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Buy a Camry, or Buy This: Subaru WRX

Practicality doesn't have to mean the death of fun.

Nelson IresonWriterManufacturerPhotographer

Look, we get it, the 2020 Toyota Camry isn't a bad car. In fact, it's a really good car. It's best suited to our tastes in TRD trim, but even the hybrid versions of the new Camry are fine-driving cars. But the Camry, for all its strengths, is also the best-selling sedan in America—in fact, it's the best-selling anything that's not a pickup truck or a crossover—and that means it's pretty much everywhere you look, and that's kind of boring. So what if you want to have your practical, affordable, reliable sedan, but maybe not become an anonymous drop in the sea of Camry owners? That's where we come in: Instead of hitting the easy button and ending up with a semi-anonymous Camry, why not give the Subaru WRX a shot?

Subaru WRX: The Shortcomings

First things first, let's acknowledge the ways the Subaru WRX might come up a bit short for some shoppers in comparison to the Camry:

  • It's not as big, especially the back seat
  • It's not as fuel efficient, even when comparing AWD models
    • As a corollary, with nearly identical tank sizes, the WRX doesn't have as much range as the Camry
  • It's not any better-looking, and to many eyes, may be uglier
  • It's about 10 percent more expensive in roughly equivalent base form
  • It's not quite as well equipped
  • It has an image that may not be compatible with your self-image

If all of that sounds like too much to give up in exchange for more personality and more driving engagement, well, looks like you're a Camry driver. If, on the other hand, those sound like reasonable concessions to living a fuller, more adventurous life behind the wheel, read on.

2020 Toyota Camry vs. 2020 Subaru WRX: The Setup

To keep the more detailed aspects of this comparison as relevant and fair as possible, we're going to assume you're like most consumers these days, and would prefer to have AWD if possible—and since it's standard equipment on the WRX, the Camry model we'll be comparing to the WRX is the Camry LE AWD. The Camry LE AWD comes equipped with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and eight-speed automatic transmission, with a base price of $27,325 (including $955 delivery fee). Why not the more highly tuned Camry TRD? Because the TRD isn't available with all-wheel drive (you really want AWD, right?), and would face a somewhat different competitive set of vehicles, despite its similarity in price to a well-configured WRX.

The base WRX comes with standard all-wheel drive, a 2.0-liter turbocharged flat-four, and a six-speed manual transmission, for a starting price of $28,395 (also including the $900 delivery fee).

Can't (or don't want to) drive stick? You'll have to upgrade to the WRX Premium to get the optional Sport Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT), which brings a $2,300 bump for the Premium package, plus another $1,900 for the transmission itself. The Premium package also includes a host of extra features like the EyeSight driver assistance suite of technologies (such as adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane-departure warning, and more), power tilt/sliding moonroof, upgraded steering and suspension tunes, heated front seats, automatic headlights, a larger (7.0-inch vs. 6.5-inch) infotainment screen, larger (18- vs. 17-inch) wheels, slightly wider tires, and halogen foglights, as well as a few other features.

2020 Toyota Camry vs. 2020 Subaru WRX: Interior Equipment

The Subaru isn't down for the count yet, however, as it does include a few features as standard equipment that have to be added to the Camry, like single-zone automatic climate control. That's right, the Camry LE AWD comes standard with manual, single-zone climate control.

The Subaru WRX Premium also gets two USB ports, one 12-volt power outlet, the aforementioned 7.0-inch infotainment screen, a six-way manually adjustable driver's seat, and a four-way manually adjustable front passenger seat.

The Camry matches or beats the WRX on all fronts, with three USB ports, one 12-volt power outlet, a 7.0-inch infotainment screen, an eight-way power adjustable driver's seat, and a six-way manually adjustable front passenger seat.

Neither of these cars comes loaded with high-end upholstery or trim, but the Camry's combination of cloth, wood, and soft-feel plastic is noticeably nicer than the interior of the WRX.

2020 Toyota Camry vs. 2020 Subaru WRX: Safety Features

Both the Camry and the WRX offer a great number of safety features, especially when you include optional upgrades, but in this comparison, we're just looking at what comes standard with the Camry LE and the WRX Premium.

The Camry's suite of safety equipment includes the usual basics, like LATCH attachments for child seats, a full complement of airbags, driver and front passenger seats designed to help minimize whiplash, three-point seatbelts, and a structure designed to deform and deflect as much impact energy as possible away from the occupants. The 2020 Toyota Camry has also earned a five-star NHTSA crash safety rating.

More top-level safety features of the Camry include the Toyota Safety Sense suite, which includes pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert with steering assist, automatic high-beams, and dynamic radar-based adaptive cruise control.

The WRX Premium, on the other hand, also features a strong basic safety feature set, including three-point belts at all positions, LATCH attachments, a full complement of airbags, and a crash-absorbing structure. Like the Camry, the 2020 Subaru WRX also scored a five-star NHTSA crash rating.

When equipped with the CVT transmission, WRX Premium models also get Subaru's EyeSight safety suite, which includes pre-collision braking and lane-departure warning.

Once again, the Camry edges out the Subaru in safety equipment and features, although both earn top marks in government crash tests.

2020 Toyota Camry vs. 2020 Subaru WRX: Performance

Here's where things start to swing back in the WRX's favor. While both Camry LE and WRX Premium have four-cylinder engines, all-wheel drive, and automatic transmissions, that's just about where the similarities end. For starters, the WRX's 2.0-liter four-cylinder sports a turbocharger, and despite displacing 0.5 fewer liters than the Camry, it produces 268 hp, 65 hp more than the Camry's 2.5-liter naturally aspirated engine.

While 65 hp doesn't necessarily sound like all that much, especially since both cars' power figures start with a "2," the WRX produces about 32 percent more power than the Camry, and that translates to a substantial difference in terms of performance. Starting with the basics: 0 to 60 mph times.

MotorTrend tested a sampling of the Toyota Camry lineup, including an XLE-trim example, the closest to our LE configuration. Our colleagues found the 2.5-liter four-cylinder required 7.6 seconds to haul the Camry up to 60 mph. Similarly, MotorTrend tested the Subaru WRX and found it delivers the 60-mph goods in just 6.2 seconds.

But the driving experience shows even more difference than the stopwatch does. For example, in MT's 60-0 mph braking test, the Camry stopped in 122 feet. The WRX stopped from 60 mph in just 113 feet. On the skidpad, test figures showed the Camry capable of 0.81 g of lateral acceleration, a figure that measures grip. The WRX, on the other hand, stretched testers' faces nearly sideways at 0.93 g average.

Combining acceleration, braking, and lateral acceleration into one test, the MotorTrend figure-eight lap time shows how well the car's chassis and suspension can take advantage of its raw performance attributes. In the case of the Toyota Camry, the figure-eight lap time was 27.3 seconds at 0.63 g average. The Subaru WRX lapped the figure eight in 25.2 seconds at 0.72 g average. That's nearly a 10 percent difference in lap time and an even more palpable difference behind the wheel.

One performance option with the WRX that's simply not available with the Camry is a manual transmission. While it might not improve your 0-60 mph times (take it easy on that clutch, anyway), driving any car with a manual transmission dramatically increases driver engagement simply by being there.

But the real proof is in the driving. While the Camry can be an engaging car to drive, particularly in $32,125 (incl. delivery) Camry TRD trim, the more ordinary versions of the Camry place their comfort-performance balance solidly on the side of comfort. The WRX, however, sacrifices just a bit of ride quality relative to the Camry, and a fair amount of cabin quietness, to deliver a car that's incredibly fun to drive for the money,  what with the turbo-four soundtrack, reasonably good steering, a taut chassis tune, and predictable dynamics.

2020 Toyota Camry vs. 2020 Subaru WRX: Overall Value

Of course, there are more mundane and practical considerations to take into account, too. Things like gas mileage (Camry LE: 32 mpg combined; WRX: 21 mpg combined), trunk space (Camry LE: 15.1 cu ft; WRX: 12.0 cu ft), and rear-seat leg room (Camry LE: 38 in; WRX: 35.4). None of those shake out in the Subaru's favor, but the Camry doesn't include entry into enthusiast territory.

The question of overall value, then, isn't so much about the value per dollar, but about your values. Whether you prefer the tried-and-true (and possibly a bit boring) choice, or would rather shake things up a bit, live a little, treat yo self.

Around here, we have a saying: No Boring Cars.

2020 Toyota Camry: Automobile Answers

Is the 2020 Toyota Camry a good car?

Yes, it's a very good car, with a range of versions that should suit just about anyone.

How long will a Toyota Camry last?

A Toyota Camry will last a very long time if properly maintained. Regular maintenance, plus milestone services at the manufacturer's recommended intervals are essential to the longevity of any car. Treated well, the Toyota Camry has a track record of delivering many years of dependable service across its many generations.

How much is a 2020 Camry?

The 2020 Toyota Camry starts at a base price of $25,380 for the 2020 Camry L.

2020 Subaru WRX: Automobile Answers

Is Subaru discontinuing the WRX?

No, the Subaru WRX is currently available for sale.

Is the Subaru WRX a good car?

Yes, the Subaru WRX is a very good car, both practical and fun to drive.

How fast is the Subaru WRX?

The Subaru WRX is fast, and it's reasonably quick, too. The 2020 Subaru WRX can hit 60 mph in about 6 seconds, and has an electronically limited top speed of 150 mph.

2020 Toyota Camry LE Specifications

PRICE $27,325
ENGINE 2.5L DOHC 16-valve I-4/203 hp @ 6,600 rpm, 184 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE 28/39 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 192.1 x 72.4 x 56.9 in
WHEELBASE 111.2 in
WEIGHT 3,296 lb
0-60 MPH 7.6 sec

 

2020 Subaru WRX Premium CVT

PRICE $32,595
ENGINE 2.0L DOHC 16-valve turbo 4-cylinder/268 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 258 lb-ft @ 2,000-5,200 rpm
TRANSMISSION Continuously variable
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, AWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE 18/24 mpg (city/hwy)
L X W X H 180.9 x 70.7 x 58.1 in
WHEELBASE 104.3 in
WEIGHT 3,340 lb
0-60 MPH 6.2 sec