Scaggs Springs Road in California’s Napa Valley poses a challenge for car and driver alike. Winding through mountainous terrain from Hwy 101 to the coast, it unfolds under a canopy of trees that rarely allow light in to dry off the tight bumpy tarmac. The day after a December rainstorm, the road is wetter than usual and the temperature threatens to cover the surface in ice. Few cars can handle these conditions as well as the 2022 Subaru WRX.

Standard all-wheel drive maintains traction on the wet asphalt. Well-tuned dampers that aren’t too firm keep the tires on the road where stiffer suspensions would skip over bumps. And a 2.4-liter turbo-4, which serves up 271 horses through a 6-speed manual transmission, keeps the power at the ready and makes it fun to access.

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

The 2022 Subaru WRX gets a major redesign for 2022 that further distances it from the Impreza compact sedan it’s based on. It rides on the first completely new platform in the car’s 20-year history, the Subaru Global Platform that serves everything from the Ascent full-size SUV to the Impreza, but here it’s modified with a stiffer rear structure and almost four-times as much adhesive to bond the body together. The changes improve front lateral rigidity by 14% and overall torsional rigidity by 28% versus the outgoing model. The stiffer structure is key to making the car handle so well, as are some other important changes.

The electric-assist power steering changes from a single- to a dual-pivot design, which Subaru says reduces friction in the system, makes the steering more direct, and provides more road feel. 

The stiffer structure allows for softer suspension tuning that helps maintain traction and makes the car more livable. Moving the sway bar mounts from the subframe to the body itself improves rigidity and also allows Subaru to use softer subframe bushings for better ride quality.

While the WRX still rides firmer than your typical family sedan, it’s more forgiving than expected and more agile. Turn-in response is notably quick, and the car rotates nicely through turns without trying to push forward or kick out the tail. Subaru didn’t have the new GT model with its adjustable dampers available yet, but the company said only the dampers’ Sport setting is as stiff as the outgoing WRX. The base dampers in manual transmission models are slightly stiffer than those of the outgoing model, but they add internal rebound springs that Subaru says reduce the body lift on the inner wheel and improve stability and maneuverability while turning. They also take the harshness out of impacts, and the overall ride feels more forgiving.

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

The softer damper tuning matches many of the car’s dynamic controls. The steering is light but direct; the clutch has a natural feel with a light pedal travel; and the manual shifter glides easily from gear to gear with positive engagement. I’d prefer a slightly heavier feel in all of these controls, but the feeling is consistent. Heavier steering would provide better highway stability and prevent turning the wheel too far in a corner then having to correct. A heavier clutch pedal and shifter would impart a sportier feel.

Still, the WRX still feels sporty and the softer controls make it easy to live with. They fit with the car’s mission as an everyday sport sedan, as does the standard all-wheel drive. With the manual transmission, the AWD system splits power 50/50 front to rear and comes standard with brake-based torque vectoring. On these bumpy, twisty roads, at least one tire can always find grip.

Subaru offers three levels of stability control: on, off, and Track mode. Track gives the driver more leeway to send the car sideways, while off acts like an absentee parent with no rules. With some steep drop-offs into the underbrush, I choose to keep the stability control active, thank you very much. That’s no problem as I never feel it interceding to brake individual wheels or reduce the power. Even the base setting is fairly forgiving.

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

The engine is new to the WRX, but not to the Subaru lineup. The 2.4-liter turbocharged flat-4 is shared with the Legacy, Outback, and Ascent, but here it features a different turbocharger and an electronic wastegate. The engine makes 271 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, which only represents a gain of 3 hp versus last year’s car. But, Subaru says that the increased displacement, and the new wastegate and air bypass valves in the turbo combine to improve responsiveness.

Paired with the 6-speed manual, this powertrain feels at home on these roller-coaster roads. It has basically the same power as the outgoing engine, but the torque is easier to tap into at lower rpm, which is important when scooting uphill from turn to turn.

On the highway, the engine is less rewarding. Even though it doesn’t rev quickly, the low 6,000-rpm redline can sneak up and leave you without power, which can be a problem in a passing maneuver. It’s clear this engine does time in an SUV because torque is the focus, not the free revving and high redlines typical of sports cars.

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

The interior and exterior fulfill the car’s sporty mission. Inside, every model features sport bucket seats with red contrast stitching  and a small flat-bottomed and flat-sided steering wheel. Those seats spread wide enough for larger folks, but still manage to keep drivers and passengers in place when the road turns twisty, especially the grippier synthetic suede in the Limited and GT models. Aluminum pedal covers add an extra sporty touch in all but the base model.

From the outside, the 2022 WRX looks much different than its Impreza sibling. It’s more expressive and dramatic with its bodywork. The body stretches about two inches wider than the Impreza with a rear rack that’s 1.2 inches wider. It’s also 1.2 inches wider than the last model and 2.9 inches longer on a wheelbase that’s 0.9 longer. The fenders bulge more prominently than ever, and the rear diffuser has more creases and creeps further up the rear fascia. Up front, the signature hexagonal grille nestles between standard LED headlights and below a prominent hood scoop. Most noticeably, cladding surrounds the wheel wells. There’s no mistaking this WRX for a basic Impreza economy car.

For 2022, Subaru also extends the WRX range upward with a new GT model that features those adjustable dampers and comes only with an updated version of the continuously variable automatic transmission from the last WRX. In a brazen attempt at rebranding, Subaru now calls the CVT the “Subaru Performance Transmission (SPT).” The company says upshifts are 30% faster and downshifts are 50% faster, and the WRX will now blip the engine to perform rev-matching downshifts under braking. The fixed gear ratios have also been lowered to improve responsiveness and address one of the biggest CVT complaints. A new transmission cooler comes standard for the CVT on all but the base WRX, and it makes the car more suitable for track duty.

2022 Subaru WRX

2022 Subaru WRX

We’ll have to test the CVT and the GT’s adjustable dampers at a later date because Covid-related issues have pushed back cars with the CVT. However, in a ride-along in the GT, West Coast Editor Brian Wong said the GT’s dampers helped the car regain composure faster during quick changes of direction in a chicane. It sounds like many buyers will want Subaru to make the adjustable dampers available with the manual transmission.

The manual models will hit the market next spring, and the CVT models will come about a month later. Prices will be announced closer to launch.

Until then, WRX fans can rest assured that the 2022 model fulfills its mission better than ever. It’s smooth but agile, versatile with its space and standard all-wheel drive, and it looks the part of a sport sedan more than ever. If you can find a road like Scaggs Springs near you (good luck!), the 2022 Subaru WRX is the perfect choice for an afternoon of fun.

Subaru paid for travel and lodging for Motor Authority to bring you this firsthand report.