Compact sedans appeal to a buyer's practical nature. But in the WRX's case, the appeal includes a lively powerplant, four-seasons driving competency plus sporty suspension and steering components that effectively manage the snakiest of paved and unpaved roadways.
Subaru has made a name for itself providing all-wheel-drive family transportation, but that's just part of the story. Its more competitive side includes the rear-wheel-drive BRZ sports car and a couple of turbocharged WRX-branded models with rally-racing pedigree that makes performance fans salivate.
The 2015 WRX that arrives this spring receives the all-new treatment, but in the process sheds its hatchback option. That's a bit surprising since hot hatches are seemingly all the rage, but since its major competitor, the Mitsubishi Evolution, is strictly sedan-only, Subaru appears to have concluded that a matching sedan is the way to fly.
The WRX has also jettisoned its Impreza tie-in. Henceforth the WRX and the more potent WRX STI offshoot that arrives in updated form later this year will be treated as stand-alone models.
While not as eye-catching as the WRX Concept that was revealed at the 2013 New York Auto Show, the production version adopts the cleaner lines of the Impreza, especially from the windshield forward. The bulging front and rear fenders, recessed hood-mounted air intake and optional rear spoiler (subtle when compared to the STI's massive wing) remain in evidence, but the whole package now appears better integrated with the rest of the body.
Overall, the WRX gains an inch between the front and rear wheels and rear-seat legroom is up by two inches. Additionally, wider-opening rear doors allow easier access to the split-folding rear seat, while trunk space has been modestly increased.
Subaru has done a great job with the WRX's interior accommodations. There's a meaty flat-bottom tilt and telescopic steering wheel that fronts dual gauge pods. They're separated by a small display screen with gear selection, oil and washer-fluid indicators. A larger dash-mounted screen is linked to the standard backup camera and displays turbocharger boost and traction and climate control info.
For 2015, a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine similar to that used in the Subaru Forester produces 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. That compares to the previous WRX's 265/244 numbers.
It's connected to a new six-speed manual transmission (a replacement for the previous five-speed gearbox), while a continuously variable unit (CVT) with paddle shifters is available. This option might surprise WRX fans, but the real surprise is how it mimics a traditional multi-speed automatic. The CVT has six built-in steps when the driver switches to either "Intelligent" or "Sport" mode from a steering-wheel-mounted switch. There are eight ratios when the "Sport Sharp" mode is selected.
The WRX's chassis is now 41 percent stiffer, with front and rear springs and a front anti-roll bar that have been similarly beefed-up. Larger-diameter front disc brakes also provide greater stopping power.
The standard all-wheel-drive has a torque split of 50:50, front to rear, for manual-transmission cars and a 45:55 for CVT versions. Depending on traction, up to 100 percent of the power can be directed to either axle.
For a base price of $27,000, the WRX comes with lots of gear, but moving up to the Premium adds a moonroof, trunk spoiler and heated front seats and outside mirrors.
The loaded WRX Limited includes leather seat covers, eight-way power driver's seat and LED low-beam headlights. Touch-screen navigation and a 440-watt Harmon/Kardon audio system are optional with Premium and Limited trims.
What you should know: 2015 Subaru WRX
Type: Four-door, all-wheel-drive compact sedan
Engine (hp): 2.0-liter DOHC H4 (268)
Transmissions: Six-speed manual; continuously variable (CVT) opt.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; driver's knee airbag; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy) 21/28 (MT); Base price (incl. destination) $27,000 (est.)
Ford Focus ST
Base price: $24,450
Front-wheel-drive hatch features 252-hp I4 and six-speed manual gearbox.
Honda Civic Si sedan
Base price: $23,500
With a 201-hp engine, the Si is more powerful than the 140-hp base version.
Base price: $29,200
Lancer-based AWD model has 237-hp turbo I4, automated manual gearbox.