WRX is the bad side of Subaru
Good Subarus tiptoe through pristine streams in Colorado, never flattening a single rainbow trout or rustling one old river rock.
Usually an Outback or Forester crossover, they always emerge without a smudge of mud, everyone inside wearing smiles and plaid shirts – including the golden retriever hanging out the rear window.
Most come standard with campfire guitars and John Denver songbooks in back.
You don't have to make room for me.
I much prefer bad Subarus – the dark, hoarse-sounding sedans that somehow survive in Subie's lineup of tofu-troopers.
I speak, of course, of the sullen WRX sedan and testosterone-charged WRX STI.
They get their grins tearing turbocharged chunks out of the asphalt while clawing for traction.
And don't bother sending them the bill for repairs.
As you may know, the turbocharged boxer-four in the WRX – its cylinders parallel to the street, like horizontally opposed engines in Porsche 911s – is new, reduced now to a fairly scant 2 liters.
With direct fuel injection and nearly 16 pounds of boost from the turbo, the little motor spins out 268 horsepower driving all four wheels.
That's about 40 fewer than in the more intense STI, incidentally, but you might not miss it. The Rex is still good for 0-to-60 in a little more than 5 seconds, according to Car and Driver.
(The mainstream Subie sedan on which the WRX is based, the Impreza, takes roughly a day to get to 60.)
Also new for '15 – unfortunately – is a continuously variable automatic transmission, along with a six-speed manual.
Mine, sadly, got saddled with the CVT, but I'll grumble more about that in a minute.
At first glance, the Rex seems ominously squat and blocky, especially in cop-proof dark metallic gray. It looked like a door-slammer designed for English soccer hooligans.
With slightly flared fenders, a lower stance and a blunt, upright blacked-out grille, it bristled with dusky back-alley charm.
This thing is not pretty, but it is plenty appealing.
My favorite element was the large, boldly shaped scoop on the hood that provides air for the turbocharger's intercooler.
It appeared to be large enough to inhale a loaf of Wonder bread, and virtually guarantees that no one will mistake your serious Subie for a Toyota something-or-the-other.
Dark 17-inch wheels and 235/45 tires didn't quite fill the Subaru's flared fenders, prompting me to wonder how much better the car might look crouched atop a set of 18s.
Still, the Rex struts like a street fighter, free of fake scoops or stick-on stripes or boy-racer spoilers.
Moreover, the dual dual-tipped exhausts spat out a decent, slightly crazy-sounding Subie thrum.
Initially, I made the mistake of leaving the car's CVT to take care of torque multiplication duties on its own – just like any automatic.
CVTs are the dorks of the auto industry – relatively cheap and capable of delivering good fuel economy but irritating as a Seattle activist.
CVTs use pulleys whose diameters change constantly to keep the engine in its power band. But they can drone like a bunch of old hippies who have just taken up Hare Krishna.
Once, I nailed the throttle while merging with murderous traffic, and the CVT gave me one of its fake computer-induced downshifts followed by an odd, violent "upshift."
Opt for the six-speed manual. If that won't work for you, drive in "sport-sharp" mode.
Suddenly, those fake "shifts" feel pretty satisfying and the engine seems to swell, shoving the 3,300-pound WRX to speed with real urgency.
The tough little engine gins up 258 pound-feet of torque at a low 2,000 rpm, so Rex always felt ready for a fight.
In the sport-sharp mode, the car ran hard to its 6,500-rpm red line, probably failing badly to return its advertised fuel economy of 19 miles per gallon in town and 25 on the highway.
The WRX turns into curves much more sharply than its clumsy exterior might suggest.
With all-wheel drive, grip is ferocious. The car's structure this year is 41 percent stiffer and its springs much firmer, so it stays planted flatly in curves.
I thought the steering felt thick and heavy at slow speeds, but it livened up at speed, becoming quick and sporting.
As the folks at Chi Chi's Lounge can tell you, though, all of this fun comes at a price. The Rex rides stiffly, fidgeting over small bumps and crashing hard over the big ones.
Just tell your significant other that the car is a family sedan with "heavy-duty" springs that will eventually soften – in a decade or three.
At least the interior seemed spacious enough for a $26,000 four-door sedan.
(Mine was a pre-production model with no window sticker. But it had the features of a car in the mid-28s.)
Leg- and head-room in back were more than ample for me – and I'm about as big as today's 12-year-olds but a whole lot meaner.
The charcoal-colored interior in mine featured too many hard surfaces and was kind of basic, I thought, but it was better than the last Rex I had.
Besides, I got the sense from the interior that Subie spent most of its WRX budget on performance pieces. That's fine with me.
A thick black dashboard provided a hooded instrument panel with nifty red-faced gauges.
A large prominent center stack cut high into the dash, its touch screen almost brushing the base of the windshield.
The center stack – trimmed in faux carbon fiber – slid down onto an average-sized console, and to Subie's credit, mostly sported highly functional buttons and knobs.
Although the door panels were dark plastic, at least they had padded armrests.
Likewise, the charcoal-colored seats offered modest bolsters with perforated centers and red stitching.
They were good places to hunker down and hang on.
And that's the beauty of the Rex. It functions just like a dour Camry or Altima, but is far more unusual and about three times as exciting.
Strap in the car seats tightly, put the groceries in the trunk and go have some fun.
2015 SUBARU WRX
–Type of vehicle: Midsize, five-passenger, all-wheel-drive sedan
–Fuel economy: 19 miles per gallon city, 25 highway
–Weight: About 3,300 pounds
–Engine: Two-liter turbocharged, direct-injected four with 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque
–Transmission: Continuously variable transmission
–Performance: 0 to 60 mph in an estimated 5.2 seconds
–Base price: $25,995
–Price as tested: Not available (pre-production model)
SOURCES: Subaru of America; Car and Driver
ABOUT THE WRITER
Terry Box writes for the Dallas Morning News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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