A riot when driven hard, but nearly unpolished for it’s own good…or simply for mine? Evaluating my Subaru WRX after one year of ownership
A quick Google search, the pinnacle of in-depth and fact-backed research, reveals that the average American drives around 13,500 miles per year, or about fifteen-thousand if one considers Geico to be the accurate resource on the subject. This puts me well outside the realm of normal, being that I’ve driven my now one-year-old Subaru WRX ~28,500 miles as of this posting.
Having spent so much time in and around the car has revealed the absolute best and the worst traits said vehicle has to offer, with emphasis on those one can’t experience in a test-drive. In three hundred and sixty five days of having the sporting-focused Subaru as my primary means of transportation it has proven to be a fun, capable car that’s efficient, easy to live with, and makes me want to go for a drive for the sake of going for a drive. It’s been to the beach, to the mountains, on road trips, and on business trips. I’ve autocrossed it a bunch of times and have spent countless hours in it commuting. My WRX has never let me down, but has it made me fall long-term in love with it?
A year ago I was head-over-heels infatuated with my then-new, bright-blue Subaru. A year later, that’s not entirely the case. It’s a great car, but is it the right car for me? How has it held up after a year of non-stop use? Is the WRX all it’s cracked up to be, not just after a few test-drives but after living with it for a year? You’ll have to read on to find out.
In one circling of the sun you can spend an utter shitton of time in a particular World Rally Blue 2017 model-year Subaru WRX. A vehicle that you once drooled over, one single year has allowed you to get to know the ins and outs of the car better than you have any other subject in a twelve-month span. So what’s it like living with a 2017 WRX?
Subaru really has done a great job making an all-around competent and enjoyable-to-drive car out of its second-tier performance sedan. While it is still overshadowed by the STI in terms of driveline tech and powertrain grunt, the WRX benefits from the new FA-series engine that, unlike its EJ-series predecessor, is finally a modern engine for the platform. The WRX does, however, still share the same humble economy-car roots as its higher-power big brother, and the things inherent to the chassis, and Impreza platform it’s based on, are omni-present: jarring stiffness, questionable materials in places, a general lack of sound deadening, and a build quality that still is outgunned by its competitors. Not all is bad with the WRX though, as there’s a generous amount of space for a car this size, great visibility, smile-inducing turbo push, and it’s all wrapped up in a size that’s perfect for day-to-day life.
Let’s get more specific and begin with the negatives. First things first, the intermittent hard start that I reported last time has not gone away. It’s become less regular in warmer weather, I’d even go so far as to say it’s as sporadic as sporadic can be, but it’s still there. Likewise, and not exactly the same as the aforementioned hard-start issue, when the AC is left on as the car is shut off, the ensuing start usually does seem to be somewhat more difficult than when the AC is turned off. The idle also acts funny in this case, staying much higher for much longer before settling down. I guessed it was the battery but the dealer performed a load test and reported it being fine. On the note of AC, running the compressor unquestionably robs power– and robs a lot of it. A ton of it, actually. There’s noticeable side effects: it takes substantially more throttle to accelerate from a stop, it requires more consistent throttle to keep up at speed, and, most frustratingly, you have to put the gas pedal to the floor in order to get the response required to rev-match a downshift. I know, I know; bitching about how a car performs with the Air Conditioning running is a full-blown first-world problem. It’s just that in 2017, after having owned and driven many cars that didn’t act this way, I figured the AC wouldn’t detract so massively from the car’s performance.
Since the last update there’s been a few other issues as well. Numerous times over the winter the HVAC system would refuse to give blow heat, only pumping out luke-warm air even when set to 85 degrees or above. Again the dealer said “could not replicate,” but the issue persisted. Other nit-pick quibbles exist, like rattles from depths of the cabin that cannot be found by a non-mechanic human, and the infotainment system has frozen a few times as well.
And now we have to touch on the elephant in the room: ride quality. It’s harsh. Really harsh. Yes, it’s a sporty model based on an economy car, and 1 + 1 does equal 2, but over potholes and rough road surfaces it’s uncomfortably, painfully rough. I do have a bad back, even after having a piece of my spine removed via microdiscectomy this April, but that doesn’t negate the fact that everyone who rides in the car, enthusiasts included, comments on how brutal it can be. Perhaps blame the atrocious NY/CT roads for emphasizing things, but the seats don’t help; rather, they contribute further. They’re rock-hard and, while very supportive laterally for spirited driving, haven’t softened up at all, leaving them to be just borderline comfortable enough for a road trip. That they’re shaped like a slide doesn’t help the situation (or my spine…), and the lack of lumbar adjustment has me at wit’s end. Initially I thought the car was fun for how its stiffness results in a perceived sportiness, but now it just annoys me anytime I’m not driving it hard. “YMMV” is very much the case here, especially with mine being very much still on the mend, but it’s impossible to notice the car’s almost unreasonably stiff ride quality.
Other annoyances: the road noise and lack of sound deadening result in an in-cabin highway volume of road and tire noise that is unlike any other new car I’ve been in. The stock Dunlops probably aren’t helping, but let me put it this way: in order to hear anyone over Bluetooth I have to have it at max volume, and I basically have to yell for whoever is on the other end to hear me. Minor issue, this, with a definite remedy out there, but the kind of gripe that gets to you when your normal commute means spending 2+ hours in the car every day.
That’s enough about the bad. Now for the good, of which there’s plenty. First, and most prominently, the car is still genuinely, sincerely enjoyable and smile-inducing when driven in anything resembling a fun-focused manner. Commuting at a normal pace can make the WRX seem like a bit of a boring, mundane sedan, but one day spent autocrossing or a good hard drive down a back-road serves as an instant reminder of how satisfying the WRX is to romp on. It’s nimble, quick, responsive, capable…the compliments for its dynamics go on and on. Steering feel is transmitted well to your fingers and turbo-power is perfect for anything that isn’t a track-day at a circuit with ultra-long straightaways. I fall in love with the car all over again every time I drive it hard, and the recent autocross I participated in only made that more so. The WRX is, without question, a riot when driven hard.
The engine has to be praised as well. Subaru’s fuel economy-focused factory tune is pathetic, but overall the powerplant does the bland just as well as it does exciting. It makes decent power and gives just enough shove to keep a daily drive to-and-from work less bland than in something that is in fact bland. Earlier this year I added a Borla exhaust and, though it may not have the iconic unequal-length header rumble, it does make a good sound and has livened up the character quite a bit. Proving quite well suited to my lifestyle as well, the FA motor is sporty when sportiness is wanted and calm when it needs to be, all while providing the instant forward push that’s needed every once-in-a-while to make a pass on the highway. Excellent gas mileage is also a nice perk, with my lifetime average at around 28.4 MPG and going on ten tanks having returned over 30 MPG. The range, as you can see below, is fantastic as well.
Another huge plus to the car is the amount of greenhouse built into the design. Not only does it make visibility fantastic, something that goes severely under-appreciated until you drive a car that can actually boast this, but as a result the cabin feels more spacious than that in a car this size otherwise would. The cabin itself is holding up well too, while remaining practical and easy to spend time in aside from the shitty seats. All in all the WRX is proving easy to live with, fun to drive, and, for the most part, as good a sidekick for commuting as it is for dodging cones in AutoX.
It’s been a long year with my WRX. I’m on track to pass 100,000 miles before four years are finished, a mileage area that’s largely uncharted territory and questionable waters for the new FA-series motors. Being relatively new it’s hard to tell if they’re going to be as hungry for head gaskets as the older engines were, but as time moves on 100k only gets closer and closer. The reality of having to do fairly major service just a few years away, or that of the engine letting go randomly as it feels like it, forever looms in the back of my mind. It seems daunting, being that Subaru engines are known for doing as they please, when they please.
At the end of a year, I’m struck with mixed emotions towards my WRX, a car I once thought could do no wrong. Disdain and regret resulting from back and leg pain from the ride quality, seats, and clutch somehow meet the feeling of tangible joy after a day of autocross. Feelings of “screw this thing, I want no part of it” come crashing head-first into those of “goddamn, this car drives great when you want it to.” It’s a conflicting thing, this WRX.
It seems as if the honeymoon phase has passed. Love-fest long since worn off, the WRX has gone from being a new, exciting toy to one that lives primarily for commuting but still does see occasional hooning. As my autocross participation increases that should change, with whatever I own getting a workout more frequently than in the past, but is the WRX the right car moving forward?
In all honesty, I’m not sure. I might be looking for advice here, I might not. You can decide for yourself, but if anyone has words of wisdom I’d be happy to hear them. I’m up against a rock and a hard place: sell the WRX and buying something a) more comfortable, b) more long-term reliable and c) less expensive to own and insure…or keep the car and invest some coin into making it better at everything I would want from it? It’s difficult to figure out where to go with this. The WRX does everything I want it to, and does it well, but just lacking in some ways.
I fully realize that there is no “perfect car,” but buying the WRX was what I considered a logical decision after selling my VehiCROSS and Challenger in an attempt to condense the fleet into a single year-round vehicle. Then the itch for something off-road capable overcame all reasonability and sanity and I bought the Stormtrooper 4Runner, a vehicle I’ll likely never sell. You see where this is going: AWD isn’t a need anymore. The predicament is trying to figure out what to replace the WRX with and if, currently at least, there is in fact something that would actually be as all-around enjoyable as the Subaru. Ideally a V8, manual-transmission, rear-wheel-drive car is what I’m after, but other configurations aren’t ruled out. My budget allows for something along the lines of a C5 Z06, C6, S197 5.0 Mustang, or a used current-gen S550 Mustang GT in a year or so. My heart tells me buy a ‘Vette or S197. My brain and all sensibility in the name of money and practicality and back pain says get a DSG GTI.
Per description, the WRX is basically the perfect car for my needs and intended purposes. It commutes well, it gets good gas mileage, it’s practical, it’s safe, and it’s great for autocross. Should I keep it, a new driver’s seat must be found or the current one must be re-padded. The looming question of keep or sell is forever burning in the forefront of my mind. A year ago I never would have expected to be thinking this way about the WRX. It’s a fantastic do-it-all car, a ton of fun wrapped into a fairly efficient and tidy yet spacious and practical package. Few better options exist at this price point, and as a whole the Subaru WRX is a gem of a performance sedan wrapped up into an all-weather-capable car you’re not afraid to drive hard or park somewhere tight or blast down a dirt road in. It achieves a list of things that few others can claim to, and for that I love it.
Yes, that’s right, I still love the car, despite regularly contemplating selling the damn thing. It’s that good.
And yet, the question of “what’s next” looms. Keep? Sell? Bash my head into the sheetmetal until a decision presents itself? I’d love to hear what everyone thinks, especially from those of you who might have been in similar situations. I either need to start tailoring the car more to my uses or just move on. The WRX is too good, and has too much potential, to be making me think this deeply about its future in my ownership. If only making a future-affecting decision on this was as easy as it was for me to buy the WRX just a year ago, things might be different. As it sits I’d hate to let it go, but it’s still just a car. A really fucking great car.