Is the Subaru WRX a Good First Car? (+WRX STI)

The Subaru WRX bases on the popular Impreza sedan, but the powerful engine and higher-performance settings are incompatible with first car needs.

And, what about the STI variant?

are the subaru wrx and wrx sti good first cars

5 Reasons the Subaru WRX Is Not Suitable for a First Car

#1 Relatively Powerful for First Cars

Subaru WRX models come with a punchy turbocharged flat-four engine, capable of producing between 230 hp and 271 hp.

Good first cars in the compact segment typically produce below 200 horsepower and adopt the front-wheel-drive system.

Subaru WRX230-271 hp
VW Golf140-170 hp
Honda Civic110-158 hp
Subaru WRX vs. VW Golf vs. Honda Civic HP.

The AWD drivetrain in the WRX makes the power output more manageable traction-wise, but it increases the purchase price and upkeep expense.

#2 Thirsty Little Car

The Subaru WRX offers potent engine performance and surefooted handling, but fuel economy suffers consequently.

23 mpg or thereabout is the best you can expect in combined driving, regardless of the WRX generation and model.

Several competitors in the segment return higher gas mileage.

 MPG combined
Subaru WRX23
Subaru BRZ24
VW Golf GTI27
Honda Civic Si30
Subaru WRX vs. similar cars in fuel economy.

See how the WRX stacks up against similar vehicles in the various first car aspects later in the post.

#3 Premium Fuel Is Required or Recommended

Teen drivers operating their first cars should only deal with the cheaper regular gas.

Subaru WRX up to 2018 recommended the use of premium gas.

However, 2019 and later WRX require the more-expensive fuel.

It is undesirable, considering most teens have a modest monthly gas budget.

#4 Above-Average Upkeep Cost

The Subaru WRX costs an average of $682 annually to repair and maintain – compact cars generally cost less at $526 per year.

If buying new, you get Subaru’s 3-year/36,000-mile basic warranty.

However, most teens target used WRXs out of warranty, so maintenance becomes an essential cost component to consider.

It will be crucial to purchase an extended coverage or one from a third-party provider to avoid paying substantial out-of-pocket repair costs.

#5 Poor Daily Driver

The WRX’s cabin is spacious for a compact car, but the relatively poor ride quality makes it uncomfortable, especially when driving over rough road surfaces.

Its responsive handling is perfect for some spirited weekend driving, but the stiff and harsh ride can be tiring for daily driving.

Long journeys become uncomfortable when driving or riding in the WRX with the prominent presence of wind and road noise.

Plus, the interior quality of gen-3 models (2015 – 2021) leaves much room for improvement.

(However) Subaru WRX’s Positives

Although the WRX isn’t suitable for teen drivers, it has several pluses worth mentioning:

  • Secure grip – an AWD system is unnecessary for beginners, but the extra traction is handy and, in some cases, safer if you live in snowy regions.
  • Responsive handling – although it may encourage speeding around corners, communicative steering provides essential feedback that makes driving safer.
  • Excellent forward visibility – the slim roof pillars allow the driver to see out relatively unimpeded for a safer drive.

The excellent forward view in the WRX is commendable.

However, the low seating position compromises that advantage somewhat, especially for shorter drivers.

Does the Subaru WRX Hold Value?

Fans and enthusiasts will be delighted to know that the high-performing compact retains value reasonably well.

According to CarEdge, a brand-new WRX depreciates approximately 40% after five years; most cars fall within the 50% – 60% range.

Its five-year value retention matches the compact king, Honda Civic, Chevrolet Camaro, and Dodge Challenger.

But it beats the likes of Ford Mustang, Dodge Charger, and BMW 3-Series.

 5-yr Depreciation10-yr Depreciation
Subaru WRX40%70%
Honda Civic39%71%
Chevy Camaro40%62%
Dodge Challenger40%61%
Ford Mustang43%66%
Dodge Charger48%75%
BMW 3-Series55%78%
Subaru WRX vs. other cars in value depreciation.

Insuring a Subaru WRX for Teenagers

Sports and sporty cars invite higher insurance premiums, especially for teen drivers.

However, if you have your heart set on a WRX, it is one of the less expensive sporty cars to insure at close to $5,000 a year for a teenage driver (see bottom-of-page link).

The IIHS’s ‘Good’ ratings in their various crash tests help keep the WRX’s insurance premium reasonable for young drivers.

Plus, older Subaru WRX models generally cost less to insure.

Insurance costs vary according to vehicle model, driver’s age, and location, so you will need to research and request quotes to be sure.

Best WRX Year (If You Decide to Get One)

Table Guide:

  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base; manual).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
  • Complaints: total reported problems (CarComplaints).
Model YearSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Fuel Econ.ReliabilityComplaints
2022 WRX4/45/519/26/22NA
2021 WRX4/45/520/27/23NA
2020 WRX4/45/521/27/2382/100
2019 WRX4/4NA21/27/2377/1005
2018 WRX4/4NA21/27/2376/1008
2017 WRX4/4NA20/27/2377/1009
2016 WRX4/4NA20/27/2375/10022
2015 WRX4/4NA21/28/2475/10039
Subaru WRX model years comparison.

The 2015 Subaru WRX has the most overall complaints, though understandably so as a redesigned debutant.

Clutch problems are the most reported issue, including bad clutch plate, throw-out bearing noises (when depressing the clutch pedal), and a clutch that stopped working.

Unless you’re buying the latest-gen WRX (2022 and newer), the third-generation Subaru WRX (2015 – 2021) is the better model; they are safer and have more safety features than previous generations.

Subaru WRX Compared with Better First Cars

Ideally, a better first car is less powerful and can return better mpg than the WRX.

Table Guide:

  • Fuel Economy: mpg combined (manual).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Visibility: excellent, good, average, poor.
 HorsepowerFuel Econ.Maint. CostsSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Visibility
Subaru WRX230-271 hp23$6824/45/5Good
Subaru BRZ205-228 hp24$6723.8/4NAGood
VW Golf GTI210-228 hp27$7913.8/45/5Good
Mazda 3 Turbo227 hp27 auto$433+4/45/5Average
Honda Civic Si197-205 hp30$368+4/45/5Good
Honda Civic110-158 hp33$3684/45/5Good
WRX comparison with better first cars.

The Mazda 3 variant with a turbocharged engine introduced in 2021 produces 227 horsepower and sharp handling, making it equally fun to drive.

Crucially, the Mazda 3 is more fuel-efficient, cheaper to maintain, and has a more-premium cabin than the WRX.

The Volkswagen Golf GTI produces similar horsepower as the WRX and, like the latter, is less suitable for a first car.

But still, it has comparatively lower fuel consumption and a better-appointed interior.

The Honda Civic Si provides the best overall combination for an excellent sporty first car – high fuel efficiency, low maintenance cost, and an engaging drive.

The base Honda Civic remains one of the best first cars for teenagers.

If you love the WRX design, you should seriously consider the Subaru Impreza on which the WRX bases on.

Is the Subaru WRX STI a Good First Car?

Essentially, the STI is a regular WRX but with a bigger and more powerful powertrain.

It is the hottest and mightiest model in Subaru’s lineup.

The Subaru WRX STI is a poor choice for a first car with its potent engine in a small package:

  • Copious power for a small car – north of 300 horsepower. Plus, the 250-odd lbs-ft of torque kicks in at a relatively low RPM.
  • Abysmal mpg – only 16 city, 22 highway, and 18 combined. The base WRX gets 23 mpg overall, and several sporty cars can return mid-20s mpg (see below).
  • Compulsory premium unleaded fuel – all WRX STIs must use the more expensive gas.
  • Low ground clearance – only 4.9 inches compared to a regular Honda Civic’s 6.7 inches. Navigating city roads with speed humps will hurt.
  • Expensive first car – a new STI costs close to $40,000, substantially more pricey than the WRX. A ten-year-old STI will still set you back by about $20,000.
  • Unattractive basic warranty – the 3-year/36,000-mile coverage is underwhelming for first cars.

It has the same AWD drivetrain as the WRX, which provides excellent grip when conditions demand it.

But the amount of power the STI produces does not suit first cars.

WRX STI Compared with Better First Cars

The WRX STI is a superb driving machine, but good first cars need fewer horses than what it offers.

Table Guide:

  • Fuel Economy: mpg combined (manual).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Visibility: excellent, good, average, poor.
 HorsepowerFuel Econ.Maint. CostsSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Visibility
WRX STI305-310 hp18$7584/45/5Good
WRX230-271 hp23$6824/45/5Good
Honda Civic Type R306 hp25NA4/45/5Good
Honda Civic Si197-205 hp30$368+4/45/5Good
WRX STI comparison with better first cars.

While the Civic Type R has similar horsepower output as the WRX STI, it is still too potent for teen drivers.

The Honda Civic Si is an all-around better first car than the Subaru WRX STI.

It is considerably cheaper to maintain, moderately powerful yet is fun to drive, and can return significantly improved gas mileage.

The Civic Si is a Honda and the more dependable vehicle overall.