I had always been a little unsure about the Subaru Impreza WRX/STI platform. It’s a very accomplished chassis: in addition to its massive success in motorsports there is a huge aftermarket filled with potential for high horsepower, ground-pounding beasts that can rip through and power out of corners unlike many other platforms out there. The reason for me being unsure is simply due to always favoring cars that are smaller and quick on their feet due to their low weight and inherent maneuverability. I had never driven one, and I tend to favor high-strung naturally-aspirated hatchbacks, angry rotaries, small RWD coupes, etc. My dream projects are usually track-prepped NA/NB Miatas, Lotus Elises, CRXs, etc. Turbos of course are great, but if I had the money I’d want to go ITBs and internals that can see a 9500 RPM redline. I mentioned I’d never driven a WRX, but two weeks ago, I finally got the chance to pilot my friend Chris’ blue 2013 Subaru Impreza WRX, and man did it open up a whole new world.
The setup was simple: I texted my buddy that I’m trying to write more about cars, and that I’d love to play with his 60,000 mile WRX and buy him a tank of gas afterwards. He quickly obliged and two weeks ago, we set out for the Santa Monica Mountains via the Pacific Coast Highway. We decided a good, well-rounded test would mean piloting the longish AWD chassis on some tighter stretches of tarmac, such as Piuma Road and take it easy on Tuna Canyon Road. I wanted to know how its entire 3,300ish pounds felt on the tighter hairpins and decreasing radius downhill turns that my Mazda2 eats for breakfast. He drove for the first 45 minutes so I could get a feel for how it felt being driven very confidently, then when we got to the other end of Piuma from Malibu Canyon Road, it was my turn.
I started off taking it easy to get a feel for the clutch and brake pedal, and feel how it came on boost. Chris cut a solid line through the tight turns and knew exactly when and how hard to come on throttle, how late he could brake, etc. I however was taking it easy heading back up to the top of Latigo, and quickly learned a lot en route.
From the get-go, I was surprised how light and composed the 3,300-pound behemoth felt. The steering was light with a decent amount of feedback, the car rotated easy, and while the large hood scoop messed with my perception of the vehicle’s dimensions, the cool factor of driving a car with a scoop quickly silenced any gripes. The steering felt quicker than I expected as well. Perhaps it was the sport suspension, and added weight and rigidity of the all-wheel drive system, but the car felt nicely planted. While my perception of the nose’s position was a little obscured, once I got through some hairpins and powered out of some nicely cambered, wavy little stretches, I quickly learned how to turn it in. Chris had recently put some decent Dunlop high-performance all-seasons on it and while they were a little pillowy, they didn’t make too much noise and gripped well.
Having all-wheel drive probably also had something to do with the tires not making much of a peep. This was very much a point-and-shoot chassis: come into a corner clean and smooth, then once you’re a little past the apex, dump the throttle and let the AWD pull you out with an addictive 244 lb. ft. of torque. It changed direction nicely too, with good weight in the steering and a taught front-end. It wasn’t quite like my Mazda2 that loves to barrel in, brake late and rotate quickly under braking, but for the size of the vehicle and its long wheelbase, it felt very good.
Speaking of all-wheel drive and gobs of torque pulling you out of corners, the same two aspects did an excellent job pushing me back in the seat as well. You would think the term “boxer engine” implies getting punched in the chest when the mighty hatchback hits boost. I had never done a 1-2 gear pull in an AWD car before, and holy crap it is so addictive. I’m not used to setting off with barely a squeak from the tires and tons of push. Most of my straight-line-hoon experience is in front-wheel drive, and AWD just digs in and jumps. I did quite a few of these pulls on the Pacific Coast Highway; if it weren’t for CHP potentially just beyond every other corner or median I would’ve been inclined to go all the way to the top of 4th, as the continual surge of torque was so unbelievably fun. This is a fast car at around 5 seconds to 60 MPH, I’m sure even the most minor of engine tuning makes it even more fun and addictive.
The workhorse EJ255 didn’t need to be revved much higher than 5,000 RPM, and keeping it around 4,000 RPM was plenty of a sweet-spot for most of my driving on the tighter ribbons of road in the Santa Monica Mountains. It wasn’t quite GTI or Fiesta ST starting-at-2,000-RPM, short-block-feeling torque territory, but it was low enough to be very attainable. The gobs of torque certainly aided in the vehicle not feeling very heavy by handling its weight really well. This included pulling ourselves up some surprisingly steep inclines in search of Tuna Canyon Road. If we had not been restricted by a slow Mustang convertible in front of us we certainly could’ve propelled up the steeper grades a lot quicker.
I noticed a little more drivetrain noise than I’m used to in other vehicles. Chris said this was common with Subaru AWD, and just like the hood scoop, it was a little easier for me to daydream that I was in a prepped rally car. Side note: I’m probably one of few who would dig a transmission with a straight-cut-gear sound but with daily driveability. Add a supercharger and give me all the cool mechanical noises. Anyway, I didn’t really notice much of a difference in feel just cruising and taking the corners spiritedly. I’ve heard that you can feel the differentials shifting power around in tighter sections, but perhaps that was muted by the softer tires.
Once we arrived at Tuna Canyon Road, I wasn’t so concerned with speed, as I believe it’s a state park so there are a lot of hikers, 4 MPH Priuses, and very shallow protection from going over some menacing cliffs. At a safe, reasonable speed the car felt very composed with little roll and it turned in nicely. The speeds might not have been as high as on Piuma, but the hairpins were a lot tighter and the change in elevation much more extreme.
In regards to how the car has held up, Chris told me it hasn’t had any annoying hiccups. He mentioned it needing regular services, and it might have a minor boost leak that he is currently investigating, but besides that nothing bad. He said the clutch has always felt good, and the suspension has maintained its reasonable firmness. My independent self can certainly verify these. The Los Angeles Basin has not been kind to it: between some minor parking lot body damage, and other minor mishaps it shows some scars. However, on whole, with a little help from being owned by a meticulous engineer, it is in nice shape. He opted for World Rally Blue too, which still shines really nicely with just a basic wash.
My only real gripe was the interior quality. For a car with an MSRP of around $28,000 back in 2013, there were some signs of above-average wear. The most apparent being the steering wheel: its material was flaking off and had a stickiness to it. This has nothing to do with questioning my friend’s hygiene, but rather Subaru overlooking an important aspect that connects the driver with the road. This also doesn’t seem to be a one-off instance either, as I’ve read more than a few complaints on forums about similar situations. The interior plastics were good, but not great. They felt just slightly-nicer than my Mazda econohatch. Chris also mentioned that the stereo and Bluetooth was a lost cause; the stereo had some bugs and the Bluetooth was very moody and disallowed any phone call more than a few minutes long. Though, the seats were comfortable with just enough bolstering to hold you in but not a pain to get out of, and the headroom was exceptional for my 6’3 self. The backseat was very roomy as well: this chassis is probably the perfect chariot for a road trip (especially if you find yourself having to go off the beaten path with its suspension travel and all-wheel-drive), or utilized by a performance driving instructor to bus around track newbs.
It was certainly a pleasure driving the 2013 Subaru WRX. Between its great handling, pleasant inputs (albeit the flaky steering wheel) and freight train torque, I thoroughly understand and support the WRX/STI hype. It offers a great combination of canyon cruiser, straight-line rocket, and comfortable daily/road tripper. I would consider one myself, though their excellent depreciation (they seriously seem to barely depreciate) is keeping them just a tad outside of my reach, and I favor shorter wheelbases and revvier engines just a tad more anyway. I’ll have to see if Chris would let me have a go with it on some longer, less-technical sweepers sometime, I’m sure I’d have a real gas revving out 4th gear.