2012 Subaru WRX Sedan Review: What Is It
Take one previous-generation Impreza, add serious performance hardware rooted in Subaru’s rally heritage, dip it into a bucket of scoops and spoilers, and you’ve got the 2012 WRX, the mild rather than wild version of the automaker’s legendary performance car. This is the standard WRX, not the even more brutal WRX STI, which costs $8,500 more (and for good reason). Turbocharged and equipped with all-wheel drive, the regular-strength Subaru WRX is available only with a manual gearbox and only with plenty of visual attitude – whether you like it or not.
We like it. Even if it’s not the STI.
2012 Subaru WRX Sedan Review: Pricing and Trim Levels
Subaru WRX buyers can choose between a four-door sedan or a five-door hatchback. Standard, Premium, and Limited trim levels are available, and prices start at $26,345 regardless of body style, including a destination charge of $750. Standard equipment includes a modicum of go-faster hardware, including a 265-horsepower engine, Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive, a sport suspension, and 17-inch aluminum wheels shod with P235/45 performance tires.
Upgrading to the WRX Premium, at $28,845, adds fog lights, a trunk spoiler, heated front seats and side mirrors, a wiper de-icer, and a power sunroof. The WRX Limited provides leather seats and HID headlights in exchange for $29,845. A navigation system is $1,000, and Subaru offers a variety of dealer-installed accessories for this car.
2012 Subaru WRX Sedan Review: What It’s Up Against
The Subaru WRX Sedan has a single direct competitor. The Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart, which offers similar pricing and packaging in that it starts at $28,790, features a turbocharged 237-horsepower four-cylinder, and is equipped with All Wheel Control (all-wheel drive). The Mitsubishi is also better looking and equipped with a slightly better warranty package in terms of corrosion protection and roadside assistance service. But we still like driving the Subaru more, and find it to feel more solid in terms of quality and construction.
Subtract AWD from the equation, and the competitive set grows to include models such as the Volkswagen Jetta GLI. Toss the WRX Hatchback into the mix and now you’re cross-shopping the Mazdaspeed 3 and VW GTI. Next year, the Ford Focus ST will join that collection of competitors, along with the rumored Dodge Dart SRT4. Use your imagination, and the WRX also competes with midsize sport sedans like the Kia Optima SX and Toyota Camry SE.
Nah. Not really. Just checking to see if you’re paying attention.
2012 Subaru WRX Sedan Review: Exterior
What’s New for 2012:
- Body-color trunk trim
- Silver inner headlight bezels
How It Looks:
Let’s get this out of the way: the Subaru WRX Sedan is ugly. Decorated with scoops, spoilers and swollen fenders, the homely previous-generation Impreza’s shapeless body at least looks boy-racer appropriate in WRX guise. But it could only be considered attractive within an hour of last call.
We like the new body-color trunk trim, which replaces the chrome strip on previous models that looked entirely out of place, and the WRX’s relatively subtle lip spoiler in contrast to the pronounced basket handle rear spoiler on the WRX STI. However, the WRX’s standard 17-inch finned wheels, painted gray to hide brake dust, appear to be too small for the wide-body styling that Subaru made standard in 2011.
2012 Subaru WRX Sedan Review: Interior
What’s New for 2012:
- New touchscreen navigation system with satellite radio, HD Radio, iPod control, iTunes tagging capability, SMS text messaging technology, and XM NavTraffic
How It Looks and Feels
Seriously, do yourself a favor and skip the new navigation system. Instead, use your smartphone to find stuff. That’s because the new navigation system suffers from significant reflection and glare, and the buttons are too small to be used safely while underway – not that your phone’s controls are bigger or less distracting, but at least you don’t need to use them to listen to the radio.
Once you get comfortable behind the WRX’s wheel, you’ll instantly understand that all of your money went into the car’s hardware package. Hard glossy plastics rule, and the headliner appears to have been constructed of recycled moving boxes. The driver’s seat, however, is comfortable, and you can fit four six-foot-tall adults into this car.
2012 Subaru WRX Sedan Review: Powertrain
What’s New for 2012:
- No changes
How Does It Go
If you’re looking for what really makes the Subaru WRX special, pop the hood. A turbocharged, 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder is installed beneath the WRX’s functional hood scoop, generating 265 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 244 lb-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm, plenty to motivate the WRX’s 3,208 pounds. A more purposeful than refined five-speed manual gearbox is the only way to get the power to the pavement, doing so through Subaru’s Continuous Symmetrical All Wheel Drive system, and the car comes standard with an Incline Start Assist system.
Under normal driving conditions, power is split evenly between the front and rear wheels. But since this is a WRX, driving conditions are rarely normal. Therefore, the AWD system can automatically distribute up to 100 percent of motive force to the set of wheels with the best grip, thanks to its viscous coupling locking center differential.
In addition to the turbocharged and intercooled aluminum Boxer engine, the WRX is equipped with 17-inch alloys wearing P235/45 Dunlop SP01 summer performance tires, a sport suspension with MacPherson struts up front and a double-wishbone setup in back, ventilated front brake discs clamped by two-piston calipers, engine speed variable-assist steering, and quad exhaust outlets.
2012 Subaru WRX Sedan Review: How It Drives
Ignite the WRX’s engine, and a characteristic Subaru boxer-engine grumble vibrates throughout the car. Depress the substantial clutch, coax the stick into first gear, rev the engine a bit, release the left pedal, and you’re off, but it takes a moment for the turbocharger to spool up and push the driver back in the seat. Rev the engine plenty, drop the clutch, and you’re blasting right off of the line, zooming to 60 mph in a tick over five seconds.
As fun as it is to run the WRX through its five forward gears, the car delivers a real thrill when the pavement gets kinky. Though the standard WRX’s underpinnings are relatively simple compared to the more powerful and sophisticated WRX STI, the two cars do share the same firm rear sub-frame bushings. Combine these shared components with negative-scrub front suspension geometry, and 21mm front and 16mm rear stabilizer bars, and the WRX does a commendable job of eradicating body roll in corners, even if it feels too soft in terms of overall jounce and rebound.
Despite an occasionally plush response to the road, which can certainly be resolved with some aftermarket expenditure, the WRX feels Velcroed to the blacktop. Point, shoot, and the remarkably talented WRX goes exactly where you want it to, when you want it to. Superb grip combined with the continuously variable AWD, sticky Dunlops, and good old-fashioned variable-effort hydraulic-assist steering make the Subaru WRX sheer joy to drive. The WRX is equally capable when it comes to scrubbing speed. The braking components supplied no hint of fade during a torturous downhill run in the mountains near Malibu, Calif., imbuing added confidence in the driver.
Here’s a bit of confidence for your wallet. During a weeklong test, we averaged 21.6 mpg with the WRX, falling between the 17-mpg city and 23-mpg highway ratings from the EPA. We spent lots of time on freeways in this car, where the softer suspension tuning proved beneficial. That said, the WRX is a loud machine, and the incessant mechanical, wind, and road racket quickly becomes tiresome on longer drives at higher speeds. We also noticed that cops take a keen interest in the WRX, which might explain why we notice so many WRXs cruising down the highway at five over the limit.
Such a waste…
2012 Subaru WRX Sedan Review: Final Thoughts
The 2012 Subaru WRX Sedan is not for everybody. In fact, it’s hardly for anybody. The WRX is expensive to buy and to own, comes only with a manual transmission, attracts plenty of attention from law enforcement types, features a snug interior constructed of cheap-looking materials, and has a relatively small trunk. Plus, as we’ve noted, it’s been whacked hard with an ugly stick. That said, true driving enthusiasts adore this machine. You can count us among the faithful.
2012 Subaru WRX Sedan Review: Pros and Cons
- Impressive power
- Incredible poise
- Indescribably addictive
- High insurance costs
- Requires premium fuel
- Not gonna win any beauty contests
Subaru provided the 2012 Subaru WRX Sedan for this review
Photos by Christian Wardlaw