Car reviews - Subaru - WRX - STI
Sharp price, sticks to the road like glue, you can delete the big attention-grabbing wing, quite frugal when driven sensibly.
Room for improvement
Lacks visceral, raw edge of the previous model, harsh ride around town, hard edge to interior, no hatchback.
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14 Nov 2014
By BARRY PARK
Price and equipment
In one fell swoop, Mitsubishi’s $59,900 Lancer Evolution X sedan, the WRX’s most natural rival, suddenly looks expensive.
The cheapest version of the STI, which we’re driving, is priced from a sharp-by-comparison $49,990. However, it comes only as a sedan, with no sign of a hatchback – the tougher looking of the two body-shapes in my opinion – on the horizon.
There’s the signature maw of the bonnet scoop up front, and the big, bordering on ridiculous wing on the bootlid, but that’s all part of what makes this car the STI. If you want, you can lose the wing – and a lot of attention from fellow road users – as a no-cost option.
The only addition to our Lightning Red test car was a set of carpet mats, costing a very reasonable $179.47.
Standard equipment runs to 18-inch alloy wheels, a nine-speaker audio system with sat-nav, Bluetooth, and USB, auxiliary input and a subwoofer, dusk-sensing headlights and rain-sensing wipers, and dual-zone climate control air-conditioning.
It takes a little bit away from the experience of jumping behind the wheel, but keyless entry and start means you now don’t crank the engine, just press a button.
A numeric keypad, used to control the immobiliser, is still hidden away in the dash in front of the driver’s right knee.
But it’s under the skin where most of the WRX STI’s value comes to the fore. As well as all-wheel-drive underpinnings sent to the wheels via an adjustable centre differential that can push bias to the front or rear wheels, there’s the stonking 221kW/417Nm 2.5-litre six-cylinder boxer engine mated to, in our case, a six-speed manual transmission.
Unlike the cheaper WRX, the STI doesn’t even consider the idea of offering an automatic gearbox.
Most of the STI budget is spent on driveline improvements, so your expectations can’t soar too high once you crack open the driver’s door.
The manual-adjust front pews are a mix of sticky Alcantara emblazoned with the STI logo and heavy bolstering worthy of the sporting pedigree.
The perforated, leather-clad steering wheel is small and grippy, and sits in front of a digital trip computer that even shows the amount of engine boost, and the gear lever – way too long for such a short-throw gearbox – is wrapped in a leather boot.
The rest of the interior is typical Subaru harsh. Hard, black plastics abound, faux carbon-fibre trim cascades down the centre console to give a little lift to the ambience, and the premium-badged Harman Kardon multimedia unit mounted high on the dash doesn’t quite gel with the rest of the presentation, giving it an aftermarket look.
Inside the STI, then, is nowhere near as classy as some of the STI’s European rivals, such as the Volkswagen Golf R, but then again it doesn’t cost as much, so corners have to be cut.
On the centre console between the front seats, aside from a big “STI” badge, is a toggle button that allows the driver to control the setting for the centre diff that distributes drive between the front and rear wheels.
The $54,990 Premium version of the STI steps up to somewhat redundant add-ons such as a sunroof, heated front seats with electric adjust for the driver, a few patches of leather, and lighter 18-inch alloys.
A generational leap to a new Impreza sedan that is longer than the model it replaces means the Subaru’s wheels aren’t quite as square on the body as the car its replaces. On the upside, it means rear-seat legroom isn’t as cramped – although remains tight.
The big wing makes lifting the bootlid to reveal the 301 litres of boot space a tad harder. The split-fold rear seats tilt forward to make loading long items easier.
Engine and transmission
The turbocharged flat-four 2.5-litre mill under the STI’s lairy bonnet produces a big serve of 221kW of power and 407Nm of torque. On paper, this is enough to bring a smile to any boy – or girl when you keep in mind that the WRX is a big seller with women – racer’s face.
That smile won’t be that big at the traffic lights, though. Low down, the engine lacks oomph, with peak power arriving at 6000rpm and maximum torque knocking on the door from 4000rpm. In other words, the fun starts when you have a few revs on board and start to hear that distinctive boxer thrum, and not before.
That’s not to say the engine is unresponsive at low revs. Acceleration is still brisk, helped by clever engine management and a larger performance-enhancing intercooler that tucks in under the bonnet scoop.
The 0-100km/h sprint takes about 4.9 seconds, or a similar time to the model it replaces.
A light clutch is paired with a precise-feeling six-speed manual gearbox – there’s no auto option – although the gear lever borders on ridiculously long for such a short, precise throw.
There’s a three-setting dial, too, that allows you to change the nature of the beast all the way from commuter mild to twisty road wild. The Intelligent setting dulls the throttle too much, Sport feels like a more appropriate default setting, and Sport# makes the throttle as twitchy as stepping on a snake.
Starting the STI is theatre. OK, you have to push a button rather than insert a key, but the analogue instrument dials flick playfully as the turbo four awakes from its slumber.
Ride and handling
It’s a shame that those three engine settings don’t also link through to the suspension. For the STI, it’s close to rock hard.
The STI follows every change in grade of the road surface, but even small bumps carry right through into the cabin so that the highly rigid body the seats are bolted to is always moving. If you’re commuting every day in it, you’ll soon be mapping out the most direct route in an effort to not prolong the pain.
Come the weekend, though, with a corner or six in front of it, and the STI’s raison d’etre is immediately apparent.
Grip from the all-wheel-drive system, booted with sticky Dunlop Sport Maxx rubber, is tenacious, the Brembo-wrapped brake disks wash off speed progressively, and on dirt, the switch for the centre diff finds the balance between the nose pushing wide in a corner to the rear end hanging out.
It feels much more competent than the old STI, which would push to a certain level before running up a few red flags – such as the steering going very light and the car starting to float – that suggested pushing on harder could soon start to hurt.
Instead, this generation does exactly what you ask of it, making it a more clinical experience behind the wheel, but also more enjoyable. I’m not sure if that level of forgiving driveability is a better thing, though.
Safety and servicing
Impreza is equipped with seven airbags including a driver’s knee airbag, and comes with the now-expected five-star crash safety badge that the rest of the Subaru range wears.
Subaru is a relative latecomer to the rush of brands rolling out capped-price servicing, which gives owners some control and assurance over the cost of maintaining their vehicles.
The fine details of the plans are yet to come to light, but unlike other brands who end the schemes a few years into the ownership cycle, Subaru says it will cap prices for the lifetime of the vehicle.
On paper, Subaru hasn’t really lost anything in the generational leap to this version of the WRX. The big winners, though, are the buyers, who suddenly find themselves with a lot more fuel money in their kick thanks to a much lower cover charge to STI membership.
While more competent, it has become more clinical, which in some buyers’ minds is not a bad thing. But at the same time, its increased on-road talent isn’t as engaging as what I remember from behind the wheel of the car that this one replaces.
It’s a clear win on the price then, and an improvement in performance, but at a small loss of some of the driver’s connection with the car.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X (From $59,900 before on-roads)
Hangs onto rally roots with gravel and snow driveline settings, and 217kW/366Nm turbo 2.0-litre is still a brilliant drive in terms of grip and performance.
Lancer has now been around the block a few times, though ...
Volkswagen Golf R (From $51,990 before on-roads)
No boot, but stonking 206kW/380Nm 2.0-litre performance – with a synthetically enhanced soundtrack – sent to all four wheels via a clever electric differential. Price pushes it deep into the luxury sphere.
Audi S3 sedan (From $62,200 before on-roads)
A wildcard here based on price, but like the STI it is a sedan. Same turbo 2.0-litre four-pot as in the Golf R, but here it is mixed with Audi’s traditionally flawless interior and deserving of the luxury price tag.
MAKE/MODEL: Subaru WRX STI
ENGINE: 2.5L turbocharged 4cyl, 95 RON
LAYOUT: Front engined, AWD
TRANSMISSION: 6sp manual
TOP SPEED: N/a
EMISSIONS: 242g/km CO2
SUSPENSION: MacPherson (f)/Double wishbone (r)
STEERING: Electric assist rack and pinion
BRAKES: Ventilated disc (f)/ventilated disc (r)
PRICE: From $49,900 before on-roads
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