With the impending demise of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, Subaru stands to benefit big-time with its redesigned 2015 Subaru WRX. The new car is in showrooms now, retaining its unmistakable rally-car personality and driving dynamics, and it is improved in almost every way compared to the previous-generation model.
Still, the old WRX and speedier WRX STI models had their own special appeal, not least of which was the availability of a 5-door hatchback version that blended insane all-weather and all-surface performance with the utility of a small SUV. Unfortunately, the hatchback is gone for 2015, leaving the 4-door-sedan body style as the only choice.
Taken alone, that move could be considered regressive. Before passing judgment, though, let's dive into the details.
It really is too bad that the 5-door version of the WRX is gone; that was a favorite for its added utility and practicality, but with the Lancer Evo on death's doorstep and Ford refusing to ST-ify the Focus Sedan, perhaps the shift in approach makes sense. Besides, you can't stick a towering wing spoiler on a hatchback.
All 2015 Subaru WRX models have the signature wide-body styling, gaping hood scoop, blistered fenders, quad exhaust outlets and aerodynamic body kit that have characterized this iconic performance car for years, and the WRX sedan is now equipped with standard LED taillights. Step up to the WRX STI for the towering wing spoiler and unique wheels that help set the high-performance model apart from the regular-performance model.
Longer in overall length and equipped with a longer wheelbase, the 2015 WRX features the same width and height as the outgoing car but weighs 58 pounds more in base trim. You can make your own decisions about which one is better-looking -- some people would call both of them ugly -- but we're going with the sharper-edged and more aggressive 2015 model.
By the way, Subaru offered a Launch Edition package on the new 2015 model, painted WR Blue Pearl with traditional gold BBS 18-inch wheels and blue interior highlights, but that limited-production version is already history, parked in the garages of fervent WRX fans.
One area where the redesigned 2015 model stands in stark contrast to the previous-generation version is the interior room, materials and comfort levels.
The old WRX felt cramped, and while it was loaded with special seats, a proper performance steering wheel, and upgraded gauges and trim, it never quite eradicated evidence of its humble beginnings. The new 2015 WRX does a better job in this regard, in part because the Impreza upon which it remains based is of higher overall quality.
Subaru says the new WRX offers a roomier interior. It feels that way, but it's an illusion to the driver and front passenger because the 2015 WRX has less front legroom and headroom than the old WRX by the numbers. Rear-passenger comfort is improved, though, thanks to more legroom and shoulder space. The new WRX provides better outward visibility, making the cabin feel much bigger when, in fact, it is only a little bigger.
If you liked the hardware bolted into the old WRX STI, then you'll like what's installed in the redesigned 2015 Subaru WRX STI because it's the same component set. If you're talking about the standard WRX, though, the story is completely different.
A new twin-scroll turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine debuts in the 2015 WRX, replacing the old 2.5-liter 4-cylinder motor. It retains its boxer-type layout, in which horizontally opposed pistons jab outward toward the sides of the vehicle from a center-mounted crankshaft. The new engine makes 268 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Those figures represent increases of 3 hp and 14 lb-ft which is enough to offset the WRX's slight weight gain.
Better yet, this new engine hits its peak hp and torque outputs lower in the rev range, and it runs on regular gas instead of pricey premium. The WRX also gets a new 6-speed manual gearbox, replacing the previous 5-speed stick and improving fuel economy by more than 10 percent in the process.
Perhaps the biggest news, though, is that you no longer need to know how to use a clutch pedal to own a Subaru WRX. That's because a new Sport Lineartronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) is an option, offering two manual driving modes with your choice of six or eight programmed gears. Naturally, you switch between the different CVT ratios using paddle shifters mounted to the steering wheel.
Additional changes for the standard 2015 Subaru WRX include larger front brakes, a new active torque-vectoring system and quick-ratio electric steering. Don't worry, performance purists: The vaunted WRX STI still has traditional hydraulic steering, and yes, you still need to row your own gears in the highest-performance STI version.
Sift through the details, and this is where you land. The new WRX STI is just like the old WRX STI but with a different wrapper, while the new standard WRX represents a significant improvement over the old one and is far more accessible to a broader range of people thanks to the new optional CVT.
When you buy a Subaru WRX, you're paying extra for performance, not a big increase in the number of features on the car. That's why the new WRX is outfitted very much like the old WRX with a few exceptions.
For 2015, HD Radio is standard across the board (it only came with the optional navigation system previously). Subaru also installed standard illuminated vanity mirrors on the 2015 WRX.
Other upgrades for 2015 include gauge needles that perform a full sweep upon ignition in all but the base WRX, LED low-beam headlights for the WRX Limited and WRX STI models, dual-zone automatic climate control for the STI, and a new premium audio system with Aha connectivity for the STI Limited model.
These might amount to minor enhancements to the old car, but they do represent improvement compared to last year.
Not counting the WRX's mechanical upgrades for 2015, there's not much change in terms of onboard technology. Choose any version of the WRX except for the base model, and you can option it with a new 6.1-in touchscreen navigation system that includes the same premium audio system that comes standard in the WRX STI Limited. Speaking of Limited models, when you upgrade to navigation, you also get a new keyless-access and push-button starting system.
People like all three of these extras, making the 2015 WRX the more appealing model from a technological standpoint.
As was true of the old WRX, the new 2015 Subaru WRX is built around what the automaker calls a ring-shaped reinforcement frame that is designed to deflect crash energy away from the occupant compartment in the event of a collision. The result of this design approach is evident in the new WRX's Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
IIHS can't assign a front crash-prevention rating for the WRX, though, because Subaru doesn't provide any kind of forward-collision warning system or autonomous braking system for the car. What is new for 2015, though, is a knee airbag for the driver and a standard reversing camera.
With the imminent departure of the Lancer Evo from the market, the WRX will become the only rally-bred, all-wheel-drive performance car available to enthusiasts. Purists, however, might resent the WRX's new CVT, which makes this car a reality instead of a fantasy for lots more people and dilutes the WRX's aura of exclusivity in the process.
Either way you look at it, one thing's for sure: The 2015 Subaru WRX is better than ever.