2016 Subaru WRX: can you judge this book by its cover?
2016 Subaru WRX Limited | MSRP: $31,595 | Price as tested: 36,485
Engine: 2.0L; 268 h.p.; 258 lb.-ft. | MPG: 19 city / 25 hwy
Features: EyeSight Driver Assist, Navigation, Harman/Kardon Audio, Active Torque Vectoring, etc.
I have mixed feelings about the Subaru WRX. From the outside, it’s one of the most handsome versions of the venerable compact sedan that Subaru has ever produced. As an enthusiast, the performance and Rally heritage of the brand is something that I’ve always admired and respected. That heritage has always come through in the performance and driving experience of a car like the WRX. But something just felt off about the version we drove.
Maybe it’s the fact that our test car had an automatic transmission… or rather I should be clear, it had a CVT. Now, I understand the technical merits of a CVT, but I just don’t feel like it belongs in a car like this. There is a time and a place for every technology, and this isn’t the time or place for a CVT. That couldn’t be highlighted more than by the fact that the most enjoyable mode to drive this car in is ‘manual’ mode, which keeps the CVT at a pre-set ratio until the driver selects the next gear with steering-wheel mounted shift buttons.
It’s probably best at this point to go over what a CVT is, for those who don’t know exactly what I’m talking about. Basically, think of it like the sprockets on your bike – larger front crank and smaller rear gears. Now, imagine a system where the main gear constantly got smaller as you pedaled with a fully variable set of speeds, instead of just 12 or 18 (or one if you’re a hipster). That’s what a CVT does, as the speed increases, the gear ratio gets higher and higher, keeping the engine in its peak torque.
Sounds like a great solution for power delivery, but it just feels odd. It ends up feeling like something is wrong with the car, just because our silly brains aren’t willing to let go of the need to feel each individual gear on the way up. With a very willing and powerful 268hp flat-four engine, the WRX sounds great and really does scoot when you want to go fast. Engage the ‘Sport-Sharp’ mode on the steering wheel, and it gets even better, reminding you of the sporting heritage you had almost forgotten about.
For most WRX buyers, there are visions of sliding sideways on a rally stage dancing through their heads at least a few times per day. The issue is, that since our test car had snow tires and the day was unseasonably warm and dry, there was no sideways action to be had. In fact, even in manual mode, the transmission would automatically…