Subaru was kind enough to bring its 2016 WRX to the Motor Press Guild’s Track Days event at Willow Springs International Raceway, so I thought I’d be kind enough to drive it. You know, for the sake of research.
Truth be told, I was a little disappointed it wasn’t the WRX STi and I also was a little dismayed that Subaru chose to bring a car with a continuously variable transmission. Wouldn’t a manual be better for a bunch of automotive journalists?
As it turns out, maybe not. The CVT in the WRX wasn’t like any I have driven before. Instead of a transmission that just lets the engine rev mercilessly while providing anemic acceleration and little feedback on what the engine is doing, Subaru’s Sport Lineartronic worked more like an automatic, with six rations in “intelligent” and “sport” modes, and eight ratios in “sport sharp” mode.
Shifts weren’t as crisp as you’d get in an automatic or a paddle-shifted manual, but the paddles on the steering wheel engaged the next gear with a surge of power, which is something I never would have expected from a CVT.
What’s more, when it comes time to go get groceries or shuttle the kiddies to soccer practice, you can drop it in drive, leave your left foot on the floor and let the CVT do its thing.
In “sport sharp” mode, the ECU modifies the engine’s electronic throttle mapping to deliver quicker throttle response. Sport sharp also operates the transmission in all eight speeds in normal and manual modes.
What also was notable on track was the confidence inspiring chassis. Subaru used high-tensile-strength steel for chassis stiffening at key locations. In addition, the springs, dampers, crossmembers, subframe bushings, front control-arm bushings and attachments are all stiffer than in the previous-generation WRX. The end result is that torsional rigidity has increased by 41 percent compared with the model it replaces.
Of course, all-wheel drive is great for spirited driving on track. The added bonus is that it’s a huge safety feature in the rain and snow.
Torsional rigidity increased 41 percent compared with the previous WRX. The front stabilizer bar thickness is increased by 3 mm. Front spring rates were increased by 39 percent, and rear spring rates increased by 62 percent. Larger front brake discs than the previous-generation WRX, now 12.4 inches in diameter (up from 11.6 inches), provide greater surface area and fade resistance. The WRX rolls on standard 17 x 8-inch wheels; Premium and Limited trims gain 18-inch wheels for 2016.
Inside, the WRX treats the driver to a simple, yet welcoming cockpit that offers the comfort necessary for daily driving, and the support you need for those occasional stints on track. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it doesn’t have to be. The WRX features a center stack with three dials for HVAC controls at the bottom, the infotainment cluster at the center and an additional display above the requisite A/C vents with the center-mounted flasher button. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, but it gets the job done admirably.
Now, I have to be honest. The biggest clouds of smoke I’ve ever seen at the racetrack almost invariably have emanated from a Subaru, but they were largely due to people asking too much of a turbocharged boxer four cylinder — in the form of additional boost and tunes that push the envelope — and the motor simply grenaded under protest. The easy answer is not to push them that hard and not only will they serve you well as a daily driver, but also as an occasional track toy.
The point of “Car Corner” is to highlight cars that can do the difficult double duty of daily driver and occasional HPDE car, and certainly the 2016 WRX qualifies. It would undoubtedly be better for track use with the six-speed manual, but for dual use, the CVT is surprisingly good.
|2.0-liter turbocharged horizontal four cylinder|
|268 @ 5,600 rpm|
|258 @ 2,000 – 5,200 rpm|
|Sport Lineartronic CVT 6/8 speed|
Rear axle ratio:
|3.90:1 limited slip|