A quick history lesson: In 2008, Subaru released the third-generation Impreza WRX–a grotesque blobfish of a car that was almost universally criticized in the automotive press and by WRX fans for being incredibly ugly and boring. The backlash was so bad that Subaru gave the car a significant update just a year into its production car run. They couldn’t/didn’t fix the styling, but I guess they substantially improved the driving experience, because most of those complaints stopped. Now, almost a decade and a half later, Subaru has come out with a new WRX, and, uh, this thing had better drive really, really well, because if not, it’s 2008 all over again.
Let’s start with the styling. This is not an attractive car–I already knew this. But until I saw it in person, I didn’t realize just how bad the styling is. The plastic cladding that Subaru added to make it look like a crossover is the most controversial aspect of the styling, and yes, the plastic cladding is bad. But nearly everything about this car’s styling is horrible. The proportions are terrible. The sheetmetal is full of random lines that don’t go anywhere or do anything. The wheels look too small for the car’s body. The taillights are a really bizarre shape–they look kind of like sad, droopy eyes, as if the car is ashamed of itself.
The interior is no better. Most of the interior is OK, albeit boring and unexceptional, but then there’s the center of the dash, which looks like a knockoff of an 80’s video game system
But the worst part of this car is the GT trim level. This trim level adds a nicer audio system, Recaro seats and electronically adjustable dampers–all things that are very appealing to WRX buyers. And yet, the GT is only available with a CVT transmission. I’ve often seen car companies make decisions that demonstrate a complete misunderstanding of why people buy their cars, but this, on a car where 85 PERCENT of buyers chose the manual transmission, demonstrates a level of stupidity so unbelievable that there are no suitable words in the English language to express it. Whichever person made this decision should (a): no longer be employed at Subaru, and (b): be locked in the stocks while angry WRX fans pelt them with rotten eggs for 12 hours straight. It’s also really frustrating because if the manual transmission were the option with the 15% take rate, I guarantee you Subaru would not be trying this hard to get people to buy it. In fact, they probably would have canceled the manual already if that were the case.
This whole car is the perfect example of what happens when clueless marketing people are in charge of developing an enthusiast car. I can just imagine the board meetings at Subaru when they were coming up with this. “Well, crossovers are really hot right now, so let’s stick ugly plastic cladding on it and it’ll sell better.” “Lots of people buy Volkswagen GTIs with the DSG automatic, and a CVT is basically the same as a dual-clutch automatic, so let’s make the most performance-focused trim level CVT-only to try to get in on that market.” Guess what: Not every car needs to appeal to every buyer. The Subaru WRX is a car with a very passionate and loyal fanbase, and if Subaru had continued to incrementally improve the WRX rather than trying to fix what wasn’t broken, these fans would have continued to buy them by the boatload. Instead, they came up with a car which is unlikely to appeal to either a mass market audience or to WRX loyalists.
Rory Cahill is a highly sarcastic teenage car enthusiast and amateur automotive journalist, who is especially interested in 80s/90s cars, classic off-roaders, and anything weird. He owns a 1984 Mercedes-Benz 300D Turbodiesel. He is also very interested in rock music and politics, and wrote this whole bio in the third person because he is a filthy, filthy snob