Full 2015 Subaru WRX Review
What's New for 2015
The 2015 Subaru WRX is fully redesigned. Highlights include new styling based on the latest-generation Impreza, a new engine for the base WRX, a stiffer body structure with a retuned suspension, and a slightly roomier interior with higher-quality interior materials.
Ever since its debut back for 2002, the turbocharged, all-wheel-drive Subaru WRX has been a cult favorite with drivers drawn to its considerable performance and affordable price. Now, for 2015, enthusiasts again have a reason to smile as a fully redesigned WRX arrives and, yes, it still offers massive bang for the buck. But Subaru also hopes this new 2015 WRX will gain an even wider audience, thanks to a slightly roomier cabin, increased performance and improved fuel efficiency.
As before, the 2015 WRX is based on the Impreza sedan, though Subaru has dropped "Impreza" from the WRX's name to signify a higher-performance bloodline. Compared to its humble relative, the 2015 WRX features a stiffer chassis, a retuned suspension and a major power increase. As a result, its performance capabilities are far beyond those of the standard-duty Impreza.
For that power surge the base 2015 WRX relies on a new, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It's smaller than the previous-generation WRX's 2.5-liter engine, but peak horsepower is up slightly -- now 268 -- and, more importantly, it makes more usable midrange power and returns better fuel economy. That power goes to all four wheels, naturally, but this time it's through a revised, torque-vectoring AWD system that improves traction and car control when driving out of turns. You also get your choice of two new transmissions: a six-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that has steering-wheel-mounted paddles for manual-like shifting when the desire strikes. With either transmission, you're looking at a 0-60 mph dash of under 6 seconds, which is excellent for this class of car.
The winged wonder, the high-performance WRX STI, is back as well, but it carries on with its larger 2.5-liter four-cylinder rated at 305 hp. This could be seen as disappointing given that the STI has effectively had the same power output for more than a decade. But Subaru says it's sufficient and wanted to focus more on making the STI an even better-handling car. To that end, there's even stiffer suspension tuning, quicker and more communicative steering (it's still hydraulic-assist, unlike the regular WRX's new electric-assist power steering system) and an adjustable center differential that can be used by the driver to fine-tune the car's traction characteristics. The results are impressive, as the STI grips heroically through turns and feels sharper and better balanced than any previous WRX sold here.
Outside of performance, though, the WRX comes up a little short in a couple areas. The new car grows 1 inch in length, which opens up trunk and passenger space a bit, but the 2015 WRX's interior design and materials quality, though noticeably improved, are still nothing special. Forward visibility is excellent, but the cabin is still excessively porous to wind and road noise, and the suspension is undeniably stiff-riding, especially in the STI. Finally, Subaru's optional touchscreen navigation system is merely adequate relative to the competition and needlessly ties up basic audio functions within its screens and menus.
Despite its flaws, the WRX remains nearly peerless. Its only true current performance rival is the aging Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. The 2015 Volkswagen Golf R will change that however, with 290 hp, standard all-wheel drive and hatchback versatility that the WRX no longer offers. More affordable alternatives include the 2014 Ford Focus ST and 2015 Volkswagen GTI. Both offer nicer interiors with easier-to-use touchscreens, but they're also slower than the Subaru, and their front-wheel-drive layout will appeal less to hard-core drivers.
In the end, your choice will likely depend on what you want from your high-performance sedan. And the 2015 Subaru WRX and WRX STI, though flawed, continue to offer a level of performance and driver engagement that's rare at this price point.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2015 Subaru WRX and WRX STI are high-performance sedans that seat five. The WRX is offered in base, Premium and Limited trim levels. The WRX STI is offered in base, Limited and Launch Edition trims, the latter limited to 1,000 units.
Standard WRX features include 17-inch alloy wheels with summer tires, cruise control, full power accessories, automatic climate control, sport front seats, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 60/40-split-folding rear seats, a leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a 4.3-inch central display, a rearview camera, a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, HD radio and a USB/iPod interface.
Upgrading to the Premium trim adds foglights, a sunroof, a trunk lid spoiler, heated mirrors, a windshield wiper de-icer and heated front seats. The Limited model gains LED headlights (low beams only), leather upholstery and an eight-way power driver seat.
The base WRX STI builds on the base WRX's equipment list by adding a more powerful engine, 18-inch wheels, LED headlights, foglights, Brembo brakes, front and rear limited-slip differentials, driver-selectable modes for the center differential and a more aggressively tuned suspension. STI Limited models add an eight-way power driver seat, lighter weight 18-inch BBS wheels, leather upholstery and a premium nine-speaker Harman Kardon audio system.
The small production-run Launch Edition gets gold-painted lightweight BBS wheels, leather upholstery with simulated suede inserts, keyless ignition and entry and a short-throw shifter.
A touchscreen navigation system is available on all but the base model WRX. It also comes bundled with a 6.1-inch display, voice controls, smartphone app integration (Aha radio), satellite radio and, depending on the trim level, keyless ignition/entry and the nine-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system. Other major options for the WRX and WRX STI include a performance exhaust, upgraded speakers and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2015 Subaru WRX is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter, horizontally opposed four-cylinder boxer engine that produces 268 hp and 258 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission and an all-wheel-drive system are standard. A new CVT is optional and features steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters and settings that mimic either a six- or eight-speed automatic.
In Edmunds testing, a manual-equipped WRX accelerated from zero to 60 mph in an impressively quick 5.4 seconds. Subaru claims a WRX with the CVT requires 5.9 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy with the manual transmission is 24 mpg combined (21 city/28 highway). The CVT model is rated at 21 mpg combined (19 city/25 highway).
The STI uses a turbocharged 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder boxer engine rated at 305 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual is the only transmission offered. Combined fuel economy is 19 mpg (17 city/23 highway). Subaru says the STI can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds.
Every Subaru WRX comes standard with stability and traction control, antilock disc brakes, front side airbags, side curtain airbags, a driver-side knee airbag and active front head restraints.
Interior Design and Special Features
Interior quality has never been the WRX's strong suit, but the 2015 WRX can claim to be the best of the breed so far. The cabin design is simple and straightforward and the controls are very easy to locate and use. The new 4.3-inch multi-information display atop the center stack relays audio, Bluetooth and climate control information, as well as a turbo boost gauge display, all-wheel-drive operation and the rearview camera.
That said, most competitors in this price range give off a more premium vibe, and the difference will likely be most apparent (and bothersome) to buyers who pick out a loaded WRX and expect more in the way of interior refinement. We're also not very keen on the base audio system's poor sound quality or the finicky touchscreen interface that comes with the optional navigation system.
On the upside, the cabin is spacious, with plenty of room for passengers and cargo. One inch of added wheelbase gives the new WRX even more generous rear legroom. A new thick-rimmed, flat-bottom steering wheel imparts the proper sporty vibe after you slide into the firm, well-bolstered driver seat. The driver positioning is particularly excellent, as is outward visibility thanks to thin roof pillars and large side mirrors. Trunk space measures 12 cubic feet, a respectable figure, though hatchback competitors have an edge when it comes to total versatility.
The 2015 Subaru WRX delivers the power and handling performance of cars nearly twice its price. The new turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is strong throughout its rev range, and its rush of midrange power will at first surprise you and then quickly become addictive. This is a car that feels even quicker than its acceleration numbers indicate. The manual transmission is a little tricky to use because of its heavy clutch action and the sensitive gas pedal, though it's still the obvious choice for gearheads. The new CVT is surprisingly capable, and its different driver-selectable modes and shift paddles make the most of what the WRX has to offer.
Thanks to a firmer chassis (up to 40 percent stiffer than last year's WRX), a retuned suspension and the new torque-vectoring feature for the all-wheel-drive system (which helps the car's handling balance when exiting corners), the new WRX is a noticeably tighter and more precise-handling car than before. It absolutely devours tight, twisty roads and imparts a feeling of driver confidence that its front-wheel-drive competitors simply can't replicate. The ride quality is undoubtedly stiff, but for this class of car we don't think many drivers will take issue. Less forgivable, however, is the large amount of wind and road noise coming into the cabin at freeway speeds.
As for the WRX STI, it simply kicks everything up a few more notches with its trick limited-slip differentials, powerful Brembo brakes and stronger engine. It's an even sharper tool than the standard WRX to be sure, and will win favor with drivers wanting a car for track days. But the firmness of the ride quality gets kicked up a few notches, too, and it presses the limit of acceptability in our opinion. You'll have to be a dedicated WRX fan to put up with the STI's rough ride on a daily basis.