For 2015, Subaru completely redesigned the WRX and WRX STI, and they just might be the best Subaru sedans ever built. With a relatively low asking price, ample power, and race-ready handling, the 2015 WRX and WRX STI definitely improve upon the previous generation Impreza WRX and WRX STI.
However, despite the improvements, the 2015 WRX and WRX STI disappoint a bit in terms of power. VW’S Golf GTI and Golf R, Ford’s Focus ST, and a long list of more traditional coupes (Mustang GT, Chevy Camaro, 370Z, etc.) all offer comparable power levels at a same (or lower) price. While the WRX and WRX STI deserve praise for an AWD system that keeps the car planted on the roadway at full power, the vehicle’s lackluster power output keeps it from being a slam dunk.
What’s New for 2015?
The main changes to the 2015 WRX and WRX STI:
- An updated look that maintains the edgy race car style without seeming boyish (but the hatchback WRX is gone)
- All-around improvements in suspension and handling
- Some nifty changes to the AWD system that allow drivers to vary front and rear power distribution bias on the STI (known as Driver Controlled Center Differential, or DCCD), allowing for racers to tune the feel of the car on the track
- A more powerful engine for the base WRX that features a much flatter torque curve
- Thrust-vectoring and six-speed manual are now standard on the WRX base model
- An upgraded interior
- Optional Launch Edition and Limited Edition trims with more upgrades
However, before we go any further, it’s important to understand that the WRX and WRX STI are two substantially different vehicles.
While the WRX is best described as a sporty AWD sedan, the STI is a streetable race car. This difference isn’t because the STI produces gobs of power (relatively speaking) – it’s because the STI is designed to be raced. The new DCCD is the quintessential example of the STI’s purpose, but that’s not the only one. The STI features limited slip differentials front and rear, a substantial Brembo brake upgrade, a very stiff suspension, and a gregarious rear wing. Driving six hours to grandma’s house in a base WRX is a lot like driving a regular Impreza, except more fun. Driving six hours in an STI to grandma’s house is either a visceral adventure or a form of punishment (depending on how much you like a stiff ride).
The point? The STI isn’t for the average driver. That’s a good thing, but it’s something everyone should understand.
What Makes The Base WRX Special?
When we compare the 2014 and 2015 WRX, the biggest changes are in the interior and the overall performance. Subaru managed to increase the 2015’s power output every so slightly (3 more hp and 14 more lb-ft of torque), but they did so while reducing the engine size from 2.5L to 2.0L. This new engine is also more drivable in that the torque curve is nearly flat between 2000 and 5000 RPM…which means you can have fun in any gear.
The engine upgrade was combined with some much needed transmission upgrades – Subaru offers a solid-feel 6-speed manual in place of the outgoing 5-speed, and a new paddle-shift CVT is available. While this CVT will probably appeal more to drivers who are looking for an automatic, it should be noted that the CVT doesn’t sacrifice a lot of power. While EPA testing for the 2015 WRX with the CVT shows no fuel economy improvement over a 2014 WRX 5speed, it seems likely that the CVT’s real world fuel economy would be a couple of mpg better.
Comparing the 2015 WRX to similar four doors like the Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart or Focus ST, the WRX’s biggest advantage is that it’s the newest design. Mitsu’s Lancer is comparatively geriatric, and while the Focus ST is a fun little car, it can’t match the new WRX in terms of comfort. Not to mention, the WRX AWD system is a huge advantage over the Focus ST (which is only about $2,000 less).
It says here that if you’re looking for a sporty four door and you don’t want to break the bank, you should test drive the Focus ST, buy a WRX, and pour a little beer on the ground for the once great Lancer at your next BBQ.
The STI is a Car For Track Nerds
The STI’s 2.5-liter EJ boxer 4-cylinder makes incredible power, although the gearing requires a driver who likes to shift a lot. Virtually unchanged from the previous STIs, the 2015 makes 305 horsepower and 290-lbs.-ft of torque. The only transmission option is a six-speed manual, and this is another detail largely unchanged from the previous model (although shifting is easier now due to an upgrade to the shifter mechanism). The styling and interior changes between the 2014 and 2015 STI are substantial, but odds are racers won’t care too much about that.
The reason the 2015 STI is for track nerds is the new DCCD. The standard WRX AWD system has a 41:59 front rear torque split, but in the 2015 STI that bias can be varied. When combined with new active torque vectoring software, the result is a car that can be tuned to distribute power more evenly in loose conditions (like actual rally racing) or more traditionally for a track event. This is a small tweak to be sure – no amount of power bias adjustment is going to make up for a lack of driving skill – but experienced racers will definitely appreciate this system.
The other big change that track nerds will love? Major suspension upgrades. The whole vehicle is stiffer thanks to torsional rigidity that increases stiffness by 40% over the WRX. In addition, the suspension is much stiffer than the previous STI, thanks to higher spring rates, stiffening plates, and stouter bushings. The steering is also quicker than the base WRX (and outgoing model) due to some changes to the rear suspension and the STI’s use of a hydraulic steering system (the base WRX has gone electric).
STI vs Golf R – The Next Great Rivalry
When the Lancer EVO and STI were both new (or almost new), the EVO vs STI debate was loud and often obnoxious. Now the Lancer EVO is overdue for an update and the new Golf R is a serious competitor. While the 2015 Golf R will produce slightly less power than the WRX STI, it should offer comparable power and a much higher degree of refinement. The Golf R’s driving dynamics will likely give the STI a run as well, as VW has a proven ability to build cars that behave at speed.
Of course, the Golf R is going to be more money than the STI (a couple thousand more, give or take), and it’s likely that someone considering a winged STI would find the Golf R too “conservative,” while a Golf R buyer might chuckle at the STI’s loud styling.
Still, where would the auto industry be without sporty rivalries?
Summing Up – The Best WRX Ever
It’s easy to read something like “this is the best WRX ever built,” and think it’s over the top, but it’s really not. The new WRX offers refinement and performance that substantially improves on the outgoing model. Anyone who’s thinking about buying a base model Impreza should absolutely consider the WRX if finances allow. The same goes for anyone who’s looking at buying a $25-$35k sedan – the WRX offers serious performance and all weather capability. If you drive this car and decide you’d rather have a new Hyundai, I’d suggest you make a doctor’s appointment and get your heart checked as soon as you leave the Hyundai dealership.
The STI stands up well against the Golf R and Lancer – and has some incredible features a racer would love. It’s only major flaw is the lack of raw power. However, the STI can hold its own on the track against all comers, and because of that, Subaru may have knocked this one out of the park!
Don’t agree? Tell us why you think the Subaru WRX and WRX STI rule. Even better, go to the eBay Garage to enter for a chance to win a limited production WRX STI Launch Edition, of which only 1,000 units were made this year.
See WRX STI Cars and Trucks for sale on eBay.