In the late 90s, I fell in love with the WRC. Until then, motorsports did little for me as I could not link F1 cars, or Nascar, to the vehicles I crossed on the road every day. I began following the WRC (and DTM and BTCC to a lesser extent) right after Subaru picked up their consecutive titles but in time for the fantastic Colin McRae/Tommi Mäkinen rivalry, Richard Burn’s short-lived era and Petter Solberg’s stint up until a few years before he left Subaru in 2008.
It was during those years that I also fell for the GC8 generation Impreza 2.5RS, or the closest car to a WRX North America got until the Bugeye WRX finally arrive in late spring of 2000. I got to drive, track and review a World Rallye Blue WRX sedan that summer and I was completely hooked.
Subaru has long since held a place in my heart for its AWD turbocharged performance cars, and dominance in what I believe to be the most challenging form of high-speed driving. It’s no small wonder that I purchased a used WRX Bugeye wagon nearly 6 years ago as my primary mode of all season driving. With all this said, you might not be surprised to read that I love the WRX STI.
In what I could argue to myself as being the bestest car category of all, compact sports cars, the WRX STI stands out as the grand-daddy of them all. This is a good, and not so good statement. In North America, it was the first to be offered in 2004 (alongside the Lancer EVO XII but it’s dead now) and so its giant comical-to-some rear spoiler might date it somewhat. Even so, this magnificent over-the-top squared-off plastic arch is an absolute must in my mind.
For 2015, Subaru rectified the ugly Impreza generation (08-14) by introducing a more angular, serious and attractive body style. What it also did was kill the hatchback version of the STI and WRX but I won’t continue the debate here. Since then, the STI has changed little on the outside save for available new 19” wheels and revised front fascia. However insignificant the updates seem, the car looks bonkers, especially in Pure Red, my new favorite shade.
The interior gets upgrades as well in the form of a modernized dash, new soft-touch materials and multifunction display. The highlights are the available Recaro seats that look and feel right at home in this car. Subaru’s gone and attempted to refine the WRX STI somewhat but this is still an STI.
The defining argument in favor of any car in this segment is that they can all double as daily family cars. The Focus RS is fairly tight indoors and the Golf R and Civic Type R both have roomy cabins and trunks. As the only sedan, the Impreza remains spacious, for people and items likewise.
The trunk is deep enough for most strollers and will swallow up the average Costco trip purchases. The rear bench is comfortable and up front, the Recaro are good but short on lumbar support. This may be the first time in 20 years that I’m not enthralled with Recaro seats. Maybe it’s the crappy summer we’re having…
All cars in from this gang start around $40k, save for one, the near $50k Focus RS. The “real” STI goes for $41,795 in Sport trim because spoiler and wheels. Sadly, the Recaros are part of the Sport-Tech package which for $46,595, doesn’t seem like a very good deal if you’re like me and don’t care for the Harman Kardon, 7” infotainment system with navigation and push-button start. I can always get the Sport and purchase a pair of Recaro Sportster CS seats for $3,500.
In an odd twist, the Golf R with the Technology package retails for $42,640. You don’t get Recaro seats but the standard ones are very good. You don’t get a ginormous spoiler out back either but the R is a hatchback…
Subaru’s STI uses the time-honored tradition of the turbocharged flat-4-cylinder engine. Back for 2018 and likely for the last time (2019 might be the absolute final year) is the 2.5-litre which produces 305 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 290 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm.
Unlike the competition that calls upon twin-scroll turbochargers or other types of wizardry; the single scroll booster here suffers from lag and the powerband is narrow unlike the Type R’s or Golf R’. At full boost, the car shoots forward but managing revs and expectations are important. Occasionally, short-shifting can work to make the best of dropping torque and rising horsepower. As a side note, the WRX’ 2.0-litre is far more user-friendly with a broader torque curve.
The 6-speed manual gearbox is one of the tightest in the business and it is exceptionally rewarding to row. The clutch isn’t too heavy but requires some work. Unlike previous generation WRX and WRX STIs, the engine-speed-sensitive, quick-ratio hydraulic power-assisted rack and pinion steering is direct and responsive with just enough feel to keep the driver in the loop. The big vented Brembo brakes at all four corners are excellent allies in the STI’s drive to go fast.
The STI is not as forgiving or refined as the Golf R and as such the driver must remain concentrated. One way or another, the STI needs to be worked at. A good clean launch on dry pavement is difficult to achieve and once under way, the rev limiter is at your throat quickly. Clean shifts keep the car moving fast and hitting the 100 km/h mark in just under 5 seconds.
On the street, it is nearly impossible to feel what the Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system is up to. The Multi-Mode Driver Control Center Differential (DCCD) provides many driver-selectable differential locking settings for the center differential. Meanwhile the helical limited-slip front differential and limited-slip rear TORSEN differential split torque 41:59 under normal driving conditions. Despite this split, the STI has a greater tendency to understeer when being pushed but when well managed, works with you and not against. I’ve not tracked an STI since 2014 and have never had the pleasure of winter driving it; on the latter point, much would be further revealed.
The inverted KYB strut suspension are STI tuned for performance and hard driving. They are still suitable for street use however rougher roads upset the chassis’ serenity. For 2018, this type of punishment is no longer necessary in order to get excellent handling characteristics. I appreciate the work it does but passengers may not be happy after a short while.
Damn, I love this car. It’s old-school, like me, rough around the edges but incredibly efficient when it comes to going fast. Its methods might be from the past but the results are still of the times. The next STI will be golden just no longer olden.