ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: A new Subaru Impreza has been running around for a couple of years based on a substantially stiffer platform. However, a WRX and the WRX STI built on the latest Impreza platform had been missing, forcing Subaru enthusiasts to make do with the previous models that were generally considered soft. That is, until now, with the new generation of Subaru's all-wheel drive performance machines finally available at dealerships as 2015 models.
I only spent one night with our WRX Limited tester, but my initial impressions are good. The new, more robust platform and accompanying chassis tuning have done wonders for raising the WRX's performance credentials. Steering no longer feels loose and sloppy; instead it's now quick and direct. Rounding corners doesn't mean excessive body roll now, with it staying well composed with only a small amount of lean. Toss in the new turbocharged version of the 2.0-liter direct-injected boxer engine, and you have the makings for a solid and sporty daily driver.
The other big change is the WRX getting a continuously variable transmission as the option for those who don't want a third pedal in their cars. Subaru slaps a fancy Sport Lineartronic name on it in hopes of masking the fact that it's a CVT, though. But you know what? It's not bad. I didn't end my first drive of it cussing it out or wanting to shoot the darn thing. It mimics gear changes well, and even when you have the throttle floored, it doesn't drone super annoyingly. As much as I dread CVTs, I have to admit that they've been getting better, even though I occasionally still have nightmares of puttering around in a Ford Freestyle with its horrendous CVT. What Subaru has done with its CVT in the WRX is worthy of high praise. It's easily the best CVT I've sampled with steering wheel-mounted shift paddles that actually work well to simulate gear changes.
Besides the better platform, suspension and steering tuning, I'm also happy to see some good stock rubber coming on WRXs now. There were Dunlop Sport Maxx tires on our test car, which are heaps better than what WRXs came on back in the day. I'm sure a lot of Subaru fans will remember Bridgestone Potenza RE92s, which were dreaded. The Dunlops aren't super loud on the street and don't yield a jarring ride, but most importantly help provide snappy turn in and plenty of grip for bombing around town.
Interior accommodations are nicer, too. The Impreza from the dash makes its way over with a lot of rubbery and soft-touch surfaces in place of the old car's hard plastic dungeon. There's an airier feeling inside thanks to the lower dash height, and more side glass with the addition of the front-quarter windows. Front seats offer good side support and the thick steering wheel feels nice.
The wide body treatment, specific front fascia and hood scoop give it a look that's a little sporty. It doesn't standout screaming from the crowd, but it's clean and will allow you to fly under the radar a bit, which is a good thing for your auto insurance rates.
So it was overall a really positive first experience with the new WRX and the CVT. For people who contend with a lot of traffic on a daily basis and don't want to wrestle with a clutch pedal and shifter then I will say that the CVT-equipped WRX is a good option for a quick and entertaining daily driver. Fortunately for me, Detroit traffic isn't that bad so I would still be getting my WRX with the old fashion six-speed manual. But for whatever reason you get a WRX with the CVT, I won't be looking down on you -- at least not too much.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: I know that the spirit of the WRX has always been function over form, but this 2015 Subaru WRX Limited is just not a particularly attractive vehicle. You almost need a giant wing on the back to distract from the chunkily abbreviated front fenders and the awkwardness of the greenhouse.
Fortunately, that's an option.
But the function, and the corresponding fun factor, is definitely there. Even with the CVT on this tester.
Surprised? So was I, especially since the steering wheel-mounted “shift” paddles actually enhanced the driving experience. Oddly, they do something, triggering a transmission response that was more consistently quick at all throttle positions than the dual-clutch sequential manual in the CLS63 AMG. Weird, I know -- about as weird as the sensation of shifting itself, if you can call it that. It's more like “sliding” into a different ratio, with no real jolt or shudder along the way.
I'm not saying that the CVT is the way to go in this car. Rather, it appears to be an acceptable option. Certainly no worse than a conventional transmission would have been, I suspect. Though I haven't tested a manual-equipped variant, I'd love to have that extra point of connection with the machine.
This is, after all, a machine you want to feel connected with. Fly down an expressway -- even one relatively un-ravaged by winter weather -- at a healthy rate of speed, and you'll realize the WRX is sort of dynamically unstable, like a jet fighter or something. The car feels like it's poised on the balls of its feet, ready to spring forward when you tap the accelerator or sprint off in another direction if you turn the wheel. Steering response is direct and immediate.
As with the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, the car lacks adjustable suspension settings: it's a purpose-built tool for the dedicated enthusiast who doesn't mind (or outright embraces) a stiff ride.
The one thing that bugged me (and this tester is a pre-production specimen, so take this with a grain of salt I guess) was the brakes. They were crap; a numb-feeling pedal activated a set of pads that just wouldn't, or couldn't, bite.
EDITOR WES RAYNAL: I agree, this car is a hoot even with the CVT, a trans that actually had some feeling. I also agree CVT isn't necessarily the way to go here, and I'd like to try the manual. For now, though, this is among the best, if not the best, CVTs I have tried.
Overall, though, it's a fine little scooter. To my eye, the exterior is about perfect, just the right amount of scoops and wide fenders and creases and the like. Interior quality is hugely improved over the outgoing model; the seats are comfy, though I still find the radio tuning controls frustratingly small.
The WRX rockets away from stop lights and zips around town with quick steering and a nice ride quality that splits the difference between being not too harsh and not too soft. Traction isn't an issue of course, nor is torque steer. Definitely a point-and-shoot kind of car and a predictable one -- hard to get into trouble here.
I sort of expected all that. I was particularly impressed, however, with the way the thing gobbles the freeway miles. There's a little bit of wind noise, true, but the ride is terrific -- it drives like a bigger, and frankly more expensive, sports sedan, which surprised me.
It's a very cool little car. Not a bad value, either, in my opinion. My imaginary fleet includes a Subaru WRX.
EXECUTIVE EDITOR RORY CARROLL: First, let me say that if you have both of your legs, there is no excuse for buying a WRX with a CVT. None. Don't do it. Since I'm getting the negatives out of the way first, I'm also going to mention that the brakes were making a loud scraping noise the entire time I had the car. Whichever publication that had it last should have a pretty good WRX track day feature coming up.
On to the positives: I actually like the way this car looks. It's sharp and grown up while remaining recognizable as a WRX. The interior is well-designed, too, probably the best I've ever seen in a Subaru. It's not that the materials are markedly better; it just seems more carefully considered.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: When the continuously variable transmission originally appeared, it was supposed to, in theory, give drivers better gas mileage and a better feeling of power, considering it could hang right in the meat of the powerband. So far, there has only been one that was fun to drive -- the Nissan Maxima. This WRX could be the second.
Would I rather have a manual to row through? Absolutely. If I had to buy a car with a CVT, would I buy the WRX? Absolutely.
Thrust from the WRX comes in gently at first. It feels almost like a dual-clutch. Then it rises with a whoosh from the turbo and stays there. The torque curve is probably what the little “sport sharp” setting makes it look like in graphics, a long, flat hockey stick. The WRX has eight faux gear ratios that the CVT goes through, so it almost feels like a standard automatic. But the ratios are too close, a normal auto trans wouldn't sound like that. When you put your foot halfway in, revs go back and forth from 4,000-5,000 rpm, with no torque holes to speak of. It's thrilling, actually. I also played with the paddles for a few minutes, but it's more fun just to stomp and go.
We really need to see what this will do at a racetrack, and if it could possibly match a good driver in a six-speed. This car is seriously fun, the most fun I've ever had with a CVT.
So the springs, dampers, crossmembers, subframe bushings, and front control-arm bushings and attachments are all stiffer, according to Subaru, and I could feel it on the road. This WRX almost begs you to try and get the tires loose. At no time did my confidence level dip below 90 percent.
The bumps are more muted, though you can still feel them, and the steering feels sharper, heavier and more robust, thanks to the electric power steering system on stiffer mounts. The flat-bottom steering wheel is always a bonus.
The car also feels heavier overall, and looking at the specs I see it outweighs the last Limited model by 200 pounds. It's still only about 3,400, that extra heft just makes the car feel more solid on the highway.
This interior is nearly perfect. It's all plain black, with a little red stitching and some carbon fiber. A driver should need nothing more. The back seats didn't look too cramped, either.
It's surprisingly quiet on the road, too. Once you're past the 1,700-rpm mark, the exhaust quiets down, and the car just tracks along at 70, or 75, or 80 mph. Passing slower traffic is just an inch of pedal travel away. And speaking of that, this car exemplifies the trait of effortless speed. It really tries to tempt you into hauling ass.
I sent a picture of the exterior out to my Facebook peeps and after about nine responses, the votes were split. Some think it's a little too boring, that's the way I'm leaning, but others like it. The front end is good looking, everyone agrees on that, though it has to be called “Evo-ish,” “Evo-esque” or “Evo-adjacent.” The rear is much more boring, but tack that wing on, and then we'll see what it's supposed to look like.
This CVT is hands down one of the best that's ever been made. Is it good enough for buyers to ditch the six-speed manual? Not a chance. Have I asked myself too many questions in this review? Probably. Would I try to snag a model as close to base price as possible? Yes, and you should, too.
WEST COAST EDITOR MARK VAUGHN: I had driven up to La Canada for the neighborhood Cars 'N' Coffee gathering hoping to return a piston and connecting rod from a 427 Ford that I had borrowed from local Cobra guru Lynn Park (long story) only to realize that this particular CnC was held the first Saturday of every month and that this was the second. So what to do with the sun just barely over the horizon and a little time before everyone else woke up and I had to start doing things? Well, there was Highway 2, the famous and infamous Angeles Crest Highway, beckoning just past the Shell station…
So off I went, in a car that could have and might have been a thrill on such a wonderful road -- the 2015 Subaru WRX Limited with a continuously variable transmission. All-new for 2015 with a stiff new platform, torque vectoring system, 268-hp turbo flat four and your choice of six-speed manual or “Sport Lineartronic transmission with manual mode,” the latter being long-winded marketing camouflage for a CVT.
Let's go to the CVT first, since that's probably the thing everyone's yapping about. I will grant you it is the sportiest CVT in history. It has paddle shifters that make you think you're downshifting and it even goes so far as to have a gear position indicator on the instrument display that says 5,4,3,2, etc. (“But it's not really shifting,” I bleet with the same veracity as the guy chasing Steve Martin in “The Jerk” yelling, “He's not carnival personnel!”) Downshift and it raises the engine speed and holds it there for two seconds before shifting up to the generic default “D.” If you're on the throttle it'll hold the gears longer. But it tends to want to go back to D. This function was cool and very helpful entering and exiting corners, as well as when passing someone on the freeway or when you just want to play with it. Knock the shifter over and it held the “gears” as long as you want, it seemed. It did the best job of faking it that any faker has ever done. But it's still a CVT, no matter how “Lineartronic” they make it. How much of an mpg can Subaru gain with this? Is it worth the weird, wimpy feel? I say no! Make a dual-clutch transmission or better yet, buy the six-speed manual version. Does mpg really rule every aspect of car design and engineering now? Sheesh.
The turbo engine, meanwhile, is powerful as all get-out when you are flooring it. Usually. I tried to launch it from a standstill and found the best I could do was a 5.9-second 0-60. That isn't a number that a WRX should do. They used to include an SCCA application in the glove box of these things way back before the lawyers made them stop. In my mind, which is admittedly a terrible place, anything called a WRX should get to 60 in four seconds. Sure that's unrealistic, but it's my mind, dammit!
When not launching from a standstill I could “downshift,” get the revs up, spool the turbo and have pretty close to the listed 268 hp. Problem was, at anything less than absolute full throttle, the output from the engine wavered all over the place, making linearity of throttle application a wild man's dart's game and you're just as likely to hit the bulls eye as your own eye. It was a very tricky proposition to be smooth if you were trying to commute in L.A. traffic.
And as long as I'm shellacking it, the outside of this thing is a train wreck. You should either make a hatchback or a sedan. Make up your mind. It looked like a real bag of nails on the outside, a dog's breakfast, a cat's hairball, a… you get the idea.
And what was up with that six-speaker audio system? It was tinnier than a crystal radio kit from the classified section of Mechanix Illustrated. I tried adjusting the levels and it still sounded like a string can attached to another string can and maybe the string wasn't so tight.
So no, I did not like this car. For $31,990 I'd get a BRZ and spend the remaining dinero on track-day tires and speeding tickets.
ASSOCIATE WEST COAST EDITOR BLAKE Z. RONG: I drove the 2015 Subaru Impreza WRX Limited to Las Vegas, which is a sure sign that at 26 years of age, I am getting up there in years. Boy, do I not want to drive this car anywhere on a freeway, or on any road that has less curves per capita than Angeles Crest Highway, or any distance further than the nearest Safeway that does not lie at the end of said Angeles Crest.
The suspension in this car jolts, bounces, crashes, careens, and generally upsets, riding like the cement trucks the WRX dodges so well. After five hours back from Las Vegas, I wanted to claw my way out of this car -- it was that bad. The entire ride comfort seemed to have been modeled after my own adventures in suspension tuning. No car should ever be modeled after my car.
Now, the WRX is supposed to be the rough-and-tumble giant killer of the sports sedan world, or something, and its owners are probably all used to this. Yet initial reports of the STI say that its ride comfort is worlds above the WRX's, so the bargain-basement ride should therefore serve as a deterrent to cheapskates.
Otherwise, when the power comes on above 3,000 rpm, hold on. The CVT, in this application, is brilliant: Subaru mimics the automatic shifting to eerie precision, but the CVT allows the power to come on and, more importantly, stay on. SI-Drive comes by way of some cryptic buttons on the steering wheel, which illuminates one of three lines: blue for Blasé, green for Garrulous, purple for Punctual. (Intelligent, sport, and sport sharp, according to Subaru.) What's clever is that Sport can mimic a six-speed automatic while sport hash tag (OK, S#) puts on the airs of an eight-speed. Why don't more manufacturers do this?
I briefly drove a manual-transmission WRX, and it's a tight little gearbox -- peaky clutch, snappy shifter, more of that sweaty-backed turbo-into-the-seat feel when you downshift. But now, there are two paths to glory. The WRX has an automatic, which usually portends the downfall of society, etc. But it's still blessed with sharp, weighty steering, comfortable handling at a driver's own personal limits, and -- for the first time since 1996 -- a certain understated handsomeness. And a CVT-equipped WRX is actually not terrible.
You know, unlike the brutal suspension.
2015 Subaru WRX Limited
Base Price: $31,990
As-Tested Price: $34,490
Drivetrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged H4; AWD, continuously variable transmission
Output: 268 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 258 lb-ft @ 2,000-5,200 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,320 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 19/25/21 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 21.0 mpg
Options: Navigation including Harmon/Kardon audio system, keyless access, remote start ($2,500)
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