STI – three letters that will make any enthusiast’s heart skip a beat. For over 20 years, the acronym, which stands for Subaru Technica International, has been synonymous with high performance, all-wheel-drive motoring. And the car that gave rise to the pedigree is none other than the Subaru WRX STI.
Now in its fourth generation, the new WRX STI has a sharper pricing than before and is easier to understand than ever. The range has been simplified to just two variants and one body shape (the hatchback is no longer offered). The standard model is priced at $49,990, a whopping $10,000 less than the model it replaces. Replacing the Spec R in the previous line-up is the Premium model, with an even bigger price cut of $11,000, bringing pricing down to just $54,990.
Apart from the massive price drop, Subaru has also loaded both models up with a heap of new standard features. Both variants come standard with dusk sensing LED headlights, LED brake lights, daytime running lights (DRL), 18-inch alloy wheels, reverse view camera, hill-start assist (forward and reverse), dual zone climate control, satellite navigation and a banging Harman Kardon sound system with eight speakers and a subwoofer.
The Premium model adds lightweight BBS wheels, electric sunroof, heated front seats and door mirrors, full leather upholstery, eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat and wiper de-icer.
With a focused sports car like the STI, we wouldn’t be bothered paying the premium for the extra equipment. Furthermore, we prefer the Alcantara-leather seats in the standard model, as you don’t slide around that much in them during hard cornering, as compared to full leather items. Plus, in our eyes they look better.
The trademark bonnet scoop and massive rear spoiler continue to define the new-gen STI’s shouty looks, though the latter can now be deleted at no cost for those who prefer to sneak under the radar a little.
Despite not looking anything like the striking WRX Concept (which is a massive disappointment), in the metal, the STI, with its wide wheel fenders, chunky side skirts and beefed up bumpers, is a good looking car with menacing road presence. However, the halogen DRLs in the front bumper look a generation behind and we question Subaru for not using the C shape LED tube in the main headlights as the DRL. But this should be an easy aftermarket fix for those inclined.
Subaru says one of the major improvements in the new WRX STI over the previous model is the interior. Indeed, the new interior is a big step up from the old. Gone is the drab, hard-plastic-clad cabin of the previous model, and in its place a much classier and better built interior, with lots of soft-touch materials on the upper dashboard, centre console and door trims.
The leather-wrapped flat-bottomed steering wheel with red stitching feels like a quality piece and is chunky and nice to hold. Behind it lies a fine set of instrument gauges spaced with a crisp LCD in the middle presenting various driving information.
There is another 3.5-inch colour display stacked above the centre console that shows the trip computer, real-time AWD status and turbo boost meter in fancy graphics.
Red highlights on the sport seats, steering and trim further add to the sporty feeling of the cabin, complemented by red illumination on various controls. The glowing STI logo at the base of the centre console is a nice touch, especially.
The general layout of the dashboard is clean and simple, lifted by carbon fibre-look plastic inserts. However, the ambient is let down by the aftermarket looking 6.1-inch LCD touch screen for the car’s infotainment system, which is also in need of faster processing and larger buttons.
The STI is as practical as the standard Impreza sedan, on which the body is based. The wheelbase is 25mm longer than before, liberating extra legroom for both front and rear occupants, while boot capacity is up 40 litres.
Behind all these snug barriers are the mechanics of Subaru’s renown all-paw drivetrain honed from over two decades of harsh punishment in rally racing. Power comes from a turbocharged 2.5-litre horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine, carried over pretty much unchanged from the previous generation, save for a revised engine mapping for better throttle response and larger intercooler.
Unlike the all-new unit in the regular WRX, which has direct injection and twin-scroll turbocharger, the one in the STI misses out on both. Subaru has conservatively decided to stick with the proven formula for its hero model, much to the delight of aftermarket tuners.
Nevertheless, the 2.5-litre flat four still produces a potent 221kW at 6,000rpm and 407Nm at 4,000rpm (the same as before), shuffled by a strengthen and shorter throw six-speed manual – the only transmission available. Tipping the scale at 1,525kg, the four-door sedan launches to 100km/h from standstill in a blistering 4.9 seconds (claimed).
The STI’s all-wheel-drive system is the only full-time AWD in the segment (other than the ageing Mitsubishi Evo X), with three differentials and a default 41/59 front to rear torque split under normal driving condition.
A myriad of electronics work the AWD system to ensure the STI glues to the road. The Driver-Controllable Center Differential (DCCD) allows front or rear torque bias. In manual mode you can even dial up to 80 percent of the torque to the rear wheels for some tyre-smoking side way action. Subaru’s SI Drive system can vary throttle response through three selectable modes – Intelligent, Sport and Sport#, the former for more fuel efficient driving and the latter for circuit work, while Sport is ideal for spirited hill runs.
The 2015 STI sees the introduction of torque vectoring for sharper turn-in, where the inside front wheel is braked and torque distributed to the outside wheel during hard cornering.
Like the model before it, the new STI has enormous punch from its boxer turbo. Keep the engine boiling above 3,000rpm and the Subie’s trademark shove in the back becomes the after-effect of every stomp on the right pedal, accompanied by that unmistakable boxer rumble under the bonnet. The effects are further amplified by that bassy turbo whoosh from the quad-tip exhaust.
The driver engagement is kicked up a notch when you throw some corners at the Rex. While the rest of the segment have moved on to electric power steering, the STI still makes do with a hydraulic tiller, albeit with a quicker ratio. And appropriately so, because as old school as it is, the STI’s steering is one of the best we have come across. Sharp, consistent and never short of feedback.
The chassis is just as well sorted, with stiffer springs (by a significant 39 percent at the front and 62 percent at the rear) connected to a strengthen sub-frame and stiffer suspension bushings. As a result, the STI sits incredibly flat around the bends, gripping hard on the black top through those brilliant Dunlop SP Sport MAXX RT tyres. Its sure-footedness and cohesion stem from one of the best AWD systems in the business.
Such is its confidence inspiring handling and terrific composure that when you thought you’re about to carry too much speed into a corner, the STI just despatches what have been told, then begs for more. Its sheer pace and precision rival cars costing two or three times more.
Like before, stopping power comes from Brembo brakes all round. They offer plenty of bite, but still feels gradual and smooth for everyday driving.
Subaru aims to broaden the new STI’s appeal to a wider audience. Despite all the stiffening, ride quality is more forgiving than before. You still feel almost every bump and rut on the road but with the edges nicely rounded off. The manual gearbox also feels more refined for daily driving. The sports seats are not Recaros this time but still offer great support and are more comfortable over long journeys.
As a whole, the STI is now more liveable, though it still threads slightly on the rough side compared to its more all-rounded European rivals.
The absent of fuel-saving tech such as idle stop/start and direct injection means the STI trails the competition in fuel economy. With an equal split of city, highway and sporty driving, the STI we tested hovers around 11L/100km, though the brochure reads 10.4L/100km.
But as a package, the latest WRX STI is more accomplished than ever, offering bulletproof performance and improved refinement at a very compelling price, further assured by Subaru’s flawless reliability and modern safety features including seven airbags.
The new Subaru WRX STI has matured into a more complete performance offering, while staying true to its root, engaging the driver through its own unique character.
It’s a car you need to understand to enjoy. And when you do get what it stands for and give it your total involvement, the reward is immense. Its sensational handling and blistering pace make it a real track weapon that is still surprisingly liveable on the road.
And with a new low price of just under $50k, the fourth-gen WRX STI is arguably the best value high performance sedan on sale out there.
|Price (Excl. on-roads):||From $49,990 (Standard model) to $54,990 (Premium model)
As tested: $49,990 (Standard model)
|Warranty:||3-year or 100,000km|
|Servicing:||12,500km or 6 months|
|Engine:||Turbocharged 2.5-litre horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder petrol (AWD)
221kW @ 6,000rpm; 407Nm @ 4,000rpm
|0-100km/h||4.9 seconds (claimed)|
|Fuel Consumption (Combined):||Claimed: 10.4L/100km; Tested: 11.0L/100km|
|Body:||4-door sedan; 5-seat|
|Dimensions:||Length: 4595mm, Width: 1795mm, Height: 1475mm, Wheelbase: 2650mm|