2015 Subaru WRX Review
Fear Not, Subaru Fans. This One is a Winner
Subaru’s sales exploded last year and the surge has a lot to do with the brand making its vehicles more appealing to general consumers. But that doesn’t mean Subaru has abandoned what it is best known for: street-legal all-wheel drive rally cars.
|Engine: The 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine makes 268 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque.
Transmission: A six-speed manual or a CVT automatic are both offered.
Fuel Economy: Fuel economy is officially rated at 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway for the stick or 19/25 for the CVT.
Pricing: The base Subaru WRX will start at $27,090 after destination charges while a fully-loaded CVT equipped WRX Limited costs $31,990.
After a seven-year run, the WRX and STI have finally received a ground up redesign this year. Based on the latest Subaru Impreza, the WRX is a completely new animal and unlike the 2015 STI, uses no carryover parts from its predecessor.
New Turbo Engine under Hood
The biggest news is under the hood. Starting with the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder found in the Subaru Forester, the engine has been tweaked and strengthened for the WRX to make 268 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Although this is only a modest power bump, the extra torque is available from 2,000 rpm all the way up to 5,200 rpm. Peaking at 15.9 psi, the new 2.0-liter turbo can be run on regular gas or premium, but there is a minor power penalty when using regular.
Power delivery is smooth and constant. There are no dead zones present throughout the rpm range like were present in the old 2.5-liter turbo. Throttle tip-in for the WRX has been increased for 2015 as well, which only exaggerates how much more powerful the new engine feels. The exhaust we find is still too quiet and allows a less-then pleasant engine noise into the cabin under hard acceleration. A subdued exhaust note may be for the best however, since the new 2.0-liter set-up has eliminated the need for unequal length exhaust headers. Yes, that means the classic Subaru rumble will not be heard in the 2015 WRX.
A CVT WRX?
Transmission choices have been significantly altered for 2015. The five-speed manual is replaced by a new six-speed gearbox. Unlike the STI’s six-speed manual solid linkage gearbox set-up, the WRX now uses cable linkage. Like the old five-speed, the new manual incorporates a fixed 50/50 front-rear power distribution. Strangely, even with the switch cable linkage, the new transmission feels very similar to the old gearbox in operation.
But the big transmission news for 2015 has to do with the automatic. Gone is the prehistoric four-speed auto replaced by a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Although it is not the same unit found in the Forester XT, the new CVT behaves in much the same manner. In regular drive modes the transmission simulates six gears, but will expand to eight “speeds” in sport # ( pronounced “sharp,” not “hashtag”) mode. As well, power is distributed 45 percent and 55 percent front to rear, but unlike the manual, that ratio can be adjusted depending on grip levels.
Even in sport sharp mode, we found the CVT slow to respond from a dead stop. This may have as much to do with turbocharger lag as the transmission itself, but a noticeable delay is present. Once underway though, the CVT responds quickly in aggressive driving and will hold very high rpms when attacking twisting mountain roads. Sadly, Subaru couldn’t completely eliminate the archenemy of CVTs and even with constantly changing speeds, the powertrain still drones at times.
Now More Efficient
Fuel mileage for the new WRX is officially rated at 21 mpg city and 28 mpg for the six-speed, while the CVT is rated at 19 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. This is a rare instance where a CVT is actually less efficient than a manual transmission. The reason for this is that Subaru chose for the car to default to the sport setting when started. This ultimately hurts fuel efficiency, but better fuel economy can be achieved by putting the car into its more economical “intelligent mode.”
The drivetrain is only one half of the WRXs transformation, the chassis and suspension are vastly improved. Subaru felt it was important to ensure the car behaves the way the driver expects it to and we couldn’t agree more. Springs rates have been increased significantly in the front and rear as have the size of sway bars. Add a stronger chassis and Subaru claims the new car is less prone to chassis flex and body roll.
The WRX Delivers
After hammering the car through the mountain roads surrounding Santa Barbara and taking hot laps on Buttonwillow Raceway, we found that the car is more planted when approaching the limit and more forgiving than the old WRX. Body roll has virtually disappeared and the car feels much flatter through high-speed corners than the old model. Ride quality hasn’t really suffered either despite the newfound suspension firmness. The WRX is bumpy on broken concrete interstates, but not jarring.
The WRX now comes standard with active torque vectoring that brakes the inside rear tire when turning to help pivot the car through a corner. Unfortunately, like the Ford Focus ST, the torque vectoring can never fully be disabled in the WRX.
Aside from the stiffer, more planted chassis, the WRX’s is vastly improved in terms of cornering balance. For example, it doesn’t want to push straight forward when aggressively thrown into a corner anymore. And despite the WRX being equipped with electric power steering, the feel, response and precision have improved dramatically. With a 14:1 steering ratio, the new WRX almost responds like the BRZ. That is pretty high praise since the 2014 model felt like steering a greyhound bus compared to the BRZ.
Better Inside, But Not Great
With virtually the same interior minus seating options, we have already reported in detail how the new WRX and STI are inside during our 2015 Subaru WRX STI Review. Instead of regurgitating the same points here, we’ll just mention the interior is more fitting at the WRX’s price point and we quite enjoy the steering wheel feel at the 9 and 3 grip positions.
While on the topic of price, the base 2015 WRX will start at $27,090 after destination charges for a base WRX while the Limited CVT model will begin at $31,990 ($31,645 for our Canadian readers, which is actually a price drop compared to the 2014 model).
The old WRX always stacked up well with its traditional competitors like the Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart, Honda Civic Si, Mazdaspeed3 and Volkswagen GTI. But last year, a new competitor emerged that turned the segment on its head: the Ford Focus ST. Although the new WRX still doesn’t offer the same quality interior as the Focus, it is right on par in terms of pricing and performance. Add in standard all-wheel drive as well as an automatic transmission option and we may just have a new king of the compact performance segment.