2015 Subaru WRX (© Subaru of America)Click to enlarge picture

While the hatchback version of the previous WRX was quite popular, the new version will be available only as a 4-door sedan.

It's been 12 years since Subaru finally brought the rally-bred WRX to American shores, much to the delight of car enthusiasts who had spent years yearning to own the high-performance all-wheel-drive sedan. Now those same enthusiasts — and other drivers who want a sporty, practical ride — should be rejoicing as Subaru brings out an all-new WRX.

It didn't take much time behind the wheel during our press drive to realize that this new version is the best WRX ever. Although horsepower is up slightly from the previous generation, considerable work has been done to make this WRX ride and handle better than any predecessor. The reworked chassis is stiffer and new active torque vectoring combines with Subaru's AWD system to noticeably improve handling.

One major change that may not go over well with WRX fans: The 5-door hatchback is discontinued and the new WRX will be available only as a sedan. According to Subaru, 50 percent of current WRX sales are the hatchback, but the company felt it was worth sacrificing the hatchback in order to apply all its resources to making major improvements to the WRX.

Subaru is also looking to distance the new WRX from the standard Impreza. The new model will be called the WRX (not Impreza WRX), and aside from the windows and roof, no body panels are shared between the two models.

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Model lineup
The WRX will be available in three different trims: base, Premium and Limited.

All 2015 WRX models sport a new aluminum hood with an integrated scoop to push fresh air into the intercooler, as well as front-fender side vents and quad tailpipe outlets.

The base WRX is well equipped with an AM/FM stereo with HD radio and a single-disc in-dash CD player, Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming, iPod control capability, sport cloth front seats, a rear-vision camera, a 6-speed manual transmission, a sport-tuned suspension, 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels fitted with 235/45 R17 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx RT tires and, of course, Subaru's legendary symmetrical all-wheel-drive system.

Upgrading to the WRX Premium adds an All-Weather package that includes heated seats, heated mirror and windshield-wiper deicers, fog lights, a power moonroof and a low-profile trunk spoiler.

The WRX Premium can also be equipped with Subaru's Sport Lineartronic automatic transmission with the SI-Drive performance management system, as well as paddle shifters on the steering column.

The top-of-the-line Limited gets leather trim, an 8-way power driver's seat and LED low-beam headlights. Also available on the Limited is keyless access and start, and the touch-screen Navigation package that beefs up the WRX with navigation, Aha smartphone integration, a 440-watt Harman Kardon audio system and Sirius XM satellite radio with NavTraffic.

View Pictures:  2015 Subaru WRX

Under the hood
Power for the 2015 WRX comes from a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged boxer engine that produces 268 horsepower. This is an increase of three horsepower over the previous generation.

While the slight increase in horsepower would be hard to detect, the torque curve is certainly noticeable behind the wheel. The new WRX has 258 lb-ft of torque starting at just 2000 rpm — an increase of 14 lb-ft but, more importantly, available 2000 rpm sooner.

Subaru expects that most buyers will opt for the new 6-speed manual transmission, but for the first time a continuously variable transmission will be offered on the WRX. The Sport Lineartronic transmission can operate like a standard CVT or, depending on driver inputs, can mimic a 6-speed or 8-speed automatic.

We weren't big fans of the CVT. There are so many settings and factors that can affect its operation that it was difficult to know how it was going to react to different driving situations. For example, with the SI-Drive set to Sport, any time you use more than 30 percent throttle it changes to "step shifting," or mimicking a regular automatic transmission. If you shift with the paddle, it holds the gear for a short time, and then goes back to operating like a CVT.