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Published: 01/21/2014 - by James Riswick, Automotive Editor
A colleague recently wore what appeared to be a perfectly innocuous maroon and black color-blocked hoodie to the office. Most people walked by without thinking twice about his wardrobe choice, yet one particular co-worker stopped and did a double-take.
"That's a Star Trek uniform!" he enthusiastically declared. Or more specifically, a hoodie version of Captain Picard's costume, sans telltale Star Trek insignia. Copious questions and general geekdom ensued.
The 2015 Subaru WRX is a lot like that sweatshirt. Most motorists never give it a second look, even with its bright WRX Blue paint and styling that for the first time is differentiated from the Impreza upon which it's based. However, for those in the know, whose automotive geekdom most likely includes a turbocharged Subaru in their own garage, the new 2015 WRX is guaranteed to cause a double-take. It's the car they've been dying to see, read about, drive and possibly even purchase.
Not Just for Fanboys
For them, we're pleased to announce that the 2015 Subaru WRX does not disappoint. Despite false innuendo from Subaru (it does not have a unique platform) and updates made to increase its mass appeal (an optional continuously variable transmission — CVT), the all-new 2015 WRX is leaps and bounds better than the car it replaces and in most ways the previous, higher-performance STI as well.
More importantly, however, this new WRX should be more appealing to sport compact car shoppers who don't necessarily have Subaru-branded items in their wardrobe. How it competes against a 2014 Ford Focus ST, 2014 Volkswagen GTI or even similarly priced muscle coupes like the 2015 Ford Mustang is the ultimate metric of success or failure.
Performance, as before, is impressive. The new direct-injected 2.0-liter turbocharged flat-4 produces 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, with a flat torque curve and a deluge of midrange punch that at first surprises and then quickly becomes addictive. This is a car that feels even faster than it is, and certainly faster than the rival hot hatches from Ford and VW.
The acceleration data generated at our test track back up that conclusion. The 2015 WRX hits 60 mph in 5.4 seconds (5.2 seconds with 1 foot of rollout as on a drag strip), which may be a tenth off the pace of the last Impreza WRX we tested, but is still a full second or more quicker than the ST, GTI and outgoing Mazdaspeed 3. It's a similar story in the quarter-mile, which goes by in 13.8 seconds at 99.8 mph.
However, as before, those impressive times are somewhat more theoretical than those of its rivals, requiring even more skill (and a decided lack of mechanical empathy) from our test drivers to accomplish. Bringing the revs to 5,000 rpm and then dropping the clutch as engine speed rises toward 6,000 might be the way to hit 5.4, but doing so feels like flogging a horse around a racetrack with a bullwhip. Effective, but hardly humane — even if the WRX survives the abuse.
A gentler launch (or one with traction control engaged) brings the WRX's acceleration down closer to its competition, but its all-wheel-drive system nevertheless helps it maintain a decisive, inherent advantage. While the Focus' steering wheel twitches and squirms with torque steer (the unavoidable result of shunting so much power through the front wheels only), the WRX resolutely surges forward as all four Dunlop SportMaxx RT summer tires cling to the pavement.
They do a similar bang-up job under heavy braking, stopping the WRX from 60 mph in 110 feet.
Superior Handling as Well
Of course, if going fast in a straight line is all that interests you, you've wandered down the wrong aisle. The WRX all-wheel-drive system's first priority is handling, and indeed the entire car now seems even more focused on the task of going around corners.
Amplifying the "symmetrical" all-wheel-drive system and its 50/50 torque split front and rear is a new Active Torque Vectoring system that drags the inside front brake when turning to reduce understeer. This is especially key in our slalom test (accomplished with a rapid 70.1 mph) and on tighter, technical roads, where it conspires with a much stiffer chassis and responsive electric-assist steering to deliver immediate turn-in and a flat cornering attitude.
Keep the engine in its sweet spot courtesy of the distinctly mechanical-feeling six-speed manual transmission, and the WRX will absolutely devour whatever strip of serpentine pavement is ahead. And it should go without saying that none of those front-drivers can possibly do what the WRX can on roads that aren't paved.
Yet it's the WRX's performance on longer, higher-speed sweepers that leaves an indelible impression. The ample grip (0.94g on the skid pad, to be precise) encourages faster and faster speeds through the turn, while that wave of midrange power slingshots you away like Voyager 2 breaking free of Jupiter's gravity. Grins are induced as eyeballs struggle to focus forward.
An Improved Interior
It's also at this point when the leather-wrapped seats seem a little short on lateral support relative to the body-hugging Recaros of the Focus and even the tartan-clad GTI's. Long-distance comfort is exemplary, however.
And although the cabin isn't quite up to Ford and Volkswagen's lofty standards, it nevertheless boasts much nicer materials and a richer overall ambience than that of the Subaru Impreza. The innards of the steering rack are not hidden by a flimsy fabric curtain, for instance, as they are in the WRX's plebeian platform mate.
Put it this way: Your girlfriend is far less likely to ponder, "Wait, you paid how much for this?" after getting inside and hearing that you threw down what is expected to be about $31,000 for a WRX Limited like our tester.
At least you're also getting a useful car for that money, as the 2015 WRX is an embodiment of practicality. Visibility is of particular note, with thin pillars, enormous door-mounted mirrors, a standard rearview camera and a greenhouse that challenges Biosphere 2 for glass space. The view ahead, with its low dash and right-there pavement is indicative of Japanese cars from the 1990s and earlier.
Though the 2015 Subaru WRX is not offered as a hatchback, the 12-cubic-foot trunk with 60/40-split folding seats is nevertheless generous for a small sedan. The backseat is spacious enough for a 6-footer to sit behind a 6-foot driver, who, in our Limited test car benefits from a broadly adjustable eight-way power seat. The Focus and GTI are manual only. Major controls like the telescoping steering wheel and shifter fall readily at hand with a comfortable elbow bend, while secondary controls for the climate control and audio system are easy to use and reach.
Sadly, that audio system's sound quality is only slightly better than sandwiching your iPhone atop the visor and listening to music through its tiny speakers. Though it's packaged with Subaru's navigation system and poor touchscreen interface, the available Harman Kardon stereo is strongly recommended, as the WRX is an uproariously loud car.
Indeed, omnipresent wind and road noise seem to be the WRX's main drawbacks, and it only gets worse on highway journeys. It didn't take long to wish we'd brought along noise-cancelling headphones. Though the highway ride is well-damped and rarely what we'd consider tiresome for a car with sporting intentions, it's hard to imagine taking the WRX on many lengthy journeys.
The WRX may also not be the best choice if urban driving is in the cards, as clutch engagement can be abrupt in certain circumstances and its heavy effort will have your left leg significantly beefier than your right after only a few days stuck in traffic. Modulating the throttle just right can also be a bit tricky, making smooth driving difficult at times.
Of course, this is all alleviated by opting for the CVT which, as we reported in the 2015 Subaru WRX First Drive, isn't the soul- and performance-sucking option those aforementioned Subaru geeks so feared.
After almost 1,500 miles of mixed driving our tester yielded 22.2 mpg, which is distinctly shy of the 24 mpg combined EPA rating.
A Little Something for Everyone
Yet, whether you're one of those geeks or just someone looking for an exciting daily driver regardless of badge, the 2015 Subaru WRX boasts a degree of precision and excitement that its rivals lack. It's definitely more of a performance car with practical intentions than the other way around. At the same time, however, it no longer looks, feels and drives as if a turbocharger and some go-fast suspension componentry have been added to a subpar economy car.
In other words, the 2015 WRX is a better car for both die-hards and pragmatists alike — even if it's no more likely to get noticed than my...rather, that co-worker's sweatshirt.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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