Subaru's WRX Is Safe for Now, but It's a Two-pedal Future for the Rest

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
subaru s wrx is safe for now but it s a two pedal future for the rest

For some reason, today is all about manual transmissions. Some going, some staying… but most just going.

That’s the world we live in, where consideration must be given to high-tech safety aids, while multi-cog automatics and infinitely cogged CVTs have stripped the stick shift of its secondary attribute: fuel economy.

For Subaru, the Lineartronic continuously variable automatic will soon become the brand’s only choice of gearbox, with one notable — and likely temporary — exception.

Speaking to Australia’s Drive, Subaru of America Tom Doll said the lack of a manual transmission — something we saw during the debut of the 2019 Forester last week — is something Subaru buyers will have to get used to.

“We are only selling three to five per cent of the total volume as manual transmissions and with the fuel economy you get with the CVTs and the way they are leaned out it really makes the manual transmission car look not as efficient or greenhouse gas efficient,” Doll said on the sidelines of the New York auto show.

Subaru, which has no problem selling cars, wants to become known as a safe brand. Like Volvo in the ’80s and ’90s, basically. To do this, the brand wants to put Eyesight driver assist features in every model it sells. As we told you last month, Subaru execs aren’t sure it’s possible to offer a manual transmission that’s compatible with the EyeSight system, nor would it be cost effective to develop one, given the low demand.

Still, one model demands a transmission choice, at least in the near term: the WRX and its brawnier STI twin. (The BRZ can’t be counted on to exist for all that much longer.)

Built on the old platform now abandoned by the current Impreza and related Crosstrek, the turbocharged WRX soldiers on for 2018, patiently waiting for an update and platform swap. While WRX buyers now have a choice of six-speed manual or a beefier Lineartronic capable of handling the model’s 268 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, patrons of the 305 hp, 290 lb-ft WRX STI can only choose the stick.

“No, we’ll still have manual transmissions in our performance line like for the WRX, but just not in the Forester,” Doll said when pressed. Tomoyuki Nunome, project manager for the Forester program, seems to back this up. He replied “no” to a question of whether the WRX would go Lineartronic-only.

It’s expected that the next-generation WRX will appear in 2020, possibly with some sort of hybrid assist. How the rumored electrification might impact transmission availability remains to be seen.

[Image: Subaru]

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2 of 62 comments
  • Focal Focal on Apr 09, 2018

    I own two very good cars in manual. A 328i RWD and a Cayman GT4. I have eyes set on a VW if and when the 328i dies or gets too expensive to maintain. I see VW as one of the last manual hold outs. The Cayman will live in my house until I'm in the ground. I will trailer it to a track when self driving is banned. Just enjoy what you want to drive and enjoy the manual while you can. My partner keeps pestering me to get an auto so she can drive it. Instead of spending thousands on a new car that depreciates, spend less and learn to drive three pedals is my usual answer.

  • RaisingAnarchy RaisingAnarchy on Apr 09, 2018

    "...the turbocharged WRX soldiers on for 2018, patiently waiting for an update and platform swap." And it should continue to be patient. The platform has only had 3 model years so far. 2020 should be the earliest possible expectation for an update, because we're talking about Subaru, not BMW. Just about any and every Japanese car company throughout history has kept a 5+ year update cycle, with light refreshes mid-term. Not sure why the WRX NEEDS a thorough revision every 2nd year.

  • Azfelix This inspires so much confidence in the knowledge that government employees also have oversight over the proposed emergency braking rules. Ancient Athenians utilized the process of banishment. Perhaps we should consider implementing it for every government agency at every level.
  • MrIcky Its going to sell really well for a little bit, then everyone who wanted one will have one and it will sell almost nothing ever again-primarily well to do flower shop delivery vehicles after that first wave.
  • MaintenanceCosts It will have an initial period of, well, buzz because of the Type 2 nostalgia.Whether it has legs beyond that period will depend on whether VW can get competitive on two things: (1) electric powertrain efficiency, where their products have been laggards so far (hurting range badly), and (2) software. The packaging looks good and will help, but they need to get those other things right too.
  • Oberkanone Priced too high though not by much.
  • FreedMike Looks VERY niche to me. But that's not necessarily a bad thing - this might serve nicely as a kind of halo model for VW.