The Subaru WRX satisfies all of the necessary requirements to be a very satisfying performance daily driver. The affordable, turbo four-cylinder, all-wheel drive, rally-derived formula is one that wins over the hearts of many who are looking for a capable sedan that can embarrass challengers from light to light. The VA WRX produces 268 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, which is enough to make it a solid contender in the sports-sedan segment.
Since the WRX is so beloved in most of the world, it has tremendous aftermarket support. While the WRX is the lesser of Subaru’s performance lineup, with the top spot occupied by the STI, some choice aftermarket modifications can increase performance and give the WRX a sportier feel.
One of the most popular VA WRX modifications is an upgraded exhaust system. Performance Subarus are some of the most unique-sounding sports cars on the market due to their horizontally-opposed boxer engines. The VA WRX features a FA20F flat-4 engine that produces the signature “Subaru rumble” due to its configuration. A WRX performance exhaust can enhance the satisfying rumble while simultaneously providing decent performance gains.
What Does an Aftermarket WRX Exhaust Do?
The purpose of an aftermarket WRX exhaust is simple; they create an easier path for exhaust gasses to escape. Stock exhaust systems on most vehicles are somewhat restrictive, meaning that they aren’t optimally designed to let exhaust gas escape as freely as possible. Restrictive exhaust systems create excessive “backpressure,” meaning that there is a surplus of exhaust gas pressure in the system. That results in a negative effect on horsepower and engine breathability. Aftermarket WRX exhausts reduce the amount of exhaust backpressure, therefore increasing horsepower.
Aftermarket WRX exhausts typically do this in multiple ways. Sometimes, aftermarket exhausts are fitted with better flowing catalytic converters that don’t bottleneck gas at the cats. Aftermarket WRX exhausts are typically constructed of larger diameter piping as well, which allows more exhaust gas to escape. The shape of an exhaust can also have an effect on how well it performs. For that reason, aftermarket exhausts are designed to have as few kinks and bends as possible.
Best WRX Exhaust Considerations
As we have already briefly mentioned, there are a few key reasons why upgrading your Subaru WRX’s exhaust is a good idea. The two most obvious reasons are performance and sound. There are, however, a few other considerations to take into account when searching for an aftermarket WRX exhaust.
Build material and weight are also important, primarily from a performance standpoint, as a lightweight system can shave off a few extra pounds resulting in a lighter overall curb weight. While maintaining a low weight, it is important that an aftermarket WRX exhaust is made of quality materials that will last. Stainless steel and titanium are the most common compounds that can withstand some abuse.
There are a number of extremely reputable Subaru exhaust manufacturers out there. Since the VA WRX has been around since 2014, there is no shortage of quality WRX exhausts to choose from. At the end of the day, your choice should take into account price, build material, weight, sound, and performance.
Types of Aftermarket WRX Exhausts
In addition to thinking about the considerations listed above, you’ll also have to consider what type of aftermarket WRX exhaust will be the best option for you. In general, there are three types of commonly fitted exhausts to VA WRXs. These include axle-back, cat-back, and header-back exhausts.
WRX Turbo-Back Exhaust
A WRX Turbo-back exhaust system is the most intensive type of exhaust that you can install. Unlike axle-back and cat-back exhausts, a turbo-back exhaust replaces nearly every component of your factory exhaust. This allows you to be able to enlarge the diameter of the entire system, allowing a larger volume of exhaust gas to escape. Turbo-back exhausts provide the most significant performance gains due to this. Since a WRX header-back exhaust replaces everything, they are generally the most expensive kind of exhaust that you can buy. In addition, they are also the most difficult type of exhaust to install of the three.
WRX Cat-Back Exhaust
Cat-back exhausts are without question the most common type of exhaust fitted to lightly modified WRXs. Cat-back exhausts are exactly what they sound like. They replace all of the factory exhaust components from the catalytic converter to the exhaust tip. This type of exhaust is generally made of stainless steel and is made to improve exhaust gas flow out of the engine, resulting in a bit more power and a lot more noise.
Aftermarket cat-back systems can vary a good amount in terms of their pipe diameter, tip diameter, and how they exit the vehicle. Some aftermarket WRX cat-back exhausts are single-exit, but the vast majority are dual-exit like the stock exhaust.
WRX Axle-Back Exhaust
Axle-back exhausts replace all of the exhaust components behind the rear axle. Axle-back exhausts tend to be less expensive than other exhaust systems as they only replace a few components. Since axle backs leave most of the more vital exhaust components alone, they generally don’t produce a very big power gain. However, if sound is all that you’re after, an axle-back system might be the right choice for you.
WRX Exhaust Recommendations
1) Cobb Tuning SS 3” Cat-Back WRX Exhaust
Purchase Here: cobbtuning.com
To kick off the list, we’ll begin with an exhaust from one of the most recognizable names in Subaru tuning, Cobb. Cobb has been in the Subaru aftermarket game for decades at this point. They have built up a reputation for providing very high-quality modifications at an affordable price. The Cobb SS VA WRX Cat-Back system is no exception.
The Cobb SS system is made entirely from 204 stainless steel and is professionally TIG welded for appearance and strength. Attention to detail is a primary selling point of the Cobb SS, as the construction is superior to their competition. The SS splits into two separate exits at a Y-pipe, each with two 3.5” stainless exhaust tips. The quad-tips exit the rear of the car using the factory WRX bumper cutouts without any modification.
As a true performance cat-back system, the Cobb SS does provide some marginal power gains. If you happen to have a Cobb Access Port for your VA WRX, Cobb has a map ready to go post-install. Overall, the Cobb is said to increase horsepower by around 20 and boost torque by 20 lb-ft at mid-range RPMs with a tune. Untuned, you can expect to see a 5-10 horsepower gain.
2) Invidia Q300 Cat-Back Exhaust
Purchase Here: iagperformance.com
Invidia is another household name as far as Subaru exhaust systems are concerned. Like Cobb, Invidia has made a name in the space for providing high-quality parts for the average Subaru enthusiast. The Invidia Q300 is perhaps the most popular WRX exhaust, potentially behind Invidia’s own N1 exhaust. WRX owners find that it intersects the requirements of sound and performance very well.
In terms of overall construction, the Invidia Q300 is very similar to the SS 3.” Like the Cobb, the Invidia Q300 has a 3,” 304 stainless steel construction that splits into two different exits through a Y-pipe. It also has a quad exit, utilizing four 4.33” titanium exhaust tips. The Q300 is touted by VA WRX owners for having little-to-no exhaust drone on extended highway trips. Most say that the Q300 has one of the most subdued tones of any WRX exhaust, especially in lower revs. It does, however, come alive when you dip higher into the rev range.
Horsepower gains are typically pretty similar when it comes to cat-back exhausts. Without a tune, you can expect a 5-10 horsepower gain from an Invidia Q300. With a tune, you can expect a similar 20 horsepower and lb-ft gain over stock. With additional modifications, like an upgraded downpipe or upgraded turbo, horsepower yield from a cat-back is much more significant.
3) Remark Axle-back 4” Exhaust
Purchase Here: remark-usa.com
Sound Clip: 2018 WRX Remark Axleback vs STOCK Exhaust
Unlike the previous exhausts on this list, the Remark is an axle-back system. Compared to the Invidia or Cobb which both came with a high-flow midpipe and Y-pipe in addition to mufflers and exhaust tips, the Remark only contains the rear-most components. In the case of the Remark 4” WRX kit, no mufflers are included. The axle-back kit bolts directly to the factory Y-pipe and exits through quad 4” stainless steel exhaust tips. The entire system is constructed from 304 mandrel-bent stainless steel and bolts up to factory hangars.
As we covered earlier, the appeal of an axle-back WRX exhaust is not performance. While the Remark kit might reduce backpressure by a slight margin, the results are negligible in the real world. The reason that you spring for an axle-back exhaust is sound. Because the Remark kit removes the factory mufflers, it produces a sound comparable to more expensive systems. The lack of mufflers also decreases the overall weight of the Remark kit, making it significantly lighter than the stock axle-back hardware.
Priced at only $375.00, the Remark axle-back kit is unquestionably the least expensive option on this list. It really is the perfect solution for someone who wants their VA WRX to make a bit more of an audible statement without breaking the bank. Just keep in mind, the lower price comes at a bit of a deficit to performance.
4) Borla 3.0” S-Type Cat-Back Exhaust
I’m sure that you’re hardly surprised to see another 304 stainless steel, 3.0,” mandrel-bent, quad tip exhaust on this list. If you’re starting to notice a trend here, that’s because there is one. Generally speaking, most of the big-name WRX exhaust manufacturers, including Borla, Cobb, and Invidia, have all cracked the code in a very similar way. With that being said, all of the cat-backs on this list have their own unique sound which differentiates them from one another.
As far as the Borla 3.0” is concerned, it is a well-behaved exhaust. In comparison to some other non-muffled or resonator-deleted options, the Borla is a tame choice of the bunch. A common trait of WRX performance exhausts is their tendency to be too loud all of the time. The Borla, fortunately, avoids that trope. Instead, it sounds refined and polished, especially when you get into the higher rev range.
Like the other cat-backs that we’ve discussed so far, you’ll see slight performance gains from the Borla 3.0.” With a tune, those performance benefits will be slightly more evident. Overall, the Borla’s unique sound and generally subdued nature is its primary selling point. It also makes turbo noises a bit more pronounced which is always fun.
5) Cobb Titanium WRX Turbo-back Exhaust
We needed at least one turbo-back aftermarket exhaust on this list to cover the full gambit of what is available. Cobb’s Titanium WRX Tubo-Back exhaust is identical to the Cobb cat-back exhaust featured earlier on this list, with the addition of an extra part: a downpipe. In terms of performance benefits, an upgraded downpipe is one of the most significant exhaust elements. As a downpipe is the first exhaust element after the turbocharger, it is important that it flows well.
An upgraded downpipe is one of the most commonly recommended modifications for a WRX anyway. While the Cobb Titanium Turbo-Back is the most expensive option on this list, if you have the additional dosh to spend, it is the best option from a performance standpoint. That is especially true when you pair the exhaust with a tune. Like Cobb’s cat-back option, their Access Port has a map preinstalled which will allow you to unlock all of the performance from the upgraded downpipe and exhaust as a whole.
Upgraded Subaru WRX Exhaust Summary
Upgrading your VA WRX’s exhaust is one of those essential mods that will put a smile on your face every time you drive your car. Since the WRX’s FA20 engine produces such a unique noise, the additional sound under acceleration really adds another element to everyday driving. In addition to the sound, a performance exhaust can increase exhaust flow, adding a bit more power to your WRX.
In general, there are three main types of exhaust available for a VA WRX. Those include turbo-back, cat-back, and axle-back options. Each is pretty self-explanatory in terms of the exhaust components that they replace. You’ll generally find more performance from turbo-back and cat-back options. With that being said, if you are just in it for the noise, an axle-back is a good, cost-effective choice.
There are quite a few solid options out there as far as VA WRX exhausts go. Some manufacturers have carved out a pretty large fan base in the Subaru space. Cobb, Invidia, Remark, and Borla are all very reputable options that have been in the Subaru game for decades at this point. You won’t have any regrets about choosing any of their exhaust products for your WRX.