2015 Subaru WRX. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Jonathan Yarkony
Ojai, California – It’s sunny here. Ironic then, that we are here to test one of the most all-weather-capable sport sedans in the world, the 2015 Subaru WRX. Well, when life hands you sunshine, you need something like a racetrack to truly explore the limits of a car with this level of capability.
Convenient, then that we spent the afternoon at California’s Buttonwillow racetrack thrashing the WRX (and its WRX STI brother). In our STI review, we covered the extensive and convincing handling and steering revisions, which are also largely applied to the WRX, but perhaps to even greater effect. While the STI gains 24 percent roll stiffness from the various chassis revisions, the WRX gets 43 percent increased roll stiffness.
And while the WRX steering is similarly rewarding from a driving perspective, the steering ratio is quickened only to 14.5:1 ratio compared to the STI’s 13:1 (both formerly 15:1). The steering also makes the leap to electric power assist, but between the quicker ratio and 200 percent stiffer steering gearbox mount bushings, the feel is incredibly lively for an electric rack and weighting just right for on-track precision or leisurely driving around town.
And that is the WRX’s coup de grace, a superb compromise between performance capability and everyday drivability. Key to the WRX’s expansion in the market is a new automatic transmission. However, it is not the dual-clutch automated manual, darling of performance-minded drivers, but rather a continuously variable transmission, the dreaded CVT. But this ain’t your garden variety CVT, or the mooing fun-killers in many small displacement runabouts. Instead, this is in the vein of the fun-loving, multiple-personality box Subaru introduced in the Forester XT, dubbed “Sport Lineartronic”. We’ll just ignore that silliness and call it the CVT that it is in order to start turning the tide from hating to admiring CVTs. If you’ll recall from our past comparisons, the Forester XT’s CVT was scored highest in our Compact Crossover Comparison, and Honda Accord’s CVT garnered similar honours in a battle of family sedans.
The WRX development team had their way with it, but on paper it is the same three-mode setup as in the Forester XT: fully automatic and without set ratios in standard mode; six preset ratios with manual shifting capability in S (Sport) mode; eight preset ratios with manual shifting capability in S# (Sport Sharp) mode. It worked in the Forester XT and it works in the WRX.
Like the transmission, the 2.0L turbocharged, intercooled, direct-injected boxer-four FA20 engine also seems familiar from the Forester XT, replacing the EJ25 2.5L formerly in service in the WRX. That engine is now reserved for the STI, but the 2.0L in the WRX benefits from stronger valve springs, allowing a bump in the redline (6,700 rpm in manual transmission cars, 6,500 in CVT cars), lighter, revised intake manifold and exhaust system and reduced friction all enhance output and improve fuel efficiency. Total system output is a nominally higher 268 hp arriving slightly earlier at 5,600 rpm, but torque is up a healthy 14 lb-ft, with 258 lb-ft coming online at 2,500 rpm and sticking around until dropping off north of 5,000 rpm. The engine has plenty of pull for such a small power plant, and it seemed entirely adequate until feeling the thrust of the STI on Buttonwillow’s front straight and the extended, gradual curved straight.
2015 Subaru WRX. Click image to enlarge
On the highways out of Ojai on the way to the track, the power was more than generous, and to get back to the transmission, the standard drive mode was smoother than any automatic (or manual for that matter), and when tackling the mountain passes that lead inland and the pavement that snakes along the San Andreas Fault, the simulated ratios can be called on via the shift paddles to hold revs through corners or downshift with next to no hesitation or disruption. It may not deliver the satisfying whack of a traditional high-performance transmission slotting into gear, but it does deliver all the smoothness and efficiency that consumers are looking for.
Other mundane attributes that consumers look for are efficiency, practicality, comfort, convenience and safety, and although a performance car at heart, Subaru is aiming to expand the audience by improving in all these areas without compromising said performance.