The 2018 Subaru WRX is a stiff, but rewarding, performance sedan

New technology and interior updates make Subaru's hot sedan more livable.

The WRX hints at its racy side with the large hood scoop and aerodynamic body work.
The WRX hints at its racy side with the large hood scoop and aerodynamic body work. –George Kennedy

Though technically a sedan, the Subaru WRX is really a sports car — it just happens to have four doors. Subaru sought to make the WRX even more usable for daily life, including the addition of new safety technology and an updated infotainment touchscreen system.

The WRX sees subtle exterior changes for 2018, including revised front styling and a redesigned front grille that’s now a bit more aggressive. The WRX’s low body work, rear lip spoiler, integrated hood scoop, side vents, and quad exhaust all hint at its performance, but it’s never over the top; that’s left to the more hardcore WRX STI.

The quad exhaust tips emit a menacing note. —George Kennedy
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Subaru updated the WRX’s interior for 2018 to make it more livable. This includes a new infotainment system, which seems like it’s lifted right out of a previous-generation Toyota Camry, and that’s not a bad thing. The cabin’s layout is simple with easy-to-use controls, but it’s not particularly upscale. At times, it feels pretty drab, especially compared with the rival Volkswagen GTI.

Our test model came with the optional Recaro performance bucket seats, including an eight-way power driver’s seat. It’s part of a performance package that also includes upgraded performance brakes. These seats bolster well, but they’re a little tight.

The cabin of the WRX is basic but functional. —George Kennedy
Boston.com Dealer Specials:

An additional trip computer is located atop the center console that’s operated via a toggle above the main touchscreen. It includes performance stats such as the status of the turbocharger as it cranks up the boost on the 2.0-liter, four-cylinder boxer engine, which makes 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent through a six-speed manual transmission to Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive. The WRX is also available with a continuously variable transmission, which is a curious choice for a performance car, but it still manages power from the engine well.

The WRX is also offered as the hardcore STI. It comes with a more powerful 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine making 305 horsepower. It also has more aggressive fins and body work, and an even stiffer suspension. The STI is only available with the six-speed manual transmission.

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Acceleration is brisk, delivering a surprising swell in the middle of the power band. Gearing on the manual is more about performance, making the 1-2 shift in traffic a bit of a chore. It can be tough as a commuter car in the city, but in the suburbs, you can let it stretch out a bit more.

The WRX’s turbocharged boxer engine. —George Kennedy

Comparatively, the Volkswagen GTI is smoother while providing an equally rewarding ride. As for the WRX, the turn-in and steering response are wonderful. You have to really want that driving feel and fantastic exhaust note in order to sacrifice a bit of comfort.

The manual version of the WRX returns a fuel economy of 21 miles per gallon in the city, 27 on the highway, and 23 combined. With the CVT, that falls to 18 in the city, 24 on the highway, and 21 combined.

The WRX is now available with Subaru’s Eyesight suite of safety technologies, including forward-collision warning and avoidance, lane-departure warning, and adaptive cruise control. Standalone safety options include blind-spot monitoring and automatic high beams.

The WRX is more at home on country roads than in the city. —George Kennedy

Base MSRP for the 2018 Subaru WRX is $26,995. Our Premium test model starts at $29,295, but with the optional performance package and destination charges, it came to $32,205.

That’s quite a sum for a commuter car, especially when more sedate offerings deliver most of the performance and plenty more creature comforts. If you prize the experience of a spirited drive and value a friendly commuter vehicle, the WRX is now just a bit more livable for daily use.

Under the Hood:

Engine: Turbocharged 2.0 boxer opposing four-cylinder
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Drivetrain: All-wheel drive
Power: 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque
0-60 acceleration: 5.5 seconds
Top Speed: 144 miles per hour
Also Consider: Volkswagen GTI, Ford Focus ST, Mazda3

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George Kennedy is a freelance automotive journalist and automotive expert. You can reach him at George.h.kennedy.iii@gmail.com and on Twitter @GKenns101.