Subaru WRX, with 2-liter boxer, gets own niche

It’s the first ’15.

In a preview run for the Denver Auto Show, the 2015 Subaru WRX showed up this week with a new engine and transmission and refined suspension. An attraction at the Detroit Auto Show two weeks ago, it won’t reach dealer showrooms until March or April.

The WRX will no longer carry the Impreza model name, earning its own performer niche in a Subaru executive decision. The WRX will for 2015 be a model designation for Subaru.

The new, low-slung WRX is built around a 268-horsepower, smaller 2.0-liter, flat-4-cylinder engine and 6-speed manual transmission (replacing a 5-speed manual). When the enhanced STI version of the WRX arrives, it will retain use of the old, 300-hp, 2.5 flat-4.

The new 2-liter’s turbo boost, with direct-injection, provided excellent acceleration in lower gears, and its tall shifter with close pattern was fun to control. I got very familiar with the shift patterns in a 5 p.m. drive on I-25 from Ikea out south to an eatery at 104th Avenue; lots of downshifting in the heavy stop-and-go.

Farther north, on another day, the Subaru delivered good grip and response around town on snow-covered streets, slipping only on a couple cornering maneuvers. The WRX, with symmetrical all-wheel drive, rode on Dunlop Winter Sport 235/45R17 tires.

In preparation for driving the new WRX, I was lent a 2014 Subaru Impreza Sport four-door for a week.

Heretofore, the WRX has been a sport performance version of the compact Impreza line, but the distinction of the two is such that Subaru believes the separation is warranted.

A 148-hp, 2.0-liter flat-4 engine and continuously variable transmission provided economical results for the ’14 Impreza. With an EPA estimate of 27/36 miles per gallon, it averaged 29.7 in overall use.

Near noontime on a Sunday, we guided the Impreza down I-25 from the north, following lots of traffic toward the Denver Broncos AFC championship football game with the New England Patriots at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. We, though, exited the highway at the Boulder Turnpike; our destination was a memorial service at the home of cousin JoDell McDonald, who passed away in December. Liz Saylor, Patty Berglund and Lisa Secor greeted us and many other friends and relatives.

The fact the Impreza was equipped with paddle shifters enhanced use of the CVT and created some downshifting for quicker response. Flat-cushioned, lightly bolstered front seats were comfortable.

The Impreza was reasonably priced at $24,990; its only add-on was a $1,000 power moonroof. Among standard items were heated leather seats, side-curtain and driver’s-side knee airbags, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, rearview camera, power windows/locks/mirrors, automatic climate control, cruise control, roof rails and front fog lights.

The performance-inspired WRX was introduced in Japan in 1992 and reached the U.S. in 2001.

The new ’15 WRX model is an inch longer in wheelbase at 104.3 and features large hood scoop, rear spoiler and aggressive ground effects. Headlights are narrowed, likened to a raptor’s stare.

Inside, its narrow-cushioned seats and seatbacks are deeply bolstered. The ride is tolerable, even with the sedan’s stiffened sport suspension. Trunk space is fairly tight at 12 cubic feet.

A leather-covered, flat-bottomed steering wheel adds to the sport interior. The speedometer, tachometer, audio and air/heat controls are attractively illuminated in red at night. The audio setup is well-positioned to the driver, though the sound quality and clarity are only average.

With the 6-speed manual transmission, the WRX AWD uses a viscous-coupling center differential to split torque 50/50 between the front and rear wheels. Severe conditions can require more torque one way or the other. The chassis has been stiffened, too, and handling is improved.The suspension is designed with coil springs and stabilizer bars, MacPherson struts in front and double wishbone at the rear.

Pricing for the WRX hasn’t been announced by Subaru, though estimates range from $26,500 to $30,000.

Notes from e-mail

Bud, I don’t usually read the Car sections, but I caught your article Dec. 21 about the Buick Regal AWD. I have had Lincolns for 25 years and looked at the 2013 Lincoln MKZ to replace my 2007 MKZ AWD. In the new MKZ, the shifter is buttons on the dash, and what looks like an iPad for everything else. I don’t know if I want to learn all that new stuff. Would you compare for me the Regal (which I haven’t looked at in a showroom) with the MKZ? I am 76, widow and drive only 4,000 miles a year. – E.F.

Liz, if you’ve driven Lincolns for 25 years, take a serious look at the new MKZ; it’s an excellent vehicle and you’ll catch on to the shifter buttons immediately. If not, the Regal would be a nice second choice, and, yes, I’ll discuss it with you.