Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Review: 2015 Subaru WRX Limited (6MT)

2015 WRX Limited front 3/4

Words by Andy Lilienthal. Photos by Mercedes Lilienthal

We already spent a week with the new and extremely thrusty 2015 Subaru WRX STI. With its 305 horsepower engine, six-speed manual transmission, and Goliath wing, it’s an all-wheel drive beast. In Subaru crazed Portland, Oregon the STI turned more heads than that dude who unicycles around here wearing a kilt while playing the bagpipes and wearing a Darth Vader helmet. He’s so over anyway.

While the new STI is a kick in kilt, the new standard WRX is arguably more newsworthy than the STI, since it features a host of all-new features that didn't carry over from the last generation.

Although the '15 WRX has the new body style, it also features a new engine. Unlike STI’s 2.5-liter powerplant, which was carried over from the 2014 model, the 2015 WRX features an all-new turbocharged 2.0-liter boxer engine mated to a six-speed manual transmission or, blasphemously, a CVT. Thankfully our tester was a manual. Speaking of, the shifter feels quite notchy, and there’s almost a magnetic pull when sliding into each gear. It’s quite different. It’s not bad, but certainly not the epitome of fluidity. However, shifts are short, and gates are well defined.

2015 Subaru WRX front head-on
The new engine cranks out 268 horsepower and 258 lbs/ft of torque from its boxer four-pot, but it doesn’t sound quite as Subaru-like due to revised exhaust manifolds that cut down on that familiar Subaru sound. You can, however, really hear the turbo and blow-off valve. Boost comes on pretty quickly, and the engine doesn’t feel nearly as peaky as the 2013 WRX we own. This presents an interesting dichotomy. On one hand, power is linear and strong from lower in the rev range. There isn’t much having to wait for boost. However, because you don’t get that surge of HERE-COMES-THE-BOOST power at a specific RPM, it may not feel as fast as the last generation. One thing is for sure: the ’15 is more fuel efficient. Rated at 21 city and 28 highway, we actually averaged 28 MPG with this Subaru—something our ’13 model has never been able to touch. Yes, it was mostly highway miles, but even so—28 MPG average is damn good for this vehicle. Thank you sixth gear.

17" WRX Wheel
One thing is for certain: It feels more refined than the last model. The powertrain feels smoother and quieter. It rides more compliantly. Cornering is a bit crisper. Some of the handling differences can be attributed to a chassis that’s 41% stiffer than the last model, as well as fatter sway bars and revised suspension tuning. And make no mistake about it: the WRX is a grip machine. No, it’s not as hardcore as the STI in the curves, but it still hangs on extremely well, and makes the most of the 235/45/17 Dunlop Sport Maxx tires. And for those interested, the ’15 WRX now uses a 5x114.3 bolt pattern vs the old 5x100. Ride quality is notable less punishing than the STI version. We could easily daily-drive a new WRX, whereas the new STI is very stiff on day-to-day jaunts. Steering feel is well weighted and the wheel falls nicely in the hands. We did notice significant road noise, and actually wouldn’t have minded a bit more exhaust note. That’s something the aftermarket can easily fix, however.

2015 WRX Limited interior

Another area where the WRX has matured is its interior. It’s far less plasticy than previous models and feels more solid. Plus, it looks more modern. Our tester did have a few rattles here and there, but not as many as the 2013 we own. This tester car came with well-bolstered leather sport front seats, easy-to-read instrumentation, and a multifunction computer with a 4.3” screen that displays fuel economy, boost gauge, and a host of other menus.

Much like the ’15 STI we reviewed, the stereo, which has a rich tone, simply doesn’t get loud enough. Either that or I’m going deaf. But I swear: I had the stereo nearly cranked most of the time. And by cranked, I mean 35 of 40 notches on the car’s volume. Perhaps the optional nine-speaker Harmon Kardon with subwoofer would’ve remedied that. FYI, that’s a $2,500 option and includes navigation and keyless start.

2015 WRX Limited and 2015 WRX STI Launch Edition

Regardless of the car’s new engine, revised interior, and upgraded handling, nothing will be more controversial than its styling. It’s more tepid looking than the outgoing predecessor and only comes as a sedan. It has certainly lost some of its boy-racer looks, opting for a more subtle appearance. It’s not ugly by any means. Our Limited model, which wore a classy looking Crystal White Pearl finish almost looked like a BMW 3 Series at certain angles. There were some touches I really liked: The small decklid spoiler looks very classy. I like the rear 3/4 view a lot. I also dig the side skirts and LED headlamps. But personally, I still look at my 2013 Impreza WRX hatchback and think to myself, “Damn, that’s a bad-ass looking car.” When I look at the 2015, I think, “Well, it isn’t bad looking vehicle ...”

Perhaps the new WRX is simply maturing; losing some of its Ricky Racer brashness. The good news is the performance is still there. No, it doesn’t look like it came out of some futuristic Japanese video game any longer, but I think that was part of the car’s charm. This latest version has a lot going for it, so long as you’re OK with the styling. It’s definitely gone up a notch in many respects, but it has lost a bit of the scrappy personality that WRXs have become known for.

2015 WRX Limited Rear 3/4

Our WRX Limited had a sticker price of $30,790, and you get a lot of performance for the money and you also get more of a complete package. Despite the fact we own the last model WRX, I always felt like I was paying for an expensive, high-performance engine, transmission, and drivetrain saddled with economy car interior bits. The 2015 doesn’t feel that way. You’re getting more of the complete package—not just a really fast AWD car with a low-buck interior.

For me—the owner of the last generation WRX hatchback—the question is this: If my 2013 got hit by a meteor tomorrow, would I replace it with a 2015? At this point, probably not. While there’s a lot to like about the ’15 WRX, I can’t fall in love with the car’s looks or its sedan-only configuration. That being said, this car is very good. And with its improvements in refinement and the availability of an automatic transmission, it’ll likely appeal to an even broader swath of shoppers.

2015 WRX LED headlamp

WRX badge

2015 WRX rear exhaust

Subaru Crystal White Pearl paint

1 comment:

rubicon4wheeler said...

I've always liked Subarus' quirky looks. I'm definitely much more a fan of hatchback/wagon/shooting brake styling than I am of boring & space-inefficient sedan styling, so I'm disappointed that we can't get a WRX or STI hatchback. And I really don't like the black wheels. But overall, I'm happy to read of the numerous improvements Subaru has made over the outgoing car.

If I could special-order a Subaru to my liking, it would be an XV Crosstrek with the WRX's engine and 6-speed manual, the STI's AWD system, and a proper low-range gearbox like old Subies used to have, which would allow slow, technical driving while compensating for the lack of turbo boost at low RPM (especially at high altitudes).