2016 Subaru WRX Review

2016 Subaru WRX Review

Priced From $38,990Information

Overall Rating


4 out of 5 stars

Rating breakdown
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Safety, value & features

4 out of 5 stars

Comfort & space

4 out of 5 stars

Engine & gearbox

4 out of 5 stars

Ride & handling

4 out of 5 stars


4 out of 5 stars

Pros & Cons

  1. ProTerrific handling; powerful engines; practicality.

  2. ConFirm ride; the STi’s thirst for fuel.

  3. The Pick: 2016 Subaru WRX STi 4D Sedan

What stands out?

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The Subaru WRX is a powerful and rewarding performance car that is also highly practical, thanks to its roomy small-sedan body. All-wheel drive makes it stable on slippery surfaces, and enhances handling. Great equipment and the Subaru reputation for reliability add appeal.

What might bug me?

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Not being able to open the boot from outside without the remote control, even when the car is unlocked.

A bumpy urban ride in the WRX STi, and to a lesser extent even in the WRX. Both models will feel unexpectedly firm compared with normal small cars, even though the blend of handling and ride comfort each offers is good for a high-performance car.

Driving under 80km/h on the space-saver spare tyre, until you can fix your full-sized flat.

What body styles are there?

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Four-door sedan only.

The Subaru WRX drives all four wheels. It is classed as a small car, lower priced – but most versions fall into the higher priced category.

What features does every Subaru WRX have?

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Cruise control, a reversing camera, and climate control air-conditioning, which can maintain a set temperature.

A hill start assist system, which makes driving off on hills easier.

Very bright and long-lasting LED headlamps and tail lights, which switch on automatically when it’s dark. Front and rear foglights.

An iPod-compatible AM/FM radio and CD infotainment system with a touchscreen, and USB and auxiliary inputs. A Bluetooth hands-free system for phone calls and audio streaming, and a voice control function.

Buttons on the steering wheel for operating the audio system, Bluetooth and cruise control.

A 4.3-inch multi-function display at the top of the dashboard, which displays the outside temperature, turbo boost pressure, fuel use and trip distance.

Eighteen-inch wheels made from an alloy of aluminium – these are the norm on sporty models, because they are lighter (as well as better looking than steel wheels with plastic covers). A steel space-saver spare wheel and tyre.

A sports body kit, which includes a rear diffuser and a spoiler on the bootlid, a bonnet scoop that feeds air to the engine intercooler, and twin exhaust tailpipes. (These items improve the look of these cars, and distinguish them from the Subaru Impreza on which they are based.)

Front sports seats with red stitching, sporty bare-metal control pedals, leather-trimmed gear shift and park brake handles, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with red stitching.

Seven airbags: two directly in front of the driver and front passenger; one alongside each front occupant to protect the upper body; a curtain airbag down each side protecting the heads of front and rear occupants; and a knee protection airbag for the driver.

Electronic stability control, which can help the driver to control a skidding car. All new cars must have this feature.

Seven paint colours are available, and they all come without extra cost.

Every Subaru WRX and STi carries a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.

Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?

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The 2.0-litre turbo petrol four-cylinder engine in the WRX uses the least fuel, consuming 8.6 litres/100km in automatic form (official test, urban and country combined). With the manual gearbox, it uses about five per cent more.

This is a powerful engine that allows quick acceleration and effortless overtaking. It is much more potent than the smaller turbo engines (and non-turbo 2.0-litre engines) found in most small cars.

The obvious reason not to choose it is that you want even more speed and better handling from the WRX STi model. The STi has a 2.5-litre turbo petrol engine and uses about 20 per cent more fuel than the WRX. That is partly because it has about 15 per cent more power, and partly because the STi engine is an older design than the 2.0-litre WRX engine.

The turbo 2.5-litre allows you to accelerate the WRX STi noticeably harder – and with even less apparent effort – than the already quick WRX.

The WRX offers the choice of six-speed manual or continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmissions. The WRX STi comes only in six-speed manual form.

Both these engines differ from nearly every other small-car four-cylinder in that they lie flat across the engine bay rather than standing up vertically (their cylinders are opposed horizontally). This places the weight of the engine lower in the car, which helps it steer more responsively. (The Subaru Impreza has a similar engine that is not turbocharged.)

What key features do I get if I spend more?

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Stepping past the least costly WRX and spending more for a WRX Premium gets you a smart key and a start button (which let you unlock and start the car with your key kept safely in a pocket or bag). There is a powered sunroof. Wipers switch on automatically when it rains. Seats are trimmed in leather, and the driver’s seat is power-adjustable.

A combined satellite navigation and CD/radio audio system with a larger 7.0-inch touchscreen replaces the cheaper car’s 6.2-inch touchscreen audio system in the centre of the dash. It brings with it Pandora internet radio compatibility, Harman Kardon brand speakers with a sub-woofer, an external audio amplifier, and a text-to-voice function for reading SMS.

There is also a Vision Assist suite of safety systems. These include a blind-spot monitor, which warns you if a vehicle is travelling in the blind spot over your shoulder, and a lane change assistant that warns you if a vehicle is approaching quickly from behind on either side. A rear cross traffic alert warns you, when reversing, that another vehicle or person is about to cross your path. And a high-beam assistant automatically dips the headlights for oncoming cars.

Spending more again for a WRX STi brings better acceleration and handling, with some extra go-fast equipment but the loss of some luxury features – among them the upgraded touchscreen infotainment system and the Vision Assist pack.

In addition to the more powerful engine, the features that improve performance include a driver-controlled centre differential (which allows you to adjust the balance of the car for fast cornering). There is also a limited-slip front differential, which makes the front tyres less likely to spin when you’re accelerating hard out of a corner. These features let drivers of modest ability safety deploy the car’s power on slippery surfaces, and bring traction levels that skilled drivers will relish.

Bigger brakes increase braking power and consistency, and firmer suspension settings sharpen the handling. The steering ratio is quicker, which means that turning the steering wheel has a bigger effect on the wheels. That makes the car feel more responsive.

Inside, the STi gains dual-zone climate control, which lets you set different temperatures for each side of the cabin. There are different sports front seats, which offer much greater cornering support than those in the WRX – but are trimmed in a mixture of leather and Alcantara (fake suede) rather than the full leather of the WRX Premium. The driver’s seat is not power-adjustable, and there is no sunroof.

The most expensive WRX, the STi Premium, brings back the Vision Assist pack and the 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, as well as full leather seat trim, the power-adjusted driver’s seat and the powered sunroof. It also adds heating to both front seats and brings BBS brand 18-inch wheels.

Does any upgrade have a down side?

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The STi must be filled with super-premium fuel (98 RON), while the WRX can use cheaper, premium fuel (95 RON).

Choosing the more costly STi removes the option of an automatic gearbox: the STi is manual only.

How comfortable is the WRX?

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The stiff suspension on the WRX, which helps it handle corners with great grip and little body-roll, also means it rides much more firmly than a normal small car. The STi version is firmer still.

The low profile tyres worn by both models also mean you feel sharp bumps such as joins in the road more than you would in a mainstream small car (which puts more rubber and air between the wheel and the road).

The STi’s high-level handling therefore has a price you must bear during day-to-day driving: it is likely the bumpy ride will annoy you if you’re used to the smoothness of a normal small car. That is especially so if you do a lot of your driving in the city and the suburbs, rather than in the country or on twisty roads.

The WRX is better as an all-rounder that will do routine city driving a lot of the time, and country road runs only occasionally. The ride is still very firm compared with a normal Impreza, but it is easier to live with than the ride of the STi, and the WRX still handles very well.

The WRX and STi are reasonably quiet inside, with low levels of noise and vibration from the suspension – for a performance car – and little wind noise. There is some engine noise, which is welcome, and some tyre rumble on coarse-chip road surfaces, which is not so welcome.

The front seats in the WRX offer good long-haul comfort and superb side-support for cornering, and the controls are well sited. The seats in the STi offer even better side-support, but at a cost to ease of use – the side bolsters make them more difficult to get in and out of. That is not a problem for long trips, but it is annoying when you’re getting into and out of them a lot – while running around the city, for example.

The steering column adjusts for tilt and reach, which lets you find a comfortable driving position.

The interior of any WRX is well built, the quality of the seat trim is good and the steering wheel and gear lever are nicely designed and finished. The centre touchscreen and electroluminescent gauges are attractively presented.

What about safety in a Subaru WRX?

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The Subaru WRX and STi rate as Excellent for safety, with the STi at the top of the Excellent range.

The full suite of airbags, standard reversing camera, lane change warning and seatbelt reminders contribute to these ratings.

(To see a list of the safety features on any model, select the car and look under the features tab. Safety-related features are listed in red.)

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the Subaru WRX and STi its maximum five stars for safety.

I like driving - will I enjoy this car?

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The WRX is aimed at the enthusiast who wants a fast car that is practical. The result is a car with broad appeal. Most people will enjoy driving the WRX for its blend of speed, handling, day-to-day ease of driving, and passenger and luggage space. However the firm ride won’t suit those who prioritise comfort, and the power of the engine may seem fearsome at first.

The engine power in both cars provides entertainment on its own. With both all-wheel-drive and a well-tuned suspension that lets the car respond directly and intuitively to the steering wheel, accelerator and brake, there is a great deal of fun on offer in the WRX, and even greater thrills in the sharper, quicker STi.

On slippery surfaces, or when powering out of tight corners, the rocketing acceleration the AWD system allows is impressive.

Both the WRX 2.0-litre turbo engine and the STi 2.5-litre offer a lot of power, much of which is available at low engine speeds – either of them will startle anyone who is used to a normal, non-performance small car.

Both engines are satisfying not just for their outright performance, but for the effortless cruising and overtaking they allow, which means you can enjoy a WRX without incurring speeding fines.

The smaller WRX engine takes a bit longer to build up to its best than the STi’s, which is immediately responsive to the accelerator. This heightened immediacy applies to most of the controls in the STi. Its brake pedal is more responsive, and the brakes feel more powerful. Its quick ratio hydraulic steering points the front of the car into corners sharply, with help from the taut suspension settings and low-profile tyres.

Many enthusiasts will prefer the manual transmission. The CVT (in the WRX only) makes it less fun to drive, although at least it has manual gear shift paddles.

How is life in the rear seats?

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The WRX has plenty of leg room in the back – it is long for a small car, and that shows. A comfortable, well-angled base and backrest, and good shoulder and foot room, contribute to a comfortable rear seat.

The seat can carry three passengers, with lap and sash belts for all.

How is it for carrying stuff?

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The boot is quite big at 460 litres - the large Holden Commodore sedan has a 495 litre boot, for comparison. The boot can be expanded by folding the 60/40 split-fold rear seat.

The WRX comes only in a sedan: Subaru no longer makes the more versatile WRX hatchback.

Where does Subaru make the WRX?

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The Subaru WRX and STi are manufactured in Japan.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

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Some less costly and less powerful small cars, such as the Mazda 3, offer low-speed automatic emergency braking systems. A sensor detects obstacles in front of the car – typically another car that has slowed suddenly – and a computer applies the brakes if it concludes that a collision is imminent.

Some similarly priced high-performance cars, such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Golf R, have automatic stop-start systems, which save fuel during city driving. These systems automatically switch off the engine when you stop, and restart it when you press the accelerator to drive away.

Subaru’s own BRZ and its Toyota twin the 86 are high-performance alternatives for those who don’t need the back seat and big boot of the WRX. These well tuned rear-wheel drive coupes are arguably more fun to drive than the WRX, even though they aren’t as powerful. The same could be said of Mazda's lightweight roadster, the MX-5.

You might also consider the Ford Focus ST, Renault Megane RS275 and Peugeot 308 GTi, or if American muscle attracts you, the Ford Mustang.

The Renault has a five-year warranty, which is two years longer than Subaru’s warranty.

I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?

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The STi is our pick. It is superior to the WRX for enthusiast drivers, in terms of its handling, responsiveness and speed, and while it costs significantly more than the WRX, that’s also offset by the extra equipment it includes. The STi Premium brings some nice extra features. However, having made the jump from WRX to STi, spending the extra for the Premium version is not necessary.

Are there plans to update the Subaru WRX soon?

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The Subaru WRX went on sale in 2014 and received a modest update in August 2015, for model year 2016. Key changes included a rise in wheel size for the WRX to 18 inches (matching the STi), and on Premium versions of both cars an improved infotainment system and the Vision Assist suite of driver aids. The WRX will not be updated or superseded in the near future.