Before we get into the opinions about the new 2015 Subaru WRX, let's get some basic facts out of the way. It still has 268 horsepower. It still has full-time all-wheel-drive. And now it has the long-heralded infinitely-geared scepter of driving fun death, a Continuously Variable Transmission. But let me blow your mind, because there is life after death.
(Full Disclosure: Subaru wanted me to drive a WRX with a CVT so bad that I asked Travis if he could get me one from Subaru, at which point Travis gave me that "why did we hire you" look he gives me way too often, and then Subaru delivered one.)
Well, sort of. It's life, but it's a weird life. Like if every day, when you get up in the morning, you had to do ten recitations of the famed Clameur de Haro of the small, isolated, proud people on the Channel Island of Guernsey, before you could put your shoes on and head out to the job of World's Number One Professional Cookie Eater.
It's a strange existence, for sure, but one you inevitably would refuse to turn down.
That's what the Subaru WRX with a CVT transmission is like.
Before I continue on with any more tortured metaphors, let's just establish why this review is even necessary. Yeah, I know every single commenting account here is owned by Petter Solberg, and thus you are The Rally Master and you'll never, ever have a need for an automatic in your car, let alone a CVT, but the CVT transmission is hugely important to the WRX. If for nothing else, because of the numbers alone. Subaru sold 25,492 WRXs in 2014, and about 20% of those were sold with a CVT transmission, which means there are around 5,000 rally specials on the road sporting a drivetrain of infinite possibilities.
So they're not exactly as rare as you would think. But even if it is slightly common, it's definitely weirder than normal.
If you're just driving it around a town, in its normal mode, life feels very, well, normal. Bland even. Here you are, sitting in your $30,495 Subaru as my tester was priced, wondering why you've paid so much for what feels like an econobox with a cardboard ceiling, and questioning why your life went so wrong. It's not extremely comfortable, it's not very fast, and if you want it to go anywhere with any sort of haste, you wait and wait and wait a bit and then you wait some more and hopefully you'll get where you're going at some point, wouldn't that be nice.
But then there are two buttons on the steering wheel.
At first you sit and you wonder what they're for, like half the buttons in cars nowadays even though they all do the same thing but every manufacturer insists on their own button-naming scheme because each and every brand is a pretty pretty princess, all very special and everything. One button says S/I, the other says S#/I, and no, that doesn't mean Sports Illustrated and Sports Octothorpe Illustrated. It basically just means Sport and More-Sport, or in Subaru terms, Sport and Sport-SHARP.
And these buttons turn out to be no joke. They're basically how you learn to have fun again, in your gearbox of unlimited ratios. Alright, so your fun must be accessed with a button, and not with an artful dip of clutch and a bang of shift, but if speed is the drug that alleviates all of the pain of life, then think of it like a morphine drip. All you need to do is slap the button a little more often.
But when you do hit that button, you learn it's still a WRX. And that means it still has 268 turbocharged horsepower in an all-wheel drive car that only weighs about 3,300 pounds. So at the end of the day, it still goes like hell.
Alright, so it's not the hell you were thinking of, with fiery demons and Lucifer himself rocking a 47-string guitar with the best heavy metal on Earth, but it's still a hell of demons and Hall & Oates rocking a 47-string guitar and the best heavy metal on Earth. I know, I know, not your ideal vision of awesome, but it would still make a pretty great story, nonetheless.
When you hit the Sport SHARP button the whole engine takes on a different consistency, and the econobox is no more. The needle jumps up the tachometer, and it just sort of... stays there. Much like you would keep it there yourself if you wanted to make sure the turbocharged boxer-4 was always ready to go.
After you've pressed that button, the world looks very different. Charging up roads is effortless (seriously, effortless, there's no need to worry that your ham-feets will screw up a gearchange), and you don't even really think about passing, it just sort of happens, and everything else gets way too close, way too fast. All while Hall & Oates scream the latest song from Meshuggah at you.
Of course, once you're done with all that passing business, you realize you're still in Sport-SHARP, and even though you've lifted off the throttle the engine is still sticking there at 6000 RPM, whether you like it or not. So you peg it down to regular Sport mode to take you down to 3000, or punch the Sport button again to take you back to your cruising speed at 1750 RPM.
But if you want hammer it home again, and you really want to go for broke this time, repeat the Sport-SHARP button process. This time, when you start going WAY TOO FAST and it's all coming at you WAY TOO QUICKLY, just, well, keep going. And then you'll notice a very funny thing happened on the way to 1955.
As you climb up the rev range, the engine almost seems to hang on, just a bit, just the slightest, to the top of the tach, before quickly banging down to a lower, simulated gear. It's a bit like the whole thing is run on rubber bands, which I suppose, in a sense, it is. It's not really wrong, or anything, not in a moral sense, it's just ever-so-slightly off-putting.
But then again, if we've got a turbocharged engine, why are we even bothering to simulate gears? If you've got a true performance monster with a CVT, like Williams F1 did back in the day, you just peg that thing at the top and have an incredibly annoying yet damn fast motor:
Alright, so I get why you wouldn't want to have it drone at you, in the real world. It would be awful. But with everything computer controlled, wouldn't it be nice to have the option of Daryl Hall and John Oates just hitting that high-C note, for way too long?
Because then it'd be incredibly weird, but still incredibly fast. So like the legend himself, Frank Zappa, once said about the best kind of music, "jazz isn't dead, it just smells funny." And that's pretty much how it is for the WRX.
Photos credit: Raphael Orlove/Jalopnik