February 03, 2019

WRX 25k Review

18 MIN READ

reviews , wrx

A year and a half after taking delivery of my WRX, it’s already rolled over the 25,000 mile mark! With a cross-state move and frequent trips back and forth between Minnesota and Wisconsin the past year, it’s not hard to believe I’ve racked up so many miles in such a short amount of time. So how has the WRX fared as a daily driver the last 18 months? Well considering how much driving I’ve been doing, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on my likes/dislikes!

Exterior

One of the biggest additions to the exterior this past summer was the front lip. After going back and forth on whether bolting more plastic to the underside of my bumper was a terrible idea in this climate, I bit the bullet and have been running the Bayson R V-Limited lip for a few months now.

Bayson R V-Limited lip installed on the WRX

Unfortunately, a few months after painting and installing it, I ended up catching the corner of the lip on a curb! Thankfully I just grazed it and should be easily repairable with a repaint. However, it did reveal a limitation of the paint/clear coat combo I used - mainly that two stage clear coats don’t work well when flexed. I’ll be repainting the lip this spring and rethinking the materials to use.

Damage to the WRX's front lip

Plowing snow with the front lip

As for the WRX’s paint, it’s actually held up pretty well! This winter I decided to take more conservative approach to detailing; rather than worry and obsess over the paint like I did last winter, I simply prepped the car with a thorough wash and application of Gyeon Can Coat in the fall. Throughout the winter I took the car through touch-less washes (with undercarriage rinses) every week or so and vacuumed/detailed the interior when the weather was warm enough.

The WRX after a drive-thru rinse mid-winter

Overall, for the amount of work I put in I’m happy with the condition of the paint! There’s some very light scratching from the mountains of road salt the car blasted through this past winter, but the XPEL clear bra has done an incredible job of protecting the front of the car. While it was an expensive initial investment, I can confidently say the film was worth the money. Seeing other Subarus with similar miles and pockmarked/scratched front ends makes me all the more grateful I did it as early on as I did.

XPEL film after two winters of daily driving

On the subject of scratches, there have been a few areas of the paint that did require touch-ups. On the driver’s side roof rail I found a decent chip from what I can only assume was a rock or some other road debris. In addition, there was some more significant chipping around the gas cap.

Paint chipping on the WRX's gas cap

The latter was 100% my fault, as I remember a particularly frustrating moment at the gas station when it was ungodly cold (like -30 degrees) and the cap refused to open. I must have gotten too aggressive when trying to break the ice around the edge of the cap. I’ll most likely be throwing a plastic trim tool in with my winter kit to help with this issue if it ever arises again. In both situations, the OEM touch-up paint stick from Subaru was a perfect match and filled the chips no problem.

Subaru OEM Lapis Blue Pearl touch-up paint

Gas cap chipping post touch-up paint

One of the most frustrating aspects of the exterior has been the maintenance of the brake calipers. From the factory, they’re unpainted and attract surface corrosion very easily. Between the crazy temperature fluctuations we see here in the midwest (hard braking in temperatures ranging from -30’s to over 100 degrees) and the crazy amounts of road salt in the winter, they’ve required what feels like endless cleaning.

Unpainted brake calipers w/ corrosion

Thankfully Adam’s Wheel Cleaner makes short work of the carbon/brake dust buildup, but even after painting the calipers thoroughly last summer I continue to see corrosion buildup in between the caliper and mounting bracket.

Painted OEM calipers on the WRX

My only guess is that the rattle/alignment clips must be retaining brake dust buildup and causing the discoloring. Unfortunately, it seems like the only real solution is upgrade to a more robust powder coated setup, so I may be exploring an STI brake upgrade at some point in the future.

The last exterior item worth noting is the XPEL clear bra, as I encountered a few issues with the film staining. After a longer road trip, I didn’t have a chance to blast the front of the car off like I usually did. The car then sat in my work parking lot under the baking summer sun for 8+ hours one day, which seemed to be enough to create some “staining” on the clear bra itself.

Some staining on the XPEL Ultimate film

After some Googling and chats with XPEL’s customer support, I tried everything I could think of - warming the film with a rag soaked in boiling water, a heat gun, polishing, IPA wipedown, etc. Eventually I was approved to have the affected film replaced under warranty, and drove the car up to a local detailing shop for the work. As it turns out, the staining buffed out almost immediately after the shop hit it with their higher-end Rupes polishers. Turns out my cheap Porter Cable polisher just didn’t put out enough oomph to remove the contaminants from the film! While I felt like a moron, I’m happy to say that after the professional grade polishing, the film has completely self-healed and looks brand new again!

XPEL film post-cleaning from CMG Detailing

Shout out to CMG Detailing in Cedarburg, WI for their awesome work and complimentary detail! If you’re in the Milwaukee area, be sure to check them out!

Interior

Moving on to the interior, I’m still loving the simplicity of everything. The stereo, while pretty under-powered in it’s stock form, pumps out some decent audio once you tweak the EQ settings a bit. As a self-proclaimed audiophile, I still plan to upgrade with an amp/sub at some point, but it’s not a priority for me. The only downside currently is that I consistently have to bump the volume to well over 40 at highway speeds to hear my music clearly.

The somewhat underpowered stock head unit

Thankfully, I discovered the volume control is independent based on which input you have selected, so even if I crank the volume when connected to Bluetooth, switching back to the FM radio isn’t deafening - a nice touch. On the subject of Bluetooth, I’ve had continued intermittent issues with connectivity. The system is dead reliable so long as I have my phone’s Bluetooth powered on prior to turning the car on. However, if I try to connect after the car is already on, it’s very hit or miss. Thankfully the workaround isn’t too annoying.

The rest of the interior has worn extremely well with no significant scratches, chipping, or tearing anywhere to be seen. The seats still feel very durable and comfortable for most driving. However, for longer drives (1.5+ hours) I find the cushion to be lacking and my butt starts to hurt. I’d imagine I could re-cushion the driver’s seat eventually, but as with most of the other complaints I’ve mentioned, it isn’t a deal breaker right now. The seat fabric itself has “wrinkled” again this winter - thankfully I know it will settle once the warmer temps return.

The WRX's functional if somewhat boring interior

Finally, in true Subaru fashion there’s a few panels on the interior that have developed rattles. Most prominently, the rear deck by the third brake light has a pretty wicked rattle when cold - so much so I resorted to drowning it out with the radio this past winter. When researching the car, I had read about plenty of other WRX owners with the same issue, so I’m not surprised. Tearing apart the back deck this spring will be a good excuse to sound deaden the area anyways!

Engine/Transmission

Overall the FA20 motor and transmission have been dead reliable. I had absolutely no issues with starting or stuttering even during the coldest of winter days here. In addition, while I noted that the increase in exhaust noise during my 10k review, I’m inclined to say the exhaust sounds even louder now! There’s actually a bit of (what I would consider) rumble - nowhere near the level of an EJ motor, but it’s a notable amount of character compared the traditional droney four cylinders I’m used to. Thankfully, because the exhaust is stock, I’m getting the best of both worlds now! A bit of noise and theater when I want it, but then the engine itself is silky smooth and comfortable resting at highway speeds.

The WRX's six speed is tricky to master but gratifying to drive

Regarding the transmission: In spite of my initial struggles, shifting the WRX has become second nature. However, even after over a year of daily driving it the shifts just aren’t as smooth as they were in my previous cars. I find it takes A LOT of concentration and effort to have perfectly smooth shifts, but overall I wouldn’t call the experience “frustrating” anymore. Understanding the driveline shock that comes with AWD is important, and I find myself unconsciously engaging the clutch at lower speeds in parking lots to avoid the headbanging shudder from letting off the gas too quickly. Driving a stick shift will always be more work than an automatic, but very rarely do I find myself fatigued by the experience in the WRX.

One additional note regarding the transmission is the hill assist. As far as I can work out, there’s no way to permanently disable it without some number of warning lights on the dashboard. This is unfortunate for a number of reasons, but mainly because I find the hill assist bogs me down at stoplights on even the slightest of inclines. There are numerous occasions where the light has turned green, the cars in front have taken off, and I end up stuck in place. Given that the system literally uses the brakes to anchor the car on an incline, it’s not surprising that the sensation is one of feeling held back when you don’t want to be. Learning stick shift on my 2000 Mercury Cougar (with no hill assist of any sort), I grew accustomed to holding myself with the brake and metering the clutch/gas when it was time to move. It might be stubbornness on my part, but I’d like to be able to choose when and where the system engages!

Overall though, I’ve been very happy with the powertrain on the WRX. Shifting is still engaging and very mechanically satisfying, the engine makes adequate power (even though I still find myself wanting a more predictable power curve), and the AWD system has been incredible even in the worst weather we’ve seen. I’ve never had this much confidence in a vehicle before!

Maintenance

As I mentioned before, I’m happy to report I’ve had zero mechanical issues with the WRX. I’ve stuck to a 4000 mile oil interval (sometimes sooner depending on the weather/type of driving I was doing) and am able to bang out an oil change in under 20 minutes now! The only other big maintenance item was the cabin air filter, which is by far the easiest I’ve ever encountered - simply dropping the glove box and pulling out/slotting in the new one was all it took.

Changing the cabin air filter on the WRX is easy as pie

One dirty Subaru cabin air filter

As a side effect of the regular oil changes/tire rotations, I’ve finally worked out the best way to reliably and safely jack up the WRX: For the front, getting the car up on some “booster” ramps made of wood is enough to provide clearance to the front jacking point. I was really nervous the first time I put a load on the metal plate, but upon closer inspection there’s no noticeable warping or denting of the metal after over a dozen lifts.

Jacking up the front of the WRX - ramps come in handy for clearance

Jacking up the front of the WRX - the little known center jack plate\

The rear is even easier - just slide the jack under the rear diff and slowly lift the car making sure both the left and right sides are raising evenly. The biggest risk I’ve found with this approach is that the car could theoretically tip/twist left or right as it’s being jacked from the center, but since I never raise both the front and rear of the car simultaneously I haven’t been too worried.

Modifications

The last thing I want to reflect on is the various modifications/improvements I’ve made to the car in the last year. One of the my biggest regrets with my Fiesta ST was that a number of the modifications I made actually decreased the usability and consequently the appeal of the car for me. With the WRX, I’ve been taking a much more calculated approach - considering the overall impact of a given mod before purchasing.

First and foremost, the biggest quality of life improvement has been the HID retrofit. Before I even placed the order for my car, I knew that an HID retrofit was a mod I wanted to do. Not only was it a fun challenge and learning experience, but the results really are night and day. As I mentioned in my retrofit guide, the Morimoto D2S projectors make the OEM halogen projectors look like candlesticks!

Morimoto D2S 4.0 HIDs low beams

Morimoto D2S 4.0 HIDs high beams

When combined with Morimoto LED foglights, the massive increase in light output has given me a ton of confidence driving at night. Not only has the headlight upgrade been functional, but the blacked out bezels and Diode Dynamics c-lights have totally transformed the front end!

Morimoto D2S HID, Diode Dynamics c-lights, and blacked out bezels

There have been a few issues with the headlights including some wonkiness with the c-lights going in and out (turned out to be bad OEM connectors which were easily replaceable) and intermittent issues with one of the HIDs igniting.

Rewiring the OEM connectors on the Diode Dynamics c-lights

The latter issue has been inconsistent and hard to nail down, but a replacement Morimoto ballast (under warranty via Lightwerkz) seems to have mostly fixed the issue. I plan to upgrade the bulbs eventually, so hopefully a higher quality set will help mitigate the issue further. Thankfully, I’ve had no issues with leaking or condensation in the headlights after splitting them open. Morimoto Retrorubber for the win!

Next up is the taillight blackout that I did a few months back. The project itself was pretty straightforward: cut the taillights open, black out the chrome, swap out the halogen bulbs for Diode Dynamics LEDs. In spite of the simplicity of the mod, I had concerns about my ability to fully re-seal the taillights and wondered about the potential for moisture issues. I’m happy to report I’ve had absolutely zero issues - not even with the Subiebros F1 taillight I ended up sort of hacking apart! Props to GE for making some awesome silicone sealant!

Comparing the painted/unpainted taillights

Painted taillights make a huge difference

I’ve gotten a lot of compliments/questions about the tails, and people are always surprised to hear I cut them open. I always reassure them that it was one of the easier mods I’ve done, and the end result is much nicer looking than a external tint or paint, even. Check out the full guide if you’re interested yourself!

One of my most popular mods has been the sound deadening project. Turns out a lot of people are interested in making their WRX/STIs a little quieter! I attribute the interest to most owners dailying their cars and/or having passengers on a regular basis. In my case it’s both; my wife certainly appreciate the reduced road noise as it’s definitely easier to hold a conversation. Plus, I’ve found myself less fatigued on longer road trips. I do plan to deaden the floor of the WRX eventually, and I think that will have an even bigger impact on the road noise itself. The doors were a good starting point, as they cut down on a lot of wind noise, gave the stock stereo system a much needed boost in the low end, and added some much needed heft to the doors themselves.

Bayson R V-Limited lip installed on the WRX

As I mentioned earlier, the Bayson R V Limited front lip I put on last summer took a bit of a beating the last few months. After picking a fight with a curb and months of driving through the salt, slush, and deep snow, the paint is a bit worse for wear. Thankfully, the damage from scraping on curbs/out of driveways is easily fixed with a repaint. I plan to do so sometime this summer, and will need to do a bit more research on the best paint/clear combinations for a polyurethane lip. My best guess at this point is that the two stage clear coat I used is too rigid and doesn’t contain any “flex” agents present in most plastic paints/clears. Something along the lines of Krylon’s Fusion line may be a good solution.

Finally, there’s been a number of smaller aesthetic mods. The Billetworkz shift knob was a Christmas gift to myself and has really brought a lot of character to the otherwise utilitarian interior, the only downside being how damn cold the thing gets in the winter! The JDM coin try and trunk grocery hook were gifts from family and are both “should have been OEM” mods in my opinion.

Billetworkz 6-speed WRX knob is a piece of art

Subaru OEM trunk hook

The coin tray helped clean up my upper armrest console and does a surprisingly good job of keeping the change from rattling around - I genuinely forget it’s there sometimes! The trunk hook has been awesome for trips to the store and folds out of sight when not in use. It’s also great as a center anchor point for trunk cargo!

Overall I’m very happy with the mods I’ve done to the WRX thus far. Taking my time and being purposeful has paid dividends in maintaining the enjoyability of the car. This summer will be bringing a number of bigger mods that have the potential to totally transform the car, so it’ll be an exciting next few months! Stay tuned for more details soon.

Final Thoughts

In closing, the WRX has been nothing short of the perfect daily driver for me these past 25,000 miles. I had high hopes when I picked up the car last fall, and it’s certainly lived up to them all. While it was a busy 25,000 miles, I’ve got some even bigger plans for mods this summer and can’t wait to share them with you all!

Have questions about the WRX? What kinds of things do you want to see in the 50k review? Comment below or shoot me an email at [email protected].

Front end of the WRX at the ProClip shoot

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