2020 Subaru WRX Review

2020 Subaru WRX - Subaru's white knight shines bright


Subaru dares to be different; in part out of necessity.  

Toyota, Nissan and Honda reflect the Big Three Japan-based automakers.  Subaru lacks substantial size, muscle and Yen to compete head to head with the top sales trio, so creative strategies come into play

One way Subaru stands apart; a pared-down lineup of small-to-midsized vehicles.  No pickup trucks or super-structured, body-on-frame Sport Utility Vehicles dot their dealership landscape. Instead, expect sedans, wagons and crossovers priced within the middle class mindset.

Also of note;  all-wheel drive comes standard in every Subaru, save for the low-volume two-seat BRZ.  However, not every all-wheel drive system is created equally and Subaru offers four unique all-wheel drive set ups, including one exclusive to our tester this week.  

Targeted marketing efforts help it stand tall within numerous sub cultures, including its 'Subaru Loves Pets' initiative encouraging pet adoptions and welfare pleasing pet parents everywhere.

Finally, all Subaru's feature horizontally-opposed, longitudinally-mounted 'Boxer' engines, also known as 'flat four' with pistons lying flat at 180 degrees, riding shallower in the upfront engine compartment . This results in a lower center of gravity translating to enhanced handling and agility.

This week's Subaru ride, the2020 WRX STI Series White best describes as a specialty selection tucked within a performance sector.

The current generation WRX debuted in the 2015 model year with five trims: Base, Premium, Limited, STI and STI Limited.  The STIs upgrade with a larger engine, stiffer chassis/suspension and larger brakes. Prior to 2015, Subaru marketed WRX as member of the compact, Impreza family of sedans before spinning off and splitting into its own higher performance stand-alone choice.

Powering STI versions, a 2.5-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder Boxer engine delivering 310 horsepower and interacting with three drive modes: Intelligent, Sport and Sport Sharp. This upgrades from the conventional WRX's 2.0-liter, turbo four delivering 268 horsepower.  

But what exactly does STI signify? Way back in 1988, the diminutive Japanese automaker opened the door to 'Subaru Tecnica International' (STI), a corner of Subaru's starred universe where engineers turned geeky gearheads could tinker with theories and concepts during the week, then test out said concepts on the weekend at real-world racetrack circuits.

Unbridled testing paid dividends in 2004, as Subaru introduced its first track-inspired vehicle for public consumption here in the U.S., the compact WRX STI.  

Tweaks for 2020 WRX STI trims remain minimal, including standard push-button electronic start, revised front bumper featuring cooling bays and a limited run (500 units) of the nifty 'Series White' edition. The ceramic white exterior paints a visual statement when combined with the 19-inch BBS-branded matte bronze aluminum alloy wheels sporting track-inspired summer performance tires, providing an abundance of interior feedback when pushed into highway duty.

Also unique to Series White, heavy-duty steering rack mounts providing increased rigidity between the steering rack and vehicle body. Monoblock Brembo-branded disc brake silver-finish calipers enhance stopping performance big time and team with a Blistein-branded, very stiff suspension. Series White saves weight by ditching the spare tire for a tire repair kit.

The Series White of 2020 is not dissimilar in spirit to the Series Gray WRX STI off shoot in 2019, a low-volume, highly adorned premium-badged alternative.

The two 2020 performance-centric STI trims offer limited slip front and rear differentials combined with a driver-controlled center differential. These differential differences allow drivers to fine-tune power distribution to the wheels.  

The driver-controlled center differential, located between front bucket seats, includes an 'auto' setting allowing in-car computers to adjust front/rear wheel power distribution. A 'manual' selection provides pilot's the chance to tap into one of six lock settings, useful on track days when a rear-drive bias rules.

The WRX STI's standard six-speed manual transmission includes a heavy foot clutch as well as a right-hand shifter with minimal-length throws.  It's the sole STI transmission also standard in the other three WRX trims, but these trims also offer an optional, less-thrilling continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Pricing starts at $36,995 for the Base WRX, a mere $400 more than a 2019 version.  Our Series White, specially loaded and tuned WRX STI checked in at $42,695.  Add $900 for destination charge.

A harsh ride couples with lousy fuel economy (requiring premium fuel), prominent engine noise and an interior design with an anti-posh attitude, but STI prioritizes a daring, unfiltered road warrior experience. It's a bit old-school in that regard and a ton of fun.

A prominent, functional, open-air scoop adorns the hood, cooling engine components.  At the other end, high-flow performance, quad exhausts don the lower back. A short trunk deck lid sports one of the more notable spoilers not sourced via an aftermarket provider. Employing a handy tape measure, 10 inches of air flow exists from base to wing top.  A lower-profile spoiler comes as an option only with STI Limited trims.

Inside, front buckets boast a firm supportive, some may consider stiff backstops, ideal for aging backs. It's a raised position when compared to two-seat sports coupe with a lower-to-the ground approach such as Subaru's own BRZ coupe.

The top-central dashboard includes a multi-panel information screen with top-side brim keeping glare at bay with a nearby toggle button below to choose among a half-dozen or so screen options.  

The larger, easy-read instrument panel includes two circular analog gauges; a tachometer with small gas gauge tucked into the southwest corner and speedometer (top speed of 180 mph) with temperature gauge adorning the southwest. Both sport 'hot-rod' red needles with white numerals. A single-pane digital window resides between.

The returning in-dash, seven-inch multi-function touch screen, sizeable in 2015, skews towards the smaller end of the spectrum in 2020, interacting with Subaru's Starlink infotainment system and Bluetooth interface with easily interpreted icons. Apple Car Play and Android Auto Smartphone connections come standard interacting with the in-dash screen.

Two old school yet highly effective twist knobs speed volume and station selections, as do secondary tabs found on the flat-bottom steering wheel face. Since we're rocking old school, a compact disc player comes standard, too. Below the color screen reside three sizeable, tactile twist dials handling dual temperature zone settings and fan speed. Each dial includes duo half-moon interior push plates for summoning air conditioning, vent along with front and rear defrosters.

All four doors include ceiling handles, useful to outboard passengers during spirited maneuvers.  Although compact in size, three riders can squeeze into row two, with decent head room; two ride with optimal comfort.  A vertical center floor hump limits leg room for middle riders.  Seat backs fold with a 60/40 split gaining access to additional trunk storage.

Subaru translates from Japanese as 'unite,' a reference to the company's six stars within its oval logo representing the six companies united under Fuji Heavy Industries (Subaru's parent company). This blue background oval appears on the steering wheel, deck lid and the diminutive honeycomb-filled grille with red, horizontal STI bar.

Subaru sales U.S. circa 2019 topped 700,000 units for the very first time.  The 700,117 count represented a three percent rise from 2018.

2020 Subaru WRX STI

Price as tested:  $43,595

Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder turbo

Horsepower: 310

Wheelbase: 104.3 inches

Overall length: 181.3 inches

Overall width: 70.7 inches

Overall height: 58.1 inches

Curb weight: 3,395 pounds

Powertrain warranty:  Five years/60,000 miles

Fuel economy:  16 mpg city 22 mpg highway

Assembly:  Japan

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.