For the last few years you’ve been lusting after the Lexus IS-F in the worst way. Unfortunately two things held you back. First, you didn’t have the $65,000 it took to put one in your driveway. And then they stopped building it.
Don’t despair. I’ve got a deal for you. Meet the 2015 Subaru WRX. It will ease your pain for less than half as much. And they’ll be building them for years to come.
Don’t get me wrong, the WRX isn’t quite as spectacular as the IS-F was (you can read my 2013 review here). But you’ll be having so much fun that you won’t notice what you’re missing. And to be honest, you’re not missing as much as you might think.
The WRX has an all new 268 horsepower direct injection turbocharged engine. That’s about 50 horses shy of the IS-F. You could bump up to the WRX STI to get 305 horsepower. Although that will cost you at least $8,000. And while more power is nearly always good, I never felt like the base engine left me wanting.
You have your choice of either a six speed manual or Subaru’s Sport Lineartronic transmission with SI Drive. Your first reaction is likely to be why would anyone skip the manual for an automatic? Worse yet, it’s a continuously variable automatic which is not something that usually goes with high performance. But the Sport Lineartronic is different. More importantly, it’s a lot of fun. The first thing I have to tell you is that you can’t simply stomp on the throttle and blast away. Mated with the SI Drive it requires a little more thought. But use the paddle shifters wisely and you’ll be greatly rewarded for the extra effort. I’m not totally sure how this CVT works. It emulates gears and makes you feel like you’re shifting a traditional transmission. And it works so very well. The SI Drives changes the way both the engine and transmission deliver power. You can go for more low-end oomph, choose mid-range or go for what I’ll call highway performance. I spent most of the time driving in city traffic so I kept it in the low-end setting. It was a blast. I didn’t get to drive the manual so I can’t compare, but there’s no major reason not to consider the SI Drive. Ok, there are a couple of minor downsides, it will cost an additional $1200 and you’ll get slightly less gas mileage. 19 mpg in the city and 25 on the highway for the SI Drive, 21 mpg city and 28 highway for the manual. I was surprised that my mileage was nearly 25 mpg which I considered pretty impressive for a week of fun driving.
The WRX has a slightly stiffer ride, but it’s not brutal. You can buy it as a family car and your wife and kids won’t complain about blurry vision after every trip. It has symmetrical all-wheel drive and something Subaru calls Active Torque Vectoring that supposedly sharpens cornering response. Subaru says the redesigned unibody is 41% stiffer, which reduces body roll and lets the suspension do its job. When it’s time to stop the WRX has 12.4-inch ventilated front rotors with dual-piston calipers up front, which are bigger than the old WRX.
The interior is a winner as well. Sport seats were comfortable, and they looked great too. My car had black cloth with red stitching. Carbon fiber inserts in the dash lets everyone know this is a performance car. The electronics are a little old school, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It does have a small display screen at the top of the dash that gave various bits of information as well a monitor for the backup camera. I had a hard time pairing my phone and I found the navigation to be so-so. The rear seat has a 60/40 split so you can carry long stuff in the trunk.
Outside there are some minor changes from last year’s WRX. The front end has a new grille and headlight configuration along with some other tweaks. It’s not hugely different, but a nice refresh. The thing that gives the WRX away is the massive hood scoop. And it’s not just for show, it feeds directly into the engine. Bump up to the STI and you also get a huge rear wing that just screams you want to go fast.
If you’re looking for performance, you could pay more and likely get more. But when you consider that the Subaru WRX starts at $26,295, and that even the STI version is $34,495, that’s an awful lot of fun for the money. There may be cars out there with more horsepower and more prestigious badges. But you’re not likely to find a four door sedan that will deliver this much fun on this little money.