OJAI, CALIF.?A cultlike following for a car is generally a good thing. Nothing like having devout followers.
However, it does present a bit of a challenge when it comes time to replace that vehicle. The risk is that the fan base might feel abandoned.
That’s the situation Subaru faces with the WRX and WRX STI. Note I did not say Impreza WRX. Part of the theme is to distinguish the new models from their Impreza base.
Only a four-door sedan is offered for 2015. Presumably, Subaru has market-research reasons for no longer offering a hatchback, so I guess I have to blame the customers.
Both models get the ?wide body? (fat-fendered) treatment. To me, they don’t have the in-your-face character of the previous models.
The windshield is moved 200 millimetres forward for better interior space and visibility into the corners. Overall length and wheelbase are fractionally longer, yielding a 50-mm increase in rear-seat legroom.
The new models also benefit from considerable body stiffening, resulting in increases of 40 per cent in torsional rigidity and 30 per cent in resistance to bending.
There has also been an attempt to further separate the WRX from its more potent STI brother.
Visually, neither car comes with a trunk lid spoiler. But move up to the Sport package and you get a small lip spoiler on WRX and a big wing on STI. I can’t imagine any STI buyer not going for that.
Inside, upgraded materials, an available Hardon Karman stereo system and a multi-function driver information centre are the big news.
The WRX gets a new 2.0-litre direct-injection turbo four-cylinder engine. That’s half a litre smaller than before, although peak power rises to 268 hp (from 265) and peak torque is up to 258 lb.-ft. (from 244). The STI retains the 2.5-litre four, with 305 hp and 289 lb.-ft. of torque.
Standard in WRX is a new cable-shifted six-speed manual transmission, with a wider ratio spread than the former five-speed, and a 15-per-cent shorter stroke.
The big news is that WRX offers an automatic transmission for the first time, a sportier variant of Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT. Again, broadening the appeal. The STI retains its former six-speed.
Both models gain torque vectoring, by which the inside front wheel can be braked individually in a corner should the system detect more slip than the driver intends.
The suspension in both cars has also been significantly upgraded.
For a glimpse into the new models’ performance, we took a long drive from Ojai to Bentwillow Race Track near Bakersfield in a manual WRX, a bunch of laps on the track in a variety of WRX and STI, both current and previous generations (including a few hot laps with four-time world rally champion Tommi Makinen), followed by a return trek in a Lineartronic WRX.
Die-hard STI fans need not fear. On the track, what stands out is the STI’s mechanical grip. The tires dig in, and just won’t let go. Torque vectoring must be helping here, but it is transparent to the driver.
The steering is much more solid than the former STI, with much less wheel shake on bumps.
The WRX acquits itself pretty well, too. Not as quick (as you would expect) and you need to leave more room for braking.
On the road, the WRX rode pretty well for a car with its handling capability. In the manual-equipped car, the shifter felt a bit stiff ? maybe more break-in miles will help.
The CVT on the return trip convinced even lifelong CVT haters that the concept has promise. No motorboating, just strong, smooth acceleration, and significantly improved fuel economy than most automatics could muster. In Sport mode, it simulates eight distinct ratios, for those who prefer running up and down the rev range.
The general ambience of the interior is improved, but ergonomics are not. Some functions still need teeny fingers and telescopic eyes to work.
In sum: the 2015 WRX and WRX STI represent significant upgrades. They are quicker, roomier, more comfortable, faster, better-handling, better-braking, better-equipped and cost less. What more could you ask?
Transportation for freelance writer Jim Kenzie was provided by the manufacturer. Email: [email protected].
Subaru WRX / WRX STI
Price: $29,995 WRX base, $37,995 STI base
Engine: WRX: 2.0-L turbocharged four; STI: 2.5-L turbocharged four.
Power/Torque: WRX: 268 hp/258 lb.-ft.; STI: 305/290
Fuel Consumption L/100 km: WRX: 9.8 city, 7.0 hwy. (manual), 11.0, 7.9 (auto); STI: 12.3, 8.6 (premium recommended in WRX, required in STI)
Competition: Audi S5 Coup?, BMW M235i/M3, Ford Focus ST, Honda Civic Si, Lexus IS-F, Volkswagen GTI.
What’s best: Strong performance, especially STI, best four-wheel-drive system on the market, CVT option on WRX among the best on the market, too.
What’s worst: Styling not as eye-popping as the performance, interior could be better, loss of hatchback model seems like a step backwards.
What’s interesting: Formerly dominant in world rally championships, STI is now aiming at the Nurburgring 24-Hour Touring Car Race. My passport and racing licence are both up to date.