What do the Subaru WRX CVT and Justin Bieber Have in Common?

Last weekend, I was home in New Jersey visiting family, my older brother tried to convince me that Justin Bieber’s new album is great.  I obviously laughed and rolled my eyes. What music fan would make such a ludicrous statement?  My brother could be onto something. I started to dive into some of his music and I might be coming down with a case of “Bieber Fever.”  Last week at the 2015 Washington Automotive Press Association Rally, I had the opportunity for some seat time in the 2016 Subaru WRX.  My goal was to find out if the 2016 WRX with the CVT, will convert me to a believer?  

Well, my big bro gave me permission to join the “Beliebers”, and I’m going to to give you an equally outrageous permission: it’s more than OK to buy the Subaru WRX with Sport Lineartronic Transmission (CVT).  A controversial statement to your average car enthusiast, because the moment you mention that you enjoyed a CVT to an automotive journalist they will balk at the idea.  I now understand you Bieber fans.  On the car front, if you think the CVT is not worth your time of day, you are missing out on one of the best kept secrets in the automotive industry.

Let me explain why I enjoyed my time in the Subaru WRX with a CVT transmission.  Simply put, it has better driver involvement.  Take a look at the video to see what I’m talking about. Apologies for the audio quality, hopefully you can hear my thoughts OK.

This transmission, and accompanying paddle shifters, make you feel like a pro rally driver for Subaru Technica International drifting through a forest stage practicing your Scandinavian flick.  “Blasphemy!” you say.   Not at all.  Most people buying the Subaru WRX can only afford one car.  And you will need to be able to drive that one car year-round and commute to your oh-so boring 9-5 job.  Not many cars can handle those tasks and have fun doing it.  So at the $30,000 price point, it’s one of the best all-around enthusiast choices because of it’s all-wheel-drive and screaming turbo-charged engine. 

Love it or hate it, the CVT is great in traffic, something we can all agree is a terrible thing made up by communists.  Traffic is something most journalists avoid talking about because we get to the opportunity to test drive cars on fun tracks and back roads and it’s not sexy to talk commuting or gridlock.  The reality is that most people who buy a WRX will be commuting in traffic, not racing on a rally stage.  So why not feel like Colin McRae on route 395 South?

I’m not ashamed to say that I loved the WRX with the CVT and would happily have one parked in my driveway.  Instead, I have a 1996 Toyota Previa which one (me) could be argued has more in common with the WRX than most cars: forced induction, all-wheel-drive, and low center of gravity.  Why don’t I feel anywhere closely related to Colin McRae when I’m on 395 South in my minivan.

OK, so what do you get if you decided to hand Subaru 30 grand?  A lot.   It’s pretty much the best rally car you can buy for the street.  Well, with the demise of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, and the not-quite-arrival of the Focus RS, it’s about the only one.  But let’s ignore all that and talk engine, since it’s the heartbeat of the WRX and can make or break any car.  Gone from the current WRX is the old 2.5 liter turbo and in goes a new 2.0 liter direct-injection turbocharged monster.  The new engine is smaller in size, but up in horsepower over the previous model’s 2.5-liter.  The new engine has a much different personality than the previous generationsit’s more of an eager puppy dog ready to please.  The boost comes on earlier and dies out towards the top range of your rpm. The new engine gets better fuel economy and better usable torque.  One thing that we can agree on, is the new WRX is missing is the old boxer rumble, due to the 2016 model now equipped with equal length headers. What a shame.  

One big step up for the latest WRX is the chassis. Subaru has gone back to its racing roots, and boy can this car handle. Pitch it into a corner and you get neutral handling with great feedback through the steering wheel.  If you want the current handling champion in the Subaru line-up, you should probably still look to the BRZ.  However, in the WRX you gain some everyday usability in exchange for lesser handling.  The Subaru WRX is a lot of car for the money, and one of the best choices for enthusiast on a budget.

The Justin Bieber of automobile transmissions, is the CVT.  Subaru uses one capable of eight ratios. The best way to capture the heart of the WRX is in Sport#, then you must utilize the paddle shifters.  I promise you, it’s fun.  When adding the CVT to the option box, use caution.  It will add weight, and generate hate mail from your enthusiast friends.

Pricing for the 2016 WRX proves that it is still the best bang for your buck in the market.  No enthusiast model offers all-wheel-drive at this price.  The upcoming Focus RS will supposedly start at $35,730.  The WRX and BRZ are priced around the $28,000 mark, which means if I had to choose only one car for my garage, I’m taking the WRX all day.  It’s no wonder BRZ sales have been droppingit is a niche car and not for everyone.  

The unenlightened love to hate Justin Bieberand they are equally dismissive of the Subaru WRX with the CVT.  If you listen to Bieber while you drive the WRX with the CVT for a test drive, you’ll discover they both have a lot to offer.  And now, I’m a Belieber. 

  1. Interesting outlook on the WRX. I never even gave CVT a thought when I purchased my 2015. On the back roads, how well does it hold gears? Can you bang it off the rev-limiter? Responsiveness? Does it feel anything remotely like a dual clutch?

    1. Hey Josh! Great questions. The CVT is definitely overlooked and I think it’s the one to get if you buy a WRX. On back roads it holds the gears all the way to redline, it won’t shift unless you use the paddle shifters. Since it’s a CVT, the “shifts” are lightening quick, supposedly PDK level quickness. It doesn’t feel like a dual clutch when it shifts, theres no real delay or feeling of “shifting gears”.

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