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2015 Subaru WRX Driving Impressions



It was odd driving the STI before the WRX, and making the comparison down, not up. Bottom line: You'll have to want an awful lot of performance to feel like the WRX isn't enough. If you take the WRX out of context, meaning don't compare it to the STI, it looks and feels plenty like a performance car. Still, in the WRX you can relax and almost forget sometimes that you're in a high-performance car.

Although most of the time you can't forget, thanks to the throaty and hollow-sounding exhaust, distinctively Subaru. We're still talking about the WRX. The STI has a different exhaust note, slightly louder, but the WRX definitely holds its own in the audible statement department.

The suspension in the STI never lets you forget what kind of car you're in. It's world class. It does not jar you, just constantly over every ripple in the road reminds you that this is as tight and good as it gets, for a car that's driven on the road. The suspension, and handling too, beg for track days. If you buy an STI and don't take it to the track, you're abusing it by wasting it.

What's more, those leather seats in our STI Launch Edition were perfectly designed and padded, for the car. You can live with this car every day.

If you can live with the attention-grabbing wing, that is. It grabs so much attention that we were stopped for going 76 mph on a wide-open freeway, posted 65 but the flow of traffic more like 75. We got away with just a warning. It served its effect. It warned us that there's no sneaking under the radar with this car.

The WRX (with the CVT) feels bigger and heavier than the STI, because it's not so quickly responsive. There's more room in the suspension and more room in the steering, with its 14.5 ratio compared to the STI's 13.0. That's what throws the perception off; 14.5:1 is way quick, but when you feel 14.5 after a week at 13.0, it makes the car feel bigger.

Another thing is the CVT, or properly called the Sport Lineartronic automatic. In automatic Intelligent mode, when you'd like to forget it, it's programmed to upshift so early (to save gas) that it feels like the engine is lugging. No chance, with its max torque of 258 pound-feet available from 2000 rpm, but that's what the dyno charts say, not what the seat of your pants tell you at 20 mph when the car climbs into 4th gear.

We drove out in the country to our favorite stretch of curves where the sheriff rarely goes, put our WRX Premium's CVT into Sport Sharp to gain all its eight speeds, and had a go. In the end, we'll take the 6-speed manual that comes standard in the WRX, based on our loving it in the STI. That's not to say that the CVT isn't smooth, in fact it might be too smooth. When you upshift with the paddles you can barely feel it. That's good, we guess.

We went back to that same stretch of curves in the STI, and woohoo baby! It dances on patchy rough pavement because of its rigidity, and there's some torque steer despite the electronic torque vectoring system, but the dance doesn't threaten to take over. In fact it makes pushing more fun. It's a twitch, not a sway. The Vehicle Directional Control makes it impossible to spin out, which is dangerously confidence-inspiring; it doesn't make you immortal, as it's not impossible to crash by running off the road.

The 6-speed gearbox is a dream, with its short-throw linkage that's standard in the Launch Edition and available in other models, including the base WRX. The clutch and alloy pedals do heel-and-toe downshifts beautifully, every one perfect for us. The upshifts too went neatly, but apparently we should have done more of them. Curiously, with the windows up, the engine is so quiet at 6000 rpm, and the rev limiter so soft, that you don't even know you're there. What's more, the tach is partly obscured by the flat-bottom steering wheel, so you can't see the needle at 6000 rpm, located at about 4 o'clock on the face. Racecar tachs are rotated so redline is straight up at 12 o'clock, which would be a fix for the STI.

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