Here has Car and driver, we take our title pretty seriously. We rarely reluctantly give up control of the wheel. But if we have to, we’re happy it’s for someone like Scott Speed. A three-time Global Rallycross winner, Speed has raced in virtually every series including Formula 1, NASCAR and Formula E. Speed signed with Subaru Rally Team USA in 2019, making him the ideal spearhead to present the new Subaru 2022. WRX.
Our shotgun tour takes place in Southern California on the Thermal Club’s aptly named Desert Circuit, where the temperature hovers around 110 degrees. Up first is a manual version in a searing solar orange shade. The gear releases the clutch and we come out of the hot pits and head for the 1.7 mile course. “We will do two rounds,” he said. “One for warming up and the other for speed.” Except that he does nothing of the sort. The speed avoids overheating, choosing instead to bury the throttle. Which is quite good, on this short circuit, two laps will be finished quickly anyway. You might as well make good use of it. When charging towards the first corner, Speed exchanges the first gear for the second. Subaru says it worked to make the engine more responsive to improve shifting performance, and the rpm drop rather than lock up during the throttle and clutch sequence.
As we come out of that corner, the speed picks up and the WRX rushes forward. On paper, the performance specs aren’t much different from before: the new 2.4-liter turbo flat-four only produces three more horsepower than the old 2.0-liter, coming in at the same rpm. 5,600 rpm. The peak torque of 258 lb-ft is unchanged. Still, there’s no denying the feeling of a bigger push as we descend the straight line.
New from the ground up, the WRX now rolls on Subaru’s global platform, which also underpins virtually everything in the company’s lineup. From the first moment you step inside, it’s clear the WRX feels a lot more upscale than before. The 11.6-inch touchscreen is the focal point of the upgraded cabin and erases memories of the previous generation’s econocar bones. The seats could still use more lateral thigh support during track use, but for everyday riding they will offer a lot of support.
At the end of the two laps, Speed enters the pits so that we can move on to the top-of-the-range GT. This model features adaptive three-stage dampers and only ships with, wait, a continuously variable transmission.
Normally you wouldn’t expect a CVT to be able to shift gears, but this one does. An eight-speed manual mode is accessed via the shift paddles and does a surprisingly good job of emulating actual gears. Just before the red line, Speed pulls on the right paddle and the CVT instantly responds with a decisive blow, accompanied by a hard punch from the exhaust. The WRX continues to pull hard down the straight, generating enough momentum to bring the tachometer needle back to over six thousand. The engine rolls back to the limit as the transmission holds on tight, waiting for Speed to command another higher gear. As we brake for cornering and downshifts, the rpm even ramps up to match the lower gear. All in all, it’s a convincing performance of this transmission with a chain between two pulleys.
Speed drives most of the lap with the GT’s shocks in their stiffest Sport setting. As the last corner approaches, it launches the Riding Mode page on the touchscreen. “You will see a big difference between Comfort and Sport,” he says, choosing the former. This is because the WRX shows noticeable body roll as we round the top. For now, adaptive dampers are exclusive to the GT model; Subaru doesn’t say if it will eventually find its way to the manual versions.
On the next lap, Speed lets the drivetrain make the decisions while he focuses on his trajectory. This time he’s much more aggressive as he enters the turn, using a left-foot braking touch to keep his nose pointed in the right direction. As the final left-right-left sequence approaches, Speed lifts the wheel to lift off the rear end.
As we glance at the driver’s seat, we realize that Speed would love nothing more than to perform this action instead on a thick bed of gravel, a mud-strewn trail, or a passageway. snowy. And who can blame him? He and the WRX are both rally champions, finding success beyond the confines of membership.
And more than ever, the WRX looks great. Its styling is unabashedly awkward, with its bulging wings and voluminous angles. While they look like a shape a child would make using safety scissors, the plastic-covered wheel arches are useful and perfect, ready to repel an onslaught of projectile limestone. We think it’s a design that will get better the more it gets dirty.
While our meeting was ridiculously short, our time behind the wheel of the WRX will come soon enough. We can only hope that our prolonged driving will take us off the asphalt and cause us to drift. We know Speed would approve.
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