If you’re looking for captivating performance in a small car, the 2018 Subaru WRX will not disappoint. The latest in a borderline-legendary family, the current WRX retains the traits that made it a performance icon – a turbocharged flat-four engine, standard all-wheel drive, and an awesome hood scoop.

Best Value

Subaru offers the 2018 WRX in Premium and Limited trims. A WRX STI model is marketed separately. This sedan seats five and comes with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and your choice of manual or continuously variable automatic transmissions.

We selected the WRX Limited ($32,455, including an $860 destination charge) as our best value pick. It builds on the Premium model’s fog lights, 18-inch alloy wheels, moonroof, heated front seats, and seven-inch color display by adding LED headlights for improved visibility, keyless entry with push-button start, leather upholstery with a 10-way power driver's seat, and Subaru's StarLink telematics suite. At just $2,300 more than the WRX Premium, it's a solid bargain.

While we recommend the WRX with a six-speed manual transmission, the available continuously variable automatic is the only way to get Subaru's EyeSight active safety system. We aren't recommending this setup not only because the CVT isn't nearly as entertaining as the WRX's manual, but because getting EyeSight and the CVT drives the price up $4,500 ($1,200 for the transmission and $3,300 for the active safety gear). Ultimately, if safety is a major concern, consider the turbocharged Forester XT, which offers thrilling performance and active safety in a package that isn't as compromised by a CVT.

  • Model: 2018 Subaru WRX Limited
  • Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged flat-4 engine
  • Output: 268 hp/258 lb. ft.
  • Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission
  • Drivetrain: All-wheel drive
  • MPG: 21 City / 27 Highway
  • Options: N/A
  • Base Price: $32,455 (including $860 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price: $32,455

Performance

SUbaru WRX

Quick off the line, the WRX's 2.0-liter manages turbo lag well. Strong low-end torque carries into the middle of the rev range, but falls off quickly as the northern end of the tachometer comes into play. That's not a terribly surprising trait for a turbo-four, though. Strong acceleration and excellent passing power is typical for the WRX line. Subaru's characteristic growl is on full display with the WRX, although it's only really obvious when pushed hard – in normal cruising, the iconic noise is subdued and easy to tolerate.

The six-speed manual's shifter is light and the gates feel solid, although the manual transmission does occasionally require some strong arming. Subaru could improve on the clutch, which is vague and occasionally too fast to engage, making smooth shifts difficult.

The WRX’s brake-based torque vectoring is a delight on the corners and helps keep this sedan planted on twisty roads, along with a firm suspension, a low-ish center of gravity. The steering is fast, but there's not as much feedback or tenacity as the WRX's discontinued rival, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X. The ride itself can be uncomfortable on rough roads, too, which is somewhat surprising considering Subaru's rally heritage – we figured a softer ride to better handle dirt roads would be a core part of the WRX ethos.

Style

One thing about performance models is they tend to skew toward such excesses as snarling noses and oversized skirting. Although not having quite the stealth presence of the Volkswagen Golf R, the Subaru WRX is tamer than the Ford Focus RS.

Keep in mind you’ll have to invest in another set of tires as the WRX comes with alloy wheels wrapped within summer tires. If you live in the snow belt, winter tires make sense – with its standard all-wheel-drive system, a WRX shod in winter rubber is virtually unstoppable in the snow (with a skilled driver at the helm, it is unstoppable).

Inside, the cabin is simpler than competing models, although the big touchscreen and the driver information display impart visual interest and are highly useful. Still, you’ll find plastics wherever soft-touch materials aren’t present.

The flat-bottomed steering wheel is wrapped in thickly padded leather and the red stitching offers an attractive touch. The performance-design seats are not Recaro (although they are available as optional extras on WRX Premium and WRX STI), but they are sufficiently bolstered, easily adjustable, and comfortable. The requisite aluminum-alloy pedals are present.

The Best and Worst Things

While it's positioned below the range-topping STI, the standard WRX isn't dramatically slower than its 305-horsepower counterpart – drive both before deciding, because the WRX's price/performance ratio is very appealing.

The worst thing about this model, at least in the eyes of Subie fans, is the hatchback version is no more. That’s been a sore point for enthusiasts since 2015, something the automaker isn’t likely to amend anytime soon (despite building an Impreza Five-Door for mainstream consumers).

Right For?

SUbaru WRX

Performance enthusiasts. The advantage of standard all-wheel drive makes the WRX a strong selling point in the segment, and at price and performance level that's more accessible than a Ford Focus RS or Volkswagen Golf R.

Wrong For?

Shoppers looking for a more economical and efficient small car will be better served with a more mainstream small car – the Subaru WRX is a performer through and through, despite its relation to the mainstream Impreza. Consider Subaru's basic small sedan if you're looking for standard all-wheel drive with efficiency and a sub-$30,000 price tag.

The Bottom Line

If you like your performance in a manageable package, the Subaru WRX is your ticket. Ringing up under $33,000, the WRX, even in its top form, is an affordable alternative to Ford and Volkswagen's hottest hatchbacks.