Twenty years ago, a silver, hoodscooped sedan slewed across our TV screens, boost needle sweeping clockwise and water blurring to atoms behind it. “Faster than an Audi S4!” screamed the copy. “Finally!” responded everyone who knew about the rally-racing exploits of the machine that had taken its sweet time to make it across the Pacific. The Subaru WRX was here, and it was an instant hit. But did you catch the part about twenty years ago?

A great deal has happened in those two decades, from the fall of Mitsubishi to the rise of Tesla. Try explaining to a new WRX owner in 2002 that one of the biggest challengers to Subaru’s turbo-boxer hero in 2022 is a four-door Hyundai. You can show them a video on your magic pocket rectangle and watch their head explode.

As for the WRX, it too has changed. Sort of. I mean, it’s bigger. The 2002 model ran to 100 km/h in about five and a half seconds. The 2022 Subaru WRX takes… about five and a half seconds. Power is up to 271 hp, a 3 hp bump over the 2021 model and 44 hp over the 2002 model. But weight is up too, about 40 kg heavier than a ’21 or 180 kg heavier than the 2002 model. It’s also slightly more expensive, with base models now starting just below $31,000 plus freight and taxes, and this Sport-tech manual trim cracking the $40K barrier.

car review: 2022 subaru wrx sport-tech

2022 Subaru WRX Sport-Tech Photo by Brendan McAleer

car review: 2022 subaru wrx sport-tech

2022 Subaru WRX Sport-Tech Photo by Brendan McAleer

car review: 2022 subaru wrx sport-tech

2022 Subaru WRX Sport-Tech Photo by Brendan McAleer

car review: 2022 subaru wrx sport-tech

2022 Subaru WRX Sport-Tech Photo by Brendan McAleer

car review: 2022 subaru wrx sport-tech

2022 Subaru WRX Sport-Tech Photo by Brendan McAleer

car review: 2022 subaru wrx sport-tech

2022 Subaru WRX Sport-Tech Photo by Brendan McAleer

car review: 2022 subaru wrx sport-tech

2022 Subaru WRX Sport-Tech Photo by Brendan McAleer

car review: 2022 subaru wrx sport-tech

2022 Subaru WRX Sport-Tech Photo by Brendan McAleer

car review: 2022 subaru wrx sport-tech

2022 Subaru WRX Sport-Tech Photo by Brendan McAleer

car review: 2022 subaru wrx sport-tech

2022 Subaru WRX Sport-Tech Photo by Brendan McAleer

car review: 2022 subaru wrx sport-tech

2022 Subaru WRX Sport-Tech Photo by Brendan McAleer

car review: 2022 subaru wrx sport-tech

2022 Subaru WRX Sport-Tech Photo by Brendan McAleer

car review: 2022 subaru wrx sport-tech

2022 Subaru WRX Sport-Tech Photo by Brendan McAleer

car review: 2022 subaru wrx sport-tech

2022 Subaru WRX Sport-Tech Photo by Brendan McAleer

car review: 2022 subaru wrx sport-tech

2022 Subaru WRX Sport-Tech Photo by Brendan McAleer

car review: 2022 subaru wrx sport-tech

2022 Subaru WRX Sport-Tech Photo by Brendan McAleer

Given that this new WRX has enough plastic body cladding to qualify as one of Subaru’s Wilderness Edition trims, a certain cynicism creeps in. Any WRX enthusiast knows that Subaru’s bread-and-butter has long been not performance, but plant-based spread on a gluten-free slice served in the bed of a Forester or Crosstrek. The company is built on outdoorsy-themed crossovers, and the whole rally-bred heritage comes across at-best as a corporate excuse to hang out with Travis Pastrana. Which, I get. Travis is a dude.

Combined with the killing-off of the more-focused STI, this new WRX is less World Rally eXperimental and more Well fine it’s Really an eXpectation. When it first arrived, the WRX set a sure-footed all-wheel-drive cat among the pigeons, but now it’s more a car the company has to build while dealers argue over profit-generating Outback allocations.

The positive takeaway here is that this generation of WRX, despite being less appealing to the Subaru faithful, is a better all-around car. Daily driveability has been improved in several key areas, and yet there is still a familiar character to be found if you scratch below the surface. On first introduction, the refinement and the weird rubberiness of the controls are off-putting. But this is still a car that deserves to wear its badge.

car review: 2022 subaru wrx sport-tech

2022 Subaru WRX Sport-Tech Photo by Brendan McAleer

car review: 2022 subaru wrx sport-tech

2022 Subaru WRX Sport-Tech Photo by Brendan McAleer

car review: 2022 subaru wrx sport-tech

2022 Subaru WRX Sport-Tech Photo by Brendan McAleer

car review: 2022 subaru wrx sport-tech

2022 Subaru WRX Sport-Tech Photo by Brendan McAleer

car review: 2022 subaru wrx sport-tech

2022 Subaru WRX Sport-Tech Photo by Brendan McAleer

car review: 2022 subaru wrx sport-tech

2022 Subaru WRX Sport-Tech Photo by Brendan McAleer

car review: 2022 subaru wrx sport-tech

2022 Subaru WRX Sport-Tech Photo by Brendan McAleer

car review: 2022 subaru wrx sport-tech

2022 Subaru WRX Sport-Tech Photo by Brendan McAleer

First up, the styling which — let’s face it, WRXs don’t really have “styling.” The GC-chassis car Canada never got was the prettiest of them, but otherwise WRXs have always been lovable but ugly. I say this having owned two of them.

On this particular Sport-tech model, the non-colour Magnetite Grey paint is covering up the multitude of plastic sins committed by that body cladding. The hood scoop is a de rigeur requirement, the LED taillights are a nice touch, and 18” wheels with 245/40 tires present a reasonable amount of sidewall. Because any owner will also use this as their snowmobile, note that the base 17” wheels will also fit for expanded winter tire options.

The interior is overall an improvement over the previous model. The huge 11.6” touchscreen that dominates the dashboard is hardly the kind of feature you’d find in a driver-focused cockpit. But given the WRX’s Swiss Army Knife appeal, it fits the ethos of the car. The base model gets a 7.0” touchscreen that’s less of a distraction.

On the highway — and most WRXs will have to take on some kind of commuter duty — road noise is intrusive. Ride quality is pretty stiff too. Both fall within the boundaries of what’s acceptable, and both are likewise an improvement over the previous gen car. As for a comparison with a 2002 WRX, that was like driving a maraca band through a class five typhoon in a garden shed. The improvements are appreciated.

The new engine is a 2.4L flat-four, turbocharged to a lower pressure than the previous 2.0L. Peak power is 271 hp at 5,600, just before the rev limiter kicks in at 6,100 rpm. Torque builds quickly, 258 lb-ft by 2,000 rpm. The automatic transmission option is a CVT, or here a six-speed manual.

car review: 2022 subaru wrx sport-tech

2022 Subaru WRX Sport-Tech Photo by Brendan McAleer

Said six-speed is both notchy and rubbery but also somehow exactly right. Pedal placement is perfect. The steering wheel feel is deader than that parrot from the Monty Python sketch. Despite the displacement bump, there’s a not inconsiderable amount of lag from the turbocharger. The high up driving position feels like you’re sitting on the roof of a BRZ. But the visibility is excellent.

On city streets, there’s plenty of grip but the WRX doesn’t feel all that fast. Hyundai’s N performance products are far more sharp in response, and even the less-powerful Civic Si has more of an edge. The WRX seems to lack on-tarmac focus.

Truth be told, ’twas always thus. You wanted more performance out of your Subaru, you bought the STI version. Subaru hasn’t tweaked the WRX to fill the vacuum left by the STI’s departure; it’s still just a jack of all trades.

But show the car a country lane with pavement quality like the shed skin of a giant snake, and the charm is back. Grip is unfazed by washes of loose gravel or damp patches. You have to stay off the throttle to get the nose to sniff into the corner, but it’ll arrow-in if the driver is patient. This is not a short car, but it hasn’t forgotten the nimble joy of its ancestors.

car review: 2022 subaru wrx sport-tech

2022 Subaru WRX Sport-Tech Photo by Brendan McAleer

After an hour or so of boosting mid-throttle around roads once driven in my old 2003 wagon and 2012 STI hatch, the WRX reveals its truth. Any of the floppiness exhibited here will likely be ironed out by the aftermarket tuners, which’ll keep the kids happy. A DIY STI is certainly on the table.

But as it is, the WRX is the kind of machine that offers a relatively blank slate for an owner to write their own story. By being generally good-ish at everything, it doesn’t need to excel in a single area. It’ll be comfortable on the long roadtrip out of town, then entertaining on the last few klicks to the cabin. It’ll get you to the top of the ski hill with a grin, then back down in secure comfort when your quads are blasted. It’ll get the kids to school and you to work without raising an eyebrow. It’s the golden retriever of performance cars, not the sharpest tool in the drawer, but ever more lovable as the years pass.

Twenty years a-growing, and the WRX isn’t the nimble little thin-skinned dent-magnet it once was — and that’s no bad thing. As the full quote says, jack of all trades, master of none — but oftentimes better than master of one.

Keyword: Car Review: 2022 Subaru WRX Sport-Tech

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