“If a car is offered with front-wheel drive or AWD, most people will go for the latter…”

Subaru has been on a tear over the last few years, selling more and more vehicles to Canadians who the idea of owning a Japanese engineered all wheel drive (AWD) car.

AWD is the secret sauce. We live in a country with inclement weather and the trend is to AWD as people experience it and want it in their next vehicle. If a car is offered with front-wheel drive (FWD) or AWD, most people will go for the latter.

Subaru provides this as standard equipment on all its cars, except the sporty BRZ that was co-developed with Toyota. Subaru then layers on more power and sporty features into their compact car, the Impreza, to develop the WRX and WRX STI rally-inspired cars. These have been incredibly popular, once again, because they come with AWD and the closest competitors do not.

Looks

Back in 2011, Subaru introduced the WRX to look like the bolder and more powerful STI version, complete with bulging fender flares, hood scoops and aggressive attitude. This really helped to propel the WRX into another gear in terms of sales. To follow up on this idea, the latest 2015 model too has an edgy design similar to the more powerful STI version. It is the same overall length as the last model but the wheelbase is longer, making bigger doors and the designers were able to slope the front and rear windows and crop the roof a tad, to provide a sleeker profile.

The front grille now has a more polished look but the wheel size is only 17-inches, making the car look too big for the size and track of the wheels. The STI only comes with 18-inch wheels that are too small as well. One big advantage is the side mirrors have been moved from the windshield pillar to the door, making the side class much bigger for improved outward visibility.

Inside

As wonderful as the last WRX was in terms of handling and power, the interior let it down. It was too bland, especially considering the top STI models can cost well over $40,000. This 2015 has been vastly improved but has a few niggly items that could be improved. The dash is covered with soft touch materials, the centre console has a better design, with a three easy to use heat and ventilation controls. The rest of the dash has been cleaned up with a much better looking design and more attention to colours and textures.

The radio and accompanying Bluetooth system was horrible to pair with my Android phone and I had to do it several times after the initial pairing procedure to stay connected. The armrest for the driver is far too low to be of any use and the speedo and tach readouts are far too small to read quickly. Plus, the key needs to used to release the trunk, I couldn’t find a trunk resale anywhere on the car. What the WRX does have is room for all passengers with big doors and very easy access, with a bigger trunk (once you can get it open) than the last model.

Drive

What the WRX is all about is providing a sporty drive and now it is available to a wider range of buyers thanks to a new automatic transmission. Subaru wants to sell more cars, not less, and by adding an automatic for a generation of buyers who might not know how to drive stick, is a major step. This is not your average automatic, it is a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that has one gear but the ratio of the gear is changed. This, along with the standard 2.0L 4-cylinder turbo with 268hp, produces a surprising snap at all speeds. Yes, a 6-speed automatic is still available but this new CVT makes the WRX easy to drive in town and it can fly when it is placed in the sportiest setting. Other than the new automatic, the most notable change is the much stiffer suspension and tighter steering feel. The front springs are 39% stiffer than the last WRX and the rears are 62 percent stiffer. This, along with a more rigid platform and tighter steering makes a very sharp feeling car. It might be too sharp for buyers who live with very bumpy roads.

Verdict

Subaru has done a good job with the WRX, the STI and the BRZ. Sporty design, powerful engines and AWD help but so too does price. The starting price is $29,995 and the most expensive WRX is $36,795. Compared with the closest competitors, the VW Golf GTI and Ford Focus ST, this car is right on the money but comes with AWD, whereas the others don’t.

As much fun as this car is, even with the new automatic, the small details need to be improved.

Contact: zack [dot] spencer [at] drivewaybc [dot] ca

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The Lowdown

Power: 2.0L turbo 4-cylinder with 268hp

Fill-up: 9.8L/7.0L/100km (city/highway)

Sticker price: $29,995-$36,795

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