Speed is indeed a question of money … and not only in terms of how fast do you want to go.
Last week, I test-drove the 2016 BMW 340i (review here) which is a ripper in luxury sedan drag. Spool up the turbos and dump the clutch… the thing will leave twin ruts in the asphalt … and 4.6 seconds later, you’re doing 60.
No one expects this. Which is a big part of the car’s appeal. It is brass knuckles in a velvet glove.
This week, I’ve got the new Subaru WRX. It is a known ripper — as out of the closet in its own way as Elton John in his.
Big hood scoop, bulging fenders, body kit, four huge exhaust tips and electric bright blue paint. But — unexpectedly — it’s almost 1 full second less quick to 60 than the on-the-down-low BMW.
It’s also not cheap — even though it’s not a BMW.
My test car, laden with the newly available CVT automatic, leather and carbon fiber trim and all-too-many “safety” electronics (more on that to follow) stickered for almost $40k … which is only about $5k less than the base sticker price of the BMW 340i.
The monthly payment difference would not be all that much.
The difference 0-60 is.
Same goes for the Soobie’s most directly comparable competitor (now that the Mitsubishi Lancer EVO sleeps with the fishes): VW’s Golf R.
Zero to 60 in 4.5 seconds.
But here’s the difference that matters: You can buy the WRX for a lot less than $39k while there is no chance of buying a new 340i for less than $45k (or a Golf R for less than $35k).
And the less you pay for the WRX, vis-a-vis speedier machines like the 340i and the Golf R, the more sense it makes.
WHAT IT IS
The WRX is the ape version of Subaru’s Impreza sedan — fiercer looking and much faster running. Both come standard with AWD and are powered by 2.0 liter four cylinder “boxer” (horizontally opposed) engines.
But the WRX’s version is turbocharged and intercooled and makes 120 more hp. As a result of that disparity, it gets to 60 about four seconds sooner than the slow-mo’ Impreza.
It also comes with a much-massaged suspension, six-speed manual (Imprezas come standard with five-speeds) or performance-tuned CVT automatic, as well as a body kit, air-sucking hood scoop and bratty exhaust with four tips poking out of the air diffuser in the rear.
The WRX comes only in sedan form, though.
You used to be able to go sedan or hatchback and — weirdly — you can still get the Impreza either way. It’s an odd decision on Subaru’s part given the popularity of the more functionally useful hatchback layout.
Base price is $26,495 with the standard six-speed manual transmission. Which is the way to go to keep costs down and performance up.
To get the optional CVT automatic, you first have to step up to the Premium trim, which begins at $28,895 and then opt for the CVT — a $1,200 option — which brings the MSRP up to $30,095.
The most expensive version of the WRX is the Limited with the CVT, which stickers for $31,595 — which puts the price tag very close to the higher-performing WRX STi ($34,695) which has a different (2.5 liter) and stronger (305 hp) engine and a more sophisticated AWD system, with driver-controllable differentials. It’s a formidable performer… and a tenacious handler … but it’s still not quicker than either the BMW 340i or the Golf R.
The WRX got a full overhaul last year, but the ’16 gets a number of significant revisions — including an updated suite of apps and smartphone integration.
New stuff — if you want this sort of stuff — includes a bevy of beeping electronic nannies such as blind spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert and lane keep assist. If you know how to drive — and one assumes people interested in a car like the WRX fall into that category — these electronic “assists” add expense and annoyance and are best thrown in the woods.
Thankfully, they remain safely optional.
Few cars at any price point go sideways better.
It’s possible to buy one for about what you’d pay to get into a ho-hum family sedan.
Lighter by about 120 pounds than the previous-gen. WRX.
Uniquely snarky — especially now that its historic rival, the Mitsubishi EVO — has been retired.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Previous-Gen WRX had a bigger engine (2.5 liters, like the current STi) and was quicker.
It’s easy to spend almost $40k on one — about what you’d spend to get into something like that BMW 340i … or less than you’d spend on a Golf R.
Startling amount of wind/road/tire noise… especially for an almost $40k car.
Electronic safety nags are as out of place in a WRX as Trump at a Cinco de Mayo festival.
UNDER THE HOOD
Like every Subaru, the WRX comes with the uniquely Subaru combo of a flat/horizontally-opposed engine and “symmetric” all-wheel-drive.
Porsches also have horizontally-opposed engines — so called because each piston faces its opposite across a common crankshaft, the one “boxing” the other as the crankshaft rotates — but not all Porsches come standard with all-wheel-drive.
All Subarus (except the BRZ coupe) do.
And the reason for the symmetric AWD appellation is easy enough to understand if you visualize the drivetrain layout from above. Draw an imaginary vertical line dividing the car in half, lengthwise. See how you’ve got two of the engine’s four cylinders on either side of the centerline? And each of the four wheels symmetrically driven by the engine?
Speaking of which: The WRX’s engine is a 2.0 liter engine, slightly smaller than the previous-generation WRX’s 2.5 liter engine (which is still used in the WRX STi). It’s got about the same power — 268 hp now vs. 265 previously. But the peak occurs lower in the powerband (5,600 RPM now vs. 6,000 RPM previously) so it’s a less revvy engine than it used to be.
The torque curve is also different now.
Max output — 258 ft.-lbs. — happens at 2,000 RPM vs. 4,000 RPM before. This serves the dual purpose of making the car feel stronger sooner and making it easier to drive in stop-and-go traffic. Especially with the newly-available CVT automatic.
Speaking of which: Do not buy this box if you feel the need for speed.
Or fuel economy.
Despite the 2.0 liter engine’s ample output of both torque and horsepower, the CVT-equipped WRX is noticeably less quick than the same car with the standard six-speed manual transmission: 5.9 seconds to get to 60 vs. 5.4 for the manual-equipped version.
This arguably hurts the WRX’s street cred. A 5.9 second to 60 run is by no means slow. But it’s also not much quicker than a V6 Accord or Camry.
The VW Golf R (292 hp from a turbocharged in-line 2.0 liter four) can blast to 60 in 4.5 seconds.
That’s quicker than the BMW 340i.
But the Golf R starts at $35,650 — almost $10k more than the price of the six-speeded WRX. Imagine what you could do to the WRX with some of that money… .
Oddly, the CVT-equipped WRX’s mileage is lower than the manual WRX’s: 18 city, 24 highway vs. 20 city, 27 highway. Usually — with modern cars — automatics do better. Especially continuously variable automatics — which have an efficiency advantage over conventional (hydraulic, with fixed gear ratio) automatics.
The Soobie is thirsty, regardless.
Point of comparison, the Golf R — which has the same-size engine (but more power) and manages 22 city, 31 highway with the standard manual transmission and 23 city, 30 highway with its optional DSG (which is not a CVT) automatic.
ON THE ROAD
I am into old Kawasaki two-stroke triples from the ‘70s — especially the “widowmaker” H2 750. It was a dangerous bike and that’s what made it so much fun. Like a girlfriend who’s got bigger balls than you do, who dares you to try that.
The WRX is a four-wheeled version of the H2 750. Especially in a four-wheel-drift. Which is what this car is all about.
That 340i I keep mentioning? It’ll take the Soobie in a straight line. But if the road bends — or if it’s gravel — forget about it. Even without the STi’s driver-controlled differentials, the WRX is capable of stunt man-worthy power drifts and can do things on wet (and snow-covered) roads that not many cars can do on dry ones.
Just stay away from the CVT.
Previous WRX’s were manual-only (and the STi still is) but Subaru did the math and decided to broaden the car’s potential buyer pool by offering an automatic.
Don’t accept this offer.
First, you will spend several thousand dollars more — $28,895 to step up to the Premium trim (because the base WRX cannot be ordered with the CVT) and add another $1,200 to get the CVT. You are now at $30,095 — too close (in this writer’s opinion) to cars like the BMW 340i and the Golf R, both of which are more than a little bit quicker.
Especially vs. the CVT-saddled WRX. You lose about half a second getting to 60, but it’s more than just that.
There is lag.
When floored from a dead stop, it takes a moment for the CVT’d WRX to gather its breath; the next moment is fine — the boost comes on strong and the car pulls hard. The CVT is not a bad box. In Sport # mode it bangs off very firm, very fast gear changes (even though, technically speaking, a CVT has no gears).
But there is lag coming off the line — and that is big when the car in the next lane over lacks it.
The 2.0 engine was tuned — apparently — to work ok with an automatic. Note the lower torque peak, discussed earlier. This helps get an automatic car going quicker, sooner.
But the truth is the manual version just runs better.
Its 5.4 second to 60 capability is enough to snuff V6 Accords; the CVT-equipped WRX’s 5.9 second run isn’t. And besides, with the manual, you have more control — important in a car like this. It’s also more fun — and that’s even more important in a car like this.
AT THE CURB
Part of this car’s appeal is the ‘Tude.
Like the Kawasaki triples of the ‘70s.
It is not — like other Subarus — a Solid Citizen.
When you buy this car, it is like buying a catalytic converter “test pipe.” You remember? Everyone knows what your plan is.
Maybe it does not have the Superbird-style airfoil on the trunk (it’s optional with the STi) and you don’t have to get the neon blue (“hyperblue”) paint or the gold-anodized wheels.
You could go white… or maybe silver.
But you are not hiding your intentions, regardless.
There is that fly-catcher hood scoop… as subtle as the shaker scoop poking out of the hood of my ‘70s muscle car.
Four exhaust tips poking out of an underbody air diffuser. Molded in fender flares and body kit. No surprise package here.
The Golf R (and the BMW 340i) are subtler; they can disappear in a crowd. That’s harder to do in this Subaru. Which is why this car is favored by the young and not-yet-wise. It is easier to use the Golf R and the 340i… and get away with using them. Subaru ought to offer a DL (Down Low) package that deletes the exterior affectations so the thing looks like any other Impreza. Then you could use it with less Fear of the Man.
Relative to the previous-gen WRX, this one’s a little bigger (longer) and has more room inside. It is not quite a mid-sized car, but it’s bigger than most compact cars … like the Golf R, for instance. The Soobie is 180.9 inches long overall vs. 168.4 for the definitely compact-sized Golf.
Frame of reference-wise, a mid-sized Accord sedan is 192.5 inches long overall.
It has 43.3 inches of legroom for the driver and front seat passenger; 35.4 inches in the second row. This is generous, certainly as good as others it competes with (kinda sorta) like the Golf R (41.2 inches up front and 35.6 in the second row) but — weak point — the Subaru’s trunk is very small. Just 12 cubic feet — and it has a small opening, too — which makes the little space you’ve got harder to work with.
The Golf — which is a foot shorter overall — has twice the cargo capacity (22.8 cubic feet behind its second row) and capability (52.7 cubic feet if you fold the second row seats flat) because it is a hatchback. It is odd that Subaru sells the Impreza in either sedan or hatchback variants but has decided to only sell a sedan version of the WRX.
They used to sell a hatchback version. And it was popular.
So why did they stop selling it? I think I know why.
Hatchbacks are more popular. They sell more of them.
Isn’t that good?
Not necessarily. Not when the federal government’s CAFE fuel-economy fatwa is taken into account. The WRX doesn’t come close to meeting the current 35.5 MPG (average) CAFE fatwa — which means the more of them Subaru sells, the lower Subaru’s fleet average number … and the harder it becomes to avoid “gas guzzler” fines, which are then passed on to buyers. So, it’s likely Subaru decided to stop selling the more popular hatchback, in order to reduce the total number of WRXs sold — in order that the WRX’s not-so-great MPG numbers won’t be too much of a drag on Subaru’s overall (fleet average) numbers.
This sucks for those who want a hatchback WRX — but be grateful. At least Subaru is still building WRXs.
Note that Mitsubishi simply gave up.
Subaru hard-sells the array of “safety” technology that can be ordered with the WRX, including lane departure warning and blind spot detection/rear cross traffic alert. These things no doubt appeal to Impreza (and Legacy) buyers but I don’t grok their appeal to WRX buyers. This goes double for the EyeSight system (so called because the sensors are mounted up high, at eye level, in a nacelle built around the rearview mirror; in most cars, the sensors are built into the grille or bumper) that bundles automated braking and lane keep assist.
The one WRX-worthy feature of the EyeSight system is cornering lights that track with the steering wheel; they turn as you turn.
Noteworthy is the fact that the EyeSight stuff is only available with automatic-equipped WRXs. It’s the tame version.
The one for the wife.
It takes a few days to learn the updated LCD touchscreen’s quirks. For example, you learn to be careful about inadvertently swiping something you didn’t — and the system responding by changing the radio station to something you didn’t want to listen to. The key here is to use the secondary steering wheel controls as the default and swipe/tap as your secondary input.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Stick with the stick — and you’ll go faster, pay less and use less gas.
Which seems to me to make a lot of sense.