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- Gutsy turbo 4-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
- No hatchback model
- Wind and road noise
The 2016 Subaru WRX and WRX STI lineup offers an all-wheel-drive rocket for just about any budget, and the latest updates help make these performance machines even more livable day to day.
It's true the 2016 Subaru WRX and WRX STI share bits and pieces with other Subarus. The body shell is lifted from an Impreza sedan; the WRX's heart 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—except the BRZ.
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 a bit dull—not nearly as compelling as the extravagant mechanicals that lie beneath the skin. The STI gets a big wing out back, although for 2016 the STI Limited can be optioned with a low-profile trunk spoiler that should call a little less attention to the car.
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. The STI gets slightly nicer trim as well as a light-up shift knob.
The WRX uses a lovely turbocharged 2.0-liter flat-4 engine outfitted with a twin-scroll turbocharger and intercooler as well as direct injection. Power output is set at 268 hp, 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 (CVT), 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 6-speed manual gearbox—up a cog over the 5-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 preset 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 the STI, it feels sharper and more vivid, but not all that much quicker. It carries forward with the exact same 2.5-liter turbo flat-4 as last year, making 305 hp and 290 lb-ft. It's mated to an improved 6-speed manual gearbox, and power is delivered via a special driver controlled center differential, bringing a helical limited-slip front differential and Torsen limited-slip rear differential. With it you get bigger Brembo brakes, a stiffer suspension tune (with revised geometry in front), and hydraulic-boost steering with a quicker ratio.
With new features and much-improved performance, and prices bumped up negligibly if at all (with the base manual WRX just $27,390), 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 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; keyless ignition; and a premium audio system with nine speakers, 440 watts of sound, navigation, and Aha Radio smartphone connectivity.
Changes for 2016 include the addition of several available safety features and new infotainment across the lineup, as well as the aforementioned under-the-radar STI spoiler. Subaru's camera-based EyeSight safety suite is now available on the WRX Limited with Lineartronic CVT, enabling adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and lane-keep assist. It is bundled in a package that also includes navigation and blind-spot monitors, lane-change assist, and rear cross-traffic alert. Some of those items are available on the top STI as well.
All WRX and STI models now come with at least a 6.2-inch touchscreen infotainment system, while navigation-equipped models upgrade to a 7.0-inch screen. The units run Subaru's new software, which is a slight upgrade from past systems that were a bit slow and hard to navigate.
And on the performance end of things, the WRX Premium and Limited models now come standard with 18-inch wheels wrapped in summer-performance tires.