“When it comes to cars everyone loves to drive, it’s hard not to add the Subaru WRX, no matter how you feel about the styling of the 2015… or any year before. “Snap” finds out a little more of why we should tough love this four-season Japanese beast.”
Can this new WRX harness the popular legend of the model and result in actual larger sales?
It’s been a while since the Subaru WRX and STI legends mattered much and the somnolence of this hotted-up Japanese terror has been sorely felt. Ever since Subaru left the World Rally Championship behind in 2008, the legend of the hotter Impreza versions has faded as though fallen off a cliff. The newest generation of the Subaru WRX has just been handed to me to test along the sports car friendly California coast and I am imprezed.
This time around, Subaru is making only a four-door sedan configuration since it has decided to popularize the hottest Subie in its key markets – which include a big push in the dominions of both Australia and Canada, by the way, though still 80 percent of WRX sales happen in the United States. Part of this people’s movement involves bringing back an automated gearbox to be offered as an option alongside the standard new six-speed manual. Subaru in the U.S. projects that 20 percent of buyers will opt for the adaptive 6-/8-speed automated CVT transmission.
I tried both gearboxes with various trim levels over long driving loops that could double as rally special stages. Essentially, while I decidedly prefer this freshened manual shifter – for the first time with six speeds – and clutch pedal to the chosen constantly variable transmission called Sport Lineartronic CVT as on the Forester, having the fully automated mode for everyday driving in poor traffic is a true plus.
This latest 2.0-liter direct-injected and turbocharged “flat” four-cylinder, seen first here in the new Forester small SUV, reaches 268 horsepower and accelerates now to 60 mph from a stop in just 5.4 seconds with the manual transmission. Though the same sprint with the CVT gearing is a few tenths of a second slower, buyers of the latter setup get to play between a normal D drive mode and two M manual modes via the shift paddles on the new smaller diameter steering wheel that actually felt great in hand. This system is labelled SI Drive and gives the WRX either six software-induced “gear changes” in the base I mode or middling S mode, or eight steps in S#.
Dynamics are a challenge to popularizing the WRX, however, as there is no plan on offering even a two-mode adaptive suspension. This ride is decidedly firm and great as such for the hardcore Subaru buyer. But others will perhaps be drawn away from the WRX due to this trait. The Volkswagen GTI gives me a better daily ride, though the dynamic responses of the Subaru can be matched really by only the Ford Focus ST. Only true with-trunk competitor being the soon to arrive, and decidedly pricier, Audi S3 Quattro sedan. Pricing for the `15 WRX when it starts deliveries in April 2014 has yet to be announced, but think a couple bucks over $26,000 for starters.
This Impreza-based sportster sedan is a truly practical unit as well with plenty of space in back seats plus a six-percent increase in trunk space up to 12 cubic feet with all seatbacks up. In reality only the roof, trunk lid and some windows are shared with the current Impreza model while all other panels are redesigned specially for the WRX
The dynamic feedback all day long was superior stuff with a really steady sense of control even when I once or twice skated through curves that still had morning ice on them while having the traction control disengaged. And the smaller sedan looks the stuff, too, as I very much enjoy the new exterior.
This version of the 2.0-liter flat four is extremely lively between about 2,500 and 5,000 rpm, which is essentially the maximum torque band for all 258 pound-feet. I know that acceleration to 60 mph will end up under testing at around 5.0 flat, but the real nature of the WRX comes through best in transitional throttle play in second through fourth gears on curvaceous byways. Keep the revs up on these roads and the feel is sensational stuff. The firmness of the default dampers and springs, much greater stiffness of the body as it is attached to the chassis, 200-percent stiffer engine mount bushings, and finely tuned electrically actuated steering (no, not funky steer-by-wire), all really work stunningly together when you decide to flog the WRX a bit.
In everyday driving just toodling around town, the WRX is a niche sedan bar none. The suspension is too firm for this everyday-ness, the low-rev exhaust murmur too invasive of the passenger cabin, and the steering at times too responsive during heretofore normal adjustments while headed straight down the road. The standard 17-inch wheels wrapped in Dunlop Sport Maxx RTs do still transmit plenty of road/tire noise to the cabin as well, but this smaller audience of buyers can deal with it.
Lastly, the all-important transmission evolution here is pretty noteworthy. I would certainly go for the six-speed manual even though the optional CVT gets me several extra interesting toys to play with plus a 45:55 front:rear weight distribution (versus the 50:50 on the manual six). Both setups now come with torque vectoring, too, which does equalize them a bit, but the center viscous coupling for the differential on the manual car feels honestly finer to me while thrashing versus the electronically controlled hydraulic center diff on the CVT car. And the strategy of mapping eight speeds only when I’m in the S# mode is weird since the extra fuel-efficiency gears ought to be with the base I and middle S setups. Eight virtual ratios in the S# mood are too many and the flapping of left and right paddles seemed a neverending aerobic exercise for my hands. Too much.
But Subaru will shift 15,000 of these in the U.S. per year without much trouble. A large part of the How is that there will only ever be the practical sedan body this time around. Then there is the outstanding manual gearbox with six speeds at last, the offer of this very flexible CVT tranny, and the additional efficiency of the latest 2.0 Turbo.
KEY SPECS: 2015 Subaru Impreza WRX
Price: $26,000 plus (est.)
Engine: 2.0-liter turbo “flat” four; 268 bhp
Transmission: 6-speed manual, AWD; optional CVT
0-60mph: 5.4 seconds
Top speed: 130mph (limited)
Economy: 25mpg (avg.)
On sale: April 2014