Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What's in a Name?

WRX.  The name of Subaru's rally-bred Impreza.  While it's ditched the Impreza name for 2015, it hasn't ditched it's roots.  Sure it's got pretty toys and such, but after today's experience around an auto cross course, you can still feel it there.  This latest World Rally eXperiment (or whatever your theory is) certainly takes things up a notch... and in some surprising ways, too.

Click the link at the bottom to read up on my personal experience behind the wheel.

This event was for training purposes of salesmen from dealerships in the area.  From North Dakota to Kansas, we all met to brush up on the XV Crosstrek Hybrid and then to sink our teeth into the 4th Generation WRX.  I'll admit, I was a bit bummed when I learned that, while the WRX and WRX STI were at this event, we were not able to get behind the wheel of a manual transmission.  Instead, we were using the new Sport Lineartronic Transmission.  While it is similar to the one found in the 2014 Forester XT, everyone agreed that it certainly didn't feel like a "CVT".  With the new cars arriving this spring at dealerships, I'll have a chance to drive those too, but everything we did today was more focused on the new motor and the new handling of this WRX.

In observing other drivers take a crack at the WRX around the course as well as some wheel-time of my own, I can say that this car is leagues beyond what the 3rd Generation WRX was in terms of handling.  Handling is crisp and sharp... even on the Continental DWS tires that were fitted on them.  The stock MAX RT tires were swapped out so that these cars could be driven from one event to the next easily, as snow and bad weather was still lingering in the northern part of the country at that time.

Still, the balance in this car put down grip and the chassis remained flat and level, even through hard cornering.  The VTD helped even out the grip and prevented understeer, even under extreme cornering.  I managed to break the rear tires loose on a corner I messed up on one of my runs through the course and there was still enough control with the front wheels to get me around the cone and back on track.

Power, even with the Sport Lineartronic Transmission, is not only there... but you're able to make better use of it thanks to the WRX's improved handling.  There's a slight lag off the line with this automatic version (which is expected) but the Twin-Scroll Turbo is quick to get you moving.  The wider power band feels at home on a course like this, as you easily have access to power coming out of the corner.

While the STI merely sat by to watch, I couldn't help but think "if this is how the WRX feels... I can't wait to see what the STI does!"  I did manage to chat with Colin Knott, who had been entrusted with the WRX STI during their training tour in the US, and he had nothing but praises to sing for it.  He's rallied with the likes of Petter Solberg, Richard Burns, and Colin McRae across the pond.  Not only was I more than thrilled to meet someone with that kind of rally pedigree, but it made his comments about the STI that much stronger.  Much like how the WRX made better use of it's power thanks to the improved handling, the WRX STI takes that tried-and-true 2.5 liter boxer with 305 horsepower and brings it up another notch.  Sure there's some pretty features inside and out that make the STI stand out a little more from it's brother, but it's amazing what a little more balance can do to the dynamics of a car.

Interestingly enough, he not only talked of the 6-Speed Manual Transmission in both the WRX and the WRX STI being "brilliant", but he was also very impressed with what he had seen from the Sport Lineartronic.  We spoke before and after the event about this automatic transmission and how it's sort of a Jack-of-all-trades.  It can put the power down and feel like a manual.  The paddle shifters are lightning-quick to respond, near instantaneous, and yet it's still smooth like you'd expect from the Continuously Variable Transmission.  To top it off, the cars we had driven had 5000 miles of travel and test driving on them with no issues to speak of.  We agreed that it simply must work by use of "Witchcraft".

There were three WRX Limited models and one WRX Premium, all equipped with the Sport Lineartronic Transmission.  Each driver had a professional driver sitting shotgun with them giving them guidance on how to approach corners and where to apply brakes or power.  It was a truly awesome experience and the team of instructors that Colin had assembled were fantastic to work with.

There's more photos from this event, as well as a look at some of the accessories (including an STI Lip Kit) on my Flickr Gallery.  Next up, I'll have a few videos taken of how these cars performed on the test course, as well as some impressions of the 6-Speed Manual in the STI once I'm able to drive it.

2015 WRX & WRX STI Gallery

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