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2017 Subaru WRX: Full-year reflection update

Ross Ballot January 3, 2018 All Things Hoon, Featured 23 Comments

Let’s start off 2018 …by looking back on 2017, and oh what a year it was. A tumultuous, peaks-and-valleys ridden turning of the calendar. Much like that of the world, ownership of my WRX has been one of varied emotions. I’ve fallen further in and out of love with the blue Subaru, having gone through moments of “I need to get rid of this car ASAP” and contrasting it with “I’m keeping this car forever.”

Some things have not changed though, and the car is an absolute riot on a back-road and when driving through terrible weather conditions. But its limitations have begun to reveal themselves further, with frustrations like understeer and an uncompromising rough ride repeatedly bearing their heads and regularly making me want to use the steering wheel to bash mine.

With that said, let’s take a moment to reflect back on how the turbo sedan has me feeling after the last full calendar year of ownership. Hit the jump to read more.

As of this posting the Subaru’s odometer has just recently crested the 39,000 mile mark, averaging out to around 2200 miles driven each month the car has been mine. That makes for a lot of time to think on my feelings towards the car, and I find myself in a perpetual state of mixed emotions with the WRX. Which is to say, it’s a full-fledged love/hate relationship, certainly reflecting the kind that, were it human, such would unquestionably be unhealthy. So what exactly are those feelings? Since this is the most jam-packed, I mean “wonderful,” time of the year, let’s break it down bullet-point style.

What’s to love:

  • Go-anywhere, anytime (within reason) spirit: AWD and the rough-and-tough mojo mean you’re never scared to go somewhere regardless of pretty much anything, absolute worst of weather conditions included. It’s unstoppable in snow short of high-centering and covers ground on a dirt road like it’s paved.
  • Practicality: there’s a surprising amount of space for a car this size, both in cabin and in trunk. This packaging makes it incredibly easy to live with and even to carry people and stuff in. Of course, a hatch would have been better.
  • Size: it’s just about perfect for day-to-day life. Not too big but still easy to park and maneuver and never insubstantial feeling on the highway, it just works as a daily.
  • Turbo push: Even in 6th on the highway a little dab of throttle results in what feels like a big surge forward. In the lower gears the turbo spools quickly enough to have you grabbing the next gear rather quickly, but it’s a blast and the engine is more than powerful enough for daily fun and for mindless overtaking alike.
  • Exhaust note and turbo noises: it’s snarly, raspy, and ‘90s-sport-compact all at once. The child in me adores the Borla exhaust, and it’s still mellow enough to not give you a headache.
  • Visibility: You can see everything. The visibility is honestly among the best I’ve experienced in a new car, or in any car for that matter.
  • The WRX wave: owners are friendly in passing, somewhat surprisingly so in spite of the typical WRX-owner stereotypes that are scribbled across the walls of the internet
  • Gas mileage and cruising range: with a to-date average of ~28.4 MPG and the possibility of 400-500 miles between fill-ups, the WRX goes quite a long ways before you have to stop for gas. Which, if you have a ~100 mile/day commute like I do, is quite convenient.
  • The feeling that it has your back: regardless of what you’re doing, be it commuting or autocrossing or road-tripping, the WRX can handle it without so much as a hiccup. It’s not without fault, but it does everything and does much of it well.

What’s to hate / what’s not so much to love:

  • Seats: who in the hell designed these things? The human spine is not shaped like that. You either have to lean back to the point of awkwardly arching your spine or just sit with the top of your back completely off the seat. They also have a stone-solid makeup, which means short drives are fine but you’d better have a rock hard ass to not be sore and fidgety after a couple hours. With the bolstering they’re good for holding you in place but awful at providing a comfortable place to spend a lot of time. Also, total first-world-problems here, but the seat heaters don’t work great, which is a fundamental flaw for the Northeast (and a surprising one coming from a company known for its all-weather and Northeast-friendly cars).
  • Shifter feel: it’s somewhat clunky, somewhat notchy, never perfectly consistent…and that’s even with the factory SPT short-shifter.
  • Powerband: there’s *absolutely* nothing up top. It falls flat on its face and doesn’t pick up until you’re into peak power range in the next gear.
  • Ride quality: over potholes, undulations, and anything remotely imperfect, the car bounces about like it’s on solid-mounted suspension. Every change in road surface is felt throughout the entire cabin, and even little cracks in the pavement have the WRX shaking about like it’s in an earthquake.
  • Road noise: this is largely due to the OEM Dunlop summer performance tires, but more road noise is transmitted at highway speed than in just about any other new car I’ve been in. It’s tiresome, and I’m sure almost entirely due to the factory-installed tires (it was pretty easy to identify being that the winter tires have quieted it down significantly). Luckily this can be changed relatively easily.
  • Understeer: push, push, push! You have to set up for corners differently than I consider ideal (which has become a real headache in autocross), and the car always wants to plow through a corner nose-first. I much prefer rear-wheel-drive, so the AWD-understeer has worn me thin.
  • Sticky clutch: despite it happening with fairly regular frequency now the dealer “cannot replicate” the issue.
  • Unpredictable reliability: the FA20 motors are supposedly better than the EJ-series engines they replace but it’s still somewhat uncharted territory (and some sources are reporting similar issues down the line). Time will tell but the time-bomb nature has me worrying.
  • Doesn’t feel like a “forever” car: I’m enjoying it, but the excitement has largely worn off and in 5 years I’m not sure how well it will hold up both physically, mechanically, and in terms of the raw rally car novelty factor.

It may sound like I’m echoing much of what I said in the past about the WRX, and that’s very much the case. It has to be said that while I do love the car…or, at least some things about the car…it’s hard to stay in love with. Easy to fall for, hard to stay in love with. That endearing, puppy-dog quality it once had has long since faded, replaced by the monotony of day-to-day life and the drawbacks of a sports sedan bearing an economy car’s bones.

What makes the WRX great is why I love it but only consumes a small fraction of the time spent behind the wheel; unfortunately, what I hate about it is drastically more prevalent. So now I’m ready for something more…of an event. I can’t help feeling that, as a die-hard “car guy,” I should be more in love with the vehicle I drive day in and day out and that if I’m already dealing with these downsides it might as well be in a car more fun and more focused. I know getting rid of the WRX will be regretted at some point, but it just doesn’t do it for me the way it once did. And, fortunate as I am to look for a replacement, it’s time to make that a reality. As such, 2018 will likely be the end of the road for my WRX ownership, likely to be replaced by either a S550 Mustang GT or an ND Miata.

On its own merits the Subaru WRX is a great car. It’s one I’m happy to own and will always remember as a great automotive achievement in owning one of my dream cars. But I’m ready to move on. Here’s to the new calendar year bringing something new, hopefully something rear-wheel-drive…and starting with “M”…

  • Harry Callahan
    • Ross Ballot

      It’s definitely there a little. Especially so when viewed from the rear 3/4 angle…the contour and location of the character line running down the side of the car and into the taillights matches up pretty closely. (And now I will stop pretending I know what I’m talking about on the design front)

  • Stephen

    I’ve got similar feelings with my 05 Saabaru. I recently test drove a BRZ and loved the lightness, RWD and handling; but it’s slower in a straight line than my stock EJ20. Plus I have a kid so the 4 doors and the wagon rear make it way more practical.

    Part of me wants to dump it and get a Coyote powered Mustang or possibly a Miata (wife has a Prius for family duty). But then another part of me thinks I can just invest a reasonable amount of money in this car (mostly wheels, tires and suspension because California smog laws) and be quite happy with it.

    The struggle continues. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/db4dc7a39a7fa62b1ffb9169314ca67fdc66617628bcefb752625ace26f3a08f.jpg

    • Ross Ballot

      I know how it goes. Thing is, once you dump that money into it, reliability and gas mileage plummet…and general livability can as well.

      My best friend had a 9-2X that was heavily modified by its previous owner (quite sketchily so, honestly). It was fast as hell but broke regularly. He sold it and bought an Accord V6/6MT Coupe, and never looked back (until he sold it upon moving to NYC).

      • Stephen

        Yeah, if you double check my comment, I wasn’t planning on doing any real power mods because of California Smog. Stock power is adequate. Maybe a Cobb tune to get some basic gains. But powertrain reliability is more important to me. It’s plenty fast in the twisties. I have no interest in drag racing.

        So if I keep it, I plan to invest in wheels, tires, and suspension.

        • Ross Ballot

          That’s a good plan. Sway bars/end links and strut tower braces are important early mods as well form what I’ve heard.

  • Andrew_theS2kBore

    The ride quality and handling balance are readily rectified with around $3000 of coilovers and rear sway bar, and there are any number of fixed or reclining seats available on the aftermarket which are both more comfortable and more supportive, but I can see why you’d be reluctant to invest the money in a car with potentially serious drivetrain quality issues.

    Based on your likes and dislikes with respect to the WRX, I’d suggest the S550 over the ND. It’s better built, more comfortable, quieter, and faster. The ND is more exciting in the short term but it doesn’t seem like you’d want to live with one.

    • Ross Ballot

      Good leather seats with ample lumbar adjustment are $1k+ and might not retain the factory air bags. That in itself is reason to not go that route. And as much as I’d *love* to dump $3k into coilovers, that’s almost a year’s worth of payments towards the loan.

      Thanks for the input on the ND/S550. I’ve actually driven multiple examples of both and your observations are spot-on. Down the line I can absolutely see myself buying an S550, but if the Miata doesn’t play out it’ll be sooner rather than later. But now seems like the time to try the ND before having rear seats is more “important.”

      • Andrew_theS2kBore

        Ahhh, the last piece of the puzzle drops. Trying the ND now makes a lot of sense under those circumstances. Good luck and have fun!

        • Ross Ballot

          Thanks…hoping to be out of the Subaru by April so news of the new car will certainly be posted around here

  • BigJimSlade

    “Unpredictable reliability”

    What reliability issues are you actually experiencing to put this down as a negative for the car?

    I’ve had my 2016 over 2 years and haven’t had an issue. I’d put reliability in the positive column for my ownership – then again, I like the seats and LOVE the shifter (I have the STI short-throw assembly). Don’t have any rev-hang issues, either.

    • Ross Ballot

      Well, on probably two dozen occasions the car has *barely* started. It still has, but I hold my breath every time I start the thing. There’s no rhyme or reason as to why or when it happens, but it’s happened enough to be worrisome.

      On the engine front, I’ve spoken to multiple people at multiple Subaru specialty shops and they say the FA motors are popping– also seemingly without rhyme or reason– at the same 105k-125k marks as did the EJ-series motors. Of course, I have a “lifetime” warranty on the car, but having been around so many Subarus that have grenaded engines, it’s something I’m concerned about given how much mileage I put on my cars.

      No rev hang? You lucked out. Big time. In my car it’s tolerable but ridiculously frustrating to have the RPMs do what your brain/feet aren’t telling them to.

      I also have the STI short-shifter and am not overly fond of it. Given, that could be just because I’ve driven so many cars with such drastically better shifters since buying my WRX. Going from my Challenger to the WRX, it felt like an amazing gearbox…

  • Alff

    Subaru seats are notoriously bad, as I learned after a 3000+ mile roadtrip that has left my left foot numb for more than two years.

    • Ross Ballot

      Seriously? Sounds like sciatica. Which coincidentally is something I had as a result of my back issues which only started after buying my WRX…

      • Alff

        This is apparently a real thing. So much so that my sister, a lifelong PNW tree hugger for whom a Subaru would seem ideal, refuses to consider the brand.

        • Ross Ballot

          Wow. Clearly I had no idea. Wish I had! It’ll keep me out of one in the future, that’s for sure.

          • Alff

            Also, as the driver of a 12 ..er …13 year old Lego GT with a shade over 100K miles I would be very surprised if your car delivers great long term reliability. In nine years of ownership, mine has been every bit as needy as my 34 year old Alfa Romeo. It just seems underbuilt.

            • Ross Ballot

              I have a hard time seeing this being a long-living car, though the Subarus I see in the Northeast tell me otherwise

              • Alff

                Some friends (all Subaru veterans who now favor Miatas and e46 BMWs) and I have discussed this at length. Our sense is that, at least through the early 2000s, Subaru didn’t do a great job engineering the rest of a car’s systems to correspond to the increased potential of the turbo engines. In particular, brakes and wheel bearings are identified as weaknesses. That may not be true of newer models such as yours. I’ve held on to mine through various issues because I wrench. If I’d had to pay a shop, I’d have dumped it a long time ago.

                As it is, I am caught in an endless cycle. Want to sell when it isn’t working right, really enjoy driving it when it is.

  • I love the seats!!!

    • Ross Ballot

      To each thy own…very subjective matter

  • HoondavanDude

    Thanks for the write-up. I have a similiar commute and ruled-out the WRX for many of the reasons you stated. The premium fuel requirement was essentially a dealbreaker for me. Glad to see you’ve managed high 20’s fuel economy.

    I’ve found that 90% of seats just aren’t optimized for people over 6’0. I’m 6’2″ and 90% of the rental cars I drive offer zero leg support. Plenty of cars are acceptable, but I’d say very few are great. I test drove a base model mustang this summer. With the discounts available price was near economy car and the ecoboost would still get nice cruising mileage. I’m glad I did an overnight test drive and my 100-mile round trip commute…my lower back was killing me. The Recaro seats may have been better, but I wasn’t ready to spend that kind of money. BRZ/FRS seats definitely seemed like they were designed for someone shorter.

    In hindsight, I really liked the mechanical feel of my Saabaru and the BRZ, bugeye WRX and STI I’ve driven. They weren’t great, but they did have a much more mechanical, satisfying feel than contemporary VW shifters (which I currently drive).

    • Ross Ballot

      Interesting that you felt that way about the Mustang’s seats. Did it have adjustable lumbar support? That’s what the Subaru is lacking most. If I remember correctly, all Mustang GTs do have the power adjustment, not sure about the Ecoboost cars though.

      I’ll agree about the VW’s shifter, which I complained about in the article below. It was rubbery and vague (to use the cliche words), not very direct at all. The WRX’s is solid by comparison. But one drive in a Miata or Mustang/Camaro and even the WRX’s pales. The BRZ’s is good from the few minutes I had in one, would really need to drive it longer to decide though.

      VW link:
      http://hooniverse.com/2017/07/21/2017-volkswagen-gti-dsg-6mt-test-drivesa-tale-of-two-transmissions/