When you look at transmission technology these days, it’s usually such an easy decision to choose an automatic gearbox over a manual option in terms of efficiency.
To prove the point, at Care Expert On the test track, the Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 PDK gained more than half a second over its manual version and the Hyundai i30 N DCT gained almost a second over the manual version.
with the Subaru WRX It worked if it didn’t – it’s great if you like a manual but it’s hard to give up any performance gains from an auto, but at the same time it’s underwhelming.
Subaru seems to have really drawn a line in the sand for its customers, with the Lineartronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) doing more for everyday use than performance.
As I mentioned on the Subaru WRX manual review, the upgrade from the 2.0-liter 2.4 liter turbocharged ‘boxer’ enginewith 202 kW Power and 350Nm of torque, despite the 400cc increase in size, is only a modest increase of 5kW.
The torque curve is broad and flat but can be pushed too far with this engine, and although it’s smooth and drivable I want it to be quick and sharp – I want the torque to increase and rev it up. Have the ability.
Immediately I noticed the performance difference on the manual Subaru WRX, the energy transfer just wasn’t the same.
It also didn’t have the same answer as the manual. Interestingly, it felt like the loss was across the entire rev range, making the experience on the track quite different.
With the manual the problem of revs dying out was gone, but so was the urgency to go up and the ability to balance the car with the throttle. There was a disconnect between the throttle and the response of the wheels and the road.
On a positive note, the torque curve has been improved, enabling the engine to be run in the rev range for everyday use, but it lacks the punch reminiscent of the previous version.
I managed 0-100. 6.47 seconds For the CVT compared to 6.35s for the manual, but ideally would like to see times at least a second faster for both. Subaru’s claimed times show exactly the same difference, the CVT is 0.1s slower than the manual we tested, and I believe the difference is due to the extra weight in the tS variant.
Again, this engine has a lot of potential, but he needs to use that potential to keep up with the opposition.
Braking performance was almost identical to the manual Subaru WRX.
With a time of 100-0 2.8s @ 36.03mWith the same brake pedal feel and good ability to be able to modulate the pedal and control the release going into the corner.
The chassis is actually the highlight of the Subaru WRX, with major improvements in basic dynamics.
Overall balance is better, driven by improved chassis stiffness. The tendency towards understeer is reduced and mid-corner balance is now very neutral.
The challenge of driving the Subaru WRX has been minimized and there is a large window of available performance on offer. Whenever I tried to teach someone in the old WRX they always overdrive them, when I yelled “Wait!” He used to waste time by shouting.
It’s no longer a fight and you can be firmer with the steering and throttle input without getting any negative feedback.
Subaru has improved the front geometry as well as added support to the rear of the car via a stabilizer bar. The capability of this chassis has been greatly enhanced and makes it very capable on the track.
I really struggled to see the benefit of this CVT on the track, the only benefit of which is not having to shift gears. It was such a strange experience that it left me wondering if it was even powered by a turbo-boosted engine.
The idea of a CVT is to negate the need for gears and use pulleys that vary in width, and then it tries to simulate gear changes using set points in the range for the driving experience.
Now because it’s always looking for the sweet spot in the engine’s rev range, the feel you get is completely different and you almost lose the layers of the engine. Mentally it feels like a slipping clutch, but it keeps moving.
We all know that the smoother you can make a gear shift, the better it is. So, in theory eliminating gearshifts entirely would be ideal for acceleration, as in EVs. So how can we lose straight-line performance over a manual gearbox, in a car that isn’t that easy to launch manually?
There’s also a slight disconnect between the throttle pedal and the output, and the transmission seems to have a delay in band adjustment.
As for the lack of power feeling, we’ll have to dig a little deeper, but the overall result is a drop in performance and a lack of engagement.
For most driving, you might never notice it and there should be fuel economy benefits, but that’s not what I’m looking for when buying a WRX.
The all-wheel drive system is slightly different with the CVT, with variable torque split instead of the normal 50/50 split.
To really see how it works, I’d need a low-grip environment, but I didn’t find I had the ability to balance the car on the throttle. The WRX feels very free and neutral throughout the corner, but it’s not a set-up that you’re going to want to stir and react to.
The Subaru WRX tS gets electronically controlled (adjustable) dampers on our manual version, the same system used in the Hyundai i30 N – using a solenoid under each damper.
Because the driving experience was so different between the manual and the CVT, picking up the big difference in suspension was actually a challenge.
Lateral grip felt like an improvement, especially when loaded mid-corner and control in high-speed corners was also improved.
As with all Subarus it had good support over bumps and hitting curbs.
My answer here is similar to the manual, and I wish they had left this part of the car untouched compared to the previous generation.
There is a real lack of connection and feel between the steering wheel and the road.
I’m sure they’ll improve the feel of future versions, and most people won’t notice much of a difference in normal driving and parking.
But for what was once the highlight of the Subaru WRX, it’s definitely missed.
Tires are identical between the Subaru WRX manual and CVT, using Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT 245/40 R18s.
The tires worked fine on the track and there wasn’t a huge drop in performance on the laps, but I felt like they lost a bit of outright performance and lap time compared to something like the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S.
I ran the manual WRX, power unit Sport#, steering in Sport, suspension in Sport and AWD in Sport, with no traction or stability control at all.
I liked the steering wheel. It had good texture and grip although it is a bit thicker than ideal.
The seating position was good, and lateral support on the track was reasonable.
Also the drive mode select screen is very user friendly and easy to adjust.
For me, it’s really a straight shootout between the manual and CVT versions of the WRX, which you’d think would be a pretty close fight.
When you see driver engagement you should go manual every time, and the Subaru WRX tS doesn’t have the suspension advantage make or break. Then again, it just comes down to lap time and it may come as no surprise that the manual wins there too…
On 62.26 seconds, the WRX CVT is almost a full second slower than I did in the manual WRX a few weeks ago (61.37 seconds), with a more dynamic and engaging experience. Bucking the trend with other manual v-auto transmissions, there is a clear target market difference between the two versions.
While lap times aren’t the only factor in choosing a driving experience – for better or worse – Subaru has made the choice a little easier for the manual fans out there.
- Let the car go through corners more than previous WRXs
- When you come into power, don’t expect an immediate response.
- Watch carefully to see if the manual WRX comes ready to race.
Click on the images for the full gallery.
More: Everything Subaru WRX