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2015 Subaru WRX: A fast car you can live with

Photo Credit: SUBARU OF AMERICAN - The functional hood scoop is the most obvious of the body modifications that help distinguish the Subaru WRX.If it didn't have the hood scoop, the 2015 Subaru WRX would be the perfect modern sleeper — an incredibly fast car that looks like an affordable family sedan. The other body modifications are so tasteful that are hard to notice. And the interior doesn't stand out, either. But the big bulbous hood scoop tells everyone, including the police, that the WRX means business.

But since the scoop is functional, potential buyers won't want to get rid of it. The scoop funnels large amounts of fresh air into the turbocharger that helps the 2.0-liter Boxer four cylinder engine produce 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, doing its part to transform the humble compact Impreza sedan into a factory tuner car. Subaru's standard all-wheel-drive system helps distribute all that power evenly to the road. Other changes include a stiffer suspension, tasteful bucket seats, and, in our test car, a sweet shifting six speed manual transmission.

Put them all together and the WRX is ready for action. But it can also be driven smoothly in crowded traffic and over rough streets, especially when compared to its even more powerful but high strung sibling, the Subaru WRX/STI — a car designed for auto crossing and rally racing, not day to day driving with kids in the back seat. It also has a huge rear wing that calls attention to itself. For a boy racer you can live with, the "plain" WRX is hard to beat.

Subaru is getting a lot of use out of its redesigned Imreza these days. The base, non-turbocharged sedans and hatchbacks are almost the perfect affordable commuter cars for the Pacific Northwest, thanks to the AWD system that doesn't increase the price. The hatchback is also available as the XV Crosstrek with higher ground clearance for more serious off-road driving, which also comes as a hybrid. And the sedan serves as the basis for the WRX and WRX/STI, which compete against such other factory tuners as the Ford Focus ST and the Volkswagen GTI, and even similarly priced muscle coupes like the Ford Mustang. None of them are available with AWD, however.

Our test WRX only had a few drawbacks. Much of the dash appears covered in rubber instead of higher quality plastics. The screen for the rearview camera was pretty small, and it didn't come with optional navigation system, so we can't tell you how well that works. Road noise was also a little high, thanks, we suspect, to the wide tires.

More performance from the WRX and WRX/STI models is available through the optional SI-DRIVE system that allows the driver to tailor throttle response and shift modes. Sport and Sport Sharp modes feature even more aggressive responses for 6- and 8-speed manual modes.

Our test WRX was not equipped that feature, so we really can't whether it's worth the additional money. Frankly, we were impressed enough with our version, in large part because of the flat torque curve produced by the Boxer engine, which has horizontally opposed cylinders like old Volkswagen and classic Porsches.

Subaru considers both the WRX and WRX/STI to be separate models from the Impreza. Except for the hood scoop, WRX owners could convince everyone they're just driving an affordable family car that will blow almost everyone's doors off.

2015 Subaru WRX

Base price: $26,295.

Price as tested: $33,000.

Type: Compact, 4-passenger sedan.

Engine: Turbocharged 2.0 Boxer 4.

EPA estimated mileage: 21/28 (as tested).

Overall length: 180.5 inches.

Curb weight: 2,996 pounds (as tested).

Final assembly: Gunma, Japan.

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