2015 Subaru WRX First Drive

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The 2015 Subaru WRX may be the most perfect shelter ever ginned up for Internet trolls. We're already super-familiar with their super-tired take on the new turbo all-wheel-drive sedan. To paraphrase: "This car, which is not substantially changed in feel or intent, and which I do not own, is ruined!!!!" Exclamation points theirs.

Rise up, basement-dwelling sock romancers!

And hold up, while you're at it. We're about to lay down the latest chapter of Who Moved My Cheese? The Lactose Intolerant Edition, and to correct some faulty impressions formed mostly out of thin air: That the WRX has been totally invalidated because it now offers a sort of automatic transmission (again). Because it's a little bit bigger than before. Mostly, because nothing has ever been as good, is as good, or will be as good, as the 22b these nonfictional creatures use as desktop wallpaper.

Here's the truth. The WRX is still the hemispherical and cultural opposite of the Camaro and Mustang. It's still a certifiable blast--a whizzy, turbocharged, all-wheel-driver. It's still the plasticky Ziploc slider that forms an airtight lock between the road and the sky.

But in all fairness, it does give the trolls some room to judge. Some air to breathe.

2015 Subaru WRX performance

They're oxygen-starved by the WRX's new turbo four, which is the same tart performer that's in the 2014 Subaru Forester XT--the Best Car To Buy over at The Car Connection. There's nothing not to love here, outside maybe of the warm blast of forced-induction noise that drops by with anything more than a hair of throttle. The 2.0-liter four has direct injection, a twin-scroll turbo and intercooling, and its own cam profiles and valve-spring rates, for a net 268 horsepower, and peak torque of 258 pound-feet that hangs around from 2,000 rpm to 5,200 rpm. We'd say this thing pulls like a train--if trains weren't run by ginormous diesels, and didn't sound instead like David Coverdale's own Conair hair dryer, on the Tumble Dry High setting he seems to prefer.

The WRX's stock and trade transmission is a six-speed manual. It's a cog over the five-speed unit in the last WRX, and its first- and second-gear carbon synchros don't mind a little slam-shifting through its long lever action. In this transfer case, the WRX's all-wheel-drive system has a viscous coupling at the center that splits power 50:50 front to rear, and can shuffle torque front to back as traction needs arise. All told, the manual WRX hits 60 mph in about 5.4 Subaru-estimated seconds, about the same as the last-generation car.

So here's where the trolls begin to win over some of the weaker members of the herd. There's an automatic transmission back on the options list, not just an automatic but a continuously variable transmission.This CVT is not as inequal as other CVTs, though. As we've found in the Forester, it's cleverly programmed (in "SI-Drive") to act like a paddle-shifted automatic when it needs to, and to relax into a fuel-saving CVT idiom when it doesn't.

In "Intelligent" mode, it does the fuel-economy thing, adjusting its pulleys more gradually, tipping in throttle more hesitantly. In Sport mode, the throttle response quickens--and when the lever's moved to Manual, it actuates a program that uses paddles to act like a six-speed automatic. (The WRX will snap into that mode any time throttle use goes higher than 40 percent, too).

Then there's the Sport Sharp mode, the one that feels most convincingly like a good dual-clutch transmission. It actuates an eight-step program for the CVT, with full manual control via those paddles, delivering clean ratio changes without any of the shift shock a conventional torque-converter automatic might dole out. It's no PDK in terms of shift quickness or sheer mechanical complexity, but it must be the CVT that's most fully realized the possibilities inherent in the design.

All told here, the CVT-equipped WRX in its most aggressive mode can reach 60 mph in about 5.9 seconds. It also has a different all-wheel-drive system, one with a planetary-gear center diff and a 45:55 torque bias, and linkage to the WRX's steering and yaw sensors to change torque split.

Gas mileage isn't super wonderful: the manual's rated at 21/28 mpg or 24 mpg combined, the CVT at 19/25/21 mpg. Subaru says if you left the CVT in Intelligent mode all the time you'd edge closer to 24 mpg combined--but who has that kind of self-restraint anymore?

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