Within weeks of the WRX unveiling, Subaru invited journalists to test the new platform on some of Napa’s back roads alongside the picturesque Pacific Coast. With a new chassis, a new powerplant, revised suspension and driveline, the WRX had us anxious to get behind the wheel to experience the new Subaru. We were greeted with amazing weather and clear skies: the perfect conditions for spirited driving. We tested both the Sport Lineartronic Automatic CVT and the six-speed-manual WRXs. Our trip up the coast was in the automatic, while our return trip in the manual took us through tight and twisty roads on the way back to Napa.
Getting settled into a WRX Limited (the best equipped model) presented a well-appointed, comfortable and sporty environment on entry. The seats are comfortable and the cabin ergonomics are well designed. Control surfaces are conveniently placed and within easy reach of the driver. Information is conveyed in full color, with a 3.5-inch LCD display positioned between the analog tachometer and speedometer, while a new 4.3-inch LCD multi-function display is neatly incorporated into the center of the dash. The new multi-function display shows boost pressure, throttle position, torque split and fuel efficiency, while also serving as a backup camera monitor. The harman/kardon premium audio package that is offered for the first time in the WRX features 440 watts and nine speakers. The system completely fills the cabin with a well-balanced sound. Bluetooth connectivity, along with audio streaming, is standard regardless of which head unit you choose. The thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel felt comfortable in my hands and positioned the spoke-mounted controls within easy reach of my thumbs.
Not Your Typical CVT
[pullquote]THE SPORT LINEARTRONIC SHIFTED CRISPLY INTO EACH GEAR WITH THE RESPONSIVENESS OF A DUAL-CLUTCH TRANSMISSION[/pullquote]The day started in the Sport Lineartronic CVT-equipped WRX. Shifting from Park into Drive felt no different at first from most other automatics, which was already a surprise, as one might expect a CVT transmission to feel lazy and ambiguous. But the transmission felt responsive, and once the tires hit the highway and the throttle opened, the turbocharged FA20 came to life, and the transmission happily obliged. With a press of my thumb, the SI-Drive switched to the “S” mode. After pulling the gearshift lever to the left and into the manual shift mode, the Sport Lineartronic shifted crisply into each gear with the responsiveness of a dual-clutch transmission. This came as a pleasant surprise, given my preconceived expectations of the CVT. With another press of my thumb, the SI-Drive toggled to the S# mode. The gearing became even closer in ratio, as there were two additional gears added to the mix. The last thing to try was the Launch Mode. To activate the Launch Mode, simply left foot brake, step on the gas to raise the engine speed and then let go of the brake.
Six for Speed
After lunch, we changed cars and routes for the afternoon session behind the wheel. Breaking from a stop, the WRX’s clutch was easy to modulate and judge. The initial acceleration at first reminded me of the advantages of the manual transmission: the direct link and feel between the crankshaft and the transmission. While the Sport Lineartronic shifts like it has a six- or eight-speed box, there was a slightly disconnected feel when initially applying power. The manual felt just as it should have, connected.
[pullquote]THIS IS IDEAL FOR DAILY DRIVING… BUT NOT NECESSARILY FOR THE TRACK[/pullquote]Skaggs Springs Road is a twisty narrow stretch of asphalt cutting through the coastal mountains just west of Napa, and at points the road constricts to a slender pathway barely wide enough for two-way traffic. While this felt a little daunting, especially with gravel on the road and more hairpins in a quarter mile than on any racetrack I’d ever driven, the WRX remained surefooted and confident. It’s at this point that the VDC and Active Torque Vectoring really came into play. Having never driven on this road before, there were a number of turns that could have been negotiated better and more aggressively. Nonetheless, the WRX tracked well, maintaining my choice of line (for better or not) and even taking the last minute correction without complaint. The stiffened chassis and revised suspension offered excellent feedback and, despite the quick and numerous switchbacks, demonstrated little body roll. Admittedly, the cable-linkage shifter felt a little notchy although not sloppy. The clutch seemed to be slightly dampened. A quick one-two gear change felt a little sluggish, as the clutch felt like it was not ready to engage as quickly as I wanted it to. This is ideal for daily driving, especially when sitting in a lot of traffic, but not necessarily for the track.
WRX Wrap Up
Subaru did their homework with the latest WRX, making noticeable improvements in the areas that needed it most, like the chassis handling and powertrain. The Sport Lineartronic transmission nicely bridges the gap between automatic and manual without the cost that a Dual-Clutch Transmission would likely have incurred. The engineers did a commendable job with the Active Torque Vectoring system, permitting its use without the VDC active, which could prove effective on a road course. More power, better mileage, stiffer chassis and improved handling: The WRX has arrived.