Throughout the Subaru WRX‘s existence, there have always been two constants: The next one is always uglier than the one before, and the new one is always slightly disappointing from a performance standpoint compared to the last one. Take last generation’s WRX, for example. It started out under-powered and looking about as interesting as Eastern Bloc apartment buildings, and wound up being a lightning-fast boy-racer dream. The 2015 Subaru WRX is certainly better-looking than the previous version, so that’s one trend bucked. Performance is another story, though. Let’s take a look at how the new CVT-equipped 2015 WRX handles the test track.
Aside from the sharp new sheetmetal, our 2015 Subaru WRX tester is identical to previous models in many ways. Under the hood sits a new 2.0-liter turbocharged F-4 making 268 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, sending power to Subaru’s signature all-wheel-drive system. What makes our particular tester’s powertrain so interesting is what’s bolted to the back of that boxer-four – a continuously variable transmission.
The 2015 Subaru WRX is the first since 2008 to offer an automatic transmission, in this case the same CVT that Subaru bolts to the 2014 Forester XT. I know, I know, I’ve read your comments — it’s a national travesty on par with Kendrick Lamar getting snubbed at the Grammys: “The WRX should be manual only!” But to those people, this I say to you: Is the WRX’s old four-speed slushbox really any sportier than the 2015 WRX’s CVT?
And besides, the CVT-equipped Subaru WRX drives really nicely, and attempts to mimic a traditional automatic with simulated shifts in most instances. With its version of Si Drive (cribbed from the WRX STI) Subaru says the CVT acts like a traditional slushbox in most instances. Si Drive has three modes. Sport mimics a traditional six-speed automatic as long as you’re heavy on the throttle, otherwise it reverts back to being a CVT, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing considering the trans did an excellent job at keeping the 2.0-liter turbo-4 in boost. Sport # (the “#” is for “sharp”) is the mode most befitting of the car’s nameplate. In this mode, it does its best eight-speed automatic impression, firing off quick shifts with a little bit of thrash programmed in to remind the driver what exactly they’re driving. In the interest of full disclosure, there’s also an eco-friendly Intelligent mode, but you’re better off forgetting it exists. Set it and forget it in Sport #.
Back to how the 2015 WRX CVT takes on the track. The acceleration run from 0-60 mph takes 5.8 seconds, which is 0.3 second slower than the manual-equipped 2015 WRX. Though still under 6 seconds, the CVT-equipped WRX’s 0-60 mph run is among the slowest we’ve ever recorded in a WRX, matching the original 227-hp 2002 Subaru Impreza WRX Wagon’s run to 60 mph. At the strip, the 2015 Subaru WRX CVT ran a 14.5-second quarter mile at 96.7 mph – a half-second slower than the manual model. The last previous-generation WRX sedan we tested was a second faster in the quarter mile.
On the figure eight, our CVT-equipped tester split the difference between the 2015 WRX manual and the 2014 model, doing the deed in 25.5 seconds at 0.73 g average – 0.2 seconds slower than the manual model, and 0.1 seconds faster than the last-gen WRX. The 2015 WRX CVT pulled a 0.93 g average on the skidpad and needed 107 feet to decelerate from 60-0 mph.
If test track numbers are all that matters to you, consider the new WRX 1 for 2 when it comes to trend bucking. Those who enjoy driving out in the real world will still find lots to like in the new WRX, even with the CVT.
Even without the manual, the 2015 Subaru WRX is still loads of fun around town and in the canyon roads surrounding Los Angeles. In Sport #, throttle response is amped up and the simulated ratios are short, allowing the car to rocket off the line. Steering is BRZ-sharp, too, making a game out of weaving in and out of traffic.
Things got even better as the roads got twistier. Up in the canyons of Malibu, the WRX was a rocket. The new electric steering rack is lightning-quick, and the firmed-up suspension makes the WRX corner about as flat as a BRZ – that’s really where the largest difference between the old car and new car lie. While the old Impreza WRX would roll, hunker down, and then power out of a corner, the new WRX just eats up each corner without a hint of roll. The transmission handled corner-carving duty just as well. In manual mode, the paddles shifted on command, and held whatever the selected gear was, even if the accelerator was pushed to the firewall. While the CVT won’t fool the gearhead who’s driven a sports car with a quick-shifting auto or dual-clutch, I suspect those new to sports cars – the type of people Subaru is courting with the CVT – will be plenty happy with the gearless wonder.
I really grew to love the WRX’s capability in the canyons. My fiancé, in the passenger seat, was not a huge fan. I made her a bit carsick.
But there’s still one thing missing from the WRX formula: a hatchback. Subaru folk are known for their active lifestyles, which would help explain why the majority of previous-gen WRX sales were hatchback variants. Subaru says the money didn’t exist to make a hatchback version of the 2015 WRX, and that the sedan offered more growth potential. I don’t buy it. My test of the WRX just so happened to coincide with my girl and I getting new bikes. While the old WRX hatch would easily swallow a pair of bikes without problem, the new sedan can’t even fit a single bike inside. We had to make two trips, each with bike’s front wheel hanging out the back of the trunk. The lack of a hatchback is a huge oversight. The guys at the bike shop agreed with me. Both thought the new WRX was the perfect “rig” for them, until I told them the hatch no longer exists.
Does the new 2015 Subaru WRX buck the trend? Yes and no. It’s certainly better-looking than the old, but it unfortunately doesn’t build on the performance offered by the last model. No matter, though; with sharp new sheetmetal and a perfectly capable CVT (Subaru expects it to account for 20 percent of sales), the new WRX will likely appeal to more drivers than ever before. There’s your money, Subaru — now go make a hatch.
|2015 Subaru WRX CVT|
|BASE PRICE||$28,000 (est)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$28,000 (est)|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||2.0L/268-hp/258-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve turbocharged F-4|
|TRANSMISSION||Continuously Variable Transmission|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3442 lb (61/39%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||180.9 x 70.7 x 58.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.8 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||14.5 sec @ 96.7 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||107 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.93 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||25.5 sec @ 0.73 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||19/25 mpg (mfr rest)|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||177/135 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)|
|C02 EMISSIONS||0.91 lb/mile (est)|