Car reviews - Subaru - WRX - STI
Conspicuous but typical STI styling, idiot-proof road-holding, big price chop, snappy well matched gearbox
Room for improvement
Some cost-cutting materials, muted boxer exhaust note, steering-rack rattle on rough surfaces, no gold-wheel option
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17 Nov 2014
When the standard WRX was unveiled last month, some criticism fell on the styling of what has always been regarded as a sporty sedan.
But those naysayers will be pleased to see this new hotter version has rolled out wearing all of the glitz and bling associated with the STI badge.
Vibrant colours, 18-inch black wheels, fat brake calipers, a gantry of four exhausts, air-gulping bonnet-scoop and ‘that’ boot spoiler – possibly the most famous this side of a Plymouth Road Runner – grace the exterior of the STI.
Even from a distance, this Subaru WRX shouts performance, but all that slap and costume means nothing if the bits under the skin can’t deliver the promises that the styling makes.
Make no mistake. The STI can deliver.
On a tight and twisty circuit the Scooby immediately felt at home, squatting with hard acceleration from the pits, and getting every one of the 221kW down to the black-top without complaint.
Throwing the nose into the first tight bend was done with complete confidence, but commands were met so obediently it became clear that the STI had a lot more to give.
With each bend the STI shrugged off an increasingly bashful approach, eventually resulting in mild understeer but the steering turn-in and response was extremely rapid, sometimes causing us to steer too soon. After a few acclimatisation laps, the steering was sublime.
Biasing the torque vectoring system to the rear pushed the limit at which understeer would sneak in again but a more carefully planned entry to even tight corners would set the car up for a pleasantly neutral feel.
With the system switched to the off position the fizzy WRX was at its absolute best wriggling around on the asphalt but staying composed as if the driver had everything under control.
Blatant attempts to shake the tail loose in high speed corners simply resulted in more lightening intervention by the clever stability electronics.
That said - if everything was kept smooth and tidy we felt like it was just the car and driver working as one.
The swathes of torque made each blast from corner to corner flash by with ease and even when we occasionally arrived at corners a bit too hot, the brakes would scrub off speed with excellent firm pedal feel.
Under very hard braking the tail had a tendency to try to come around and meet the front end, but a very quick acting ABS and ESC program gathered up any wayward ends before anyone’s day was ruined.
A slight change to the way the ECU operates is the only change to the returning WRX STI and we think that is a good thing. Power comes in progressively between 3000rpm and 5000rpm with just a little turbo-lag as the compressor spools-up to its full 1.25 Kpa pressure.
Strong acceleration seemed to drop off a little towards the red-line encouraging short-shifting, but the carefully selected gear ratios of the six-speed manual gearbox were perfectly matched to the torque-curve, and precisely clicking from one to another was addictive.
Even upshifting during fast bends wasn’t a problem thanks to the sharpening of the selector mechanism for the 2014 car.
Revving the 2.5-litre engine to the red-line produced a clear mechanical bark and when all the fun was over the iconic engine settled back down to a smooth idle and that unmistakable bassy boxer-beat. We would have liked a little more volume when up around the rev-limit though.
A repositioned drivers seat has resulted in a better view of the surroundings and short arm/long leg position, which helped when trying to pick a line through bends, but while the semi-bucket seats were supportive in fast corners they did allow some front/rear movement.
On the circuit, the new STI is a conspicuous looking sports-sedan capable of rewarding drivers with a variety of abilities thanks to saintly forgiving handling and mile-munching performance.
Out on the open and somewhat restricted road, the hot WRX settled down and happily masqueraded as just another sedan.
The general feel of interior materials is good with soft leather seats in the Premium spec version but we preferred the alcantara trim of the less expensive entry-level STI.
The new WRX STI has four LCD screens scattered about the dash: One for the navigation, another nestled in between the guages to display vehicle information to the driver, a third sits up high with climate-control information, but the fourth boost-guage and dynamic information was our favourite.
Only a few cheap cut-corners such as fake carbon-fibre trims and hard plastics let the quality down, but if Subaru were to make cost-cuts anywhere, we would prefer it to be the interior rather than the excellent running gear.
Owning the new WRX STI would be a day-to-day pleasure with little reminders that you are in something a little bit different scattered around the car.
The rear view is not obscured by the obscenely big spoiler but framed, the intercooler bonnet-vent gapes forward without getting in the way and the mischievous exhaust note lets you know there are a good number of kilowatts under the bonnet should you need them.
All that track-bred ability doesn’t manifest itself as jittery low speed driving though. Clutch slip is progressive without excessive pedal weight and throttle sensitivity modulates smoothly no matter what the style of driving.
Maintaining a good pace over rougher surfaces frequently caused steering-rack rattle which could be both heard and felt, which was disappointing because the steering feel and turn-in were razor-sharp.
A little more road noise than is desirable was transmitted through the low-profile tyres, and the super-stiff suspension made for a very firm ride with authentic rally-style rattles and the sound of gravel spraying in the wheel-arches.
But complaining about a slightly uncomfortable ride in one of Subaru’s most aggressive and potent road cars is ineffectual, because the WRX STI makes no apologies for the features which make it such a rewarding drive.
Mitsubishi’s Lancer Evo is a marginally more aggressive drive with a flatter ride through tricky camber corners and its deep Recaro bucket seats are far more supportive than the STI’s, but the Evo is a whopping $56,990 and doesn’t have the same feel of quality of the STI so it is hardly a rival.
Meantime Volkswagen’s freshly launched Golf R is a sublime all-round machine, but is pricier and less powerful. For those chasing a little more refinement, however, it could be the go.
With such a sharp price, formidable track manner and every-day sedan practicality, it is hard to pick anything that quite rivals the latest Subaru WRX STI.
Who would have thought that in four generations, what was once the young upstart newcomer is STI(ll) such a celebrated and accomplished modern classic?
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