(MCT) - The 2015 Subaru WRX is a sophisticated and accommodating new take on Subaru's iconic performance car.
The WRX is one of the few cars that actually deserve the overused adjective "iconic." The 2015 is the latest in a line that has won rallies around the world and made Subaru an enthusiast's favorite.
It departs from previous WRXs in some notable ways. It only comes as a sedan, ditching earlier models' popular hatchback style. It's also the first to offer a continuously variable transmission.
Most important, it has a more forgiving ride and roomier passenger compartment. The suspension still encourages curve-carving antics but is less jarring, making the WRX better suited to daily driving.
Prices for the 2015 WRX start at $26,295 with a six-speed manual transmission. All WRXs come with all-wheel-drive and a powerful horizontally opposed boxer 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo engine. CVT-equipped models start at $29,695.
I tested a top-of-the-line WRX Limited with CVT that stickered at $33,695. Options included navigation, Harman/Kardon audio, push-button start and keyless access. All prices exclude destination charges.
The WRX competes with performance compacts, particularly those with all-wheel-drive. Competitors include the 220-horsepower Audi A3 Quattro, 208- horsepower Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 4Matic and the 290- horsepower Volkswagen Golf R expected to go on sale next year.
Front-wheel-drive competitors include the 250- horsepower Buick Verano turbo and 252-hp Ford Focus ST. The front-drive 201-horsepower Acura ILX and 205- horsepower Honda Civic Si consider themselves sporty, but lack the power to run with the big dogs.
In addition to having more power than its competitors, the WRX is priced attractively. The base model undercuts other AWD compacts, and my test vehicle cost less than a comparably equipped A3 or CLA 250.
Despite that, the WRX was missing some features I expect in a $33,000 car, notably blind spot alert and memory for the driver's settings. It also suffers from a nearly useless touch screen to control audio and navigation systems.
The buttons touch points on the screen are too small to use in a moving car, and the screen is illegible in bright sunlight. It's one of the worst control layouts in any contemporary vehicle.
The WRX compensates for that by being one of the most enjoyable compacts to drive. The engine delivers plenty of torque above 2,000 rpm for satisfying acceleration, despite some turbo lag at lower engine speeds.
The transmission is smooth, as you'd expect from a CVT. Unlike many CVTs, though, it's also responsive in enthusiastic driving and hard acceleration. It mimics the feel of a 6- or 8-speed automatic in two sporty driving modes. Paddle shifters further the illusion of driving a conventional automatic.
Oddly, WRXs with the CVT have considerably worse fuel economy than those with the six-speed manual. CVTs exist to boost fuel economy, but this one fails at the job.
The EPA rates manual-transmission WRXs at 21 miles per gallon in the city, 28 on the highway and 24 combined. The CVT scored just 19/25/21. The WRX's fuel economy trails less powerful competitors.
The WRX needs premium fuel to get its rated fuel economy and power, as do the A3 and CLA250 4Matic. The Verano turbo and Focus ST should both hit their EPA ratings on regular, but they'll lose some power.
The interior is roomy and trimmed in more appealing materials than past WRXs.
Features like soft materials, voice recognition and a more comfortable ride may not appeal to the street racers who created the WRX's legend, but the car should appeal to other buyers, despite its abysmal touch screen and the CVT's disappointing fuel economy.
2015 SUBARU WRX:
-Rating: Three out of four stars
-Type of vehicle: Four-wheel-drive, four-door compact performance sedan
-Reasons to buy: Power, handling, all-wheel-drive, passenger room
-Shortcomings: Controls, fuel economy, lack of common features
-Engine: 2.0-liter, 16-valve DOHC turbocharged direct-injection horizontally opposed four-cylinder
-Power: 268 horsepower at 5,600 rpm; 258 pound-feet of torque at 2,000-5,200 rpm
-Transmission: Continuously variable
-Wheelbase: 104.3 inches
-Length: 1180.9 inches
-Width: 70.7 inches
-Height: 58.1 inches
-Curb weight: 3,433 pounds
-Base price: $26,295
-Price as tested: $33,695
All prices exclude destination charge.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Mark Phelan is the Detroit Free Press auto critic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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