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2015 Subaru WRX: Around the Block

The Stick-Shift vs. CVT Debate

This is the latest in our new series of short-take reviews, in which we concentrate on a car or truck with a powertrain or trim level not previously detailed. –Ed.

Subaru fans are among the most passionate in the automotive community, and they’ve had a lot to say about the new 2015 Subaru WRX. That’s why we’re diving into one of the biggest conversations surrounding the latest iteration of Subaru’s rally standby—its new six-speed manual versus its continuously variable transmission option.

Car folks like to hate on CVTs, because this type of transmission is usually used in sluggish economy cars with a mind for maximum efficiency. Although the mechanism’s lack of traditional gears improves fuel consumption, CVTs have a reputation for being loud, whiney, and tiresome to live with. It’s not surprising, then, that the thought of a CVT in a performance car like the WRX is anathema to Subaru enthusiasts. Guess what? Blasphemous it may be, but this Subie is still a riot — with or without a clutch pedal.

At higher throttle openings and in the sportiest “Sport Sharp” driving mode, the 2015 Subaru WRX’s CVT mimics the shifting of a regular automatic. “It certainly doesn’t equal a manual in terms of driving engagement, but it does a damn fine job of imitating a good, traditional automatic,” says digital platforms editor Jen Misaros. Even with the CVT, the WRX feels like a bona fide performance car with slingshot-like acceleration, direct steering, and a rewardingly rigid suspension.

As expected, the six-speed manual adds a whole new dimension of fun. Shifts are notchy, aggressive, and immensely satisfying to perform, and clutch take-up feels sharp and grabby. The best thing about the six-speed 2015 Subaru WRX is the persistent temptation to hoon it out — once you lay into the throttle and hear the turbocharger’s jet-like whistle, engaging the boost becomes an itch you just love to scratch.

For people who want the capability and performance of a WRX but don’t drive a stick or want to deal with manually shifting in city traffic, the CVT is a reasonable alternative. What fans should really bemoan is the lack of a hatchback option, which could end up costing Subaru a lot of buyers. “It’s probably for the best,” associate web editor Evan McCausland reflects. “This much fun and five doors? I’d be throwing money at it the day it went on sale.”

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