Article by Brian Hannon. Photography by Nick Kouris.
One of the most popular platforms for tuners since its official debut in the States back in 2002, Subaru hopes to raise the bar of high performance per dollar yet again with the 2015 iteration of the WRX. Set to debut this week, Subaru did a good job of keeping official information leaks to a minimum but we were finally able to get a good look at what should hit the ground later in 2014 thanks to an official release from Subaru.One of the most popular platforms for tuners since its official debut in the States back in 2002, Subaru hopes to raise the bar of high performance per dollar yet again with the 2015 iteration of the WRX. Set to debut this week, Subaru did a good job of keeping official information leaks to a minimum, but we were finally able to get a good look at what should hit the ground later in 2014 thanks to an official release from Subaru.
Let’s start under the hood. To absolutely no one’s surprise, we find a horizontally opposed turbocharged four-cylinder engine. But Subaru also dropped the displacement down to 2.0 liters by using the 2014 Forester 2.0 XT engine as a starting point.
Changes such as different cams and higher-rate valve springs along with direct-injection, 10.6:1 compression, Subaru Dual Active Valve Control System (D-AVCS), and a twin-scroll result in horsepower actually going up by three to 268 horsepower at 5,600 rpm. More importantly, torque jumps by 14 lb-ft to 258 and produces that torque over a much broader rev range, from 2,000 to 5,200 rpm, whereas the old mill peaked at 4,400 rpm. Talk about usable power!
Also new for 2015 is a 6-speed manual transmission—a first for a WRX (sans STI) in the States. With the engine putting out a bit more power, Subaru beefed up the internals with some trick additions, such as carbon synchronizers for first and second gear. Hopefully, that extra cog in the box can help the WRX return a little better fuel economy, something the BOXER engine has always struggled with. As equipped with the manual, you can expect the trip from zero to 60 mph in around 5.4 seconds.
The WRX has another new addition, but we aren’t overly enthusiastic about it—an automatic Sport Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT). Yes, you read that right. A CVT on a performance-oriented car! It has modes that can mimic either an eight-speed or a six-speed transmission controlled through flappy paddles on the steering wheel, but we’re left wondering why Subaru didn’t use a dual-clutch automatic transmission.
A quick background on CVTs. The concept has been around since the time of DaVinci and is essentially two pulleys with conical shapes that move inward and outward, providing an almost infinite combination of gear ratios. Theoretically, this should keep the engine in the optimum rpm range for power, economy, and smoothness since there is zero shifting. To mimic a manual transmission, they can have preprogrammed steps in ratios that function like shift points. Unfortunately, CVTs in automotive applications are not known to handle larger amounts of power and typically sound like a car with a massively slipping clutch. With an aftermarket exhaust, it could sound like some odd European siren going off when you pull off hard from a stoplight.
Maybe Subaru knows something we don’t know, but CVT and performance are hardly ever mentioned in the same sentence. Acceleration suffers a bit, as it is about a half-second slower to 60 mph than its manual brother. What’s really unfortunate is that the CVT returns worse gas mileage than the manual option.
Your choice of transmission will also decide which all-wheel drive system you get. If you choose the manual, you are rewarded with the tried-and-true Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system that features a new torque-vectoring capability to improve handling and cornering speeds. Torque split is normally 50:50 through the locking center differential, but the Vehicle Dynamics Control system can step in and provide power to the wheels that can handle it.
If you’ve gone down the CVT route, you still get the Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, but the torque is managed through a planetary gear center differential and hydraulic transfer clutch. Power split is biased toward the rear by a ratio of 45:55, but it can be changed if the systems find it necessary based on a series of inputs.
Inside, the WRX grows up for 2015. Soft-touch material graces the dash, door trim, and center console and complements the new sport seats that are supposedly designed to reduce whiplash in the case of an accident. The dash is also home to a few new LCD displays. The first is a 3.5-inch screen centered in the gauge cluster that provides basic vehicle information, such as oil level and selected gear ratio. The other is a 4.3-inch LCD multifunction display that shows such things as images from the rear camera, engine boost, and traction control operation.
Another plus for the interior is that it grows into a roomier environment. Rear passenger legroom grows a much needed two inches as does trunk space. We like where Subaru is going with one of their press images, as they show the 60/40 folding rear seats laid down to make room for a full set of track tires; we hope that sort of activity won’t get you into hot water with your warranty.
Outside, the WRX casts a familiar shadow, with its fender flares and snarling hood scoop that feeds the top-mounted intercooler. It rides on a newly designed set of 17-inch wheels that hide larger brakes and a sport-tuned suspension. LED lighting is standard at the rear of the car on all models, and the higher-end trims receive a handsome set of LED headlights to complement the rear. We have one small complaint about the styling. From the front three-quarter view, the 2015 WRX almost looks like a 2010 Civic Sedan (hood scoop not withstanding). It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s hard to forget that image.
So, we have a few questions for the 2015 WRX. Is the CVT going to be a turnoff for buyers who crave performance but prefer the car to do the shifting for them? As mentioned earlier, many other cars in the WRX segment employ sportier dual-clutch automatic transmissions. Why didn’t Subaru do the same?
Why is the styling somewhat too soft? Yes, it has bulging fender flares, 17-inch wheels, and a deep front spoiler, but from the front doors back it can be easily mistaken for a 2010 Honda Civic Sedan, especially when from the front three-quarters.
Most important, how will it respond to mods? While already producing more power than the outgoing 2.5-liter turbocharged BOXER, will the drop in displacement have an impact on what tuners are able to extract from a stock motor? Is it already on the edge of its ability?
We’re excited to find out and are sure you are too. Let us know what you think about the 2015 Subaru WRX. Is it going to be a hit or a miss?