Oh yeah, the WRX engine is quiet. VERY quiet. You floor it, and you don’t hear anything. It’s stupid easy to speed on the highway because the torque comes on so effortlessly and the engine is so quiet. An exhaust like the Corsa should be one of the first modifications you consider.
So the engine is pretty awesome, but how does it handle? First, let’s talk about the steering. I think the steering feel and ratio is very similar to my S2000 which is to say very good; not quite as good as the 2005 Evo (the only car I’ve driven I would say is on par with my old Evo was a Lotus Elise), but pretty damn good. The handling and ride of the car is also quite high up the daily driver performance spectrum. The body roll is around where my Evo was though the feel of the suspension damping is much better. The damping feels very German, like BMWs of a decade ago; you know, before they got soft and started to suck. So yeah, the body motion control feels very good. Keep in mind, this in the context of a performance oriented daily driver and not a high performance track car.
So… about that CVT… It is actually pretty dang good as it’s programmed for the most part to act like a normal transmission with gears. The manual paddle shift mode is quite impressive actually and pretty fun. The CVT behavior is dependent on the drive mode. There are three modes which I’ll call: rush-hour lugging slow mode, normal mode, and faster-than-human-shifting race mode. The three modes control the throttle mapping and shift mapping. The ECU will not allow race mode until the engine is sufficiently warmed up. In any of the three modes, you can engage manual paddle shift mode.
Let’s start with slow mode. I didn’t bother with manual shifting in this mode. This mode is only good for stop-n-go traffic. The throttle mapping is really detuned, so it’s very sluggish and only good for trying to save gas while slogging in traffic. It does go from a stop like it is in 1st gear, but as soon as you breathe off the throttle, it will drop to the lowest engine lugging rpm possible and the transmission acts the most CVT-like in this mode. If you’re on the highway at cruising speed, say 70mph, and floor it, it will basically act like you left it in top gear and the car will accelerate rather slowly.
In normal mode, the throttle is snappier, and the car is eager to downshift. Doing the same 70mph and flooring it, the car will downshift through its simulated gears and carry each one to redline until you let off. As soon as you let off, the car will upshift back to cruising gear.
Race mode is the most fun of course. It has the most aggressive throttle mapping making for a touchy throttle pedal, so great for driving aggressively. In manual shift mode, there are 8 gears. When you put the car in race mode, it shifts the center display to show what gear you’re in even if you’re still in auto shifting mode. Using the paddle shifters, the shifts are very immediate as related to when you command them. You pull on the paddle, it shifts nearly instantly. It does a fair job of on the downshifts of being smooth. Not great, but better than most. On a full-throttle upshift, there is a slight pause in power delivery. My thought is the engine power is cut a bit to help preserve the CVT transmission. Anyway, shifting up or down, it occurs very quickly. Your average person wouldn’t even know the tranny was a CVT. So the interesting thing about leaving the tranny in auto in race mode is that it’ll basically hold a gear. Copying the 70mph cruise and going to wide open throttle, the car immediately downshifts from 8th gear into 4th I think. Say you take it up to the top of 5th gear, and lift. In normal mode, the tranny would instantly upshift back to 8th gear. Not so in race mode, it will actually hold you in 5th gear for a few seconds assuming that you want to jump back into the throttle. If you don’t, it slowly makes its way back to 8th gear.
The gearing of the 8 simulated gears is quite tight. Gears 1-6 seem to be about the same as my S2000. I’m in 6th gear by 35mph in the S2000 (same with the WRX) and it spins 4000rpm at 75mph. Of course the WRX has two more ‘gears’, but you can still get into 8th by 45mph and the engine spins about 3000rpm at 75mph. This is about the same as my Evo in the top 5th gear. At light loads, the engine does not seem to mind lugging around 1600rpm. This is where the engine operates while lugging around in slow mode. So an interesting thing about the race mode, I do not think you can beat it by shifting manually if you’re on a track. Of note though, the WRX with CVT is not really built for sustained hard use; afterall, that’s what the STI is for. When you crank on the car, there is an automatic tranny overheat warning light in the dash that you can see. It’s a good bet the tranny will overheat on a road course. I did not try to launch the car, but I do not think it would be too much of a deficient vs. a manual car on an auto-x assuming the course is set up with a tight turn after the start. In a dirt rally-x setting, not spinning all four tires off the line might just be an advantage vs. a manual. Oh yeah, I turned off the traction control first thing every time I got in the car; I mean, the car is AWD, who needs T/C?
So there you have it, our quick first spin in a 2015 WRX. It reminds me of my 2005 Evo, but better in nearly every regard. The interior of the new WRX is light years ahead of the Evo and previous generation WRXs making a much nicer daily driver environment. But you know us at MotoIQ, we can’t leave it alone, so enter the ARK Design Project 2015 WRX. And, well, we don’t do pure daily driver compromises so on with the upgrades!
P.S. Killer B Motorsports is developing a twin-scroll turbo kit using a GTX3067R. I predict awesomeness.