2015 Subaru WRX Review

Fear Not, Subaru Fans. This One is a Winner

2015 Subaru WRX Review

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.

FAST FACTS

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?

2015 Subaru WRX 12

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.

2015 Subaru WRX 06But 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.
 
2015 Subaru WRX 11Even 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

2015 Subaru WRX 02

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

2015 Subaru WRX 19

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.

2015 Subaru WRX 24Aside 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

2015 Subaru WRX 07With 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 Verdict

2015 Subaru WRX 17

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.

LOVE IT
  • Engine response
  • Neutral handling
  • Finally a six-speed manual
  • Sharper responses
LEAVE IT
  • Interior still somewhat weak
  • No hatchback version

  • Brad

    Just put my order in yesterday, with the limited trim. Very psyched!

  • Anna Mouse

    Simply put the competition from other makes is heating up and Subaru seems to be asleep at the wheel. I think most Subaru owner simply want a car that is safe, fast, and reliable. Oh and will smoke the fools in a Honda or VW, but this car doesn’t seem to be able to do that. I hope the STI version is a lot faster!

  • CC_101

    AWD is a cornerstone of Subaru engineering. It improves handling in all situations, not just in mud, snow or rain. They have always designed their cars from the ground up with AWD drive in mind (except the BRZ/FRS project with Toyota). Creating a RWD option completely changes the drive train and would result in a “bolt on” AWD system as an afterthought which ruins the idea of the integrated AWD. If you want rear wheel drive it might be time to look at the BRZ or another car manufacturer that starts with RWD and adds AWD (in a much less effective manner compared to an integrated system) to their cars.

  • zenjitsuman

    I understand that the 2016 BRZ will have AWD and a turbo, weigh 2800lbs.

    The Turbo will output 296bhp and 0-60 in 4.6 sec. Optional dual clutch Auto, like the Porsche DSG only 1 sec. faster to 60 mph.

    This peaked my interest, what do you think, is it going to be worth $36k.

  • CC_101

    I think that’s a lot of bang for the buck absolutely. As sporty as the BRZ is, I’m surprised it took them so long to integrate AWD and give it a an engine upgrade for the STi model. From what I’ve read it won’t be turbocharged but it will have a significant increase in HP. I always thought the RWD N/A model lacked a little in terms of performance. For 36k it definitely peaks my interest and is most definitely worth a look.

    I wonder what engine will be in it however because if it is the older EJ257 that is still in the WRX STi, I would steer clear due to the engine still having a timing belt instead of a chain and being prone to ringland failures. The FA model engines are supposed to address those issues and add some new tech to improve performance over the relatively fragile EJ.

  • zenjitsuman

    I have seen several articles saying it will be using the basic 2 liter turbo WRX engine, but produce 296hp. That is a direct injection engine, but the Turbo BRZ will get 30 more HP and 30 ftlb. more torque. It will go so they say for $34k with 6sp. and another $1,100 for the dual clutch auto. On the Cayman S the dual clutch auto is much more money but it is about half a second faster than the 6 sp manual box to 60mph.

    AWD is great but if it comes with an 150 to 200 lb. of additional weight for me as a Vegas desert rat I don’t see it making a difference on dry roads.

    I have a friend who totaled his SVT Mustang RWD on an icey road in Ohio. For places where they get snow and ice I am sure its worth every penny, just so that is less likely to happen.

    Thanks of writing back

  • CC_101

    If that’s the case then I would say that sounds like a great car. The new direct inject turbocharged engine in the WRX is a fantastic improvement over the older models so I think that would make a great addition to the BRZ.

    AWD is synonymous with Subaru, except for the BRZ so I think that would be a great choice if you were looking for a Subie without the AWD. Otherwise, I think you may be stuck with it as I don’t foresee Subaru making AWD optional anytime soon on any other models. The BRZ STi looks like a fun, sporty car for a great price though.

  • zenjitsuman

    How much weight penalty would adding 4WD to the Brz. I can see
    it helping get quicker starts since its less likely to spin tires and make
    the rear of the car bog down, but if 200lbs that slows the car with extra weight.

  • CC_101

    It basically entails adding a rear differential and drive shaft, but Subaru removes some of the complexity (and thus weight) associated with the transfer of power from a traditional straight four by creating a continuous drive-train (ie. symmetrical AWD). I don’t know exactly where you come out in terms of weight difference, but I think 200lbs would be a high estimate but close. But I read somewhere opting for a manual transmission over an automatic saves a few hundred pounds so you might find some savings by doing that.

  • CC_101

    Twin scroll turbo in the new WRX meant it needed equal length headers. I’ll take performance over “classic” noise any day.

  • zenjitsuman

    I am also looking at a couple year old Cayman S or even the regular Cayman. They have a DSG dual clutch auto, called a PSK

    Its a 7 speed, so its easier to get better MPG.

    The tests show on Cayman its half sec. faster to 60mph and gets
    2mpg better gas mileage. I think it weighs 40-50 lbs. more but
    gear changes are racer fast, and your always in the center of the torque curve. That is what I want to get on BRZ

  • CC_101

    I don’t know if Subaru will go to a dual clutch auto. They seem set on the CVT in which case you would be better to go with the manual. Subarus are great but a Porsche is in a different category of car really. However, VW’s are notorious for poor reliability and expensive maintenance. I would take a new Subaru over a used Porsche honestly. Better bang for the buck and you don’t inherit someones else’s problems.

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