If the 2015 Subaru WRX were awarded a superlative in its high school
yearbook, it would be “most changed since freshman year.” That’s not to
say that the all-new ‘Rex has lost its famous capability or performance,
but the 14-year-old skater boy of days pasthas put on a new suit and is
interviewing for a whole new position.
Over the course of my time with the Subaru, I put it through as many
daily-driver tests as I could: embarking on a 215-mile road trip from
Manhattan to Cape Cod, hauling gear to and from a marina, and testing
the road holding and acceleration on backcountry New England roads. Like
any well-prepared student, the WRX passed all of these tests with
Expecting the test car to show up in the loud and proud WR Blue, I was
caught off guard to see a Crystal Black Silica WRX roll up to the Daily
News office. The black paint job with dark gray wheels may have looked
out of character for the car it was fitted to, but I’d be lying if I
said it didn’t look downright classy. The blacked out
appearance hid some of the flares and flourishes that give the WRX its
rally racer looks. Here was a car that looked more at home on the mean
streets of New York than on a remote dirt road.
My surprise continued when I climbed inside and found the interior to
be a marked improvement over Subarus of yore. While it still lags behind
class leaders, like the Volkswagen GTI, the plastics and optional
leather fitted to our test car were a step in the right direction. The
gauges and buttons are still an exercise in Subaru’s long held practice
of function over form, but everything is conveniently laid out and
performs as you’d expect.
Our top-spec Limited model was fitted with an 8-way adjustable driver’s
seat, leather upholstery with red accent stitching, a backup camera,
automatic on/off LED headlights, and a standard AM/FM stereo with
satellite radio, iPod capability, Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio
streaming. The stereo was sub-par, however, with music from all sources
sounding flat and thin no matter how much I played with the settings.
Considering the WRX’s rep, the cabin was remarkably quiet, sometimes
annoyingly so. In a car with as much attitude as the WRX, you’d expect a
little more engine noise and excitement, but the turbocharged Boxer
engine spent the majority of its time quietly humming along with the
whirr of the transmission. During my time with the car, I couldn’t help
but want more pops, bangs, and growls.
While improved interior fit and finish are fine attributes, the typical
WRX buyer is more interested in the performance that makes Subaru’s
star athlete a cult hero. I’m happy to report that this is not only the
possibly the best-handling WRX yet, but one of the best handling cars
I’ve ever driven. Turn in is incredibly precise, the nose darting
exactly where you point it with not a shade of understeer that plagues
so many all-wheel-drive cars.
The WRX is a joy to throw into every corner, and the
electronically-assisted power steering is one of the better units I’ve
encountered. During low speed parking jobs it’s light on center and easy
to maneuver, but in the turns it feels properly weighted and
Much of this improvement can be chocked up to Subaru’s extensive
stiffening of the chassis and suspension. For 2015, the WRX features a
41-percent increase in torsional rigidity, and an increase of 39- and
62-percent in the stiffness of the front and rear springs, respectively.
All of this tightening up proved extremely beneficial in the turns, but
surprisingly, the Subaru was utterly comfortable on the highway and the
rough roads of New York and New England.
So the WRX has improved in the looks, interior, and handling
departments, but what of the all-important power factor? Unfortunately,
this is where the compromises have taken their toll.
The 2015 WRX packs 268-horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque at peak
boost from its turbocharged 2.0-liter Boxer four-cylinder engine. While
those are still class-leading numbers, the new ‘Rex is actually slightly
slower than the old generation. From a standstill, the WRX can reach
60-mph in approximately five seconds with the 6-speed manual
transmission, but opting for the automatic pushes that figure closer to
This slight drop in performance is attributed mostly to more weight
from the extensive stiffening efforts and the addition of safety
features such as the standard driver knee airbag and six additional
airbags. Sometimes, sacrificing straight line speed in the name of
better handling and safety is a very necessary evil.
Our test car was fitted with the $1,200 optional “Sport Lineartronic”
Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), and before all of you manual
enthusiasts grab your torches and pitchforks, it’s truly not as bad as
it sounds. There are three different driving modes that the CVT can be
subjected to: I (Intelligent), S (Sport), and S# (Sport Sharp, not
“Sport Hashtag”). While Intelligent is closer to a traditional CVT’s
behavior of keeping the engine constantly in the power band, Sport and
Sport Sharp are meant to mimic the feel of a paddle-shifted six- and
After playing with all three modes, I found that I always wanted to
keep the car in Sport Sharp. Throttle response is much quicker, “shifts”
are sharper, and it’s the easiest way to extract the most performance
from the WRX. Intelligent mode had its merits on the long journey as
well, allowing 30-mpg on the highway and about 28-mpg over the course of
about 500 miles. But despite the CVT’s convincing impression and fuel
economy benefits, I couldn’t help but think that the best way to get the
most out of the car is 6 speeds and a clutch pedal.
Luckily, the manual transmission is still the base option, with the CVT
coming at a higher cost and only available on the upper level Premium
and Limited trims. While it may not be the enthusiast’s choice, it
should help draw new buyers into the WRX fold. After all, Subaru only
expects one in five buyers to opt for the Sport Lineartronic, so if you
truly have a bee in your bonnet about the existence of the CVT, save
yourself the trouble (and the money) and just buy the manual.
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