The latest sports car to grace our roads is also one of the best in a while. It doesn’t boast an extraordinary power output or a prestigious Italian or German badge. Its engine dates from the late 1980’s and quite a number of small German hatchbacks will run with it in a straight line. It also has four doors.
But the addition of an STI badge has turned the Subaru WRX sports sedan into a road-eating masterpiece, capable of mixing it with exotic cars on a race track yet practical enough to carry a month’s groceries. If the new Subaru WRX is as subtle as a pin-striped suit, the STI wears flashy running shoes, and has its cap on back to front.
Thanks in part to larger alloy wheels and a wide track, but mostly due to the addition of a gigantic boot spoiler, the new STI loudly proclaims its sporting aspirations. Its burbling exhaust note, thanks to the old-school 2.5-litre turbocharged boxer engine, also harks back to the days of uncouth and hard-edged Subaru rally monsters.
Uncouth behaviour is however not part of this car’s repertoire. While the ride quality is certainly on the firm side, it’s well-damped and never uncomfortable. The same applies to the engine: it might sound like STI’s of old, but the soundtrack is not deafening anymore.
The latest WRX received a new-generation, direct injection 2.0-litre boxer engine with 195 kW, but the new STI still uses the same power plant as the old model. Its 221 kW and 407 Nm is potent enough for an official 0-100 km/h dash in 4.9 seconds. The engine’s software has been revised to improve throttle response and fuel economy, but its official average of 10.4 ℓ/100 km is still on the thirsty side.
Transforming the excellent WRX into an STI entails more than just an engine transplant though, for the suspension and steering systems has also been fine-tuned to further improve stability, road grip and steering response. The electric power steering system makes way for an quick-acting hydraulic system, and Subaru’s trademark Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system gains variable centre differential control (DCCD, adjusted by a switch behind the gear lever) and electronic torque vectoring.
The resulting driving experience is eye-widening. While the engine is lusty but somewhat outclassed by those in the latest hyper-hatches, its mid-range torque and AWD system catapults it out of sharp corners with nary a twitch from car or driver. The most impressive bit is however its turn-in and mid-corner balance: The front end bites keenly into a corner and the overall dynamic balance remains neutral.
There are no tail-wagging antics to contend with, and the age-old Subaru bugbear of nose-heavy understeer is also banished. The STI simply turns immediately when instructed, generates massive cornering forces, and goes exactly where it is pointed. It feels light on its feet and eager to respond to driver inputs. Very few compact sports saloons are capable of covering ground as quickly and effortlessly, and with this stability.
The WRX bodyshell deserves lot of the credit for these sterling dynamic attributes, because it provides a stable base for the suspension to work. It is also responsible for a surprisingly spacious cabin and cavernous boot, well-contained noise levels, and a somewhat ordinary interior design.
The Subaru WRX STI is fairly well-equipped, down to a sunroof and electric driver’s seat adjustment, but the material quality doesn’t bear comparison to a less-expensive Audi S3 Sedan. The STI’s cabin is well screwed together and ergonomically sound, but it’s not particularly attractively designed, red flashes in the upholstery notwithstanding.
The electronic boost guage, accessed in the central display screen, redeems the interior somewhat, because it goes well with the road-racer image instilled by the boot spoiler. This function-over-form approach would probably be irrelevant to STI die-hards, who will appreciate this car’s hidden attributes regardless of trim and purchase price.
For most buyers, the normal WRX offers enough performance and a very entertaining driving experience, with a much smaller price tag. But enthusiasts will appreciate the STI’s engaging handling and apparently limitless road grip, especially at a race track. The Subaru STI offers genuine sports car thrills with four-door convenience – so there will be room for your mates to join you at a track day.
R 599 000
2457cc, boxer-4, turbocharged
Six-speed manual gearbox, all-wheel drive
Power and torque
221kW @ 6000 r/min and 407Nm @ 4000 r/min
Acceleration and top speed
0-100km/h in 4.9s and 255km/h
Audi S3 sedan