Published on July 19th, 2017 | by Seán Ward0
The WRX STI Feels With You, Wherever You Go
10 years ago there was something of a battle raging between Mitsubishi with the Evo and Subaru with the Impreza. With every generation came a little bit more performance, until one day, completely without warning, both cars were dropped.
Well a couple of years ago the top bods at Subaru decided they missed building a 4WD super-saloon. They wanted to do something special again, and so they created this, the WRX STI.
Firstly, as you may have spotted, Subaru has dropped the Impreza name, and that makes life quite difficult. Many people, even those without an interest in cars, recognise the name ‘Impreza’, so to throw it away and sideline so many years of incredible rally heritage in the process seems quite foolish.
Asked what I was driving at the moment I’d say “Subaru WRX STI”. “What’s that?” I’d hear, almost every single time. “It’s the Impreza, but you just can’t call it that anymore,” I’d reply.
Let’s put aside the name issue for now, though, as it is what it is. Instead, let’s all just take a moment to applaud Subaru for building this car at all.
Fast cars have moved on a lot in the last few years, particularly hot hatches; a hot hatch from the old Evo-Impreza era would probably have had between 200-250bhp, giving the fast Japanese saloons their own distinct market, but today hot hatchbacks are almost always hovering around the 300bhp mark and four-wheel drive is pretty common. The competition is stronger than ever, then, so what do you get with the WRX STI?
It has a turbocharged 2.5 litre, four-cylinder boxer engine with 300bhp at 6,000rpm and 300lb/ft of torque at 4,200rpm. 0-62mph takes 5.2 seconds and the top speed is 159mph, and Subaru claim 27mpg on the combined cycle.
It’s a serious engine. It’s louder than the BRZ’s, with much more of a rumble at idle, but a very distinct noise, too. To get the most out of the engine you really need to rev it out beyond 4,000rpm, but it’s quite satisfying feeling the boost build from 3,000rpm onwards, like seeing lightning and dark clouds in the distance and knowing there’s a storm coming. It isn’t intimidating, though, far from it.
The throttle response can be relaxed with a little dial on the centre console that reads Intelligent, Sport and Sport Sharp. Intelligent is the mode for cruising, when you need to stretch the mileage; Sport is the middle ground, giving you enough response to enjoy yourself but not the full beans; Sport Sharp is maximum attack.
Next to the dial you’ll find the diff controls, and the diffs are probably what I find most impressive about the WRX STI. In the middle of the car there’s an electro-mechanical Driver Controlled Central Differential (DCCD for short) which distributes the power between the front and rear axle. As standard it sends 41% of the engine’s torque to the front wheels and 59% to the rear, but it can adjust the torque split depending on the conditions.
If you’d rather take control yourself then there’s the option to manually adjust the torque split, sending more to either the front or the rear, or you can select how quickly you want the Helical front diff or the Torsen rear diff to lock and even lock them off completely. It’s amazing stuff, and it really does make a difference. With every adjustment you can feel a change, you can feel everything working beneath you.
The ride is firm but every imperfection in the road is dealt with quickly and efficiently. There’s very little roll, so you’ve got the confidence to pitch the car into a corner and feel all the differentials work their magic, and the hydraulic steering communicates brilliantly and has a lovely reassuring weight to it. Point to point it feels like one of the most effective cars on sale at the moment because it seems to find grip everywhere come rain or shine.
The WRX STI is fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox. It’s short-shifting, accurate and quite weighty, and the gear ratios themselves are quite short so you find yourself moving up and down through the gears quite often to keep the revs above 4,000rpm.
The brakes are strong, with ventilated Brembo disks all round, four-piston callipers at the front and two piston callipers at the rear. There’s some nice pedal feel, too, so it’s easy to judge how hard the brakes are working.
What about the way it looks? I’m a fan, if I’m honest. It’s not perfect (I can’t help but wish Subaru added another 5% of the WRX Concept’s looks to the WRX STI), but it’s a shape that doesn’t look old or out of place; it’s purposeful and confident. Who doesn’t like a big wing and a bonnet scoop?
I’m less of a fan of the interior. There are four screens dotted around the cabin (one for the nav and infotainment, one displaying your instant MPG, one for the climate control and another between the speedo and tach) which is probably two too many, for example, and there’s some very fake carbon fibre trim on the centre console. The driving position, however, is spot on, visibility is good and the seats are supportive.
It might not be badged an Impreza but it’s very clear to me what this Subaru wants to be. It offers a level of performance that nothing else in its current line-up can compete with, and through every twist and turn, in every condition, it just feels with you.
I really like the WRX STI. Sure, hot hatches are faster than ever, but it’s difficult to drive this car and stop yourself from smiling.