The ultimate sleeper. The Subaru WRX has long been a favorite of import tuner because it’s not only fast, but it doesn’t look like much either. This earned it the sleeper badge and, other than its STI variant with its massive spoiler and more aggressive styling, the WRX has retained these looks to this day.

In a segment that includes over-the-top performance compacts like the Honda Civic Type R and Hyundai Veloster N, are these understated looks still a good thing? Find out below.

Borders on boring. Sleepers are great if that’s what you’re after: An unassuming car that comes to life at the call of your right foot. But for many performance compact car buyers, the 2021 Subaru WRX looks too much like an ordinary family car – save for the hood scoop.

But it’s not just the fact that it looks ordinary, as plenty of cars do. It’s that the 2021 WRX borders on bland – even for a regular family sedan. There is almost nothing to be excited by in its design, and its last redesign was way back in 2012.

Its style is an acquired taste. Buyers seeking a performance compact with a little more style may find what they need in the Honda Civic Type R or Hyundai Veloster N.

Subaru WRX

All that aside, it’s quick… real quick. Looks aside, there’s no denying the WRX has enjoyed dominance in the compact performance space. While It now has company at the top, the WRX is still impressive. With its 2.0-liter boxer-four that pumps out 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, all-wheel drive, and standard six-speed manual transmission, the WRX blows by 60 mph in about five seconds.

An available CVT features a trick all-wheel-drive setup that uses an electro-hydraulic center differential clutch to distribute power, but it doesn’t feel as sporty as the six-speed.

Buyers seeking an automatic transmission in a performance compact that doesn’t trade off performance feel will like the 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI’s seven-speed dual-clutch unit. There is about a 40-hp tradeoff, though, which leads to the GTI being about a second slower to 60 mph.

Opt for the STI variant, and the power jumps to 310 hp and 290 lb-ft for a roughly 4.5-second sprint to 60 mph. The STI is a manual-only rig, and it gets a special customizable center diff the drive can tune in themselves.

While the WRX STI is rally-ready right out of the box, it can be a brutal daily driver.

Roomy seating, but the cabin is dated. The 2021 Subaru WRX has well-bolstered Recaro seats that wrap around you nicely without feeling too tight. There’s also ample room in the rear seats for two adults – or three for a short distance.

Where the WRX struggles is its 12-cubic-foot trunk, which is barely enough for a week’s worth of groceries. Sure, the rear seats fold for more space, but that’s not going to add much to it.

This is where the long-discontinued WRX hatchback one shined. All the WRX’s key rivals are hatchbacks, and they offer far more cargo space with their seats upright. The Civic Type R rings in at 25.7 cubes; the Veloster N boasts 19.9 cubes; and even the tiny Golf GTI has 17.4 cubes. Drop these hatchback’s rear seats, and their capacities increase to 46.2 cubes, 44.5 cubes, and 53.7 cubes, respectively.

On top of its limited cargo room, the WRX’s cabin is nothing to get excited about. The beefy steering wheel and metal pedals are nice touches, but the rest looks like a down-market family sedan. And things get worse once you move into the $40,000 STI and realize it’s the same basic cabin.

Final thoughts. The WRX is a niche vehicle. Whoever buys a WRX likely knew they wanted a WRX and purposefully drove straight to a Subaru dealer to buy it. They passed every Honda, Hyundai, and VW on the way, not giving the Civic Type R, Veloster N, or GTI a thought. These shoppers have made up their minds.

The small percentage of performance compact buyers who don’t know what they want will have a tough decision. The WRX remains dominant in performance, but its styling may push them to the more aggressive Civic Type R or Veloster N.

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