My Impressions of the 2015 Subaru WRX and STI

Thu Jan 16 2014 11:54:27 GMT-0500 (EST)

I've followed the developments of the new 2015 Subaru WRX and WRX STI since August 2013 when I was seriously considering purchasing a new car. At the time I was weighing the pros and cons of a 2014 BRZ vs a 2014 WRX or STI. After learning that the 2015 WRX would be debuted at the LA Auto Show, I decided to hold off until all the news was out about the new model.

Now that the new WRX and STI have both been revealed, there are a lot of mixed feelings surrounding the two models. From the lack of a hatch, to the CVT in the WRX, to the EJ25 in the STI many people are expressing a whole range of emotions about the revelations.

The WRX has an all new frame and body to distinguish it from the current and past Subaru Impreza line. Improvements have been made to the handling characteristics of the car to make it more responsive and to decrease body roll. The automatic now has a Continuously Variable Transmission which has several different sport modes. Lastly, the WRX has Subaru's FA20DIT engine which is the same as the one in the Forester XT.

The WRX STI has had a face-lift, but not much has changed mechanically from the outgoing model. The steering ratio has been lowered to 13:1 which means faster, more responsive cornering. The suspension has been tuned to further increase handling and decrease body roll. The STI keeps the EJ257 engine from the 2014 model as well as the manual transmission and Driver Controlled Center Differential components.

I think it's safe to say that there are a lot of people who are disappointed about the reveal of these two cars -- there is something for everyone to hate. In reality, there are very good reasons for what has been changed, though I think Subaru of America has been unsuccessful in marketing the changes correctly. What follows are my opinions about why Subaru revealed the cars they revealed.

The New Body Style: Opinions of the new body style are subjective just like any car's styling. There will always be people saying a car looks ugly or that it looks too much like another car. (gasp! Cars kinda look like other cars!) When looking at the styling of the WRX, you can definitely see similarities with the Impreza, but enough differences to qualify them as distinct cars. This is likely because panelling is cheaper when two cars share similarly sized and shaped pieces.

Sedan-Only Body: A very vocal group of people have expressed disdain over the the new models only being available as a sedan. Subaru's explanation is that after development resources were divided up between the new WRX/STI, the Levorg, the Hybrid XV and the fully electric Tribeca replacement, there wasn't enough to work on a WRX/STI hatch. Many people have attributed this to Subaru being cheap and not wanting to spend money, but I think this is a calculated investment in gradual improvement of the platform. They're working on creating a solid, well-performing base with the sedan and will release a WRX hatch in a few years.

The Upgraded Suspension: A common consensus is that the 2014 WRX and STI suffered from a poor factory suspension. Subaru improved the suspension and handling in the new model to directly address this shortfall. I don't think anyone is questioning the value-add of the improvements made.

The FA20DIT: The FA20 is the engine released in the BRZ and is the same turbocharged engine in the FXT. This new engine has proven to be a high quality platform to build upon and Subaru is smart to release it in the WRX.

Direct Injection Turbocharged(DIT) engines do have an issue with carbon build-up in the intake valves. Whether Subaru has a fix for this is yet to be seen -- they may be working on this before releasing the engine (as a 2.5L) into the STI.

The EJ25: This engine is Subaru's bread and butter. With 25 years of development behind it, it is a known powerhouse that has a huge fanbase and lots of aftermarket support. People who buy an STI are likely to want to install aftermarket parts and if Subaru used the new FA or FB engines, they would be waiting for shops to R&D, test and release parts.

The EJ25 engine has historically had issues with leaky head gaskets and ringland failures. It is yet to be seen if Subaru has fixed these issues in the new STI or if they're relying on performance enthusiasts to tune safely.

CVT: This is really a no-brainer for Subaru. Their lowest-end Legacy has a traditional automatic gearbox and it's not well received compared to the CVT in other trim levels. Putting a traditional automatic in the WRX wouldn't be a smart decision since the CVT is a known quantity. People who want an automatic WRX will have good fun with the CVT.

The Interior: No one is really complaining about the new interiors for these cars. Subarus are not known for their luxurious, padded interiors and the new ones are a great improvement over the outgoing models. Impressions of the design of the seats and the amenities are subjective as well.

It's important to realize that the 2015 WRX and 2015 STI are gradual improvements to the line, not drastic overhauls of the outgoing model year. Each improves on the 2014 models in their own way for their own reasons.

The 2015 WRX STI is the loved powerhouse that it has always been. If the powertrain of the car aren't broke, Subaru doesn't have to fix it. Many people were hoping for a new engine or gearbox, but that's not what this car is -- it's a nicer looking body for the beast within. Subaru will sell a lot of STIs to people who like the new body and want to tune -- they've stated that existing aftermarket parts will work in the new car. The Launch Edition is meant for tuning enthusiasts who want the rally heritage with the new styling.

The 2015 WRX has received more updates, but it does so because it's the testing platform for the flagship STI. The new FA engine is in the FXT, but it hasn't had long-term high-performance testing that can be generated by a WRX. The engine also doesn't have the catalog of aftermarket performance parts required by tuning enthusiasts. In the next two years, aftermarket manufacturers will be working hard to create parts for the new platform which will eventually end up in the STI.

Subaru of America has a tough sell -- they need to distinguish the 2015 WRX and STI from each other as well as the outgoing 2014 models. This becomes problematic when you need to make every press release and piece of marketing material say 'NEW NEW NEW!' without giving away your long term plans and turning away thrifty buyers. The Peanut Gallery should soon realize that improvements to both cars are incremental in their own ways.

If you want to get a rally-bred sports car with an engine with a 25 year track record, and all the new amenities, get the STI. Tune the car to your heart's content with all the existing performance parts available for the platform.

If you want to get a great, sporty daily driver with good performance and fuel economy, get the WRX. You'll be driving the engine that is the next evolution of the Boxer.

I'm getting a WRX.