When I picked up my shimmering white 2015 Subaru WRX, I had so much fun whirling around that I completely forgot it was an automatic transmission. I backed into my parking spot, and then couldn’t figure out why the key was stuck. Was I going to have to call Subaru? How embarrassing! Surely there was some easy explanation, perhaps some new anti-theft device. Then I looked down, and realized it was still in “Reverse.”
That might come as a shock to some WRX enthusiasts, for whom the only excuse to drive an automatic is because you’re missing a left leg. To put a WRX, with its rally racing pedigree, on the market with anything but a six-speed – could be construed as heresy.
And Subaru knows it. So instead of just popping in a regular old automatic, they designed a cool Sport Lineartronic with a “continuously variable transmission,” or CVT. So, I had a WRX with a CVT. Alphabet soup, anyone?
I’ll make it painless. This type of transmission is gaining in popularity since it keeps the engine at a sweet spot, so it’s always within the most efficient operating range. That means it’s better on fuel, which is endearing to consumers, but a little unappetizing for the fankids that enjoy brawling through the gears on a rally trail.
But the dauntless Subaru engineers have tweaked out the boring. This is a car that wants to get busy. The steering wheel was just bristling with buttons and levers. Touch the throttle, and it surged forward.
That’s good, because I had a busy week, and needed to be lots of places. Places that are on roads buried in construction, where a driver must be able to brave a labyrinth of half-built blacktop, potholes, and other hazards. While dodging other drivers who are squeezing the most out of their lane, unwilling to relinquish their tiny bit of rolling real estate. That’s why Toronto has more cops guarding construction sites than there are chasing criminals.
One day, I was marooned on Lakeshore Boulevard, crawling past untold traffic cones at minus kilometres an hour. I saw my break, and raced for it, turning left into the Canadian National Exhibition, with its network of contorted roadways. Careening around corners and down alleyways, the WRX sprinted and pivoted like a champ, true to its rally heritage. Up crowded side streets, along knobby laneways, twisting around blind bends, it responded to my every touch with virtuoso sass and gusto.
Finally, I edged up onto College Street, which turned out to be the least congested east-west thoroughfare in the city. And that’s sitting squarely in the draft of the College streetcar!
Subaru has a reputation for being a cheeky shop where the engineers call the shots. They zig before anyone else zags, and that’s why the WRX with its CVT is meeting with a 30 percent take rate. That means the fankids are not only converting to automatic, but practically drinking the kool-aid.
What’s next from this company? Apparently, a Forester STI. That’s a SUV with a high performance kit.
About a year ago, I drove a Forester and found it pretty frisky, even for an SUV.
But with a performance kit? Oy vey!
I can hardly wait.