On the heels of its national launch, we pit the new 2022 Subaru WRX against the wildly popular and capable GR Yaris Rallye. Can it keep up?
Mist. It clings to the ferns that crowd the side of the road, thin vapours of it extending like slippery white fingers towards the centre line. It’s late autumn and everywhere else a weak morning sun shines. But not here. This is the Black Spur and there are sections on this treacherous stretch of tarmac that feel as though they’ve never been warmed by the sun. It’s precarious, slippery and more often than not, it’s raining.
Perfect conditions for a pair of rally-bred performance heroes, then…
I’m in the GR Yaris and it feels as though I’ve poked Toyota’s pint-sized homologation special in the eye with a hot stick. It’s angry, energised and, despite the changeable grip levels, it’s breathtakingly quick.
A front-drive rival would struggle here. Understeer would sap your fun but the Toyota’s tricky front diff, clever all-wheel drive system and punchy 1.6-turbo are making short work of the Black Spur’s flurry of turns.
It’s certainly quicker than the new WRX. I glimpse the Subaru’s headlights as they scythe through the mist and realise it’s falling further and further behind. Not for the first time I wonder if something is amiss with the latest version of Subaru’s rally icon…
It’s been controversial from the off, this fifth-gen REX. See those black plastic wheelarch surrounds? Boy did they polarise the internet when Subaru revealed this new car last year. Never mind that the plastic is finished with a cool dimpled texture, like a golf ball, that Subaru says helps to tame turbulent air as it sweeps down the side of the car.
Most people just thought the treatment was ugly. Throw in more more character lines than a Jackson Pollock and a rear end that’s 50 percent black plastic and the general consensus was the new WRX was a swing and a miss in the looks department.
Then we drove it for the first time and the question marks kept coming. Subaru has dialled back the iconic boxer burble so that even when you’re driving it hard, this new model doesn’t really sound like a WRX. And if you hop behind the wheel of the new WRX wagon, it doesn’t really drive like one either.
The wagon is 100kg heavier than the sedan, has skinner, efficiency focused tyres and a softer suspension tune so if you’re chasing a traditional WRX experience, it’s not the one to go for. Really, it’s a Levorg wearing a WRX badge.
Which is why we’ve chosen a manual RS sedan for this test. Of all the models in the new WRX range, which is now bigger and more expensive than ever, it’s the most capable and performance focused.
And at $50,490 before on-roads, the mid-spec Subie also lines up nicely against the GR Yaris for price. We have the $54,500 GR Rallye on this test, but opt for the regular GR and it’s actually cheaper than the WRX at $49,500.
Now you might consider this a slightly odd comparison, given there’s a considerable size difference between this pair. The WRX is 675mm longer, 20mm wider and rides on a wheelbase that’s 115mm longer. It’s also a whopping 250kg heavier than the terrier-sized Yaris, which we’ll get to later…
But here’s the problem. All of the WRX’s similarly sized price point rivals – a Golf GTI, Hyundai i30N or Skoda Octavia RS – are front-wheel-drive only. And a Golf R or Mercedes-AMG A35, which do offer all-wheel drive, are around $20K more than the WRX.
Casting a net to find an all-wheel-drive performance car for around $50K doesn’t yield as rich a catch as it once did. And anyway, we’d argue that when it comes to its rally-bred philosophy, the GR Yaris is the REX’s most logical rival.
They certainly look the part, parked on the side of the road and covered in grime. For all the controversy about its design, the Subaru is surprisingly convincing in the metal.
“Looks crap in pictures but great in person!” shouts once passerby, completely unbidden. I couldn’t agree more. It’s taut, well proportioned and aggressive without being over the top. I even like the dimpled plastic.
If it’s visual drama you’re chasing, though, the GR is in a different league. Its flared guards, pinched haunches and minuscule overhangs channel the mental homologation specials of the ’80s. And its bespoke details – the carbon roof, pillar-less doors and plaque that reads “Developed for FIA World Rally Championship” – give it a feeling of uniqueness you don’t get with the Subaru.
The same can’t be said when you slip in inside, however. We’ve been over the shortcomings of the GR’s interior before so won’t kick it mercilessly here but let’s just say it’s…compromised.
The seats are set too high, there’s limited cabin storage, hard plastics abound and the twin back seats are cramped, dark and only have enough room for kids. Or adults you don’t like very much. The boot is minuscule, too, at 174L.
The Subaru’s interior is palatial in comparison. This new WRX is now built on Subaru’s global platform and isn’t only significantly bigger than the Yaris, but it’s the largest WRX ever. The good news is Subaru’s engineers haven’t squandered this newfound space: the cabin feels genuinely roomy.
You sit lower than you do in the Toyota (although I still wish the driver’s seat could drop by another 20mm or so), the storage cubbies are more generous and the cabin ambience is considerably richer thanks to a greater use of soft-touch materials.
The rear seat is also big enough for adults thanks to plenty of knee- and toe-room, although taller passengers might brush their heads on the ceiling. And the WRX’s boot offers more than twice the load-lugging ability of the GR at 411 litres.
It’s a bloodbath in the Subie’s favour for interior tech, too. Like the Outback, the WRX uses Subaru’s 11.6-inch portrait style touchscreen and it’s excellent. Quick to respond and logically laid out, it makes the Toyota’s clumsy 7.0-inch system feel a generation behind. Both systems support wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, though neither offer wireless charging which is a shame.
Equipment wise it’s mostly a level playing field that sees each car score and concede some points (the Yaris has a heated steering wheel and head-up display but misses out on the Subaru’s steering responsive headlights, for example) but while the WRX is by far the nicer place to spend extended periods of time, it does make a few missteps when it comes to safety.
Every WRX scores blind-spot monitoring and rear-cross traffic alert but manual cars aren’t fitted with Subaru’s desirable EyeSight active safety system. That means they miss out on potentially life-saving tech like Autonomous Emergency Braking, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning/prevention and adaptive cruise control.
It’s a confounding omission that also plagues manual versions of the Subaru BRZ. One anecdotal explanation is it’s hard to engineer those systems to work with manual cars, but given the Yaris has AEB, adaptive cruise and lane-departure warning, that doesn’t hold water.
Still, frustrating equipment compromises aside, the WRX’s cabin trounces the GR for everyday comfort and usability. And that same sense of quality and maturity continues in how the new WRX drives.
The seating position is more natural and lower to the ground than the hot seat in the Toyota. And the Subie’s extra wheelbase and wider track give it a more planted feel, which, on these slippery roads, breeds confidence.
Everything seems to carry a layer of teflon-coated polish that you don’t get in the GR. The steering is accurate and a natural speed, the ride on passive dampers is more compliant and controlled and the cabin is quieter thanks to less suspension and road noise intrusion.
The brakes are excellent, too, which hasn’t always been a WRX strength and they only add to your sense of confidence in tricky conditions. Dive deep into a corner, trail the brake to the apex and the front end points obediently as you feed in the throttle.
You can unstick the rear if you try really hard, and on dirt the WRX is a willing and sideways companion, but on tarmac benign understeer is the overriding chassis balance.
I just wish the powertrain was more involving. Much excitement surrounded Subaru’s move to fit its larger capacity 2.4-litre turbo in the new WRX, with many hoping it’d make the car feel like a giant, turbocharged BRZ. That hasn’t really transpired. The new engine is effectively a revised version of the FA20 donk fitted to the old WRX but Subaru says it has made 56 revisions to the internals.
There are larger conrods, a different crank, overhauled valve timing and a new intercooler that’s similar to the unit in the old STi. Weight has been stripped out, too – Subaru claims this new engine is seven percent lighter than the old 2.0-litre.
Performance hasn’t increased in the way you might expect, however. Power is up 5kW to 202kW and torque remains unchanged at 350Nm, but where Subaru has found some gains is in how linear the boxer engine now feels. Not that you can really tell it’s a boxer anymore…Despite its quad exhausts the new WRX is disappointingly quiet, as though someone has pressed the mute button on a core component of the REX’s personality.
The turbo three-pot in the GR is instantly more engaging. Even at low speed you can hear pronounced turbo flutter as you come off the throttle and at full noise, it’s properly exciting. There is some artificial enhancement going on, which won’t be to everyone’s taste, but after the Subaru’s subdued soundtrack the Yaris is a welcome assault on the senses.
It feels properly venomous, too. Both cars produce around 200kW on paper but the huge weight difference between them (1516kg for the WRX plays 1280kg for the GR Yaris) means the Toyota is considerably more urgent. Its power-to-weight ratio of 156kW/tonne smashes the Subie’s 133kW and you have more revs to play with, too.
Where it’s easy to nudge the WRX’s 6000rpm redline, the GR doesn’t hit the rev cut until 7400rpm and you’re rewarded with a feral buzz as it rushes through the top of the rev range.
The rest of the controls are more involving, too. The steering (2.1 turns lock-to-lock) is heavier and more quick witted, the gearbox throw is shorter and you don’t have to move your hand as far away from the wheel.
Everything feels closer, more intense, and more manic in the GR. Hustle it up a challenging section of road and its firmer, more rigidly mounted suspension bounces, skips and jostles. Your body bumps into the seat bolsters and you often find yourself waiting for the car to settle before you can properly lean into the throttle. There are some visibility issues to contend with, too.
Try to peer through a left-hand turn and your eyeline is impeded by the rear-view mirror which forces you to hunch and twist, which isn’t ideal at high speed.
The Toyota runs grippier Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber compared to the Subaru’s Dunlop Sport Maxx GT, and the Yaris’s level of adhesion, and pace, is ultimately higher. But in these precarious conditions there’s also a degree of separation from the front axle you don’t have in the Subaru.
Understanding how hard to commit into a corner can be something of a guessing game and if you get it wrong, the GR certainly feels more knife edged than the WRX. Blame its shorter wheelbase, narrower track and higher seating position but where you can have a slide and recover in the WRX, breaking traction on wet roads in the Toyota can be properly panic inducing.
Get it right, however, and the GR is easily the quicker and more rewarding car to drive fast. Its all-wheel-drive system feels more advanced and performance orientated (you can alter the torque split by cycling through the drive modes) and the way you can use the front diff to tighten your line as you rocket out of corners is seriously addictive.
It’s certainly the faster and more athletic of this pair but does that make the GR Yaris the better performance all-rounder for $50K? It’s a question that’s caused me some discomfort as I’ve mulled it over in the days since our test. When the photographer asked us to shoot some ‘dynamic cornering’ I found myself favouring the Yaris. But when the time came for the three-hour drive home, I couldn’t grab the Subie’s key quick enough.
Ultimately it’ll come down to what you prioritise: personality or practicality. The Yaris is a fighty, shouty, hyperactive little unit. If you invited it to a party it’d arrive late, drink all the booze, try to snog your mum and then throw your TV in the pool. It’s exciting, boisterous and, at times, annoyingly tiresome. Weirdly the Toyota delivers an experience similar to the one that attracted so many of us to the WRX 25 years ago.
Today’s WRX has mellowed. You get the sense its partying days are almost behind it and it’d now prefer a glass of good red. And if you bought a WRX back in the ’90s or early ’00s, you might feel exactly the same way. Just like its core demographic, Subie’s icon has matured. It’s still just as capable but it’s also a little more reserved and a touch softer around the middle.
It’s a shame Subaru won’t make an STI version this time around because this new WRX feels a solid base from which to build something properly enticing. The WRX legend was forged on it being a giant slayer but in its current guise, it feels like there’s potential being left on the table.
The flip side, however, is you can easily mount a convincing case that this newfound maturity makes this the best WRX ever. It’s quicker, more refined and more luxurious than ever. And if it’s going to be your daily driver, or you need a car with rear seats you can actually use, it’s the clear pick of this duo. But here’s the rub.
There’s a hoard of other $50K performance cars that offer all of that and are either more polished or more exciting to drive. Yes, you lose the performance benefits of all-wheel drive, but a Golf GTI, Hyundai i30 N and Civic Type R all provide a compellingly rounded experience. Which makes excitement the ultimate yardstick in this test. And on that front, the imperfect Toyota is the winner.
2022 SUBARU WRX: 7.5/10
What we liked
- Loads of grip and ability
- Cabin now more luxurious with great infotainment
- Rock solid and fun on dirt
Not so much…
- Doesn’t sound angry enough
- Manual cars miss out on active safety, rear air vents and adaptive dampers
- Headroom tight in the back
2022 TOYOTA GR YARIS RALLYE: 8.0/10
What we liked
- Epic engine, genuine homologation special
- Challenging and exciting to drive fast
- Clever AWD system
Not so much…
- Driver’s seat is too high, visibility is poor
- Can feel edgy at the limit
- Ergonomic flaws & off the pace infotainment
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2022 Subaru WRX and 2022 Toyota GR Yaris Rallye specifications
|2022 Subaru WRX sedan||2022 Toyota GR Yaris Rallye|
|Body||five door, five seat sedan||three door, four seat hatch|
|Drive||all-wheel drive||all-wheel drive|
|Engine||2387cc 4cyl boxer, dohc, 16v, turbo||1618cc inline 3cyl, DPHC, 12v, turbo|
|Power||202kW @ 5600rpm||200kW @ 6500rpm|
|Torque||350Nm @ 2000-5200rpm||370Nm @ 3000-4600rpm|
|0-100km/h||6.0sec (estimated)||5.2sec (tested)|
|Transmission||6-speed manual||6-speed manual|
|Fuel consumption||16.4L/100km (tested)||14.1L/100km (tested)|
|Front suspension||Macpherson strut, coil springs, anti-roll bar||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|Rear suspension||double wishbone, coil springs, anti-roll bar||multi-links, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|Brakes||Ventilated discs (front + rear)||Ventilated discs (front + rear)|
|Tyres||245/40R18 Dunlop Sport Maxx GT||225/40ZR18 Michelin Pilot Sport 4S|
|Wheels||18-inch alloy||18-inch alloy|
|Price||$44,990 before on-roads||$54,500 before on-roads|