in a 2012 FIAT 500 Abarth that we recently drove. It’s odd that all of these hot hatchbacks use turbocharged engines yet due to unique suspensions, interiors and engineering decisions, they couldn’t be more different to live with and drive each day.
Only the 2011 VW GTI is easier to live with on a day to day basis than the WRX thanks to its greater refinement and smoother 6-speed manual transmission. The 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth would also be great as long as you never needed to drive anyone anywhere with any cargo. And forget the back seat of that admittedly intoxicating Italian.
The 2012 Subaru WRX is only available with a rather mechanical feeling yet predictably notchy 5-speed manual that is only a disappointment in comparison with the amazing 6-speed self-shifter Subaru offers in the more powerful and far more expensive WRX STi variant. Clutch feel was a bit heavy during around town traffic endeavors in the WRX but pedal take-up was easy to modulate during aggressive driving with the brakes proving themselves fade resistant and not the least bit grabby.
No buyer of any Subaru model will have to be disappointed with their new car’s crash test ratings as for the last two years each and every one of their models has been named an IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) “Top Safety Pick.” Apparently Subaru has been flying under the radar as the new Volvo for the past few years.
EPA fuel economy estimates are 19 city/25 highway on premium unleaded for the 2012 Subaru WRX but due to some unforeseen heaviness with our right foot, our average during the week turned out to be 17.3 miles per gallon. The pain from that figure was lessened by the WRX’s more than adequate power which affords it an estimated 5.3 second 0-60 time.
2012 Subaru WRX Hatchback: Conclusion
You really have to admire Subaru for its seemingly never ending need to tinker with the WRX’s engineering, exterior design and driving characteristics over the course of each generation’s production run. What other car company would perform such extensive alterations to the chassis, body panels, front end and track width just one model year before a total replacement was due to arrive? Perhaps Porsche at a much higher price.
But the strangest part of the 2012 WRX’s ever changing history is the fact that Subaru doesn’t constantly tinker with the Forester, Outback or Legacy during their normal model runs. And despite some competition from models the 2012 MazdaSpeed3, 2012 VW GTI, 2012 Hyundai Veloster Turbo and slightly oddball 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart—none of them can match the Subaru’s unique mix of overwhelming power and supreme control at an affordable price.
Subaru didn’t need to go ahead and tighten up the suspension and return some aggression to the exterior styling of the WRX a year ago but they did it anyways. Perhaps it’s this spirit of always going the extra mile that has been one of the key motivating factors of this car company’s sales success over the past few years. It’s either that or their engineers just really like tinkering with their fast and fun turbocharged toy. We know we enjoyed driving it.
What We Love About the 2012 Subaru WRX
- The tightened up handling characteristics when cornering compared to when this latest generation WRX was first launched as with a rather soft and wobbly suspension set-up.
- The angrily agricultural thrum that emanates from the engine compartment every time you manipulate the standard (and a bit notchy) five-speed manual to bring the turbocharged boxer 4-cylinder engine to its rorty redline.
- Spacious and practical inside with a no-nonsense design and comfy sport seats. Not overpriced, either.
What We Loathe About the 2012 Subaru WRX
- The 2012 WRX is still on the old generation platform as it didn’t yet move over to the new platform debuting with the all-new Impreza. The new 2012 Imrpeza hatch cries out for the full WRX treatment!
- The stereo sound quality from the standard 2012 WRX audio system is utterly atrocious and one of the worst examples of cost cutting we’ve ever seen from Subaru.
- The Looks can be a challenge to some folks.