What stands out?

The Subaru WRX and WRX STi are powerful and rewarding performance cars that are also highly practical, thanks to a roomy small-sedan body. All-wheel drive makes them stable on slippery surfaces, and enhances handling. Good equipment and the Subaru reputation for reliability add appeal. Auto braking is available.

What might bug me?

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?

Four-door sedan only.

The Subaru WRX drives all four wheels at all times. 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?

Cruise control, a reversing camera, and dual-zone climate control, which lets the driver and front passenger set their own ventilation temperatures.

Very bright and long-lasting LED headlamps and tail lights, which switch on automatically when it’s dark and shine into corners when you turn the wheel. Front and rear foglights. Windscreen wipers that operate automatically when it rains.

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

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 fourth-generation Subaru Impreza on which they are based.)

Front sports seats (with bolstering to hold you in place when cornering hard), sporty bare-metal control pedals, leather-trimmed gearshift and park brake handles, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Seven airbags. Electronic stability control, which can help you control a skidding car. (For more on Subaru WRX safety features, please open the Safety section below.)

In addition, every WRX with manual transmission comes with a limited-slip rear differential, which helps you maintain drive when cornering hard (by preventing the less-loaded inside wheel from spinning).

And every WRX with automatic transmission comes with Active cruise control and the third-generation Subaru EyeSight suite of sensory safety features, which includes auto emergency braking and lane-keeping assistance.

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?

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.

In the real world, expect about 13 litres/100km from an STi, on average.

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.)

(Power outputs and all other WRX specifications are available from the Cars Covered menu, under the main image on this page.)

What key features do I get if I spend more?

The least costly Subaru WRX is called just the WRX, and it comes with cloth seat trim, a 6.2-inch central touchscreen, 18-inch alloy wheels, and the features in every WRX. A manual gearbox is standard. The extra-cost CVT auto adds EyeSight, which brings active cruise control and auto braking.

Spending more for a WRX Premium gets you a smart key and a start button (which let you unlock and start the car without handling the key). There is a powered sunroof. Wipers switch on automatically when it rains. Seats are trimmed in leather, the front seats can be heated, and the driver’s seat is power-adjustable and has a memory for your settings.

A combined satellite navigation and CD/radio audio system with a larger 7.0-inch touchscreen resides in the centre of the dash. It brings with it Harman Kardon brand speakers with a sub-woofer, an external audio amplifier, and satellite navigation.

On both manual and auto WRX Premiums, there is also a Vision Assist suite of safety systems. These include a blind-spot monitor, and a rear cross-traffic alert. 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 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 with more effective six-piston calipers 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 – so that the car feels more responsive. And the wheel diameter grows an inch, to 19 inches.

Inside, there are different sports front seats that 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.

You can pay still more for an STi Premium, which brings back the Vision Assist pack, full leather seat trim with front heaters, the power-adjusted driver’s seat with a memory, and the powered sunroof.

The most expensive WRX is the STi Spec R, which is an STi Premium with front seats from specialist Recaro. These seats retain power-adjustment.

Does any upgrade have a down side?

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

Choosing an auto transmission WRX removes the limited-slip rear differential that is standard on manual cars.

Choosing the more costly STi removes the option of an automatic gearbox: the STi is manual only. For that reason, no STi offers EyeSight.

Paying more for an STi brings you more performance than you can wring from a WRX but also a less forgiving ride.

How comfortable is the WRX?

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 than the STi 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.

Subaru says suspension adjustments for the 2018 model-year WRX (on sale from August 2017) were aimed at improving its ride comfort. Springs and damping settings were revised, front and rear.

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?

Every WRX and WRX STi comes with anti-lock brakes, stability control, seven airbags, auto-on LED headlights (which make you visible more reliably in poor light), auto wipers, a reversing camera, and seatbelt reminders on all five seats.

The seven airbags are in the usual places: two directly in front of the driver and front passenger; one alongside each front occupant at chest level to protect from side-impacts; a curtain airbag down each side at head level protecting front and rear occupants; and a knee protection airbag for the driver.

WRX (and WRX Premium) automatics also come with Subaru’s third-generation EyeSight active safety suite, which includes adaptive cruise control, auto emergency braking, and lane-keeping assistance, among other features.

The auto braking relies on stereo camera-type sensors, is effective and city and highway speeds, and recognises brake-lights and pedestrians, Subaru says. It will warn you of an impending collision, and can apply the brakes automatically to mitigate or avoid it.

A different sensory safety suite called Vision Assist enhances EyeSight on WRX Premium autos, and is supplied on its own with WRX Premium manuals and the STi Premium and Spec R. It includes a blind-spot monitor, which warns you if a vehicle is travelling in the blind spot over your shoulder, and a lane change assistant, which warns you if a vehicle is approaching quickly from behind in the lanes either side. A rear cross traffic alert warns you, when reversing, that another vehicle or person is about to cross your path.

Vision assist also gives you Front-view and Side-view monitors, which can display views from, respectively, the front and the left side of the car. The front-view monitor, which uses a camera mounted on the grille, offers the potential to show you more than you can see from the driver’s seat (perhaps because a truck alongside you creates a blind spot).

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the Subaru WRX and STi its maximum five stars for safety, most recently in March 2014.

I like driving - will I enjoy this car?

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 WRXes only) makes it less fun to drive, although at least it has manual gear shift paddles.

How is life in the rear seats?

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?

The boot is quite big at 460 litres – not far short of the boot space in Subaru’s Liberty medium sedan. 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?

The Subaru WRX and STi are manufactured in Japan.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

Possibly the added versatility of a wagon body. Subaru offers a high-performance small wagon in the Levorg, which shares its engine with the WRX. The Volkswagen Golf GTi and Skoda Octavia RS are also available as high-performance wagons, for example.

Support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which put apps from a compatible smartphone on the car’s touchscreen and let you operate them from there. The Golf and Octavia have this, for example.

Subaru’s own BRZ 2+2 coupe, and its Toyota twin the 86, are performance alternatives for those who don’t need the full 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, two-seat, MX-5.

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

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

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 performance equipment it includes.

However, if versatility is more important to you than sporting potential, a WRX auto will be easier around town and more comfortable, and brings you active cruise control, auto braking, and the other EyeSight driver aids.

Are there plans to update the Subaru WRX soon?

This 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.

About July 2016, dual-zone climate control was extended to the WRX for the 2017 model year. On the manual WRX, the gearshift mechanism was adjusted with the aim of improving feel. WRX and STi Premiums got memories for front-seat adjustments.

About August 2018 the WRX and STi received a facelift, with a revised nose, trim changes in the cabin, and the provision of full LED headlights that shine into corners. Among other changes were suspension revisions for the WRX aimed at improving comfort, and the addition of Subaru’s EyeSight driver assistance suite to WRX and WRX Premium autos. Wheel size on the STis increased an inch to 19 inches. An STI Spec R added power-adjustable seats from Recaro.

A new-generation WRX is not expected before 2019.