Chances are, motorists who roll up next to a redesigned-for-2015 Subaru WRX won't give it a second look. Unlike the STI, a higher-performance version of the compact sedan, this WRX has no ready-for-takeoff rear wing to announce its capabilities. The wow factor comes when you drive it.
Appearance: The changes to this fourth-generation WRX are subtle, with only the hood scoop giving away its performance capabilities. Subaru has dropped two things for 2015: "Impreza" from the name (the model the car is based on) and a hatchback version. This new WRX has a slightly more chiseled look with pronounced fenders, hood creases and a more angular grille. The headlights have been narrowed and are more upswept. We liked how the black alloy wheels on our WRX Limited tester contrasted with its shimmering WR Blue Pearl paint.
Performance: Subaru stiffened the car's unibody chassis and revised its high-performance suspension. (The ride is also more taut, but not enough to be an annoyance.) The upgrades also include a quick-ratio power steering, which we found to be precise and responsive. As with most Subarus, all-wheel drive is standard and now is helped by Active Torque Vectoring. The WRX's 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbocharged Boxer four-cylinder is sightly smaller than the previous generation's 2.5-liter engine, but produces a bit more horsepower — 268 — and 258 pound-feet of torque. For us, the bottom line is that the WRX makes use of its power evenly across the rev range and without noticeable turbo lag. Subaru even claims better estimated fuel economy. There's even a more powerful and satisfying exhaust note. To appeal to more drivers, Subaru now offers an optional Sport Lineartronic automatic, another name for the dreaded (in our experience) CVT. Except, to our surprise, this one acts more like a regular automatic transmission. There are also paddle shifters, but Peter longed for the standard-issue six-speed manual — up from five — and thought it would have made his driving experience all but perfect.
Interior: It's functional, practical and slightly larger, thanks to a 1-inch increase in wheelbase. We found the head- and legroom adequate — even for rear-seat passengers. Overall, the interior is an upgrade over the previous generation's plastic-heavy cabin, with faux carbon-fiber trim to give it a sporty look. Our loaded Limited tester came with leather seats and red-accent stitching, and the driver gets an eight-way power seat. There is noticeable road and wind noise, especially on the highway, but not enough to be a deal-breaker.
Our 3 favorites
Steering wheel: Pure sports car — thick, flat-bottomed and sporty.
Driving feel: Great acceleration and grip.
AWD: An all-season bonus in rainy Florida.
Steering and handling: The WRX carves out corners quickly, precisely and confidently.
Seats: They are well-bolstered and hug you comfortably.
CVT: The Sport Lineartronic transmission is a pleasant surprise.
The bottom line: Practicality for those who need it, and performance for those who want it. Best of all, it won't draw attention to you on your daily commute or in the school car line — unless you floor it.