Five things you need to know about the 2015 Subaru WRX CVT

Many hardcore car guys pride themselves on being able to identify a car approaching, sight unseen, by just the sound of the engine and exhaust note. Whether it’s the rumble of an American V8 or the hollow wail of an Infiniti V6, these guys can tell you at least the make, if not the specific model of the vehicle.

One of these cars with just such a distinct exhaust note is none other than the Subaru WRX. Thanks to the unequal length exhaust manifold headers on its turbocharged engine, the WRX’s burble was unmistakable and loved by many.

However with the 2015 Subaru WRX, in non-STI form at least, the burble is gone with the addition of a brand new engine that is more powerful and yet more efficient engine.

You can now even get the car with an automatic transmission! These are two of many other sweeping changes that have been implemented with the latest model.

Let’s take a closer look at five things you need to know about this latest WRX.

1. WRX = World Rally eXperimental

First off, a little history lesson. Did you know that Subaru has won a hat trick of constructors’ titles in the World Rally Championship?

The company claimed the WRC’s championships in 1995, 1996, 1997 and has credited it with increased sales of the Impreza in particular, of which the WRX is based upon.

Part of the thrill of owning a WRX is being able to watch the car you drive from A-to-B everyday (albeit a highly modified version) slither around on dirt, ice, tarmac in far away exotic destinations.

Subaru’s WRC wins were also credited with popularizing the company’s all-wheel-drive systems.

WRX fans have been chomping at the bit since Subaru announced that the WRX would be separated from its Impreza-roots so as to go after sports car fans.

Long desired by teens and young at heart adults, this latest iteration has grown up a lot.

The unique headlights, foglights, taillights, wider fenders, and functional hood scoop really do their job in setting this latest apart from the rest of the Impreza line-up.

But wait, there’s more!

2. No more boxer exhaust rumble

Unlike the previous generation WRX or even the current generation WRX STI, the new engine loses its unequal length exhaust headers.

Alas, gone is its trademark boxer burble that is created by the exhaust gases from one side of the engine being forced to travel, out of phase, at a different velocity than gases leaving the opposite side of the engine.

Subaru fan boys will lament their ability to identify a WRX just by sound, but the gains in torque at lower RPMs and improvement in fuel economy are a small price to pay.

This latest non-STI WRX is fitted with Subaru’s new, and more sophisticated, direct-injection turbocharged 2.0-litre engine producing 268 hp at 5,600 rpms and 258 lb.-ft of torque at 2,000-5,200 rpms.

The twin-scroll turbocharger sees peak torque arriving sooner and has a longer, flatter torque curve for better response and driveability.

The new exhaust system has a little more bark, but you’ll still have to go aftermarket or to Subaru’s STI parts catalogue if waking the neighbour is your goal.

Fuel economy for my Sport Lineatronic automatic WRX was rated at 12.4L/100 kms in the city and 9.4L/100 kms on the highway. I averaged 10.4L/100 kms in mixed city and highway driving.

3. A shockingly good CVT automatic transmission

Like other Subarus, the engine’s power goes to all four wheels. But for the first time since 2008, the WRX can be ordered with either a 6 speed manual, or an automatic transmission.

But this is no traditional auto box. Subaru has taken it a step further and it’s a Continuously Variable Transmission.

But here’s the surprise. Long associated with hybrid vehicles and econoboxes, CVTs have built-up a reputation that is directly opposite to that of performance.

I definitely picked up the WRX test vehicle wondering if this transmission would ever work in such an iconic performance car. And boy I was in for a shock.

This is no ordinary CVT thanks to the engineering wizards. Equipped with Subaru’s Intelligent Drive mode, the system allows for different driving dynamics modes which affect steering wheel weight/assist, different throttle pedal sensitivity, and finally CVT responsiveness.

The most significant difference about Subaru’s Sport Lineartronic CVT is that it has “steps” to simulate actual gears. Gone is that rubber band sensation that many have dreaded from CVTs.

In Normal and Sport modes, Lineatronic simulates a 6 speed gearbox in Sport Sharp mode, it emulates an 8 speed DSG.

I was blown away by how quickly the gear “changes” felt. Far from calling it a compromise from the manual gearbox, in many aspects the CVT actually enhances the WRX as it feels like it is accelerating relentlessly.

Ultimately, if you’re a driving enthusiast and you want a weekend sports car that allows you to feel extra connected on a traffic-less curvy road, the manual transmission makes sense.

However, at least in Vancouver, most of the WRXs I see are used as practical, everyday transportation and not as special occasion sports cars. In these conditions, owning a manual transmission car can be as frustrating as it is enjoyable. While many Subaru enthusiasts may be willing to make the compromise, many will not.

Although they only expect an uptake level of around 20%, by offering the CVT as an option, Subaru has cleverly opened up its WRX to a whole new subset of customers who would not have even considered the brand or model before.

4. Torque-Vectoring All-Wheel-Drive

Aided by a new torque vectoring all-wheel-drive system, the WRX hangs on tenaciously in corners, regardless of the weather conditions.

It is perfectly happy to be your daily driver from A to B and back plus also as your autocross weekend car!

It’s good at getting out of corners in a hurry, and extra fun to drive depending on your mood, thanks to the different Subaru Intelligent Drive settings which you can change, depending on your driving mood.

5. Surprisingly roomy, but infotainment system could use some work

While no longer linked by name, the WRX hasn’t broken free completely from the Impreza’s underpinnings or interior.

The extra inch of wheelbase over the previous generation WRX has allowed for more room inside, including two inches more legroom for your buddies in the back seat.

Trunk space is also up a tad, now at 12 cu.ft with a 60/40 split folding rear seat back to expand the cargo capacity even more so.

While it’s all nicely finished, things still look a little bare bones with a lot of dark plastic. The rearview mirror adjustment knob also feels rather cheap and flimsy. Come on Subaru, you can do better than that knob! At least the texture is nice and matches well.

Another standout is the excellent D-shaped leather-wrapped steering wheel which really adds to the game console/arcade game-like driving experience.

But the 2015 WRX’s infotainment system is also basic and a couple of generations behind. My test car’s headunit definitely lacked a lot of bells and whistles although it did come with the now obligatory Bluetooth audio streaming and phone connectivity.

Fortunately, there is good news. Subaru has heavily revised the 2015 Impreza’s interior trim and there is a brand new infotainment system shared with its big brother Legacy.

While there is no official word as to whether it will trickle into the WRX, I would be willing to bet on it making an appearance. Unfortunately, you will have to wait till the 2016 model to see if those changes officially trickle up to the WRX line.

Wrap-up

OK so Subaru may have softened the WRX’s edges. However at the core of the vehicle still remains a simple elemental all-wheel-drive sports sedan. It’s deliciously fun to drive on tarmac, but will happily hoon down gravel roads should you desire.

It’s refreshing to drive a well-engineered sporty car that doesn’t break the bank but yet still over delivers on both the fun-to-drive factor. The best part is that you can still carry three of your friends in comfort as well as their luggage.

This dual nature of the beast is why its fans continue to buy it in droves. Similar to the odds of an SUV owner taking his $100,000+ Range Rovers off-roading, it’s not that the WRX’s customer is going to rallying tomorrow. It’s that he/she can if he/she wants to.

And this race on Sunday sell on Monday attitude is what auto makers have been banking on for years.

I don’t think Subaru will win over many current WRX owners with the CVT-equipped WRX. But I do think that Subaru will win countless new customers with the WRX equipped with this new automatic gearbox.

And if that’s what keeps the coffers full, Subaru’s bean counters happy and the money flowing over to the R&D department for the next generation WRX, so be it!

FILED UNDER: NEW CAR REVIEWS

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