Subaru Exec Casts Doubt On Future Of Manual Transmission

TOKYO -- Subaru hopes the redesigned WRX line will capture a wider customer base with better fuel economy and safety features after spinning off the nameplate from its Impreza stablemate.

The longer, roomier and sportier looking WRX went on sale in the U.S. in the spring and was released in Japan on Monday.

The performance car, long a staple of the rally circuits, already has a dedicated motor-fan following. But Subaru wants to cast a wider net with better fuel consumption and safety features, Takeshi Tachimori, executive vice president in charge of global marketing, said at the car’s home market debut.

“So far, the WRX was a very narrow, polarizing category, but we want to make it appeal to a wider customer base,” he said.

That’s one reason Subaru brand parent Fuji Heavy Industries, Ltd., decided to make the WRX and tuner STI variant a standalone entry after long offering it as a sub-brand of the Impreza.

That, and the goal of strengthening Subaru’s sporty lineup.

The Japan and U.S. versions of the base WRX chug less gasoline thanks to a new 2.0-liter direct-injection engine mated to a continuously variable transmission or 6-speed manual.

And both variants get a more rigid bodies and chassis set-ups, replete with more use of high-tensile steel plating, to enhance control and crash-worthiness. It gets the same reinforced frame structure used in other models that passed the new Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's small overlap crash test.

The Japan spec car also offers the latest version of Subaru’s trademark Eyesight camera-actuated pre-crash safety system, which delivers automatic braking and active lane keep assist.

Subaru hopes adding Eyesight will attract older customers.

Subaru sold 25,250 WRX and STIs worldwide in calendar year 2013, with the vast majority – 17,969 units – moved in the U.S.

Subaru hasn’t offered a forecast but says the redesigned cars should easily push sales past those totals this year. The U.S. tally alone reached 15,240 units through July.

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