Looking to get involved in track day activities? Considering the giant-killing 2015 Subaru WRX? Here’s what you need to know before strapping on a helmet and firing off onto a race track.

MORE AND MORE PEOPLE want to push their cars beyond what our road laws allow, and the giant-killing 2015 Subaru WRX is one of those cars that’s regularly trundled out to track days. Now, as you’ll have noticed in my Toyota 86 reports, I like track days and I know how hard they can be on cars, so, how does the WRX fare?

We’ve already reviewed the 2015 WRX in some detail from a general perspective, so consider this a little addendum for you performance drivers and track day addicts.

First off, buy the Premium because the seats in the Standard aren’t supportive enough either laterally or longitudinally. With the Premium you can lift the forward part of the seat to form a kind of bucket. It’s not perfect, but better.

Drivers with big shoes will find the gap to the left of the clutch pedal quite small on the manual, but it is fine with narrower driving shoes. Heel and toe is as easy as it gets in modern cars with their tiny accelerator pedals and spaces between throttle and brake … blame today’s litigious society for that, and compare old Porsche or Lotus pedal setups.

If you’re tall, don’t bother with the sunroof because when wearing a helmet you’ll probably run out of room. Not that motorsports people go for sunroofs, but just saying.

The brakes need upgrading. Getting the car to the point when it locks ABS requires huge amounts of pedal effort, and based on a few hard stops my nose says fade will be a problem. Fluid, lines and pads should fix it all though, and that’s a pretty standard upgrade for any car that will see a lot of track work.

You can read the views on auto vs manual here, and make your own mind up. While you see our drivers preferred the manual, the CVT auto is still a quick and enjoyable car. There are however a few differences. The auto is 58kg heavier, mostly at the front, and has a different suspension setup. It also has the ability to vary torque front/rear, whereas the manual is fixed 50/50 front/rear. The auto can also vary throttle response from smooth to sharp via “SI-DRIVE”, and this also affects the gearchange points. The manual has no such option.

These differences do plays out in the handling. Despite the lack of SI-DRVE, the manual’s throttle responsiveness is better. It also has a small but distinct turbo lag, but it’s almost an endearing feature and not like the early 200SXs where the car tried to kill itself and the driver. At speed, you’d have the revs well beyond the turbo kick-in point anyway. In the auto there is absolutely no turbo lag.  However, it is a CVT so the transmission is likely to overheat after a few laps, a problem you won’t find with manual transmissions.

The manual can also be thrown around to the point of chirpy front-wheel traction loss in corners. The auto cannot under exactly the same conditions – not sure exactly why, but suspect it has to do with a combination of the torque varying front/rear which smooths progress, less responsive throttle, and heavier nose. Again, speed vs fun.

The auto is good at picking a gear – it’s got eight in SI-DRIVE S# (Sport Sharp) mode, so it should be. However, it doesn’t always get it right when you crack on and may perform a sheepish downchange as you exit a long corner under maintenance throttle, and then floor it. I didn’t get to track the car, but from other experience I prefer to select gears in autos so you can balance it on a given throttle setting without worrying about the car shifting up or down, and certainly on wet tracks or dirt roads you’d want to short-shift. The only way to DIY is via the paddle shifts as the gearshift has no gear selection function. The paddles move with the steering wheel, which annoys me, I prefer the ones that are stationary relative to the wheel as then you know where they are if you have a full turn of lock on – as you might on dirt for example! Notice how World Rally Cars don’t have paddles? The paddles offer full manual control, there’s no kickdown when you floor it in a higher gear than the engine could handle so well done Subaru on that score.

WRXs have a reputation for understeer. Not these new ones, they’re pretty neutral, and Active Torque Vectoring (explanation here) helps pull you out of corners under power. If you get understeer, it’s your fault, not the car’s. However, don’t be thinking the Rexes are drift machines as there’s nowhere near enough power to break traction or hold a drift unless you’re on dirt or ice – the parkbrake will be needed to induce sideways action.  As I mentioned with the STi, the Track Mode of stability control is excellent, gives you enough latitude for a small slide and recovery before the computers “help”, yet have a safety net in case ambition exceeds talent. But overall, these are very safe and easy cars to drive – potentially too safe and boring perhaps, lacking a rear-drive frission of excitement?  Your choice.  But because they are all-paw the Rexes also very much a fast and enjoyable drive on dirt or rough bitumen, which is something that can’t be said of many sportscars.

The steering wheel is a bit over-full of switches, but otherwise good. It has a flat bottom which is just an affectation modelled after racecars, there’s no need for it but that doesn’t affect the driving. Steering is electronic, but don’t let that worry you, it’s great and the electronic haters need to get over it.

The parkbrake is a handbrake, so handbrake turns should work well. Note to Subaru, in case they’re reading, I did NOT try one. I took it on trust it’d work.

You could definitely get your motorsport fix in a Rex, and there’s so many aftermarket mods to support it that that won’t be a problem. And if you do stack, which given how grippy and capable these cars are to begin with will require more error than usual, then there’s 5-star safety to keep you alive.

Finally, there’s the WRX STi which you can read about here. If you wanted a sporting Rex I’d seriously consider the extra cash for the STi – it’s sharper, faster, more control over the torque split, better brakes and overall more of an enthusiast’s sportscar. But it’s manual-only, and $50k opens up other possibilities…


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