You're always told to not judge someone by how they look. They might look anonymous, but they might also be caring, hilarious, or just plain fun when you talk to them. The 2015 Subaru WRX is Droopy Dog from the outside, but Usain Bolt and Jerry Seinfeld under the skin. This is a car you have to know.
(Full Disclosure: So we didn't get to drive the WRX right when it came out. That's ok. We just spent a week with one in the mud and snow. Those are known as optimal WRX conditions for premium sporty dynamism.)
Subaru started building the WRX as the homologation special for its rally efforts in the 1990s. What you got was an Impreza with a bunch of tacked on bits, like a hood scoop, fog lights, a wing, fender flares, good seats, good steering wheel, a crap radio, and generally nothing else. Oh, it also had a 2.0 liter turbo engine with varying power and all-wheel drive.
That always made me consider the WRX a rude car. A bodge job where Subaru engineers were told to make the Impreza fast and driver focused. It was rarely a treat to look at (though a few models are exceptions), but it wasn't supposed to be.
No. The WRX was made to be driven.
And no matter how ugly the WRX has been, it's always been brilliant once you got behind the wheel. So when we saw the concept for the new WRX at the New York Auto Show in 2013, we thought that worlds were colliding. It was pure sex.
But then the real thing appeared at the LA Auto Show last fall. It was a snoozefest. You can say what you want about how ugly WRXes have been in the past, but they've never been boring. This was an Impreza with a hood scoop. Subaru told us that we shouldn't worry about how it looks, we should drive it.
It had a new 2.0 liter direct injected turbo four, a new torque vectoring system, and was billed as the best driving WRX ever. That's a lofty claim and they better not be lying.
They weren't. They got this car very, very right.
I don't want to beat a dead horse here, but I will anyway. This is not an exciting looking car. There are some slight differences when compared to a base Impreza, but that's about it.
Its not in your face. It isn't staring angrily at everything that gets into its path. It's not offensive, it isn't rude, it doesn't have tacked on bits and pieces. Instead, it's a fairly conservative small sedan that makes the 2014 Honda Civic Si look like a lesson in daring design. It's not what I'd call ugly because it doesn't make me recoil and start gagging, but it doesn't excite me.
Sure, you have a hood scoop, fog lights, a little lip spoiler, WRX badging, and quad tail pipes, but other than that, this thing is vehicular valium. It's not ugly, it's just too restrained. I want people to be scared of my rally weapon, not become a narcoleptic from looking at it.
The interior follows the same WRX formula as it always has. Great steering wheel, great seats, pretty bland everything else. There are softer touch materials on the dash than the past, but the center stack is still hard and blah, though there is faux carbon fiber, so woo hoo.
Glare on the gauges made them tough to see, and the reconfigurable boost gauge on the dash become invisible from certain angles if you wear polarized sunglasses. The center armrest stinks.
But none of that truly matters. If you want to be coddled, you are in the wrong car. If you want body hugging seats, a thick steering wheel, and don't give a rat's ass about the rest, you are in the right place.
Now we get into the good stuff. The stuff that makes the Rex the Rex.
The WRX has never been slow, and this new direct injected 2.0 liter mill is delightful. It has a ton of mid range thrust which peters out around 6,000 RPM. There's some lag, but it falls more in the category of "mild inconvenience" rather than "terrifyingly infuriating." The turbo doesn't make this an engine that has power come in one small 2,000 RPM chunk, instead there is quite the broad powerband. That makes it tractable, with smooth and effortless in gear acceleration and a damn quick run up to 60, which feels somewhere around five-ish seconds to me.
Yeah. That's fast.
The brakes are eye poppingly good. Technically there is nothing wrong with them at all, but there is a little part that leaves you wanting. Kind of like those mini muffins that were all the rage with the kids a few years ago.
And how they leave you wanting is when you start braking. There is a slight dead zone in the pedal and then when it grabs, it isn't with a big initial bite. It's more a lazy entry into braking nirvana. What I'd prefer is a more solid pedal at the top of the travel with a more aggressive snag of the rotor. Still, this is a pre-production car that we tested, so there is a chance for them to get that very right.
If you see an enthusiastic owner of a tuned WRX, it is invariably dropped and on bigger wheels and tires. What that means is that the car has been, how do you say, ruined. The harsh ride of these tuned cars is akin to the pain your ears go through when you listen to Rush for three hours straight.
You wish you were dead. And Neil Peart too. And Geddy Lee. And... you get it.
In stock form, this new WRX makes a solid argument for leaving it all alone. The ride is firm but controlled, it doesn't break your back, but it doesn't coddle you like your mother did. There is no way that a kid with a backwards hat can improve on what hundreds of engineers spent years perfecting.
Yeah. Those coil overs will definitely make it ride better than the people who engineered the car from scratch. Go put those in.
It's not necessarily the most capable car in the entire world. There are cars that are better than it on paper. Cars that will pull more Gs, cars that will go far faster, cars that can corner harder. But there are very few cars that are more fun at road speeds than this new rex.
Our car had winter tires on it (Dunlop SP WinterSport 3D) which do lower the limits slightly. But shit it's fun. Throw it into a corner, and I mean really throw it, and the rex will just say "ok, let's fucking do this," and it'll tackle whatever you throw at it. The steering is communicative and inspires confidence, if just a tad too light. It wills you to go faster, it whispers to you to keep pushing it. It's the sort of car that necessitated the invention of speeding tickets as there are only so many times you can go around a corner at three times the speed limit without getting caught.
The proper place to drive a WRX is on a muddy, rutted, dirt road. I know of a couple that are still left in northern NJ, and holy hell. When you get in a WRX, get on some dirt roads. Pull that hand brake. Let it dance with you. It's literally the most fun you can have in a car. The same goes for roads covered in snow — as Matt found out when he took the car out to get photos.
Slidey yobbo antics? Yes please.
We've got a dandy here. Relatively short throws with a nice positive notch into gear. I like me a notchy gearbox, and while it isn't like an aftermarket short shifter, every gate is easy to find. Gearing on first is a bit too stump puller-y for me, and I'd like to be able to wring it out a bit more. It's like you have to shift as soon as you get to 20 MPH. Fix that, and we have gearbox bliss.
The big additions to the WRX are a brake-operated torque vectoring system and the new direct injection engine. There's also a little reconfigurable gauge on the top of the dash that can be used as a boost gauge, which is nice.
Other than that, it's refreshingly basic and bare. There is Bluetooth and USB ports, but there is no navigation. There's a small backup camera, but there's no front parking sensors, no auto rev matching, no radar cruise control. These are good things. This is a machine made for the purpose of driving, not for babying or coddling.
The stereo, no matter how much they claim it's improved, is crap.
The Subaru boxer four still sounds a bit like a tractor, but it isn't as vocal as it was in years past. You can hear a bit of turbo woosh over that grumble grumble, but it isn't as rough as it was in years past. I miss that.
Pricing is yet to be announced for the new WRX, but it should be broadly similar to the current car. That means an entry price around $26,000. And at that price, I can't think of a car that in this class, like a GTI or Lancer Ralliart, that I'd own instead of this. It's a truly useable little sports sedan that can blow the doors off of basically anything else on the road. So what if it doesn't look great? They spent that money on making it drive like a masterclass in engineering. I know it's only February, but I'm already betting that the WRX makes the list as one of the most fun and favorite cars we'll drive this year.
A lot of cars pass through our hands here, but there are a select few that we'd lay down our own money for. This WRX is a car that I'd gladly buy and own. It's one of the most engaging and fun cars that I've driven in a long time. The WRX STI has a lot to do to be a compelling buy over the base WRX. This car is that good.
Engine: 2.0-liter boxer four
Power: 268 HP at 5,600 RPM/ 258 LB-FT at 2,000 RPM
Transmission: Six-Speed manual
0-60 Time: 5.4 seconds (estimated)
Top Speed: Not listed
Drivetrain: All-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 3,267 pounds
Seating: 5 people
MPG: 21 City/28 Highway
MSRP: N/A, but we estimate around $26,000