I stood in silence propped up by a rusty fence. Camera in hand, I waited for the perfect shot. I had been searching for the perfect angle all day, but at the Oregon Trail Rally, it wasn’t easy. The ground outside Dufur, Oregon was cracked and uneven, and the magnificent clouds of earth kicked up by the competitors consistently covered my lens.
I learned the WRX’s charms, quirks, and faults, just as a racing driver does with his machine.
But then I heard it: the unmistakable roar of a turbocharged boxer engine. It was a familiar sound at this point, as I had been driving a 2015 WRX for the week, but this STI rally car was meaner, less forgiving, and much more of a brute.
Like some sort of automotive anthropologist, I studied my test car’s powerful and more primal cousin, in awe of the speed, ferocious sound, and marvelous golden plume left in its wake. Then I thought back to my WRX, the everyday sports car that was born from this type of beast.
It can ferry families in comfort with the best of ‘em, but the beaten path is a Subaru’s playground. Over my week with the car, I learned its charms, quirks, and faults, just as a racing driver does with his machine.
My pockets are grimy and my ears still ring, but the WRX’s sweet song definitely deserves a repeat.
The ol’ dusty trail
There’s nothing like the sound of a boxer in the morning.
No, no that kind of boxer; we won’t be reviewing the Pacquiao vs. Mayweather superdud here. The pugilist I refer to is the turbocharged flat-four that lurks under the WRX’s vented aluminum hood.
For 2015, the burbly 2.0-liter makes 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, the latter of which comes on from 2,000 rpm to 5,200 rpm. With a 0 to 60 mph time of around 5.2 seconds when fitted with the six-speed, it’s not STI fast; but the responsive acceleration and subtle turbo whine make for plenty of fun behind the flat-bottomed steering wheel.
And you know what? I’m actually glad it’s not STI fast. The STI may be quicker and flatter in the bends, but it’ll kill your back after a long day. Having driven the 2015 model for our Car of the Year Awards, there should definitely be a ‘call your chiropractor’ button on the steering wheel.
The turbo is not overly thirsty, making passing effortless and grin inducing.
The WRX, by contrast, is forgiving. It soaks up bumps and imperfections with ease. It keeps you in place with its pleasant sport seats and doesn’t pay major comfort penalties in the pursuit of performance.
That being said, as I set off for Dufur, I was immediately impressed by the vehicle’s handling. The ride is firm, but not overly so, and it stayed remarkably composed and planted in the curves. The suspension tuning and 40-percent stiffer body really are top-notch. However, the car’s Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system with torque vectoring deserves a ton of credit as well.
I enjoyed the car so much, I found myself calculating how much time I had to reach Dufur so I could soak up the backroads as long as possible. After finding the perfect country path, the WRX’s twin-scroll turbo and I became very good friends, sucking in near equal amounts of air as we easily carved through second-gear switchbacks. The car just goes where you want it to, punctuated by perhaps the best electronic power steering system in the business.
After my honeymoon phase with the WRX’s turbine subsided (temporarily), I pointed the car toward the freeway onramp and settled in. I was expecting the fun to be over, but the WRX has surprisingly good highway manners. In sixth gear at cruising speed, the turbo is ready and willing but not overly thirsty, making passing effortless and grin inducing.
Finally, realizing I was running late, I set the cruise control and made my way east alongside the beautiful ‘River Oregon.’
Fit and finish
The WRX is a vehicle with few major flaws, but unfortunately all of them exist inside the cabin. I have no issues with the material quality or overall layout (though there is a fair amount of tire noise at freeway speeds), but the infotainment options really are quite underwhelming.
Endlessly entertaining performance in a package you’ll actually enjoy.
My Premium model, which costs $29,639 with destination charges, boasts a non-touch stereo head unit straight out of the early 2000s. There’s a 4.3-inch LCD display above for rear camera and media information, but the whole system is very … blah.
There is some good news, though, because, for 2016, the base model WRX will gain a 6.2-inch ‘StarLink’ infotainment screen with multi-touch gesture controls, SMS texting, iTunes tagging, and an extra USB port. Premium and Limited versions get a 7.0-inch screen, along with larger 18-inch wheels.
Outside of those gripes, the visibility is excellent on the current car, the red contrast stitching is nice, and the seats are supportive enough.
From the outside, I definitely miss the hatchback profile, but I found the car attractive and interesting from nearly all angles. It’s not so aggressive that you’ll get revved on by every youngster in an Eclipse, but its chunky side skirts, angular front bumper, and subtle rear spoiler give it a lot more character than the standard Impreza.
In fact, I think it’s quite pretty.
Down and dirty
100-mile trek over, I arrived in Dufur. The town is small, you can practically see its boundaries from the city center, but it has a distinct homegrown charm. It also happens to be flanked by incredible Pacific Northwest landscapes, including the towering Mt. Hood and rolling hills straight out of a Windows desktop background.
Tons of cars showed up for the OTR this year: some old, some new, some professionally built, and a healthy smattering of weekend warriors. The stars were undoubtedly David Higgins of Subaru Rally Team USA and his co-driver Craig Drew. In their bespoke 2015 WRX STI, they slid, jumped, and galloped to their seventh consecutive OTR victory.
Higgins capped off a memorable Stage 11 with a massive powerslide, and I caught myself cracking a cheery (and dusty) smile. “This is rallying,” I thought to myself. It’s messy, action-packed, and without pretension.
In the same day, I saw a tuned Mitsubishi EVO obliterate a turn advisory sign, I saw cars that cost more than houses push the limits of motoring, and I witnessed a 1980s-era Volvo 200 Series mosey through the turns without worry of podiums or trophies.
One would think that after watching Higgins’ STI scream around Dufur’s farm roads, my standard WRX would be an absolute bore. But it wasn’t.
The car may have grown in size and maturity over the years, but the spunky WRX hasn’t forgotten its roots. On the curvy roads outside Portland, paved or otherwise, the WRX was home.
It feels like a sports car, but it’s a grown up sports car. There’s no ridiculous wing, shiny red brake calipers, or rock-hard bucket seats, just reliable, endlessly entertaining performance wrapped up in a package you’ll actually enjoy being in.
Better yet, I didn’t have to wear a helmet, I wasn’t sweating, and I could relax and enjoy the beautiful skyline instead of worrying about the next hairpin. This is truly a hard car to dislike, and after returning almost 30 mpg on the highway, my wallet was pretty fond of it as well.
- Impressive acceleration from turbocharged boxer engine
- Flat, stable handling
- Aggressive and attractive exterior styling
- Excellent electric power steering
- Great visibility from the sleek (but Spartan) cabin
- Underwhelming infotainment options (fixed for 2016)