The second-generation Subaru WRX appears to be the last of its kind, not only in the market but for the brand as well. Is this final send-off a warranted swang song or has it overstayed its welcome?

Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon

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I drove my first WRX 21-years ago. The year was 2001 and the GD Subaru Impreza WRX was launching in the USA, the first time that the country had seen the WRX for sale. It’s one of those memories that will always stick with, mainly because of how I came to test drive the car. 

In the name of brevity, I’ll spare too many details but tell you this; my test drive was arranged for me by the dealer principal of Subaru Orlando after we got talking at the Orlando Motor Show. I explained how I was struggling to get a test drive in one and he immediately climbed on the phone. He paused, mid-conversation, holding his hand over the receiver and turned to me to ask: “What colour WRX would you like to drive?” I asked if it really mattered to which he responded, “Of course it matters; cars talk to us and if it’s in the wrong colour, you’re not going to understand it…” From that moment, I knew I was in good company.

My love affinity for the model started long before this though, as it did with many others, watching the World Rally Championship. The likes of Colin McRae, Richard Burns, and Petter Solberg dominating the wide open plains, tight mountain passes and insane jumps through Finnish forests only helped cement the brand as being the one to admire. With Subaru’s marketing material telling us that the WRX was the rally car for the road, who wouldn’t want one?

Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon

Styling 

In 2014 the WRX derivative was separated from the Impreza lineup and given its own place. That should have been the first sign that things were about to change. 2022 sees the second generation of this stand-alone WRX model added to their portfolio. The VB chassis code is used for this model and it has been met with mixed reviews. 

It’s clear to see the direction in which the WRX model is headed, that of a crossover, immediately evident by the black fender flares that unfortunately make it look like one of those drawings you drew of a car as a kid, you know, the one with tiny wheels and massive arches. This isn’t too problematic when you’re up close, but from a distance it looks rather awkward and makes the WRX look like it’s riding far too high off the ground. As was pointed out to me, there used to be a time when the base model wore bare black plastic on its fenders and bumpers but here we have a range-topper with the same treatment. It’s clear that this doesn’t sit well with the enthusiast crowd.

Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon

The truth is that the WRX doesn’t ride higher at all and it actually has 135mm of ground clearance. That makes it 1mm lower than a BMW 3 Series. It also retains the familiar three-box silhouette of a sedan. It seems the latest WRX is a bit of a Marmite car, you either love it or you hate it. The shape and lines grew on me and I didn’t mind walking up to it in the morning, even if the taillights do look like they’ve been lifted from a Honda Civic. The small headlights take a little getting used to but when combined with the front grille, they make up a profile that seems purposeful. If you can ignore the fact that the grille looks like that from the Datsun Go.

Subaru WRX price and colour guide

Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon

Space & Interior 

Subaru’s have always managed to do interiors rather well. They’re not the most luxurious places to spend time nor are they the most aesthetic, but they are one of the most hard-wearing and well-bolted together interiors I’ve come across. This is no different in the VB WRX. On the design front, the large portrait-oriented infotainment screen takes centre stage, flanked by two air vents that are rotated 90 degrees and run vertically, rather than horizontally. The dark leather upholstery is broken by darg grey accents and raised red stitching while the door cards wear a carbon-look finish that, sadly, detracts from the overall perceived quality. It all feels well put together as well.

Another thing that they get right is ergonomics. I recall climbing into the hallowed Impreza 22B and being astounded by the way everything just fell to hand felt right. It felt as if I could command whatever I pleased from the car, so intuitive was the layout and feel. This latest version may not hit all those high notes, but it still gets it right. Supportive seats and generous room allows for great levels of comfort and control while not being too big as to let you feel lost inside. 

The VB WRX gives you ample rear head and legroom and offers you a 423-litre boot but utilizing this space is difficult as the opening is rather small and rather high off of the ground.

Top 5 Subaru WRX articles on AutoTrader.

Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon

Comfort & Convenience 

Our test model was the highest spec tS ES version, and as such was fitted with nearly every conceivable modcon that Subaru knows how to make. Facial recognition is used to identify the driver and just the seat, mirrors and other aspects of the vehicle to whoever has just sat down in the seat (provided they’ve set up a driver profile). This is rather handy and just means that there’s one less button to push to get the memory seats and mirrors adjusted, which is also offered, should you wish to forego the facial recognition. This system is part of the Subaru EyeSight system that is fitted to the WRX tS ES but omitted from the lower-spec WRX model. But more on EyeSight later.

The central infotainment screen houses both the audio interface, the vehicle settings controls and HVAC controls. Getting the HVAC system set is a little fiddly, but they have provided physical buttons for the temperature but fan speeds and the likes have to be operated via the screen.

This infotainment system supports Android Auto and Apple CarPlay but still uses a tethered system and doesn’t provide wireless charging either. You do, however, get adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring as well as lane-keep assist. The latter is rather flexible and you can choose if you wish to only have the warning or if you’d like steering assistance. You can also turn it off entirely should you be so brave.

Which Subaru WRX trim depreciates the fastest?

Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon

Performance 

That Subaru I drove way back when was, at the time, the most powerful car I had commanded with 169 kW being plumbed to all four wheels through a 5-speed manual gearbox. Fast forward 21 years and the latest WRX makes 202 kW… hardly an evolution if you ask me. Compounding matters is the fact that the old one was a 2.0-litre flat four and the new one employs a 2.4-litre flat four. Both of them are turbocharged. Sadly, it doesn’t seem like Subaru has stuck with the times then. 202 kW is not a terrible number, but when the car wears the WRX badge, you expect there to be a little more pepper in the sauce. Subaru doesn’t quote performance figures and I wonder why that is…

Compounding matters is the rather hard-to-ignore elephant in the room. I don’t care how much input you say STI had in the fine-tuning and refinement of the gearbox, a CVT does not belong in a WRX. I could forgive a dual-clutch arrangement (maybe) or possibly even a well-sorted ZF torque convertor setup (but probably not) but a CVT is akin to tying Usain Bolt’s shoelaces together – you’re never going to get performance out of that package. As a result, the WRX tS (the model fitted with the CVT) feel lethargic and sleepy in any other mode other than Sport+.

The VB WRX is only mildly salvaged by the fact that the underpinnings are still unmistakably WRX with a razor-sharp turn-in, impeccable levels of mechanical grip, and only the slightest hint of understeer to let you know that you’re pressing on a little harder than you should. This is heartbreaking. Under the skin, away from the geriatric gearbox rests a chassis and suspension that knows how to have a party. But the gearbox is telling it to be home by 9.

Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon

Fuel Economy 

By far, the most amusing claim I saw from Subaru was that of the fuel consumption; they quote 8.5 l/100 km on the combined cycle. My real-world figures hovered around the 14-mark and in order to get anywhere near to a sub-10 you would have to endure the pain that is the CVT gearbox in normal mode. Then it feels like the throttle is made from warm Fizzers and 100 km/h comes up in “eventually”. Far too much throttle input is required to make any sort of difference to the speed and you will have to endure the drone from the gearbox and engine as this happens… slowly.

Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon

Safety 

I’ve been rather harsh towards the new WRX and that’s the performance, Subaru enthusiast in me waving his fist at the bunny huggers and SUV buyers for making Subaru believe that a WRX needs to be soft. What the new Subaru WRX is, is solid. It’s a solid car for those that prioritize safety and appreciate a good build quality. 

You get no fewer than 8 airbags, a high-strength steel shell, ABS, EBD, and ECS. The EyeSight system offers you Pre-Collision Braking system, Autonomous Emergency Steering, Traffic Sign Recognition, and Intelligent Speed Limiter on top of the other features I mentioned earlier. While we don’t get much in the way of snow locally, the symmetrical all-wheel-drive adds a further element of security, ensuring that you have the best traction at all times.

Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon

Price 

The new Subaru WRX tS ES is not cheap, you’re not buying one for R500 000 anymore, those days, we all have to admit, are long gone. You will have to shell out R859 000 for the tS ES model with the CVT gearbox and EyeSight driver assistance system, but you have minimal options to choose from, so what you see is what you get.

Model Price (incl. VAT)
Subaru WRX 2.4T R759 000
Subaru WRX 2.4T tS ES R859 000

Four Subaru Impreza accessories you didn’t know you needed.

Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon

Competitors 

Not too much plays in this area of the market anymore. The WRX’s nearest competitor is the Audi S3 sedan which comes in R7 000 cheaper but has an extensive list of options that will bump the price up. One can look at the BMW 2 Series or 2 Series Gran Coupe (if they’re a masochist) and the Mercedes-Benz A-Class sedan also features. To get the fire breathing models though will require a little more folding matter. That will give you the BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe for R960 840 or the Mercedes-AMG A35 sedan 4Matic at R1 026 596.

Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon

Verdict 

The Subaru WRX isn’t terrible. It’s a great car if you know nothing about Subaru’s history and has no idea what WRX is supposed to stand for. Enthusiasts will not be flocking to the tS ES model but may find some solace in the regular, 5-speed manual WRX, saving themselves R100 000 in the process. I did enjoy driving the WRX tS version and in traffic I was grateful that there were only two pedals that needed operating, but every time I stepped away, I had to look at the blue oval with its stars and think that my rally heroes would never approve of this combination.

With Subaru stating that there will be no STI version of the VB and that the next WRX may very well be a true crossover, this may be the last time we see anything of this sorts from the Japanese firm. The times have changed and Subaru seems to think that there’s no longer a place for the off-beat rumble and four-wheel slides in the future. Farewell my friend, I will always remember you, fondly.

 Chad LückhoffWith over 18 years of motorsport commentary and a passion for 90s Japanese Sports Cars, Chad Lückhoff is happiest when surrounded by drift cars and smoking tyres. His experience as the Technical Editor of the country’s top tuning magazine means that it’s the nuts and bolts of motoring that tickles his fancy. As comfortable in front of the camera as he is behind it, he’ll take you behind the wheel with his video reviews, written recounts, and invoking photography. One of the first to join the AutoTrader fray, Chad has been living his passion at AutoTrader for over 7-years.View News & Reviews

Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon
Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon
Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon
Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon
Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon
Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon
Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon
Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon
Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon
Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon
Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon
Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon
Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon
Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon
Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon
Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon
Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon
Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon
Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon
Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon
Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon
Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon
Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon
Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon
Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon
Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon
Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon
Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon
Subaru WRX tS ES (2022) review - a farewell to an icon

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