2015 Subaru WRX CVT review
Isaac Bober’s 2015 Subaru WRX CVT review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and rating.
WHEN SUBARU PULLED OUT of the World Rally Championship in 2008, there was some who thought the fire would go out of the brand’s belly and that its giant-killing WRX would be left to whither on the vine. It wasn’t, and while Subaru has been criticised for letting each new iteration of the WRX get softer and softer, it promises its new WRX is a return to form.And, if our initial impressions of the new WRX are anything to go by then it might not be fibbing. And, in a real turn up for the books, there’s even some whispered suggestion that it’s the CVT-toting WRX that’s the star of the range – it’s the first time in 10 years that the WRX has carried an automatic transmission… so, is it really the best yet, and is the CVT the pick of the range?
Styling has never really been a Subaru strong point, and the WRX has never ever been, what you’d call, attractive. But, thanks to the new snout, smaller bonnet scoop, deep skirt all the way around and the small boot-lid-integrated spoiler, the new WRX finally looks like the spiritual successor to the bulldog-chewing-a-bumblebee original WRX.
But there’s more to the new, sharp-creased, and squared off front and back than just looks – the body is around 40% stiffer than its predecessor. And when you’ve got a stiffer body, well, improved performance is generally the result, but we’ll come back to that.
It’s on the inside that Subaru’s designers have worked the hardest. And it shows, because the interior of this new WRX is a big step ahead of the last one – it felt like the plastics had come from old lunch boxes. That said, the new interior doesn’t feel overly premium, but there’s more liberal use of soft-touch plastics with the hard plastics that are still used, largely hidden in places you won’t often touch.
The central instrument cluster is, more or less, the same as the one in both the Impreza and the XV and that means its dominated, visually at least, by the three dials controlling the air-con and heating. Sitting in the middle (in the WRX Premium) is the sat-nav and multi-media unit, it’s the same one that is used in numerous Toyota product, and it’s a disappointment – it not only looks cheap, but the buttons are far too small and fiddly to use and the map rendering is basic and off the pace compared with competitors. Right up at the top of the centre stack is a small display showing things like climate control, boost pressure and the image for the reversing camera.The flat-bottomed steering wheel and the sports bucket seats (which are 60mm taller in the backrest) give an otherwise fairly plain interior a bit of a visual lift. But, the WRX is such an iconic performance vehicle, like, say, the Volkswagen Golf GTI, that Subaru really should add a little more spice to the interior
ROOM & PRACTICALITY
By stretching the wheelbase (25mm) to 2650mm and making the WRX 15mm wider, Subaru has found precious millimetres of interior space to make the cabin more comfortable, particularly for backseat passengers who seem to have received all of the extra 25mm (that the wheelbase has grown) in legroom. The hip point of rear seat passengers has been raised by 20mm to make getting in and out easier, and it does.
This new WRX also benefits from the changes made to it predecessor in that the rear door openings are nice and wide, making it easier for a six-footer like me to climb in and out of the back easily. It also makes it easier when fitting bulky childseats and baby capsules into the back seat.
Although, on the topic of fitting childseats into the WRX, I’ve struggled to get a booster seat to fit neatly because of the rear seat headrests. When they’re down against the seat they block the booster seat from sitting flush against the back of the seat, but when the headrest is raised up it’s not high enough to clear the top of the booster seat, so it means the booster seat sits slightly off the back of the seat. That means the base of the booster seat sits slightly off the base of the seat proper causing it to slide from side to side. There’s no such problems with a childseat proper, though.
So, in both the front and the back, there’s plenty of room for either four adults or two adults and two children in childseats. And, narrower A-pillars that have been pushed forward by 20mm with a small quarter window added, means that forward vision has been improved. Indeed, deep windows all the way around and that raised hip point mean that front and rear passengers have good vision all the way around.
That said, with the rear seat headrests raised, vision out through the rear window is reduced – a standard fit reversing camera helps get around this when reversing with a full car, though.The boot in the WRX has grown by 40 litres to 460 litres, however, the actual boot opening isn’t overly big (1020mm x 52cm deep) so fitting bulky items could be tricky. And because the boot release is now electronic you have to either have the key on you or release the boot from inside the car, and that can be frustrating, because it makes what should really just be a one-step process into a two-step one.
Sadly, Subaru has said it won’t offer a hatchback in the WRX, citing a lack of dollars to develop one, and that’s a shame, because it means if you want a ‘more practical’ boot in a hot-shoe package you’ll have to shop elsewhere, and the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Ford Focus ST leap to mind as alternatives.
Lift up the flimsy boot floor and you’ll find a space-saver spare wheel staring back at you and that’s a shame, because a performance vehicle, just like a 4WD, should carry a full-size spare wheel. Indeed, all new cars should carry a full-size spare rather than a space saver, but that’s my one and only gripe about the ‘practicality’ of the WRX (well, second, if you count the fact it should be available as a hatchback), and it’s by no means an exclusive complaint.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
Drop your backside down into the sports bucket seats of the WRX and it’s obvious that Subaru has had its designers working overtime on the interior. There’s soft-touch, plastic liberally splashed around the dashboard, with hard, scratchy plastics relegated to areas that you won’t touch all that often.
The interior borrows heavily from the Impreza and XV in that it’s dominated by the three dial set up for heating and cooling at the bottom of the centre stack – the WRX Premium adds a sat-nav and multi-media unit in the middle and a multi-information screen atop the centre stack, showing climate control and turbo boost, all-wheel drive operation and the vision for the reversing camera.
If you’ve traded up to this new WRX from its predecessor then you’ll likely be impressed with the improvement in interior quality, if, however, you’re cross-shopping it against the likes of VW’s Golf GTI or the Ford Focus ST, or even the Kia Pro_cee’d GT then you’ll be a little disappointed with those cars offering a more premium interior.That said, the cabin is spacious and vision all around is excellent and that’s thanks to the low shoulder line and deep windows (and the raised hip point for rear seat passengers) and the low-set instrument cluster. Indeed, the interior feels very light and airy and while the seats aren’t as figure-hugging as the Recaro seats in the Kia Pro_cee’d GT, they do a nice job of keeping you in place as cornering speeds rise.
The new WRX sees the dumping of the previous generation’s 2.5-litre engine in favour of a smaller capacity, but more powerful, 2.0-litre tubocharged four-cylinder Boxer engine producing 197kW (at 5600rpm) and 350Nm (from 2400-5200rpm). That’s enough oomph to get the WRX six-speed manual to the legal limit in 6.0-seconds flat (the WRX CVT we’re testing takes 6.3 seconds, which is still quicker than a VW Golf GTI, which stops the clock in 6.5 seconds).
Fuel consumption in our WRX Premium CVT model is 8.6L/100km (or 9.2L/100km in the six-speed manual) – minimum fuel requirement is 95RON.For the trainspotters out there, yes, the engine in the new WRX is, more or less, the same as that in the Forester XT (same FA series), although the engine in the WRX has been extensively reworked. But, trace the engine back even further and it starts out life as the naturally-aspirated power plant for the Subaru BRZ (and twin-under-the-skin Toyota 86).
The new WRX also borrows the Forester XT’s Lineartronic CVT (continuously variable transmission), and while we’re not normally fans of CVT, Subaru has tuned the WRX’s transmission to behave more like a conventional eight-speed automatic, via Subaru’s Intelligent Drive System.This allows the driver to select from three modes: I (Intelligent); S (Sport); and S# (Sport Sharp). Intelligent is designed, as you’d imagine, for improved fuel consumption and so smooths out throttle response, shifting variable on light throttle applications moving to stepped shifts (mimicking a six-speed automatic) under harder acceleration. Sport is the same as Intelligent although the threshold is less, while Sport Sharp offers even sharper throttle response and eight-speed close-ratio stepped shifting.
The way the WRX CVT gets its power to all four-wheels is different from the way it’s manual sibling does it, using a ‘variable torque distribution’ system which features a planetry-gear centre differential with a clutch pack offering a rear-drive bias in normal conditions (45:55). Its manual sibling uses the standard Subaru viscous limited-slip centre differential with 50:50 drive split.
RIDE & HANDLING
It’s been well reported that this new WRX is a lot stiffer than its predecessor, with torsional rigidity up by 40% and bending rigidity up by 30%. Lateral stiffness is up by around 14% while spring rates are up by 39% (at the front) and 62% (at the back) and the front stabiliser bar is now thicker at 24mm (up from 21mm) and that makes for much sharper handling (on paper, at least).
To handle the extra weight of the CVT, Subaru says the WRX CVT carries firmer damper settings than the manual variant.All of these extensive changes (made possible mainly because the WRX is only available as a sedan) mean the Subaru WRX now corners flatter than ever before, and is on-par with its rear-drive BRZ sibling. See, where its predecessor, and countless generations of WRX before it, would roll over into a corner before settling, gripping and going, this new one just locks onto the road like its on rails without even the faintest whiff of body roll. Sticky Dunlop Sport Maxx tyres are standard (although the spare is a space saver).
To ensure the WRX remains shiny side up in on-the-limit cornering situations, the Active Torque Vectoring (ATV) system is able to momentarily grab one wheel to ensure the thing stays locked onto the apex.
Sure the ride is firm, but it’s never hard and that’s down to the dampers which across even the worst of road surfaces ensure the WRX rides beautifully, so you can ignore what you might read elsewhere on the interweb. The steering too has been tuned to perfection and is a benchmark for just how good electric systems can be, offering precision, accuracy and plenty of meaty weight in the flat-bottomed wheel.
We back-to-backed Sport and Sport Sharp transmission settings on our test road and while Sport Sharp noticably, well, sharpens everything up, Sport still delivers a decent, if less frenetic, experience. Indeed, having now driven the WRX with six-speed manual transmission there’s no doubt in my mind that the WRX CVT is a superior prospect for the ordinary, everyday driver.
That said, thanks to improvements to the manual transmission, it’s now the best manual WRX every with a shorter throw and improved clutch feel.Lock the WRX into Sport Sharp and hunt down corners and you won’t be disappointed, it runs through its ‘eight steps’ without hesitation feeling as if it’ll continue accelerating into next week. And it responds to even the most subtle changes in throttle position, or under brakes brilliantly, always leaving you in exactly the right ‘gear’ to fire out the other side of the corner.
And should you decide that you can do a better job than the CVT’s computer brain (hint: you can’t), well, the paddles are perfectly positioned at your fingertips and, refreshingly, the thing will hold the selected gear even if you’ve got your accelerator mashed deep into the carpet, so many systems will shift up of their own accord.
What’s even more impressive is that while a manual-equipped WRX will default into its traditional understeer when being pushed hard, the WRX CVT seems more composed, possibly due to the slight rear-drive bias of the all-wheel drive set-up. This means you can get back onto the power a smidgen earlier in the WRX CVT.
And, ensuring you can stop while enjoying a spirited run, Subaru has beefed up the brakes, promising, via a high-response booster, a 140% improvement in brake fade. They’re not fibbing either, because even after a day of pushing the new WRX around our test road, totalling around 200km of driving, the brakes were as strong and progressive in their feel at the end of the day as they were at the beginning.
As we’ve already mentioned, Subaru has tarted up the interior of the WRX with more premium plastics, and kept the dash layout simple. It isn’t a premium feeling cabin, but the fit and finish is excellent and, as you’d expect from Subaru, all of the controls and materials used feel solid.More than that, the new WRX is well insulated with only faintest whistle of wind noise at highway speeds, all other road related noises are all but cancelled out with only the roughest of surfaces creating any tyre noise.
PRICING & EQUIPMENT
There are two trim levels available for the WRX, the entry-level WRX is priced from $38,990 (+ORC), or $1000 less than its predecessor, and the WRX Premium (which we tested) and lists from $43,990 (+ORC). The WRX offers driving lights, 17-inch alloys (space saver spare), rear spoiler, self-leveling LED headlights with auto off, flat-bottomed steering wheel, sports bucket seats for the driver and passenger, reversing camera, Bluetooth with audio streaming and more. Step up to the WRX Premium and you get an electric sunroof, leather seats, eight-way power adjust driver seat, rain-sensing wipers, in-dash sat-nav with Bluetooth and audio streaming.
The CVT is a $2000 premium, but is worth every cent in our opinion.In terms of warranty, Subaru offers three years, unlimited kilometres for the WRX which is a little ho-hum in this day and age of five-year warranties. And while other makers offer capped price servicing for the warranty period, Subaru doesn’t, it also has relatively short service intervals, requiring the WRX to be serviced every six-months or 12,500km (whichever comes first).
The WRX receives a five-star ANCAP crash safety rating, receiving the highest score for any Subaru product (35.85/37). Other active and passive safety features include, all-wheel drive, seven airbags (including a driver’s knee airbag which is new to WRX), brake assist and brake override, reversing camera, traction and stability control.
PRACTICAL MOTORING SAYS
While there’ll be those out there who are disappointed the WRX is no longer available as a hatchback (us included) there’s no denying that this new WRX is easily the best yet, and the performance of the new WRX is so close to the ability of the previous generation WRX STi that it’s not funny. Did someone say, bargain.Pricing is keen with the entry-level WRX costing $1000 less than the previous generation yet offering more performance and equipment, step up to the Premium CVT that we’ve tested and pricing jumps to $45k, putting it ahead of the bigger, as well equipped, but less sporting Skoda Octavia RS and hard up against the VW Golf GTI… But, the WRX has been taking on and beating competitors in this price bracket, and higher price brackets, for 20 years, and this new WRX carries on that giant-killing tradition. Yes, Subaru could make the cabin a little more special, and it’s a shame there’s no hatchback in the line-up, but if you want bang for your buck thrills that its rivals can’t match, well, the WRX is the car for you. And we’ll go one-step further, as good as the WRX is it’s been made better by the new CVT Lineartronic transmission, indeed, we’ll say forget the manual, pay the extra $2k and get the best WRX (read: WRX CVT) ever.