As the snow swirled in front of my headlamps, the radio crackled with a forecast of 18-22 inches for an early March Nor’Easter. Most people hate this weather. They huddle in their homes, presumably consuming the massive quantities of milk and bread they bought in a panic earlier that day. A public whipped into frenzy by The Weather Channel and local news stations with nothing better to do has been a predictable pattern for decades. Lately, I’ve noticed a new phenomenon. When it snows, the Subarus come out. My neighborhood was ringing with the thumping song of the flat four.
Scores of bug-eyed WRXs were frolicking in the storm. I was behind the wheel of a 2015 WRX, and I was part of that club.
Mrs. Braithwaite took one look at the new WRX and declared “that looks like a piece of shit.” She’s entitled to her opinion, of course, and it’d be harder to argue if this were just an Impreza. In the past, I might have even agreed, but the 2015 Subaru WRX is really a gem.
Subaru wants you to think of the STI as its performance star with the brightest gleam. That may be true on a track, but the WRX is not only a better deal, it’s a better car. With the 2015 Subaru WRX, you get the latest evolution of the turbocharged flat-four. It’s a whooshing fire-breather of a 2.0 liter, and it’s strong. While the STI has more power, 305 hp, from its older 2.5 liter EJ engine, the WRX isn’t far behind with 268 hp. What’s more, the new 2.0 liter is is flexible and friendly, with good response “under the curve,” where you’d expect a highly-boosted four cylinder with modest displacement to fall on its face.
Look at the torque curve for the full story, and you’ll find it maxing out at 258 lb-ft by 2,000 rpm and sticking around to 5,200 rpm. If you didn’t know it was a 2.0 liter, you’d guess that it’s at least 500 cc larger than it is. Thank the direct injection, beefy 10.6:1 compression ratio and fancy-pants valve control and twin-scroll turbocharger. Those press-release talking points behind us, all you need to keep in mind is that the STI powertrain is less satisfying in contrast to the Johnny-on-the-spot nature of the new WRX generating station.
This time around, the WRX is available with a CVT. It could be worse; it’s just a transmission, and CVTs do well with torquey engines. The last WRX I drove with an automatic had a four-speeder and a tragically-turned-down wick. The CVT erases those compromises. Still, you want the manual. It’s a new six-speed, and it made me happy to be fully engaged in the act of driving for a week. It’s more exercise than I’ve gotten in a while, getting all the extremities involved. Areas where other manuals disappoint, clutch takeup, shifter action and electronic throttle response are all worked out here.
The WRX has always been an eager meager car. The dopamine hit powered by the exciteable engine made the underwhelming structural rigidity, not-good interior and “why’d they bother?” infotainment all completely non-issues, until you had to get your boot out of the power. The interior materials are better, with more soft touch plastics, a harman/kardon nav/stereo unit that’s not like listening to an Emerson transistor radio from the ‘80s, and a flat-bottomed steering wheel that’s supposed to feel racy. Not being overly-fancy does the WRX a favor in the ergonomics department. The controls for the ventilation system are clear, easy to find without looking, and don’t require stabbing your finger at some touchscreen. All cars should be like this, right down to the knobs that are injection molded to look and feel like they’re kurled. There’s even more practicality in the new WRX because the longer wheelbase makes the back seat more accommodating, so your friends will be more comfortable when you say crap like “check this out.”
The WRX handles better now, too, so that phrase doesn’t have to be a precursor to the inevitable. This car is a precision tool in traffic. The chassis is balanced, the feedback is clear enough to let you know when you’re being a true idiot. The highly-enriched engine is the keystone, too, enabling you to basically place the WRX wherever the hell you want it. Key to that is the responsive new engine that removes the planning you used to have to do. So, because the car lets you mainline your aggression, I spent a week being a complete jerk behind the wheel, loving every second. Oh, is that not what the WRX is for? I mean, I occasionally used the quick-on-its-feet powertrain to facilitate effectively quick merges.
The body structure of the WRX is beefed up with more high-strength steel, too, and that’s the most noticeable improvement other than the engine. The stronger structure allows the suspension to be more deftly tuned, and so the 2015 WRX manages to be supple and controlled where in the past it was brash and crashy. Because I was driving in the Polar Vortex, the WRX was wearing winter tires on its 17” wheels. That, plus the 50:50 AWD system makes the 2015 WRX a damn zippy snowmobile. Power-steering is electric, and could use more feedback, but weight, ratio and control are great.
The 2015 Subaru WRX has the driving thing down. This is a car that reminds you of vehicles twice its price. When Subaru says it benchmarked top-handling sports cars and braced the chassis, it’s believable.
And then there’s the looks. Flares and cranky headlights, extra windshield rake, LED headlights and carbon-fiber look trim strike a balance between badass and boy-racer. It works, and there’s always the STI if you want that stupid-ass wing. The most surprising thing to me was the fuel economy I managed to eke out of the 2015 WRX. It was frigid, I drove it like an animal, and yet, it still coughed up 25 mpg.
Welcome to being a grown-up, WRX. I’m glad you made it.