From £29,6407
This may not be the most refined or practical super-saloon on sale, but we doubt fans of the STI will care

Our Verdict

Subaru WRX STI

The STI is back, but is it a match for Europe's best hot hatches?

Nic Cackett
9 April 2014

What is it?

Hopefully still something to get excited about. Subaru’s WRX STI may have fallen far from the heady favour of its halcyon days – when an RB5 driver could expect to garner the nodding appreciation of passers-by – but the last model showed that there was still life in the old badge provided you took the time to see past its myriad faults. 

The latest model – more a significant update than a completely new car – is intended to patch up the worst of the problem areas. Improved stiffness and agility appear to have been at the top of Subaru’s list, with a higher percentage of ultra-high-tensile steel used in the body and a quicker ratio added to the still hydraulic steering system. 

The suspension remains by MacPherson struts at the front and double wishbones at the rear, although both have undergone minor surgery with cross members, subframes, anti-roll bars and bushings swapped out for strengthened, thickened or stiffer alternatives.

Up front, the same trademarked, turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder boxer engine as before is reused, although it hunkers down under a larger intercooler now and gains a modified ECU for better throttle response. Power remains unchanged at 296bhp, and there’s still plenty of CO2 (242g/km) falling out of the exhaust despite the engine's new Euro 6 compliance. 

The six-speed manual gearbox has had its action revised, but otherwise the symmetrical all-wheel drive set-up – with its mechanical limited-slip centre differential – is untouched. Arguably the most notable alteration is saved for the price. With the currency markets at last working in Subaru’s favour again, the manufacturer can claim a £4k cut over the previous STI, leaving the saloon handily shy of the £30k mark at £28,995. 

What's it like?

Better looking now, which is a decent start considering the motley front end collection that makes up the car's forbears. All the usual STI protuberances apply, including a colossal spoiler that’ll be standard in the UK. Tugging the A pillar forward by 200mm hasn’t hurt the profile, although it’s the new nose – part early Impreza, part Lancer Evolution IX – that makes the model in the flesh. 

The interior has also been lifted from its previous ignominy, but only just. On the cheap plastic accreditation scale it has moved up one wrung, but the problem is that while it has been reclad in soft-touch trim and glossy carbonfibre veneer, the elderly architecture beneath it is mostly unaltered and it’s leagues behind the decidedly upmarket competition. 

Cranking the Boxer into life hardly helps. Refinement remains an issue; that you may occasionally wish to be isolated from the whining induction noise is obviously still a novel concept at Subaru. The engine is its same old self, however, and despite Subaru’s claims to the contrary, it leaves the STI feeling like a car in search of its optimum power and pace. 

The figures – 296bhp and 5.2 seconds to 62mph – may suggest otherwise, but the Boxer feels a full generation and at least a furlong behind the latest Volkswagen Golf R. Placing twice the responsiveness under the first quarter of accelerator pedal travel (as has been enacted by the new ECU) hasn’t alleviated the central issue either, making the STI, particularly in Sport Sharp mode, seem overly climactic. This car often scampers forward when a saunter would do.

It’s around the smaller steering wheel where most of the alterations immediately tell. There’s no muddiness at the straight ahead and the new quickness means minor adjustments are constant. Requiring you to steer straight makes for a meticulous brand of alertness not found in rivals’ electrically assisted systems, and while the linearity of response is called into question when more than a quarter lock is required, the daintiness of the rack between between fast, flowing bends is striking. 

The previous STI would have grumbled at the prospect of taking orders from such a speeded-up helm, but a 40 per cent improvement in torsional rigidity and significantly higher springs rates pay obvious dividends. Body roll is far better managed than previously, allowing you to lean even more emphatically on the naturally high lateral grip and apply more power that bit quicker. On turn-in it’ll still labour into understeer with too much effort and input on the sensitive throttle and steering wheel, but get it right and the STI exhibits an aggressive and immediate all-corner balance. 

All of this, in typical style, is best enjoyed at nine-tenths, where the car’s obviously mechanical character rewards a specifically gung-ho driving style. Subaru talks of having maximised rear wheel grip to help the front pivot, but the centre differential will still let you merrily drive through this state if you wish, making the STI’s back end interactive in a way that none of the competition deign to rival. With track space and a sufficiently big send, four-wheel drifts are still very much in the party bag.

What’s not in there – still – are the impeccable manners exhibited elsewhere by the opposition at this level. Subaru may have removed some of the notches from the manual gearbox, but this is still a grouchy and rather tinny car to drive modestly. It's expensive, too, given the lowly 27.2mpg combined extracted from the best possible conditions. The after-effects of all the added stiffness make for an old-fashioned and determinedly firm ride, too – not blithely uncomfortable, but forever bubbling on what feels like the initial 10 percent of its suspension travel.

Should I buy one?

Only if you know what you’re getting yourself into. The STI almost never made it to the UK, reportedly owing to nervousness in Japan that if it suddenly started selling in the volumes of yesteryear, it would put the firm’s entire CO2 emissions balance sheet out of whack.

They needn’t have worried. The industry has moved smoothly beyond the STI’s abrasive way of doing things and, even with the handsome reduction in price, it’ll require a certain type of buyer not to spend a little more on the latest crop of quicker and cheaper to run German alternatives. 

Still, in the right hands the anachronistic appeal of the car is unmistakable. The hydraulic steering, mechanical diff, manual gearbox, unpolished ride and even the laboured Boxer hammer at the age-old enthusiast buttons with glee. The STI is, as it ever was, a gruff machine to thrash from pillar to post, and that it’s no longer among the best or the brightest will hardly be news to its fans. 

Subaru WRX STI

Price £28,995; 0-62mph 5.2sec; Top speed 159mph; Economy 27.2mpg; CO2 242g/km; Kerb weight 1534kg; Engine 4 cyls horizontally opposed, 2457cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 296bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 300lb ft at 4200rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual

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Comments
5

9 April 2014
The front's better than before but the back is still hideous. Subarus used to look nice, what happened? I think the running costs are what will put most people off, who wants to spend almost £500 per year taxing an ugly, cheap feeling saloon?


9 April 2014
Bomb, i cant see the road tax putting off anyone who otherwise would buy one. If it were band K instead of L it would save approx £200 a year. Compared to what you will spend on fuel, insurance, servicing etc, and the big one, depreciation, an extra grand every 5 years is pretty much irrelevant.

.

10 April 2014
artill wrote:

Bomb, i cant see the road tax putting off anyone who otherwise would buy one. If it were band K instead of L it would save approx £200 a year. Compared to what you will spend on fuel, insurance, servicing etc, and the big one, depreciation, an extra grand every 5 years is pretty much irrelevant.

.

I take your point, if someone wants one badly enough they'll pay it. But most folk don't think like that which is why the arse has fallen out of the used market for cars with high annual VED rates. People don't want to stump up 500 notes each year.


10 April 2014
The interior is world of difference from say like 10 years ago, but everything has moved on quite a bit since then. Id assume this would be bought by those rekindling the fun they did have 10 years ago. Otherwise there's a whole host of cars that have more appeal.

10 April 2014
Kind of like comparing an E46M3 with an M235i,good in it's day,but being surpassed by the new breed of coupe,same could be applied to the Subaru,yes, it has it cult following,but it's not all that nowadays.

Peter Cavellini.

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