From its early days as a street legal rally car to its current role as the poster child of the American boy racer, the Subaru WRX has undergone what is undoubtedly the most significant overhaul in its 23-year history. Longer, wider, faster, and, above all, more refined than ever, the 2015 Subaru WRX is no longer the wild child of specialty sports cars -- and that's a good thing.
First and foremost, Subaru's decision to retire the WRX's time-honored Impreza moniker is a clear way of saying this distinguished sports sedan has officially taken on an identity all its own. Consequently, the fourth-generation Subaru WRX shares very little with its mainstream counterpart. Save for a few pieces of glass, the 2015 WRX sports a unique exterior, most notably the flared front and rear fenders, a distinctive "nose-cone" front end design, and thinner A-pillars for enhanced outward visibility.
While 'sophistication' and 'WRX' were mutually exclusive terms, the latest WRX actually has a refinement story to tell. With soft-touch materials for the dash and upper door panels, a full-color driver information display linked to a standard backup camera, a leather-wrapped flat-bottom steering wheel, and an available 8-way power-adjustable driver's seat, the Subaru WRX is now just a few shades behind the markedly more expensive Volkswagen Golf R when it comes to overall interior quality. And, for the first time ever, the WRX's options roster includes automatic LED headlights, an 8-speaker premium audio system by Harman Kardon, and keyless access and start.
Equipment details aside, the most important improvements made to the 2015 WRX involve ride quality. Despite the fact that Subaru engineers stiffened virtually every suspension, steering, and chassis component, the new WRX handles rough pavement with an unexpected level of compliance compared to its stiff-legged predecessors. The ride is taut, naturally, but not overly so. When the road begins to twist, the 2015 WRX puts an exclamation mark on its already exemplary handling. Using the Porsche 911 as a benchmark, Subaru engineers achieved some impressive performance stats with the new WRX, including better lateral grip than the current STI, less body roll than a BMW M3, and greater agility than the lightweight Scion FR-S -- according to Subaru's in-house testing, that is. This elevated plane of dynamism is owed in large part the new Active Torque Vectoring system, which brakes the inside front wheel in a corner to help rotate the car around its turning axis.
The Subaru WRX has long been one of the few sports cars that consistently exceeds its published performance credentials in the real world. Case in point: No matter how hard we pushed the WRX during our drive through the winding coastal roads of Northern California, traction under power was beyond reproach, and understeer (where the car pushes straight into corners) went unnoticed. The latter is an impressive feat for an all-wheel drive sports car, particularly one fitted with electromechanical steering. Speaking of which, Subaru worked hard to give the WRX an electric power steering (EPS) system worthy of its athletic persona. While it's true the WRX's new EPS doesn't provide the same level of feedback as the outgoing hydraulic setup, we the found the connection with the front wheels communicative.
At the heart of the WRX is an all-new 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder producing 268 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Unlike previous generations, throttle response is virtually instantaneous, and the newly standard 6-speed manual gearbox is one of the best in the business thanks to its precise action and short throws. In a move that will likely rustle the feathers of purists, the 2015 WRX will once again offer an automatic transmission, only this time in the form of a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Although rarely used in performance applications, Subaru proved to us that CVTs outfitted with the appropriate modifications can serve a purpose in today's sports car market. Able to mimic a quick-shifting 6-or 8-speed automatic transmission, the WRX's specially-tuned CVT is every bit the equal of traditional automatics found in rivals like the Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S and Hyundai Genesis Coupe. Still, this performance-focused CVT can't hold a candle to the Volkswagen GTI's dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
In terms of fuel consumption, the combination of improved aerodynamics, more efficient powertrains, and the adoption of electric power steering yield a respectable 21/28 city/highway mpg score for manual transmission models, representing a sizable improvement over the previous model's somewhat dismal 19/25 rating. Then again, due to the EPA's ill-defined testing procedures, CVT-equipped WRX models will wear last year's underwhelming 19/25 figure on their window sticker, though Subaru assures us that selecting the transmission's default i-Mode will return fuel economy numbers in the neighborhood of 23 city and 30 highway under normal driving conditions.
Official pricing information for the 2015 Subaru WRX has yet to be released, but we are told it will fall closely in line with the current model. Regarding the 5-door version, Subaru wouldn't say whether one is in the works, but our money is on a hatchback returning to the lineup by the 2018 model year. Look for the 2015 Subaru WRX sedan to hit dealerships in late March.
More sports cars and sedans...
Popular at KBB.com