- Gutsy turbo four-cylinder
- Saving the manuals--adding gears, even
- Two flavors of all-wheel drive
- One of the better CVTs we've driven
- Doesn't look like it drives
- Infotainment is kludgy
- Wind and road noise
The 2015 Subaru WRX is no quicker than before, but beautifully balanced handling and spot-on steering are better than ever.
The 2015 Subaru WRX serves as an interesting left-brained alternative to the musclecars in in the mid-$20,000 range. The WRX is whizzy, turbocharged, and a lot more than just a tuned-up economy car. While it's fundamentally a practical, all-wheel-drive compact sedan, it's a true sports car at heart, and a fun way to get to 60 mph just as quickly as a V-8 Camaro or Mustang. Yet with the right tires it could be a champ for snowy commutes.
It's true that the 2015 Subaru WRX and WRX STI share bits and pieces with other Subarus. The body's an Impreza sedan at heart; the actual heart's a new turbocharged four that comes right out of The Car Connection's Best Car To Buy 2014, the Subaru Forester. And the standard all-wheel drive? It's a key to all Subarus small and large.
Step up to the pricier STI and you get a little more distance from the mainstream. While both the WRX and STI are built on a stiffer, special body, the STI gets a 305-hp engine, its own special gearbox, a stiffer suspension, better brakes, and a far edgier, more customizable all-wheel drive system that enthusiasts who crave track time might appreciate.
The sum of all those things? In any case, these cars are a blast to drive, and a hundred times better perceived from the inside than from the outside.
2015 Subaru WRX (and WRX STI) performance
The new WRX builds on the outgoing model's tart performance by swapping out the former four-cylinder for a new one that's also found in the latest Forester.
It's a lovely 2.0-liter turbo four, outfitted with a twin-scroll turbocharger and intercooler as well as direct injection. Power output is set at 268 horsepower, while peak torque of 258 pound-feet is delivered from 2,000 rpm to 5,200 rpm. Distinct from the Forester's version of the same engine, the WRX engine has unique cam profiles and valve-spring rates.
The powerplant's coupled to either a manual or a continuously variable transmission, the first one ever in a WRX--and the choice of transmission nets the driver different versions of Subaru's hallmark all-wheel drive. With the six-speed manual gearbox--up a cog over the five-speed unit in the last WRX--the all-wheel-drive system has a viscous coupling at the center differential. It splits power 50:50 front to rear, and can shuffle torque side to side as traction needs arise.
With the CVT-equipped WRX, Subaru's ladling on all its latest thinking in performance and economy. The CVT gets a set of eight pre-selected transmission ratios that give it the feel of a manual transmission, in Sport Sharp mode, or the usual CVT response when it's left in Intelligent mode, with an intermediate Sport mode offering six gear-like steps. This WRX also has an all-wheel-drive system with a rear bias set at 45:55, and variable torque distribution side to side, with the ability to reroute torque based on cornering forces and steering-wheel inputs. The WRX also gets electric power steering and a sport-tuned suspension, all riding on 17-inch, 45-series tires.
The result: a car that adapts to gas-saving features with aplomb. It still scorches the road utterly unlike anything in its class--maybe a Focus ST has the acceleration and grip, but not the WRX's beautifully balanced handling and spot-on steering. Braking isn't quite as great as we'd hoped, given the now excellent pedal feel and neat stops of most rivals.
As for STI, it feels sharper and more vivid, but not all that much quicker. It carries forward with the exact same 2.5-liter turbo four as last year, making 305 hp and 290 lb-ft. It's mated to an improved six-speed manual gearbox, and power is delivered via a special Driver Controlled Center Differential (DCCD), bringing a helical limited-slip front differential and Torsen limited-slip rear diff. With it you get bigger Brembo brakes, a stiffer suspension tune (with revised geometry in front), and hydraulic-boost steering with a quicker ratio.
2015 Subaru WRX interior/exterior
Make it big, and make it boxy; that's the ethos of the new WRX's styling, at least at the front end where the air intakes have never looked quite so massive, or the fenders quite so pronounced. Subaru says the deep front air dam and grille aren't the only pieces swapped out to make it so: the WRX has its own hood, fenders, bumpers, and lighting to distinguish it from the Impreza. Key details include the more deeply set (and functional) hood scoop, LED low-beam headlights on upgraded models, and new 17-inch wheels, standard. Somehow, with all that in place, it all still reads dully--not nearly as compelling as the extravagant mechanicals that lie beneath the skin.
Inside, the WRX claims about an inch more of wheelbase, which translates into more interior space in a cabin that's also better-finished than in the last-generation Impreza and WRX. In the WRX, sport seats are specified and are covered in grippy upholstery. A power driver seat is an option, and so is leather upholstery, in case they're absolutely required for your next rally. Versus the last WRX, the new car gains almost two inches of rear-seat leg room, and a bit more trunk space.
2015 Subaru WRX safety and features
With new features and much-improved performance, and prices bumped up negligibly if at all (with the base manual WRX just $27,090), the 2015 WRX is looking like a stronger performance value than ever—and one that you could drive year-round, as opposed to a lot of other performance models.
Among other features, the WRX now comes with standard automatic climate control; a flat-bottomed steering wheel that tilts and telescopes; Bluetooth; and steering-wheel audio and phone controls.
In the STI, you get a lot of other extras, like leather and Alcantara (faux-suede) seating, dual-zone climate control, an improved center console, and LED headlamps and turn-signal mirrors; and these altogether help erase some of the price differential.
Major options on the WRX include a power driver seat; heated front seats; a sunroof; pushbutton start; and a harman/kardon audio system with 9 speakers, 440 watts of sound, navigation, and Aha Radio smartphone connectivity.