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Driven: Subaru WRX STI Final Edition. Image by Subaru.

Driven: Subaru WRX STI Final Edition
Once upon a time, there lived a be-winged turbocharged rally replica nutter. The end.

   



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Subaru WRX STI Final Edition

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Good points: Final Edition treatment makes the last of the STI Subarus feel sharper, more fun and more special than before

Not so good: There's no ignoring the fact the legendary Scooby's time has been and gone

Key Facts

Model tested: Subaru WRX STI Final Edition
Price: 33,995
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged 'boxer' petrol
Transmission: symmetrical all-wheel drive, six-speed manual
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:

Think of your favourite book, TV show or film from your childhood. No, I'm not talking about something that's five laminated-cardboard pages long, filled with a smattering of monosyllabic words and bright, primary colour pictures, and capable of surviving repeated dunking in a Matey bubble bath. I'm talking more about that pre-Harry Potter children's novel you adored. A TV show that was your be-all and end-all when you were about nine (confession time: for me, it was Mysterious Cities of Gold and grief, that ages me...). A film that you could watch again and again and again and again, until the VHS (yes... VHS) it was stored on began to fray and wear thin.

And now think about reading that book today, as a mature and responsible adult. Or watching that film once more, now remastered and transferred to DTS 7.1 sound with 4K pin-sharp picture quality. Or settling down to a Mysterious Cities of Gold marathon (please, don't tempt me). It's not the same, is it? You accept that the story's time has passed. That the tale has been superseded by newer, better things. That the book/show/film is entrenched in a rose-tinted, bygone era.

So here we have the Subaru WRX STI Final Edition. The epitaph for the STI dynasty, the culmination of nearly a quarter of a century of fast Imprezas (come on, we all know it's an Impreza, deep down), the full stop on an epic narrative crammed chock-full of boxer-four burbling, symmetrical all-wheel drive, supercar-slaying cross-country pace, blue paint, gold alloys, bonnet scoops, big spoilers, '555' livery, thoroughly cool WRC heritage, sliding through dark and foreboding forests at night and no less a pair of luminaries than the much-missed, late greats of Colin McRae and Richard Burns.

Despite all this, time has finally been called on the rally-rep veteran. Emissions regulations have killed off a 2.5-litre petrol four that churns out a whopping 252g/km and can return no better than 27.2mpg combined. Well, emissions regulations, and also the advent of the sort of polished, urbane competitors that could only come from Europe, which have put paid to the WRX STI in crucial areas, other than what nasties are emitted from its quad tailpipes. Four-wheel-drive mega-hatches, affordable rear-wheel-drive coupes with 370hp, front-wheel-drive turbocharged nutters with five doors and 169mph capability (you know who you are, Honda Civic Type R). Where once upon a time the Impreza WRX STI punched way above its weight, today the Japanese saloon has - painfully - been swamped and then outmanoeuvred by younger, cleverer, nimbler and faster opposition. It simply hasn't moved on enough in more than two decades' worth of development.

Subaru, though, has been quite canny about its icon's sign-off. Calling this run of 150 special WRX STI models the 'Final Edition' leaves no one in any doubt as to its place in the fabled canon of Scoobies. In one fell swoop, the company has secured guaranteed collectability status for the Final Ed and possibly also even the potential for an increase in its second-hand value, rather than the usual plummeting depreciation.

Ostensibly, you don't get a lot for an extra five grand - FIVE! - on the standard Subaru WRX STI's price, an example of which I drove three years ago... and, let's be fair, I was not impressed. Hard-riding, lacking for aural drama, cheap-feeling on the inside and not that quick across ground, the WRX STI - even then - felt like it was merely seeing out its post-adventuring days in peace, rather than trying to rekindle its youth.

So, can some 'Final Edition' graphics, larger 19-inch wheels, bigger Brembo brakes with yellow callipers, sundry detail changes to the front-end visuals (the grille and lower splitter, mainly), a fully-electronic Driver's Control Centre Differential (DCCD), a wider bonnet scoop, high-gloss black inserts inside, red stitching and seatbelts, DAB radio (really, Subaru? REALLY?), projector LED headlights with a turning function and High-Beam Assist, and a 5.9-inch colour display on top of the dash truly transform the so-so WRX STI? Can the Final Edition genuinely remind us all of what we'll be missing once the winged wonder has gone for good and therefore have us marching on the Subaru HQ en masse, waving pitchforks, flaming torches and placards demanding its immediate reinstatement? Can it? Can it?!

Umm... no. No, it can't. But, by trying to turn this into a cheerful wake celebrating the STI's multitude achievements over the years, rather than maudlin introspection about its passing, you can accept the fact that the Final Edition is a marked, most welcome improvement over the regular WRX STI. Subaru talks about 'minor' adjustments to the damping to compensate for the enlarged 19-inch alloys, but whether it's those items with their wider, grippier rubber, bigger changes to the chassis set-up than Subaru is prepared to admit to, or the tweaked DCCD, the dynamic results are superb.

Back comes some of that fluid, supple feel of the Imprezas of yore. The Final Edition remains more firmly suspended than we'd ideally like - crashing disconsolately about towns and occasionally skipping over larger compressions at speed, when you'd actually prefer it to be hunkering down and pressing all four driven wheels into the tarmac - but you can now crank it up into Sport or Sport+ modes on ropier roads and feel confident in using as much of its 300hp and 407Nm as you dare.

It sounds better, too. Miles better. Much more warbly, with that intoxicating 'bu-bu-ba-bu-bu-ba' from the exhausts at idle and a rasping boxer bark near the redline. Feels far more potent, too, than the now-mediocre on-paper performance stats would suggest. It is, as you would expect of an Impreza/WRX STI, imperious in wet and slimy conditions, making the most of its monster traction and balance to provide almost as much pace with the heavens tipping down as it can muster up in drier, warmer weather. The steering is ludicrously heavy and a touch imprecise just off-centre, but it's faithful and informative when you need it to be. Same for the gearbox, which has a heavy-duty action and solid engagement of each ratio - and we absolutely adore the brake pedal positioning/modulation and the sharpness of the throttle response, which elevates heel-and-toe in the Final Edition into a fine art.

Brilliantly, the WRX STI never lets you forget you're in something special and it feels unlike anything else on the market right now. So it has character. It undoubtedly has charm. But it's a long, long way from flawless, or mesmerising. Its chassis doesn't seem to have a lot of poise, either in the wet or dry, as understeer dominates most fast-road proceedings. You need to be fairly brutal with it on turn-in and corner exit, and have the DCCD set to the rear, to get the back end of the Subaru active. It remains utterly hopeless on fuel, turning in a 23.1mpg average across 160-odd miles, with a feeble best of 27.6mpg only achieved by religiously holding an indicated 56mph for great stretches of a SPECs-enforced A-road. And, while the interior looks and feels higher quality than it ever has before, it is still leagues off the prevailing standards of sub-50k performance cars in 2018. All this, and I've not even got to the 'love 'em or hate 'em' looks... I happen to love 'em, by the way, but even the STI's most ardent fan would surely accept that the Subaru is aesthetically uncompromising and hardly what you'd call beautiful. And 34,000 is... well, it's a lot, isn't it? A heck of a lot, for a car that is defiantly ascending the steps to the gallows.

Which brings us to the denouement of this particular yarn. The WRX STI, and indeed the entire fast Impreza lineage that went before it, is like The Princess Bride. You still love it. It will always, always hold a very special place in your heart. But you really don't want a sequel (or, god forbid, a reboot) to be made and, in the deepest recesses of your soul, you quietly admit to yourself that there are far better fantasy adventure flicks/four-wheel-drive affordable performance cars from the current era that mean you can't even legitimately argue the sentimental case for your personal favourite any longer.

Which is not to totally denounce the WRX STI Final Edition. It's a great car; one of the best WRX STIs for many a year. It's not, however, the greatest machine to ever wear the fabled pink badge - your WR1, your 22B, your Spec C, your CS400 or your P1 will all lay far stronger claims to that signal accolade - but, as a fitting happily ever after for a heart-warming story, about which you're both beatific and sanguine as you close the final page and put the book down one last time, it's pretty much spot-bloody-well-on.

Fare thee well, old warrior - it has been a genuine honour to have lived during your glittering era of dominance.

Alternatives:

Audi RS 3 Saloon: Massively improved by the facelift that also brought in the 400hp motor. Chassis refinement and monster pace of this German embarrasses the WRX STI Final Edition.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 45: An expensive and rather unusual performance machine, the 381hp CLA 45 is also far from perfect, but it is thrilling and in another galaxy to the Subaru for interior finishing.

Volkswagen Golf R Estate: This is a tremendous modern-day all-wheel-drive performance machine with damping that is nothing short of exquisite. It'll cost you about the same as the Scooby, too.


Matt Robinson - 4 Apr 2018



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2017 Subaru WRX STI Final Edition. Image by Subaru.  







 

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