WRX 10k Review

April 13, 2018

Early last month my 2018 WRX rolled over the 10,000 mile mark. I’ve been daily driving the car since early September, which has given me plenty of opportunities to familiarize myself with all of its quirks and features!

For the last seven months I’ve been keeping mental notes on the various things that I love and “hate” and, while the list is far from comprehensive, I hope to give you an idea of what it’s like to drive a WRX on a daily basis: From trips to the hardware store, blasts down curvy backroads, cross-state moves, to long cruises on the highway. I’ve done it all.

So has my dream car met my expectations? Is it comfortable and usable on a daily basis? Have I maxed out my credit cards on mods? Read on to find out!

Exterior

2018 brought a few minor updates to the WRX’s exterior, most notably a revised front bumper with sharper angles and creases. Combined with a new upper grille and fog light bezels, the front end of the car has a much more aggressive look than previous years.

2018 revised front bumper

Interestingly, the lower grille isn’t a separate piece of plastic as it appears in pictures. Instead, it’s just a textured vinyl overlay. That being said, I still love the textures Subaru uses for their bumper plastics. It’s a faux carbon fiber pattern that adds enough visual variety to make it more interesting than plain black trim. Compared to the 2015-2017 WRX bumper, I definitely prefer the aggressiveness of this revised version.

Detail of the front bumper textures

Unfortunately, Subaru still uses a lot of chrome on the front end. The Base/Premium trim headlights still have chrome housings instead of black (as you get on the Limited) and stick out like sore thumbs.

Chrome headlights = gross

I’ll give Subaru points for utilizing a halogen projector, however. This makes HID/LED retrofits a breeze, with a number of aftermarket plug-and-play solutions available. This is one of the main reasons I went with the Premium over the Limited (aside from not wanting leather): I planned from the get-go to do a full HID retrofit, paint the housing, and install aftermarket C-lights eventually.

As for the chrome badging on the rest of the car, it’s still there but is pretty easy to replace yourself.

Chrome...

Not chrome!

The rest of the body is pretty standard WRX: Four doors, a big hood scoop, wide side skirts, and quad exhausts out back. While I would have loved the option to have a hatchback/wagon, the sedan’s styling has grown on me. Plus, I’ve really had no issues fitting larger items in the trunk/back seats, but more on that later. Overall, I really do love the WRX’s muscular bodywork. It’s sporty and aggressive without going full Type R (you know what I mean). I’ve had a few “Fast and Furious” comments from friends, but overall it’s a very refined design.

It's no hatch, but the sedan isn't half bad looking!

Rounding out the exterior, the quality of the factory exhaust pipes was a pleasant surprise to me. Most manufacturers have gotten lazy and started using fake exhaust tips a la bumper cutouts framed with chrome, or chrome tips welded onto cheap ass piping (looking at you Fiesta ST). Not only are the WRX’s quad tips all nicely finished, but the muffler/exhaust setup is very mod-friendly too!

Nice stock exhaust

For a couple hundred bucks you can easily swap the stock mufflers for straight piped kits with very little effort. Considering I had to take a sawzall to the factory exhaust on the ST, this is a welcome feature.

As great as the he stock muffler tips are, they do hang a little low from the factory. Fortunately this can easily be remedied with a set of stiffer hangers from Amazon.

Stiffer yellow hangers from Amazon really tighten things up

Before the hangers

After the hangers

Paint

Moving on to paint: I had heard horror stories about how soft Subaru’s paint is, and they are to be believed. This paint scratches if you look at it wrong.

Almost immediately after taking delivery of the car, I stripped it down for a full polish/seal.

First polish and wax

Some time between leaving the factory and arriving in my driveway, the Lapis Blue Pearl finish had acquired an obscene amount of micro swirls and scratches. Unfortunately, my request to not have the car washed prior to taking delivery was ignored, so it’s safe to assume a majority of this marring was introduced with that first hand wash at the dealership. Fortunately, it wasn’t too difficult to get the paint cleaned up to my satisfaction. And the good news is that when it is clean, Lapis Blue is an amazing color.

In direct sunlight there’s tons of metallic fleck and tints of purple everywhere, but the rest of the time the paint appears a deep, dark blue. Traditionally I’m partial to silver/grey cars (mostly for the ease of maintenance), but when it came to ordering my dream car, “How easy is it to keep clean?” wasn’t a consideration.

Clean paint is happy paint

Overall, it’s been a continuous challenge but not totally impossible to keep the paint looking decent. The previously installed XPEL clear bra has helped save the front half of the car, especially through these last few months of salt, ice, and snow. There are very few chips in the clear bra, save for a few minor knicks here and there. Compared to the front end of my ST after a winter, there’s no comparison.

Considering how rough our Midwest winters can be, I’m seriously thinking about going the ceramic coating route this year. The added durability and protection during the winter months sounds pretty appealing. Not to mention I’ve transitioned to mostly rinseless washes throughout the year, so the extra resilience to towel scratches would be awesome.

Interior

If I had to describe the WRX interior in one word, it’d be “functional”. There’s really no excess anywhere. This might be a con to some people, but honestly I’ve learned to love it! Everything just works and nothing is there without a purpose.

For starters, the HVAC stack is minimalistic but very intuitive. I’m impressed they were able to condense everything down to just three knobs!

The WRX's HVAC is simple but intuitive

The gauges were all updated for 2018 and now utilize a white/red scheme instead of the all red backlighting found in earlier WRXs. I find the contrasting color to be much more readable and refined looking, but do miss the look of the glowing white needles in the older cars. Thankfully Subaru still employs electroluminescent lighting here, so everything is crisp and readable even in full daylight!

The digital display between the gauges is also awesome - I rarely if ever use the analog speedo anymore. The downside is that it’s wierd driving other cars without one now!

Gauges were updated for 2018

Center multi-function display

The steering wheel is damn near perfect. With its “D” shape, chunky 9 and 3 indentations, soft leather, and thoughtful button placement I have almost no complaints. My one gripe is I wish the “mute” button acted as a “pause” button instead. It can be annoying to need silence for a minute only to un-mute a song and have missed half of it!

Nearly perfect steering wheel

Regarding interior materials, there’s a nice variety of soft touch in all the important places, and the plastics themselves are a nice quality. One of the major upgrades for 2018 was the addition of soft grip door pulls which, when combined with the sound deadening I did, make the doors feel super solid and close with a nice “thunk”!

Rubber door pulls

Faux carbon trim

Gunmetal steering wheel trim

Stock shift knob

Steering wheel stitching

Most knobs and buttons are plastic, but very satisfying to use. The HVAC knobs are wrapped in a nice texture that almost feels like rubber and have a nice “click” to them. I find them to be much nicer than the climate control knobs in the ST, and they’re super easy to turn even with thick gloves on in the winter.

HVAC knobs closeup

Continuing with the minimalist theme, the Premium (non-Harmon Kardon) head unit is pretty barebones. It has no navigation, which I do miss, but the radio and Bluetooth have performed nearly flawlessly. There was a little learning curve getting the Bluetooth to work with my Android phone, but I eventually discovered having my phone’s Bluetooth powered on prior to starting the car seems to resolve any connectivity issues.

WRX infotainment is everything you need and nothing you don't

I had read a lot of criticism regarding the stock stereo, and while it’s not the best system I’ve heard, its surprisingly good when you do a little messing around with the EQ settings. There’s plenty of forum threads and YouTube videos on the “best” EQ, so I won’t bother with posting my specific settings here. As good as the stock system has performed, I am considering upgrading to the OEM Audio Plus system eventually (mostly to gain a little more low-end).

As far as interior things I don’t like: The placement of the seat heater switches is annoying. While most of the switches and buttons are intelligently laid out, the seat heaters feel like an afterthought. They’re positioned uncomfortably far back, just under where your elbow would rest on the center console, so it can be easy to forget to turn them off. This has resulted in a number of “Why is my ass so hot?” moments when I get back in the car and forget they’re on.

Seat heater button placemet is questionable

Another disappointment is the lack of functionality in the center-mounted screen (between the analog gauges). Using the three lower steering wheel buttons lets you switch between a digital speedometer and timer tracking the how long the engine has been running, but it feels like a lost opportunity not to have the option to display MPG data, performance data, etc.

Finally, while I love the gauge colors and placement, the dimmer switch could use a few more adjustment levels. It’s a wheel-style switch with an extra “click” to turn the gauges to full daylight mode, but I’d prefer a continuously scrolling switch with more adjustability.

Dimmer switch

Overall the interior is a wonderful place to be. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles found on other cars in this price point, but really I don’t feel like I’m missing out on much. That being said, I would love to have the option of Android Auto/Apple Carplay, but Subaru already offers that on their next-generation Global Platform vehicles so I trust it will make its way into the WRX with the next refresh.

Comfort/Handling

After a number of years having the Fiesta ST pulverize my spine with its extremely firm suspension, I was very much looking forward to a larger and more comfortable car. In this respect, I have not been disappointed with the WRX.

It’s been over half a year since I last rode in the Fiesta ST, but it’s not hard to remember how bouncy the ride was. One of the first things I noticed after driving the WRX for a few days was how compliant and composed the suspension is. The longer wheelbase and softer suspension do wonders for soaking up the smaller cracks and bumps in the road while the factory dampening makes for a firm but comfortable ride. At the same time, the springs are plenty firm enough to keep the car level and balanced in high speed cornering. There is a little bounciness on certain roads, but it’s a far cry from the trampoline-style setup in the ST.

Dat wheel gap though

I do wish there was a little less wheel gap on the WRX, so I am considering some lowering springs, but am hesistant to sacrifice the balance of the stock setup.

The interior overall is remarkably spacious and open feeling, mostly thanks to the greenhouse-like view afforded by the sizable windows and super thin pillars. One of my favorite things about the interior is the usability of the front quarter windows. They’re honestly massive.

Front visibility is excellent

Interior room is impressive

With the driver’s seat positioned to my height, I can very comfortably sit behind myself with room to spare. On the topic of seats, I’ve learned to love a fabric interior again. The WRX’s cloth has a breathable mesh-like center section on all the seats which has been great for keeping my back/legs from getting too hot in warmer weather.

Seat fabric is durable but comfortable

The stitching and padding all feel very durable and I have no concerns about maintaining them for years to come. One gripe regarding the seats is the cushioning can feel a little firm on longer road trips. I’m pretty skinny (AKA I have a bony ass) so it’s hard for me to make a drive longer than an hour without stopping to stretch. To be fair, I had the same issue in the ST, but those seats were bolstered like coffins so…

The WRX’s doors and trunk have huge openings, and the rear doors open almost 90 degrees, making loading cargo and people super easy. While it’s no hatchback, folding the rear seats does allow for a surprising amount of storage space! I recently fit a huge 80” steel shelf from Home Depot in the trunk with the rear seats folded.

WRX or Baja?

Set of tires in the backseat

As far as dislikes of the interior: Unfortunately the WRX’s center console armrest is totally sucks at being an armrest. It’s way too low and far back to rest an elbow on. Thankfully the JDM armrest extension remedies this issue.

JDM Dual Console armrest is a must

Finally, while Subaru took some steps to mitigate wind and road noise with the 2018 WRX, it’s still loud. Deadening the doors has helped a bit, but I’m convinced a majority of the noise is making its way in through the floor/wheelwells. It’s not unbearable, but can be off-putting for someone used to a quieter cabin.

Engine

Full disclosure: I’ve drunk the Boxer Koolaid and I’m a full convert. While the traditional Boxer rumble is no longer there, but the new FA motor has a character of its own with a deep growl at low RPMs and is butter smooth at higher RPMs.

The FA20 in all its glory

Even with the factory mufflers (non-STI) I’ve found myself driving around without the stereo on enjoying the sound. There is some boomy-ness with the stock mufflers (they’re GIGANTIC) and I’m convinced a muffler delete might actually be quieter at idle. I’ll report back on that… That being said, there’s no drone at all with the stock setup.

I haven’t found myself wanting for much more power, but I would love to do something about the HORRENDOUS stock tune. The rev hang isn’t as bad as people make it out to be, but the inconsistency in boost across the RPM range is frustrating. Peak torque seems to come on before 4,000 RPM and as a result not much happens towards redline aside from some extra noise. It’s like the turbo shuts off altogether and you’re forced to short shift! I’m eagerly waiting for the day I can pick up an Accessport and level out the power with a good tune. I’ll sacrifice some low-end “punch” for a more consistent powerband any day.

MPGs have been good but not great; I’m averaging 25-30 MPG city and 26-35 highway (numbers have been a bit lower in the colder months). You can easily get 400+ miles out of a full tank (~16 gallons) when you’re cruising on the highway. For a mid-size, turbo, AWD sedan, it’s actually pretty impressive.

Fillin' up

Maintenance has been a breeze thanks to the top-mounted oil filter. I did a full oil change the other weekend in about 15 minutes! Spending some time looking at the rest of the engine bay/underside everything seems to be relatively easy to access and user-friendly. Kudos to Subaru for catering to driveway mechanics!

Top mount oil filter = godsend

Oil changes are a breeze

Unless you drop your drain plug

A quick note regarding reliability: I’ve had no issues thus far but have noticed a bit of stuttering at idle occassionally. A quick Google search suggests this is characteristic of the Boxer motor so I’m not too worried.

Transmission

If I’m being honest, the WRX has been one of the hardest transmissions to master that I’ve encountered. The first few weeks were an exercise in patience and frustration as I learned the grab point of the new clutch.

The main issue is the vagueness of the clutch pedal; it’s VERY difficult to feel the clutch grabbing. The travel is long and bite point is very high in the engagement. To quote ThatDudeInBlue (David Patterson): “My main complaint about the WRX is its clutch; it has no feel. It grabs in a really weird spot, to the point of when I do it right I feel like I’m hurting the car.”

The WRX's clutch can be tricky to master

I’m pretty sure much of this vagueness comes from Subaru’s use of a clutch spring. This is supposed to make the clutch pedal lighter and easier to use on a daily basis, but at the unfortunate expense of mechanical feedback. I’ve read that some owners have removed the clutch spring altogether, but I have yet to try this myself mostly because I’ve just gotten used to it. That being said, it did take me a solid two weeks of practice to get it down. So if you’re a new WRX driver who’s frustrated, just be patient and letting the clutch out slower at the top of its engagement. You feel like you’re doing something wrong and slipping the clutch, but your shifts will be much smoother!

Clutch aside, the WRX’s 6-speed transmission is a joy to use. Getting into gears requires more effort than my ST (which I could shift with one finger), but it results in a much more engaging experience. I’ve really come to appreciate how mechanical it feels. The lockout for first gear can be a bit…finicky, however. I’ve found I sometimes have to come to a complete stop and/or double clutch to get the car into first. This has resulted in a few panicked starts and some frustrations rolling into “just turned green” intersections at speeds lower than 10 MPH.

From the factory, there’s an alarming amount of side-to-side play in the shifter. Thankfully the Perrin Shift Stop has helped clean up the sloppy shifting immensely - I’d highly recommend it as a one of the first mods any WRX owner does.

Perrin Shift Stop

I wasn’t sure what to expect with AWD, but it’s has been a huge step up from FWD in every way. I’ve had an absolute blast in the winter and, many thanks to my winter tires, never once gotten stuck or been worried even in a full-on blizzard. It gives the car a supreme sense of confidence and predictability.

Not quite a snow plow, but close

A welcome sight to any Subaru driver

In addition to feeling safer, the car is much more composed and balanced on steep inclines and highway on-ramps under throttle. There’s none of the “scampering” feeling I got when the ST’s front wheels got overloaded; no sense that the car is dragging it’s own ass around.

Overall the transmission and clutch in the WRX are much more mechanical than I’ve been used to. The Fiesta ST’s transmission was one of the easiest I’ve ever used, and the clutch was very light and forgiving. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t mean to say that’s a mark against the WRX; the heft of the mechanics adds a level of engagement and effort that contributes to the car’s character.

Summary

In short, my first 10,000 miles have been 100% awesome. The WRX has lived up to the hype for me, and fulfills all of my expectations as a daily driver. It’s really a “jack of all trades” kind of car.

The WRX is an all-around excellent car

While it lacks the tossability and “puppy dog” attitude of the Fiesta ST, I find myself enjoying the WRX much more day-to-day. It’s spacious, relatively comfortable, reliable, and sporty. There’s loads of potential with mods, and I’m loving the Subaru community - so many waves and smiles everywhere I go!

It did take a while to get used to the transmission, but I looked at this car as a long-term investment from the very beginning. Because of this, I consider taking a few weeks to learn the character of the car time well spent.

I look forward to the next 10,000 miles with the WRX, and to sharing my thoughts with you all along the way! If you have any specific questions or aspects of the car you’d like to know more about, please feel free to comment below or shoot me an email at [email protected].

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