Driving the 2016 Subaru WRX Automatic
Ok, ok. I know what you car enthusiasts are thinking: “A Subaru WRX with an automatic is total garbage.” Allow me to shield myself from your disdainful glares as I also inform you that the automatic is a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). But hear me out because the Subaru WRX sans manual gear shifter doesn’t completely ruin it all.
On the outside, the 2016 Subaru WRX is everything you’d expect: functioning hood scoop, masculine styling, Lapis Blue Pearl paint, and 18-inch alloy wheels. This newest generation of Subaru’s fanboy sedan touts a wide-body stance and a stiffer suspension. A 268-horsepower 2.0 Liter direct injection, turbocharged Boxer engine packs a mean punch. And in true Subie fashion, the 2016 WRX gets help from standard symmetrical all wheel drive and active torque vectoring. But inside is where this vehicle is so different; any car lover would immediately notice the presence of the Sport Lineartronic™ CVT in lieu of the traditional 6-speed manual transmission.
Subaru hopes that the new goodies it has added to the 2016 WRX will distract those annoyed by the offering of a CVT. (By the way, car enthusiasts, you aren’t obligated to buy the automatic just because it’s offered.)
Standard features — such as the STARLINK Multimedia system with 6.2-inch touchscreen display, HD Radio, single-disc CD player, 6 speakers, and SiriusXM — make the WRX an attractive buy to the younger, tech savvy crowd. Subaru has also packed its 2016 WRX with STARLINK smartphone integration with Aha and Pandora, plus access to cloud applications like iHeart Radio. Drivers will be happy to know that they can both stream music from their smartphone or iPod and charge their device via USB port.
Our test vehicle came in the highest Limited trim, which included a larger 7-inch multimedia navigation system and a premium audio system by Harman / Kardon. With a $4,000 upgrade, owners can get additional amenities like keyless access with push-button start, rear vehicle detection, blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, and lane change assist. Subaru’s highly regarded EyeSight Driver-Assist system also becomes part of that package, tacking on helpful safety features such as pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure and lane sway warning, lane keep assist, and pre-collision throttle management. These features simply add to Subaru’s reputation for building safe vehicles; the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) has rated the brand’s EyeSight front crash prevention system among the best on the market.
The interior of the WRX Limited is nice, maintaining a modest appearance. Subaru still reins supreme with its supportive, comfortable and grippy sport seats. We would have liked a thicker steering wheel made from softer leather or Alcantara to add to the pilot’s comfort. The exhaust note is undeniably WRX, yet it’s contained in this model, making it less jarring for your neighbors on the mornings when you leave early for work. Leg room for front passengers is excellent, accommodating tall drivers. Rear passengers shouldn’t be too squished either. Subaru has pushed the interior to its far corners while preserving trunk space. Just know that anything you keep in the trunk is likely to get slung around regularly.
Yes, it’s an automatic
I get it. I want to #savethemanuals, too. So why is an automatic transmission acceptable for the WRX? Well, for one, there may be people who can’t physically drive a manual transmission, yet want to enjoy a performance-minded vehicle. Also, living in a metropolitan area and driving a manual each day wreaks havoc on your left knee. Subaru is simply providing the option for more people to enjoy its WRX.
The worst thing about an automatic WRX isn’t the absence of the thrill of physically shifting through the gears, it’s that Subaru has chosen to give us the dreaded CVT. (Customers must fork over another $1,200 for the A/T with SI-Drive and paddle shifters.)
Adding insult to injury, the turbo lag is noticeable in this iteration of the car. In going through the normal steps of acceleration, the WRX automatic tested our patience as we waited for the turbo to kick in and push us forward. It was like dial-up Internet from the 1990s…you click “Connect” but by the time you’re surfing the World Wide Web your excitement has already waned.
It’s also worth noting that the automatic gets 21 mpg combined while the manual achieves 23 mpg. Both are decent figures for a performance sedan like the WRX, but the slight loss of fuel efficiency for the CVT may only add to the argument for the 6-speed.
Back to how it drives
When driving the traditional WRX (especially the even more spirited STI), the experience of mashing down the gas pedal, letting off the clutch and feeling this purebred car propel you forward, is what dreams are made of. Body stiffness, unbridled horsepower, and an accessible price are what make the WRX the trifecta of sport sedans. Never mind the pedigree that the WRX has in World Rally Challenge performances.
The stickless sedan does not disappoint in the area of handling, only in performance. It frustrates us off-the-line. Whereas its manual gearbox brother jumps to, the WRX automatic is timid. And timid is not an adjective we want to use to describe the WRX.
Tackling corners, curves and hairpins remains a hoot even without a physical clutch to depress, especially if you engage the SI-Drive in Sport or Sport-Sharp mode. The car’s turbo lag, however, makes it challenging to execute a precise throttle response. The driver never fully grasps the gas pedal sweet spot for smooth acceleration on straightaways and when exiting turns.
Should you buy a Subaru WRX automatic?
The additional cost for the automatic transmission plus the navigation and EyeSight Driver-Assist package actually makes looking at a base WRX STI a little more attractive. One can procure a stock WRX Limited for $30,395 (before the destination charge). That’s a pretty good price for this car. But if you want the bells and whistles and the automatic Sport Lineartronic™ CVT, then we’re talking about $5,295 more. That puts us at $35,690, roughly $1,000 more than the base manual transmission WRX STI. The catch is that the STI doesn’t come with the full tech and EyeSight package that the WRX Limited can get. So, it comes down to what you want in your Subaru WRX — creature comforts or pure and simple performance? We think most enthusiasts will go for the latter.