Subaru WRXRS Sedan v tS Sportswagon
Sibling rivalry never felt so good!
Before we slip behind the wheel of the new Subaru WRX, I want to share a brief insight into what made this vehicle an automotive icon and earned it the recognition and respect of passionate motoring enthusiasts around the globe.
Of course, if you’re a dedicated WRX fan… feel free to head straight to the good stuff.
Back in 1992, Subaru was preparing to introduce a successor to the venerable Leone. It would be an all-new vehicle from the ground up, with an impressive chassis design and suspension configuration promising to handle significant increases in driveline power and offering revised tuning for dramatic dynamic handling.
And so, the Subaru Impreza WRX was born.
Considerable foresight was exercised in choosing the WRX moniker – a three-letter acronym forWorld Rally Experimental, which proved rather apt given the WRX’s future domination on the world rally stage.
Equipped with Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive (AWD) and coupled to the acclaimed four-cylinder 2.0-litre ‘EJ20 Family’ turbocharged flat boxer engine, the WRX became a global phenomenon in competition circles.
It’s loved by huge numbers of lifetime devotees, as the original, affordable force-fed pocket rocket.
With no less than three consecutive manufacturer’s championships, the first Japanese automobile company to achieve this impressive feat, the WRX also claimed class wins in the 24-hour Nurburgring race.
At home, this mighty little beast dominated the Australian Rally Championship (ARC) with an amazing total of ten consecutive driver’s championships and seven manufacturer’s championships.
To have witnessed these vehicles in action in WA’s southwest as they raced across ball-bearing gravel at incomprehensible speeds was a motoring enthusiast’s delight. I remember hearing and feeling the approach of that intoxicating boxer growl as it clipped the rev limiter in a power slide.
The hair stood up on the back of my neck before there was a deafening boom, and a blinding flash of blue and gold as it passed our spectators’ position, to then vanish around the next bend.
The only evidence that it was ever there were the lagging dust tails slowly enveloping the pine trees and flag markers on the track edges.
Sadly, Subaru was heavily impacted by the worldwide financial crisis and withdrew from the World Rally Championship (WRC) in mid 2000, leaving Ford and Citroen to battle for the spoils.
After continuously improving over another four successful generations, the WRX returned to the WRC in 2016 to obliterate the competition for yet another championship win, and prove it remained a force with which to be reckoned.
In 2022, Subaru celebrates an important milestone, the 50th anniversary of its All-Wheel Drive (AWD) system, which was first seen in 1972 on the Subaru Leone 4WD Estate wagon, Japan’s first mass-produced AWD passenger car.
Since then, Subaru has produced a staggering 21 million AWD vehicles globally, featuring this impressive AWD system.
It delivers significant improvements in traction and safety when coupled to the horizontally opposed Boxer engine, enabling Subaru to achieve a lower centre of gravity for greater stability.
It delivers significant improvements in traction and safety when coupled to the horizontally opposed Boxer engine, enabling Subaru to achieve a lower centre of gravity for greater stability.
In this latest evolution of the acclaimed WRX pedigree and lineage, Subaru is offering two distinctive adaptations that share a common virtuosity yet have uniquely independent personalities to appeal to different demographics.
Whether you’re drawn to the more aggressive appearance of the street-smart lean and muscular sedan or the elegant exterior proportions of the sleek Sportswagon, they both offer a rewarding driving experience.
Both promise improved engine performance, modern exterior styling, and greater on-road dynamics, but beyond the obvious difference of sedan v. wagon; we wanted to look at the similarities and distinctions between these sporty beasts to better understand the nuances that ensure their long-term liveability in your garage.
Front, side and rear, there are subtle changes that define the exterior aesthetics and outward appeal of these vehicles.
Strong, bold body lines extend down from the front glass, framing the WRX’s signature power bulge and merging with the upper edges of Subaru’s prominent hexagonal grille design. The sedan flaunts a more aggressive interlocked mesh theme as opposed to the Sportswagon’s modest horizontal rectangular grid.
Sharp angular contours extend outwards and backwards sweeping up to menacing LED headlights, incorporating the Subaru’s signature predatorial C-shaped Daytime Running Lights (DRL) and creating a muscular arch over the lower fog lights before merging seamlessly into the new bulging lightweight aluminium front guards.
The wagon has less pronounced contrasting body trim, colour-coded sills and chrome look windowsills. Only the sedan receives the additional large, feisty, black front and rear valance panels, bold wheel arch mouldings and pronounced side-sill spoilers with an integrated low-profile rear spoiler matching the body colour. Not just for show, those front wheel arch mouldings incorporate functional exhaust vents to alleviate air turbulence in the wheel arches, helping reduce wheel lift.
At the back end, air ducts have been installed in the outer edges of the bumper to allow air to escape, improving stability by preventing the bumper from acting like a parachute. Adding to the sedan’s fervid claims are bold quad exhaust outlets, signifying this ain’t no show pony. But the wagon doesn’t feel the need to be so intense and is content with the simplified elegance of twin pipes. Come evening, those taillights that seem stylish by day produce a demonic glow, as if heated in a blacksmith’s forge, alluding to the WRX’s devilish charms.
For those who know that the devil is in the detail; inspect those wheel arch mouldings on the sedan and you’ll notice an unusual hexagon-patterned on the surface.
It forms an aerodynamic texture to help lessen the effects of air resistance at speed. Even the engine cover under the WRX has the same surface texture and is specifically shaped to increase downward force.
Both sedan and wagon only get a temporary spare rather than a set of five 18-inch alloys—which are all black for the sedan and polished alloy for the wagon. Only the tS spec’d sedan and wagon differ with a unique combo of polished alloy and black—but still 18-inch.
However, here’s the less obvious difference. The sedan runs a higher speed-rated 245/40 R18 on an 8.5” wide rim, while the wagon gets 225/45 R18 on a narrower 7.5” rim. The key here is the subtle yet small bias that has the sedan focused more on handling dynamics and the wagon on better ride comfort.
As for external dimensions, this fifth iteration of the WRX sedan is a sizable 75mm longer and 30mm wider than its predecessor, translating into welcome improvements in bothoccupant room and comfort.
And if you’re thinking the wagon looks even bigger – you’re right; it’s 85mm longer and 35mm taller than its boot bragging buddy.
Both the sedan and wagon are available in three levels of finish
For the sedan:
There’s the base WRX in manual $50,939 or auto $55,489. You can move up to the WRX RS manual for $57,160 (auto at $61,420).
The extra spend provides niceties such as Harman Kardon audio, a sunroof for open air motoring, an on-board GPS, power and heated front seats, different seat coverings, and heated outer seats in the rear, plus Subaru’s Vision Assist.
WRX tS sedan
The range topper in auto only comes in at $64,082 providing the driver greater control and customisation with adaptive dampers and Subaru’s Drive Mode Select, letting you configure the vehicle’s setup for your own unique tastes and enjoyment. It also gets those unique tS alloys I mentioned earlier, plus some go-fast signature STi logos complete with exterior tS badging.
The base WRX wagon is $56,653, the mid spec GT for $62,510 (same as RS but with power tailgate) or the flagship tS at $63,173.
All three wagon options are only available in auto but, given the wagon’s personality, target audience and how trick the auto is, I can appreciate Subaru’s rationale.
Open the doors on either the wagon or sedan and, apart from the obvious rear seat functionality for the wagon, the cabin layout is much the same.
Except the sedan upholstery is finished in a pleasant two-tone combination of black and soft grey, with the wagon coming in no-choice basic black which can feel a little too cocoon-like depending on ambient light.
Maybe the designers wanted to give the wagon a more intimate feel, helping mask its large dimensions and open interior space.
As for variations in seat coverings, it’s like the Sesame Street jingle, “one of these things is not like the others…” The standard WRX and WRX Sportswagon have cloth, yep makes sense, the mid spec RS sedan and both top spec tS variants get Ultrasuede.
But the mid-range Sportswagon GT receives rather spiffy, accented leather trim. However, everyone gets to enjoy highlighted red stitching and a nicely tactile D-shaped leather-wrapped steering wheel enabling driver control over audio settings, voice recognition and EyeSight operation via logically placed integrated switches.
The flight decks of both WRXs share a common design theme to the latest Subaru Outback – you can check out our full review here.
Featured front and centre is the excellent Subaru Starlink system accessible via a tablet styled high res huge 11.6-inch touchscreen. A cool feature is the ability of the display to show two types of information at once, like navigation with audio.
This old school fella also appreciates the inclusion of physical buttons and knobs for commonly used functions. It’s just quicker than multiple screen taps. Standard is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, digital radio, with access to a host of vehicle settings, and reverse camera imagery.
From the moment you slip into the comfortable, supportive front buckets and hit the start button, the instrument cluster comes to life in perfect line of sight. It’s dominated by a large clear tacho and speedo integrated with fuel and temp gauges for instantaneous reference at a glance.
A high resolution, 4.2-inch central display shows a range of vehicle information.
As your eyes pan across the racy instrumentation with red needles, down the command centre touch screen to the leather gear shift (on the manual), a reflective glint from the alloy racing pedals catches your eye. There is no doubt.
You know that you’re sitting in a driver-dedicated cockpit where the ergonomics have been influenced by a strong racing pedigree.
On the mundane side of practicality, rear seat comfort for sedan and wagon is very good with ample leg, hips, and toe room – although the tapered roof line of the sedan doesn’t offer a great deal of head room for passengers over 6 foot.
I do like that the quality fit and finish up front is mirrored in the rear, maintaining consistent look and feel throughout the cabin. The obligatory USBs, bottle holders and ability to rest your coffee cups front and back are all included.
Let’s not forget about the importance of a little self-indulgence. For me, a good audio soundtrack enhances the enjoyment of a rewarding drive. Sure, I love the boxer grumble and can happily amuse myself enjoying those guttural tones winding through the gears, but eventually cruise mode is engaged, and who wants to sit in silence for hours even if those winding back country roads are peacefully scenic? The six-speaker setup in the wagon will appease most owners. If you’re an audio buff, then the 10 speaker Harmon Kardon system tuned especially for the WRX interior with additional sub-woofer and amplifier as fitted to the RS and tS sedans will certainly bring a smile to your ears.
Storage obviously differs between the compact sedan, which offers 414L of boot space as compared to the 492L behind the second row in the wagon, 909L with second row folded.
Certainly, the wagon wins hands down on cargo storage and functional practicalities for a growing family and all the gear you’ll end up lugging around as you perform your dedicated Uber driver duties for the kids and their friends.
But never fear, you can drop the backrest of the rear seat in the sedan to accommodate longer items.
OK, down to business; let’s take a quick look at the documented figures between the old and new Rex (as it’s affectionately known in many circles). The original 2.0L would churn out a respectable 197kW of tyre heating immediacy when spanning the rpm range around 5,600rpm. And reach 350Nm of shove at a somewhat tallish 2,400rpm. Ahhhh yes, good times!
But this is 2022; it’s out with the old and in with the new, and this is where you gasp.
How can this be, if the heart of the beast is not producing anything of noteworthy difference from its predecessor?
This is where Subaru’s logic behind the 2.4 wins out. They haven’t been tempted to upset the balance of the vehicle by throwing large gobs of boost at the original 2.0L merely to tout impressive figures – you’ll have to wait for the EV version for that.
When you think about it, there are fundamental benefits to this larger capacity engine. It can be leveraged effectively by other Subaru models (in various state of tune) to provide economy of scale through simplification of engine models. A larger capacity engine has improved response prior to the intervention of turbo boost, making it more tractable at lower rpm. Power delivery is not as peaky as a small capacity engine running high boost pressures.
Subaru has increased the engine capacity by a healthy 20%. Hang on to your hats, cause this latest WRX, wait for it… cranks out a minuscule 5kW more and the same 350Nms of torque as the old donk.
Cue long faces and stunned expletives from performance enthusiasts! I can only imagine the moans and fist waving at car club meetings, sporting drive days and even down the local pub between hard-core petrol-head mates. “Oh, what was Subaru thinking”?
Apparently, quite a lot!
From the moment you push the go button, engage drive, and select first gear, there’s a clear change. It’s smoother, quieter, and more refined. Could it be true that our bumptious much-loved Rex has grown up, matured even, and morphed into a respectable member of the community? Please say it ain’t so.
Wait, move away from the panic button. Performance is still there – the manual or auto will torch 0-100 times in six seconds. But the delivery feels linear with broader usability, making it more rewarding to drive on the streets.
You don’t need to run as much boost to achieve the same peak figures, which means less strain on engine internals for improved longevity.
Or, on the flip side of the coin, there is potential for improvements and power upgrades down the track.
Subaru successfully altered the delivery of what the engine is producing and when, which makes it feel stronger and more willing than before. This new engine hits peak torque some 400rpm lower in the range. Not a lot, you think, but it makes a noticeable difference to the vehicle’s temperament and demeanour. Hooking up second as you ease out of a street side corner, there’s no jerk or hop requiring you to slip the clutch a little more if you don’t get the rpm just right before there’s sufficient torque to take over. Even rolling on in third from a lower rpm in slow moving traffic on the freeway, the speedo initially responds faster than the tacho. There’s less fuss and commotion involved. You can still enjoy that strong surge in the back when you plant the right boot, only this time it’s calling the driveline into action even sooner. Subaru indicates this new kid on the block will consume the 63L fuel tank at a rate of 9.9L/100 in the manual, and 8.5L/100 for the auto. Not exactly frugal, but to my mind, it’s a small price to pay for the fun factor.
Truth be known, I enjoyed this newfound flexibility to move around briskly and smoothly through the city without the need to really stretch the rpm to get the results. Meaning I could have a little fun and enjoy playing with the WRX’s on road dynamics without drawing unwanted attention. This was even more evident stepping out of the sedan and into the stylishly presented Sportswagon whose innocent exterior belied its street sleeper identity.
When it comes to transmissions, I’ll admit I still prefer a manual. Having 100% driver control and engagement heightens my sense of interaction with the vehicle.
And the six speed is a cracker!
It’s light, direct and has a wonderful tactile shift quality. I also like that fact the manual models retain a traditional hand brake lever.
And here’s another difference between the manual sedan and the auto wagon’s driveline configuration. The manuals AWD utilises a viscous coupling centre differential, providing a nominal 50/50 torque split front to rear. When loss of grip occurs on either the front or rear axle, the viscous coupling reacts to the mechanical differences in grip and can send up to 80% of available torque to the axle that has the best traction. What makes this so great is that it doesn’t require any complex electronics or computer control to function.
The auto uses Variable Torque Distribution (VTD). The difference that results is the nominal torque split is a rear-biased 45 front and 55 rear, helping improve driver enjoyment and reduce under-steer. Rather than a mechanical control, VTD uses an electronically controlled hydraulic multi-plate clutch in combination with a planetary-type centre differential.
Sensors monitor throttle position, wheel slippage and braking force to enable a much faster and proactive application of torque distribution during traction loss.
Whilst the viscous control may be slower, it’s also more accommodating to driver input reacting to driver demands, as opposed to electronic intervention based on a range of fixed mathematical parameters. However, I can’t help but be impressed with how well Subaru has evolved their CVT design and performance over the years. Shhhhh… we don’t call it that anymore.
Their latest incarnation, the newly named Subaru Performance Transmission (SPT), as fitted to our tS Sportwagon. It provides 30% faster upshifts and 50% faster downshifts by utilising adaptive shift control to perform accurate rev matching.
Differing from many other CVT setups, and not just by name, the SPT uses a chain instead of the more commonly used belt, enhancing strength and response to throttle input. Thanks to this unique design, the SPT can run smaller pulleys, making it lighter and more efficient. The correct formula for a good performance car.
So, how does it work? Well, in basic terms, it uses two hydraulically actuated, adjustable V-shaped pulleys. In automatic mode, depending on vehicle speed, the pulley sides are pushed in or pulled out, allowing the chain to move up or down the valley created by the pulleys, effectively creating smaller or larger circumferences just like you’d find in a conventional transmission only this time they are infinitely variable. This allows the unit to provide the optimal ratio to suit any situation, and the stepped variable control responds to changes in engine speed for smooth drivability. That’s probably over simplifying things, as it’s way more involved than that, but hopefully you get the idea.
Auto or not, let’s not forget this is a WRX.
It should be enthralling to drive, and Subaru knows how important driver engagement is to their WRX owners.
The SPT lets you up the ante by giving you full driver control with manual mode. Engaging the paddle shifters allows you to select when and how the pulleys move to achieve 8 pre-set ratio positions, accompanied by a throttle blip on down shifts to rev match each ratio perfectly to mimic the sporty manual shift of a conventional auto.
I’ve got to say it’s an impressive setup as shift response feels quick and firm in either up or down shifts. Snatch a lower preset ratio on overrun and you feel positive engine braking.
With the brake calipers biting down hard on 316mm rotors up front and 290mm at the rear to arrest their momentum, dab the paddle shifters for an auto throttle blip to downshift before the corner, tip the nose in, pull the front end around to spot the apex, and widen the throttle on exit. As the boxer growl intensifies rapidly, with a series of quick taps on the up shift, you briskly return to legal cruising speed before setting the WRX up to enjoy the next series of bends.
Rather than using a conventional single-pinion design that handles both driver and electrical inputs for the steering. Subaru has introduced a dual pinon setup, separating each function. I found it linear and direct with a nice balance between slow speed manoeuvres and open road cruising. It’s responsive to even minor driver input and has a reassuring confident feel during cornering with minimal effort or correction required to run centre of the lane when cruising.
Getting around car parks is easy thanks to a moderate turning circle of just 11.2m on the sedan, and a tad less on the wagon at 11m, which probably is thanks to it having slightly skinnier tyres.
What is impressive is the general ride quality of both variants. With MacPherson-style struts at the front and double wishbone rear, this fully independent setup is responsive, provides good lateral body control, especially when enjoying those larger roundabouts, with effective bump and vibration isolation over changing road surfaces for interior comfort.
Both the wagon and sedan feel planted during cornering, albeit the sedan exudes a somewhat sportier feel and maybe a tad more firmness, no doubt accentuated by its lower profile and wider tyres and a bent towards driving dynamics.
Whereas the wagon, as you’d expect with its marginally higher centre of gravity and extra body length has a little more softness to it. But not as much as you might think. I wouldn’t go as far to say plush, but certainly more refined.
Our tS Sportswagon also included Subaru’s Intelligent Drive system, known as SI-DRIVE. Available in all auto variants, it allows you to select between three separate drive modes to enhance engine and transmission response for a range of driver requirements.
They consist of Intelligent (I) mode for the best economy and a smooth comfortable drive. Sport (S) mode for a sportier driving experience delivering an improved throttle response and quicker shifts, or Sports Sharp (S#) for an aggressive maximum throttle response and the shortest possible gear changes.
Even further enhancement and driver customization is possible available via the 11.6-inch screen when selecting Subaru’s Drive Mode Select.
Integrated with the Si Drive system, and only present on the top tS models, you can choose between Comfort, Normal, Sport or Sport + or my personal favourite… Individual, allowing you tailor a range of vehicle settings including steering response, electronic damper control adjustment. In the case of our tS Sportwagon, it gave us the ability to choose how we wanted the wagon to respond, from suburban sleeper to street fighter in a smart suit.
Despite that possible penalty, when it comes to safety and driver technology, there’s too much to list here. I think marketing departments are running out of names and acronyms to describe much the same thing in unique language.
The new WRX is both stronger and safer. Built on Subaru’s global platform, featuring a full inner frame for high body and chassis rigidity, this new WRX has 28% greater torsional strength and 14% better lateral rigidity.
Plus strengthened suspension mounting points and lowered center of gravity—all resulting in more responsive steering and handling, and reduced transference of road vibrations and body shake into the cabin to improve passenger comfort.
Safety has also been improved thanks to Subaru’s ring-shaped passenger safety cell, which is designed to absorb and direct any collision impact by deflecting force around the cabin rather than through it. The new body absorbs more energy in front/side crashes than the outgoing model, and has seven airbags, including a driver’s knee airbag. ANCAP hadn’t released safety ratings at the time of writing this article, but with the manual unable to run autonomous emergency braking due to manual clutch control, it may be penalised against fixed criteria for judging a five-star rating.
Fortunately, Subaru has cottoned onto putting all these systems under common umbrella sets to help remove some of the confusion.
You can get the full breakdown inside the WRX brochure – check out the facial recognition and fancy new Eyesight tech that is the next level in driver monitoring and lane management.
This new generation WRX has matured, that snotty-nosed kid covered in dirt and dust has had a shower and grown up, donning a smart shirt with designer jeans. It’s less edgy; smoother, quieter, and feels quicker with power rolling on sooner as it builds in an almost linear delivery before and into turbo boost. The interior is well laid out, with just enough panache to be stylish but still capture the essences of a rally inspired cockpit.
The exterior design is already in hot debate, and it will come down to your own personal preference, as there’s always something someone won’t like; for me, those plastic wheel arch mouldings may be functional but they are a tad tacky. Like previous models, the new look may grow on you. Remember the bug eye Rex?
The WRX have never aspired to capture that unique vogue style that starts the next obsessive automotive design trend. They’re grounded, they’ve earned their reputation, not through exquisite studio photoshoots, but hammering through mud, dust, dirt and heat in punishing environments that would destroy a lesser car. Which is clearly validated by their tenacity and durability dominating the world rally stage. But they’ve always carried that purposeful stance with a slight mean streak.
It’s that alluring bad boy look; you know you want one.
The wagon follows the same design, yet its cleaner lines and body work look so much better in my eyes. I don’t know, maybe it’s a case of less is more. It’s sassy with a dash of elegance, but still retains very desirable don’t mess with me good looks.
Rather than just sticking a wagon tail end on the sedan, Subaru have effectively created a new variant in their range. The wagon is sufficiently and uniquely different enough in what it does and how it drives, that it will appeal to a much broader demographic. People who don’t want the sedan’s muscular aggression but enjoy the spirited performance and sporty dynamics for which the WRX is synonymous and prefer all the practicalities of a family-friendly wagon are just going to love it.
I don’t have kids, I rarely take passengers, so the manual RS sedan is my pick. I enjoy the tactile engagement via the six speed, its sharper on-road dynamics and the sensory feedback you get from the exhaust, suspension and those wider lower profile tyres.
But for Kaz, it’s the Sportwagon hands down every time. She enjoyed the comfortable relaxed driving character of the wagon without the need to be constantly reminded that she’s driving a performance vehicle. But when she felt like having some fun the wagon would respond with an assertive eagerness to please that ensured a cheeky smile every time.
So, there you have it, two unique sides of the WRX coin, for two very different drivers.
Which will suit you? You’re spoilt for choice!
WRX AWD RS Sedan
- Price: $55,776
- Engine: 2.4L Boxer four-cylinder turbo petrol
- Output: 202kW / 350Nm
- Transmission: Six-speed manual
- Fuel: 9.9L/100km
WRX AWD tS Sportswagon
- Price: $63,651
- Engine: 2.4L Boxer four-cylinder turbo petrol
- Output: 202kW / 350Nm
- Transmission: Subaru Performance Transmission
- Fuel: 8.5L/100km
About our Motoring Editor: Ray has been passionate about all things automotive since he first started collecting Matchbox and Hot Wheels models when he was five. Since leaving his executive role at General Motors (GM), he’s been sharing his driving experiences with Australian audiences for nearly 20 years, commencing his automotive journalist career with a popular WA-based magazine and was writing his own column in The West Australian for 8 years.
Ray’s strong love of automotive engineering and clever design has seen his articles and photography featured in prominent national magazines in Australia and the UK. He loves sharing his passion with other drivers, including via a long running stint as Senior Instructor for Land Rover Experience, providing training and education for new vehicle owners.
Recently Ray has been presenting on TV shows including Ready for Adventure and the very popular Caravan and Camping WA, to showcase some of the great products, vehicles and companies that make getting out and exploring Western Australia that much more enjoyable.