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Driven: Subaru WRX STI. Image by Subaru.

Driven: Subaru WRX STI
Can Subaru's performance icon still cut it in 2015?

   



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Subaru WRX STI

3 3 3 3 3

Good points: still quick, loads of grip, still reasonably good value...

Not so good: ...but not value enough; German rivals do this so much better for not much more outlay.

Key Facts

Model tested: Subaru WRX STI
Pricing: from 28,995
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged 'boxer' petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, all-wheel drive
Body style: four-door saloon
CO2 emissions: 242g/km
Combined economy: 27.2mpg
Top speed: 159mph
0-62mph: 5.2 seconds
Power: 300hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 407Nm from 4,200rpm

Our view:

If you read our initial road test of the WRX STI - or any first drive report, for that matter - an overriding sentiment was evident amongst the critics of Subaru's performance flagship: its time has finally come to an end. We decided to spend a week with one to see if this was the case, because we were really hoping against all hope that it wasn't true.

Despite the fact the 'Impreza' badge has long since gone, the WRX STI recipe stays the same for 2015. Stick a horizontally opposed 'boxer' petrol up front, turbocharge it and send drive to all four wheels. Equip with a silly giant spoiler at the back, preferably paint it blue (gold alloys optional, de rigueur if you were old enough to drive in the nineties) and then sell it a lot cheaper than anything else in its class. Job done - you rake in sales from petrolheads who can't afford new RS Audis or M Power BMWs, yet who desire similar levels of performance.

Thing is, in the 1990s and early 2000s, there wasn't anything else that did this sort of cut-price package aside from the Impreza's age-old rival, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. But with the Mitsubishi gone to the great rally replicas' hall in the sky, the threat nowadays comes from a familiar group of manufacturers: the Germans. Three of the four sub-Porsche premium marques do all-wheel drive, 300hp+ motors for around 30,000. BMW, for example, offers the rear-drive M135i and M235i models. That's a lot of competition packing some pretty stiff badge cred that the Subaru has to overcome.

There are plenty of good things to note about the 2015MY version, however. It looks better than most of its predecessors for a start, as no Impreza/STI has ever been what you'd call handsome. Sharper exterior styling won't appeal to WRX STI diehards, though, while that colossal rear wing won't appeal to the general buying populace. Even by Subaru standards, it's pretty OTT and it hardly says 'cultured' in the way a Volkswagen Golf R does. People will still have certain preconceptions about drivers of the 2015 WRX STI.

The engine remains a strong unit, although it does strangely need revving to get the most of it, despite its turbocharger. That's because peak torque doesn't arrive until a fairly lofty 4,200rpm, but if you do have the WRX STI on song and in the right gear, it's plenty quick enough for modern-day needs, with the all-wheel drive chassis providing that classic drive out of corners that can embarrass most other cars on the road. The gearchange is hefty and feels satisfyingly mechanical, while the steering is accurate and - compared to rival set-ups - full of feel, if not as good as Impreza racks that have gone before. The brakes are strong and there's plenty of space inside for four adults, with a surprisingly useable boot thrown in for good measure.

Sadly, some crucial areas have either not improved at all or actually got worse. There's no 'boxer burble' inside the car when you're pressing on; bystanders did affirm that it sounds good from outside, but for the WRX STI's occupants it just sounds anodyne. The interior remains a country mile short of class standards, too. Sure, the seats are good and the driving position excellent, but the tactility and aesthetics of the whole dashboard would make a Volkswagen Group engineer guffaw. There are also some idiotic ergonomics too, such as the shiny plastic in front of the central display screen reflecting a distracting blue glow up into the centre of the windscreen at night.

But perhaps the biggest crime of all is the suspension. Imprezas always used to be famed for their bizarrely comfortable rides, a trait that meant that when they were on a bumpy British back road, they could annihilate pretty much anything in sight - because they had more wheel travel to keep their contact patches in touch with the road surface at all times. That allowed the driver to exploit the AWD chassis' fabled reserves of grip and get a proper move on. Yet driving along the sort of lanes that used to be the WRX STI's preferred stomping ground the new car feels anxious and jittery, bouncing and skipping over minor crests and imperfections and never truly settling into a rhythm. It's basically way too stiff, which has robbed it of all the compliance that made it such a great B-road performance tool; the fact that we could go quicker down our five-mile 'test route' lane in a 184hp Skoda Octavia Scout really does say it all.

There's a final nail in the STI's coffin, which are its elevated running costs. In an era when having performance no longer means sacrificing economy, 242g/km CO2 and 27.2mpg combined are shockingly bad figures. It means the Subaru is in Band L for VED, so 860 year one and 485 annually after that, when the three rivals we list below can all get below 165g/km (Band G, 180) and return around 40mpg. And while we enjoyed the 2.5-litre engine's power on a couple of occasions, during our time with the WRX STI we didn't actually drive it that hard... and we struggled to achieve 21mpg. That's pretty tragic.

It really does pain us to say it, but the WRX STI's time feels like it has been and gone. It is no longer a unique proposition in the AWD affordable performance car marketplace and the Germans just do cabin quality so much better than Subaru. It has also lost its links to motorsport (neither the Impreza nor WRX STI have been rallying for years) and it hasn't really moved on significantly from, say, a good Impreza RB5; in actual fact, in terms of its point-to-point pace on a rough road, we'd go for the older Scooby and save tens of thousands of pounds in the process. We're fans of the WRX STI and in some ways we're glad Subaru is persevering with it, but there are much better cars out there now that you should buy instead of this relic of a bygone age. This is very, very sad news indeed.

Alternatives:

Audi S3 Saloon: see Golf R, only with an even more upmarket image and interior, plus it looks fantastic as a saloon. Not as engaging to drive as the Volkswagen, but still way better than the WRX STI.

Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG: dramatic looks, a monster engine and stunning all-weather capabilities, if a little numb at the dynamic extremes. Costs a lot more than the Subaru; probably worth the premium, though.

Volkswagen Golf R: the benchmark now in this class. Yes, it's more expensive than the Subaru but it looks more restrained and classy, the interior is from another galaxy in terms of quality and it's even a better drive. Golf beats WRX STI for driving fun - who'd have thought that?


Matt Robinson - 22 Mar 2015



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2015 Subaru WRX STI. Image by Subaru.2015 Subaru WRX STI. Image by Subaru.2015 Subaru WRX STI. Image by Subaru.2015 Subaru WRX STI. Image by Subaru.2015 Subaru WRX STI. Image by Subaru.

2015 Subaru WRX STI. Image by Subaru.2015 Subaru WRX STI. Image by Subaru.   


2015 Subaru WRX STI. Image by Subaru.
 

2015 Subaru WRX STI. Image by Subaru.
 

2015 Subaru WRX STI. Image by Subaru.
 

2015 Subaru WRX STI. Image by Subaru.
 

2015 Subaru WRX STI. Image by Subaru.
 

2015 Subaru WRX STI. Image by Subaru.
 

2015 Subaru WRX STI. Image by Subaru.
 






 

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