With a turbocharged engine, a piano-wire tight chassis, and road hugging all-wheel drive, the 2016 Subaru WRX is more than just a pretty face. Its iconic styling screams rally car and with good reason, for all intents and purposes the WRX and WRX STI are purpose-built rally cars successfully masquerading around town as useful daily drivers.
Redesigned for 2015, the Subaru WRX features polarizing head-turning boy racer looks, especially in the WRX STI trim with the massive rear spoiler. The 2016 model sees modest refinements including a new touch-screen interface and smartphone integration. Optional driver technologies and technology-based safety systems make the 2016 WRX safer and more convenient, without taming the sports sedan’s street-fighter temperament a bit.
The 2016 Subaru WRX is available in five trim levels: WRX, WRX Premium, WRX Limited, WRX STI and WRX STI Limited.
The 2016 Subaru WRX, WRX Premium, and WRX Limited models are powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter, horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine. STI trim levels employ a larger and more powerful turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. All WRX models use Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive system. A stout, close-ratio six-speed manual transmission is standard and the only gearbox offered in the WRX STI. An optional Sport Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) with paddle shifters and six-and eight-speed manual modes is available on WRX models.
The 2016 Subaru WRX is a striking vehicle. Sure, the exterior isn’t going to connect with everyone, but to fans the muscular stance, boisterous fender flares, arrogant functional hood scoop and rear wing spoiler are nothing short of genius. In the spirit of the greatest historic rally cars, the WRX favors boxy over slick; the Subaru simply powers through the wind with its muscles flexed instead of cowering head down to the pavement.
My top-tier WRX STI Limited proudly wore the rally car inspired WR Blue Pearl paint and standard STI-fare 18-inch BBS alloy wheels.
The iconic (and downforce reducing) STI wing was gone; in its place was a subtle trunk lip spoiler that may rob a little of the STI’s character, but arguably helps reduce the frequency of speeding tickets. LED headlights and tail lamps not only provide excellent visibility, but also look great on or off. The front and rear underspoilers and rear bumper diffuser add yet another level of aggression to the WRX STI’s style. A power tilt/sliding glass moonroof adds to the WRX STI’s open and airy feeling, thanks the sedan’s gracious greenhouse.
While no one is going to mistake the sporty WRX for a luxury sedan, the fit and finish of Subaru’s rally car is quite nice. In typical Subaru fashion, simplicity rules the day, but the clean lines and no nonsense design are well thought out and executed. Thanks to plenty of glass coupled with the open design, the WRX feels bigger inside than the tight looking exterior would suggest.
Base models keep things simple with manually adjustable cloth seats and plenty of hard plastics.
The parts of the WRX that you touch are wrapped in leather, including the steering wheel and shift knob. A slick set of aluminum alloy pedal covers emphasize the performance nature of this all-wheel drive, track-ready sedan.
My loaded up WRX STI Limited didn’t stray far from the keep things simple formula, but the nicely bolstered sport seats were wrapped in STI embossed leather. Striking red contrast stitching sews all of the elements of the cabin together, pulling in the gloss red paint found on the shift knob, the red leather seat bolsters, illuminated gauges and more. The STI’s interior is visually pleasing, but the design clearly favors function over finesse. Subaru has gone to great lengths to assure that nothing is simply there just to look good, the minimalist design looks great but is built with a purpose.
Rear seating in the WRX is comfortable for two adults or three smaller children. With adequate leg- and headroom, the sedan works well for families who can’t comprehend the philosophy that having children necessitates buying a minivan. I have long considered the WRX one of the best family cars for enthusiasts.
The WRX sedan’s trunk is small at 12 cubic feet. It isn’t too bad compared to the Ford Mustang’s 13.5 cubic feet, but it is tiny when compared to the comparably priced Volkswagen Golf R’s 22.8 cubic feet. Yes, the Golf R is a hatchback that offers quite a bit more overall utility, but it is also an all-wheel drive turbocharged monster with almost identical performance numbers.
The 2016 Subaru WRX looks like a rally car because it essentially is one. The razor-sharp handling is thanks in part to the WRX’s sport-tuned suspension and all-wheel drive. I was able to extensively drive both the base WRX and the top trim STI models at Miami-Homestead racetrack and found neither of them lacking. The sedan’s steering is incredibly precise, braking is confidence building and acceleration is excellent. Once you realize that the WRX will compliantly go where you want it without drama or fuss, you can push it to the engine’s limits without worrying too much about losing traction and getting into trouble.
Base WRX, WRX Premium, and WRX Limited models are powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder boxer engine that produces 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. A close-ratio six-speed manual transmission is standard and a CVT is optional. The drivetrain sends the WRX from 0 to 60 mph in 5 seconds, although some outlets have reported even faster times than that. Top speed is 144 mph. Gas mileage equates to a decent 20 mpg city and 27 mpg highway if you opt for the six-speed manual transmission.
The WRX STI and WRX STI Limited step up to a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder boxer engine that makes 305 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque. You can have the all-wheel drive sedan with any transmission that you want as long as it is a six-speed manual. Subaru offers no automatic gearbox option with the WRX STI. The extra power results in a marginally briefer blast from 0 to 60 mph, taking a brief 4.8 seconds on the way to a top speed of 159 mph. The engine’s extra displacement and aggressive tuning results is dismal gas mileage numbers, especially for the segment. The WRX STI only achieves 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway.
However, acceleration isn’t the reason that you opt for the STI over the base WRX. The steering is quicker than that of the base WRX. The STI’s standard Brembo brakes bite hard and resist fade, even when tortured on the track by less experienced drivers. The elaborate electronically controlled center differential allows you to dial in lockup which assists in aggressive cornering. The STI is a punishingly stiff vehicle that loves to flog occupants at the track. The summer tires stick to the tarmac relentlessly, sending the energy straight to the passengers in the cabin who then have the tendency to bounce around like pinballs. The harsh truth is that the STI’s taut suspension feels amazing on the track but is quite punishing in many real world environments.
The 2016 Subaru WRX offers more standard and optional technology features than ever. The base model features Subaru’s Starlink infotainment system with a 6.2-inch touch screen. New for the model year, the WRX now includes standard smartphone app integration. The six-speaker system also boasts a single-disc CD player, a USB port and Bluetooth connectivity. The touch screen also displays video from the standard rearview camera.
My top tier WRX STI Limited kicks things up to another level featuring a standard 7-inch touch screen that controls a 440-watt audio system and a voice-activated GPS navigation system.
The great sounding audio system features nine Harman Kardon speakers, SiriusXM with traffic and weather updates, a single disc CD player, dual USB ports and Bluetooth. The upgraded system also includes Subaru’s new Starlink smartphone integration.
The WRX STI Limited also includes keyless access with push-button start, a nice convenience feature that adds a touch of sport and luxury to the interior.
The upgraded technology is a welcome addition to the WRX. The smartphone integration works well and the optional 7-inch touch screen is easy to read and responsive to use. In line with the simplistic purposeful nature of the WRX cabin, the car’s tech is useful and works well. But even with the significant upgrades offered in the 2016 model, the adequate system does little to stand out as a significant reason to purchase the car. Buy the WRX because it drives like a rally car for the streets and I’m sure you’ll find the infotainment system to be everything that you need for commutes to work, running errands around town and blasting your iTunes playlist during spirited road trips.
The 2016 Subaru WRX earned top scores of Good in all crash tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). It also earned the highest Superior rating for front crash prevention when equipped with a forward collision warning system. As a result, the WRX received IIHS’ Top Safety Pick+ award.
All WRX models utilize an array of sensors to control a total of seven air bags. The WRX sedan’s ring-shaped reinforced high-tensile strength steel frame is designed to shield and protect occupants, directing energy around the cabin.
Stability control, along with Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive and anti-lock brakes, aid the driver in avoiding accidents in the first place. A rearview camera is standard across the model line.
The WRX Limited model can be optioned to include Subaru’s Eyesight driver assistance technology package. The system monitors surrounding traffic and provides feedback and even assistance to keep the sedan in its lane, or a safe distance from the car in front of you when utilizing the vehicles adaptive cruise control system. The Eyesight system also provides emergency braking if necessary.
Blind-spot detection with lane change assist and a very helpful rear cross-traffic alert are also included in the top-trim WRX STI Limited and optional on the WRX Limited model.
The base 2016 Subaru WRX starts at $26,595, which represents excellent value considering that you are getting a purpose-built rally car for about the same price as a midsize family sedan. The WRX is a unique vehicle with very few true competitors. There are plenty of cars that offer similar features for around the same price, but the closest competitor, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution is not offered anymore.
My WRX STI Limited represents the top-trim WRX, starting at $39,995. The sticker price of my vehicle was $40,790, which included a $795 destination charge.
At that price the WRX STI costs more than the majority of hot hatchbacks that fall into the sport compact class. For instance, the Ford Focus ST starts at $25,245 and the top trim Volkswagen GTI four-door with performance package retails for $27,090. The closest currently offered competitor is the all-wheel drive Volkswagen Golf R four-door with Dynamic Chassis Control and navigation which retails for $38,715. Of course the Golf R is a hot hatchback, but it is worth taking a peek at if you are in the market for something with the STI’s flavor. The superior fuel economy of the Golf R at 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway versus the WRX STI’s 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway may be enough to sway a few purchases all by itself.
With over-the-top styling that is likely to make the neighbors wonder if you are having a mid-life crisis, the 2016 Subaru WRX and WRX STI are obviously not designed to please the masses. But for those of us who like to make a statement, the Subaru WRX is nothing short of sports car brilliance.
Very few vehicles can compete with the WRX sedan’s dynamic driving capabilities, especially for the price. The all-wheel drive system allows you to push the sedan into seemingly impossible driving situations and come out the other side unscathed.
All that handling and performance does come at a cost though. All WRX models sacrifice comfort for handling and daily driving can be punishing as the suspension does little to isolate the driver from the road. The fuel economy of the base WRX is decent, but the STI’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder is downright thirsty, even for the class.