2015 Subaru WRX Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 7, 2015

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.

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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.

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2015 Subaru WRX

Styling

The WRX isn't outrageous or lovely, but at least the cockpit's finished better than in the past.

The Subaru WRX has always been dogged by a perception pretty much grounded in reality: it looks exactly like a car where most of the development money was spent on the drivetrain.

It's not quite as bleak as that sounds, but the WRX is no pageant queen, though it is dolled up from the basic Impreza sheetmetal that bowed in 2012. It's gone more subtle and discreet, just like the rest of the Subaru lineup. For the WRX, Subaru takes that basic outline and adds more massive air intakes--have they ever been this big?--and many, many other subtle changes. Outside of the roof and trunk lid, every metal panel's been tweaked to look wider and bolder. And still, the WRX is nowhere near as kit-car-like as it was a decade ago.

It's also no longer a hatchback: in order to put all that money into the drivetrain, Subaru's dropped the WRX hatchback, and says it won't be back.

The cabin's functional and straightforward, as in the Impreza. There's some mild relief from past WRXs and Imprezas: the dash isn't so fashionable as in a Sonic or Cruze or Elantra, but it's at least functionally well conceived, with a cowl over the primary gauges and a smaller one over the multi-function LCD display that rests in the middle of the dash. There's some light matte-silver painted trim to break up the vast expanses of black, and for the most part it comes off handsomely if generically.

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9

2015 Subaru WRX

Performance

Ziploc grip and blasts of pure turbo power put the WRX in truly heady performance territory.

The centerpiece of the WRX isn't the standard all-wheel drive that comes with every one (and every Impreza), or the new choices in transmissions. It's the turbocharged, direct-injected 2.0-liter four that swaps in for a less talented, normally aspirated Impreza four. 

The turbo four is a tart performer, waking up every joint in the WRX's suspension, using every gear cog (or virtual gear) to magnify the natural handling advantages it has over front-drive compacts with taller powertrain installations. The four's horizontally-opposed cylinders lie flatter, giving it more weight closer to the ground--and all the while, those pistons are turning gas into 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, peaking on a wide plateau from 2,000 to 5,200 rpm thanks to different cams and valve springs versus the non-turbo four.

The gearboxes--let's call them that for now--send that sizzling power to all four wheels through a center differential, but there are two mechanically distinct setups. With the six-speed manual gearbox, you get reasonably short shifts and an extra gear versus last year's WRX, along with a viscous-coupling center differential that splits torque 50:50 front to rear. It can distribute torque from the front wheels to the back wheels as traction begins to vary. That setup is pegged by Subaru at a very conservative 5.4 seconds in the 0-60-mph run.

The other transmission technically isn't a gearbox, because there are no gears, just pulleys and simulated gearsteps. It's a continuously variable transmission, one we've sampled in our Best Car To Buy 2014, the Subaru Forester. This CVT probably has better responsiveness than any other CVT we've driven thanks to clever programming: in its "Intelligent" driving mode, it alters its gear ratio constantly to deliver the best fuel economy. In Sport mode, it can be placed in Manual mode, in which it can be paddle-shifted through six pre-set ratios that act and sound like gears.

At its best, the CVT is in Sport Sharp mode, where it responds like a good dual-clutch transmission, with eight virtual gears and swifter throttle response. With the CVT, the WRX gets a different AWD system with a 45:55 rear torque bias and more software connections with the stability control. All told here, the CVT-equipped WRX in its most aggressive mode can reach 60 mph in about 5.9 seconds.

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.

The WRX revels in smooth power transitions, with tightly composed handling and very well-tuned electric power steering. With stiffer shocks, quicker spring rates, bigger-diameter anti-sway bars, and stouter brakes, the WRX has a very taut--almost stiff--feel on a variety of roads that lights up its enthusiast fans and damps enthusiasm for it as a daily driver. It has awesome transient responses, and feels like a critical piece of the design that keeps the ground fastened to the sky--but it can be too rough and tiring in hundred-mile drives with poorly maintained road surfaces. For the fun-driving times, the WRX has electronic torque vectoring--light braking that helps it turn into corners easier, up to a point--and a disable-able traction-control system.

Our major complaint in early WRXs has been with its brakes. The new 17-inch, Dunlop SP Sport Maxx RT tires seem like a willing match to the chassis, but the brakes in two different vehicles we drove felt very numb, and required a very strong foot to tame the drivetrain's eagerness. That's remedied in the WRX STI, which gets high-performance Brembo units in front, and larger stoppers all around.


 

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8

2015 Subaru WRX

Comfort & Quality

The cabin's dressed up in lots of black plastic, but the seats are comfortable and storage is decent.

With the new WRX, Subaru adds another layer of refinement to a package that's needed it. The space is more generous, the materials better presented. It's by no means a luxury car, and that does separate it still from some of the very upscale looks in the compact-car class.

The Impreza / WRX have grown in this generation, up about an inch of wheelbase in their current forms, with more resulting space in the back seat and in the trunk.

In front, that means lots of elbow room for average-size adults. The WRX's base seats are covered in grippy fabric, with power adjustment and leather trim on the options list. In back, almost two more inches of leg room complements thinner front seat backs, netting out with good space for two adults--but not three. Any middle-seater will feel pinched.

Interior storage is fine, with generously sized bins and trays, and the trunk is a bit larger--up from 11.3 cubic feet to 12 cubic feet. The rear seat folds down for expanded stow space--outdoor gear if you must, maybe a real spare tire if you're out hustling the WRX and find a nail.

Like the Impreza, the WRX has a substantially nicer dash and surfaces than in the last-generation vehicle. It's mostly clothed in soft-touch, low-gloss plastics, with simpler controls than in some other compacts--particularly some of its Asian competitors. It's not a particularly sexy treatment at all, and it's enjoined by a characteristically high amount of wind and tire noise common to most Subarus.

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2015 Subaru WRX

Safety

The WRX shares the Subaru Impreza's body--and therefore its excellent crash-test scores.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) hasn't yet fully tested the WRX; although the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the WRX good ratings across the board, including in the IIHS' new small-overlap test.

It's no longer a TSP+--a rating which the IIHS now reserves only for cars with collision-prevention systems at least available as options.

Boosting its safety over the last WRX, the new edition adds a driver knee airbag to its standard-equipment list, as well as a rearview camera.

Subaru also improved outward visibility with the current design, by slimming the pillars; and with a relatively high front seating position and somewhat low shoulder line, there's now good visibility in most directions. The side-mirror design introduced in 2012 is also 20 percent larger, providing a full field of rear view.

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2015 Subaru WRX

Features

Subaru's infotainment system is a fiddly mess, but sporty add-ons put the WRX in the right place.

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; an AM/FM/CD player; Bluetooth; a USB port; and steering-wheel audio and phone controls.

A rearview camera is standard on the WRX, and its output is displayed on a small 4.3-in. LCD screen that doubles as a boost gauge display, a VDC monitor, and an audio readout. It's far from the best camera setup we've seen, though on its scale the screen has a crisp picture.

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. You also get a electroluminescent gauge panel, as well as upgraded soft-touch materials for the dash, door trim, and armrest.

STI Limited models get leather upholstery, a power driver's seat, a sunroof, and Harman/Kardon audio..

Other major options include a power driver seat; heated front seats; a sunroof; pushbutton start; and a navigation system, which fits a large touchscreen to the dash and takes over infotainment functions. We're no fans of Subaru's stab at infotainment here--the screen has tiny and fiddly buttons and feels underdeveloped--but it brings with it harman/kardon audio with 9 speakers and 440 watts of sound, along with Aha smartphone connectivity.

At the enthusiast end of the scale, you'll want to be seen in the WRX STI Launch Edition—an especially attractive version of the 2015 Subaru WRX STI that includes gold-painted 18-inch BBS alloy wheels as well as WR Blue Pearl paint that's a familiar competition color. With it, you also get special blue interior highlights and a short-throw shifter, plus keyless start, at a total price of $38,190.

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7

2015 Subaru WRX

Fuel Economy

Hint: Gas mileage gets better with the CVT if you leave it in its most basic mode.

The Subaru WRX can't match the peerless gas-mileage numbers its all-wheel-drive Impreza sibling can--but for such a high-performance machine, it's in the above-average range.

With the manual transmission, the WRX earns a rating of 21 miles per gallon, 28 mpg highway, or 24 mpg combined. Subaru has a good track record of certifying fuel economy correctly, and those figures are exactly as the company predicted

With the CVT, the WRX is rated at 19/25/21 mpg. Subaru says if you left the CVT in Intelligent mode all the time you'd edge closer to 24 mpg combined, but the sport sedan probably will live in Sport Sharp mode most of the time, negating the gains from the CVT itself.

The WRX STI is rated at 17/23 mpg, or 19 mpg combined.

For comparison, the CVT-equipped Impreza sedan and hatchback get 27 mpg city, 36 mpg highway, for a combined 30-mpg rating. Manual numbers are somewhat lower, at 25/34 mpg.

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May 23, 2015
2015 Subaru WRX 4-Door Sedan CVT Limited

A four-door sedan that's a riot to drive....!

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Would have liked more performance options on the CVT WRX.....brakes, wheels and horsepower.
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More fun to drive than cars twice the price

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February 9, 2015
For 2015 Subaru WRX

Fun and easy on the wallet

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