When the WRX first appeared here in 2002, we found this rally-car inspired version of the Impreza sedan very engaging: a genuine sports car with tons of power and super-sharp handling lodged within a mild-mannered, all-wheel-drive, four-door sedan. The current "Rex" carries on that tradition, and it tests out very well in some areas. But we like it a lot less, because the typical car became more civilized over the past decade and the WRX has not. Like a talented teenager who just won't grow up, after a while the lack of subtlety gets irritating.
While staying true to the established formula, the current WRX is a little larger than the last generation, affording a more spacious rear seat; the five-speed manual transmission became a six-speed; and higher trims now offer a CVT automatic. For 2018, the WRX has a freshened exterior, revised suspension, upgraded interior, and new EyeSight features. Despite evolving, the car feels surprisingly raw, remaining a track-ready racer aimed at the serious driving enthusiast. Acceleration is ferociously quick and handling remains enormously capable. But the powerband is narrow and hard to moderate, so power delivery feels jerky. A stiff clutch and clunky shifter make everyday driving a chore.
You have to be truly young at heart to enjoy the real-world driving experience. The ride is jarring on all but the smoothest roads, and nonstop engine drone fills the cabin. Controls are simple, arguably too simple for this car's millennial/digital-native target audience. The base audio system's Bluetooth, phone, and voice command structure are rudimentary and behind the times.
On the plus side, the WRX shares the Impreza's practical four-door layout and easy visibility, with an adult-scale rear seat and roomy trunk. No one should doubt that the WRX serves up a hot meal. It's just that refinement and finesse aren't on the menu, and the chef tore the lid off the spice jar.