Call it karma I ended up riding shotgun next to pro racing driver Scott Speed as he deployed the new 2022 Subaru WRX at full clip around the Thermal Club’s 1.7-mile Desert Circuit, bouncing off curbing and going so deep into braking zones I thought for sure I’d have to pick gravel out of my hair.

Roughly two decades earlier, a friend of mine rode in the passenger seat of his own GD-chassis Impreza WRX as I piloted the car. My friend had no clue about his WRX’s performance proficiency until I illustrated it for him on a nearly full-tilt canyon run, a ride he probably regretted. Now 20 years later I was the one taking a white-knuckle ride. The WRX again delivered thrills but this time no regrets.

The Thermal event was the global debut of the new 2022 Subaru WRX—read all about the car in our First Look—originally scheduled for the 2022 New York auto show until it was cancelled. Which is fine, really. These press announcements seem to make more sense at a racetrack, anyway, especially when the model being revealed is a performance car.

While we didn’t get the personal driver’s-seat time we wanted, we did get the laps sitting next to Speed, who’s raced everything from Formula 1 to stock cars to rallycross. He did his best to talk up the redesigned model’s strengths as he aimed for apexes and mashed the throttle of both a 2022 WRX base model with six-speed manual and a 2022 WRX GT equipped with the Subaru Performance Transmission (SPT) CVT.

That New New

As outlined in our 2022 Subaru WRX first look story, the new car gets several fundamental changes relative to the previous model. A turbocharged four-cylinder boxer engine still lives under the hood, but it’s a little bigger and a tiny bit more powerful than before. Subaru points out the powertrain’s torque curve is broader, but that was tough to gauge from the passenger seat. On track, it did sound like it was in the meat of the powerband most of the time, but that’s a credit to Speed for keeping the engine in its sweet spot.

Underpinning the new WRX is the Subaru Global Platform, which offers benefits like added stiffness and a lower center of gravity. It also makes the sedan marginally bigger and, by extension, more spacious. There’s 0.2 inch more front legroom for a total of 43.1, 1.1 inches more rear legroom for a total of 36.5, and 0.5 cubic feet of additional cargo space in the trunk for a total of 12.5.

More important, the new platform feels notably solid, but then again so did previous WRX generations. These are good things, as chassis deformation doesn’t allow the suspension to work at its best. And without an effective suspension, features like all-wheel drive and active torque vectoring won’t help the car hook up any better. Happily, that’s not the case here. The lack of body roll was especially noticeable, surely facilitated by the car’s new longer-stroke suspension and reconfigured rear anti-roll bar.

A Grand GT

Subaru wasn’t ready to talk about an STI version of this new WRX just yet, but it did introduce a new WRX GT trim level. This sportier grade comes with standard electronically adjustable dampers, a WRX first. The GT also features a standard SPT that offers eight-speed manual-shifting modes activated by steering wheel paddles. It seemed stout for a CVT, but then Speed was always in control of which “gear” we were in. We have to wait until Subaru allows us behind the wheel to find out if the computer performs as impressively as the pro human.

The 2022 Subaru WRX GT offers a level of performance adjustability that will appeal to some enthusiasts. Through the GT’s standard 11.6-inch infotainment touchscreen, users can access the vehicle’s Drive Mode Select, which allows them to configure on the fly damper, steering, and engine settings. The differences between handling settings were noticeable on track, too. The suspension set to Sport was taut, and Comfort was perceptibly more compliant.

Our passenger-seat laps went by quick, but we were grateful for the opportunity. The new 2022 Subaru WRX looks suited to carry on the model’s reputation as a fun and relatively accessible AWD performance car. Subaru appears to have retained everything enthusiasts love about the car while sweetening the deal with more tech and sharpened athleticism. And at the ragged edge, the 2022 WRX still has all the potential to thrill—just make sure your passengers know what they’re getting into. Or don’t, and let them find out the fun way.

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