Let’s face it. The only reason anyone above the age of 20 these days know about the Subaru brand is because at some point in their lives, a loud, sometimes irritably noisy WRX STI of yesteryear whizzes past them.
Everything about the STI, up till today, is loud. From the flared wheel arches and body panels to the golden rims, the exhaust note and the large
picnic table rear spoiler; they are made specifically to be noticed.
|Name||Subaru WRX||Subaru WRX STI|
1,998cc; turbocharged flat-4, Direct injection, DOHC
|2,457cc; turbocharged flat-4, port injection, DOHC|
|Transmission||Lineartronic CVT||6-speed manual|
|Max Power||264 hp @ 5,600 rpm||296 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|Max Torque||350 Nm @ 2,400 rpm||407 Nm @ 4,000 rpm|
|0 – 100 km/h; Top Speed||6.3 seconds; 240 km/h||5.2 seconds; 255 km/h|
|Price (OTR with insurance)||RM235,227.00 (with GST)||RM276,042.90 (with GST)|
The WRX STI is not a car for everyone and anyone to have, hence why you don’t see all that many on our roads. Cars in the past decade or two have advanced so much that it’s forcing carmakers such as Subaru themselves to evolve, to make cars that can be driven by anyone other than hardcore stick shifting, heel-and-toeing enthusiasts.
And because technology in cars have made so much progress, it’s gradually chipping off the real driving purists as the days go by. Take Mitsubishi for example, and how they’ve moved from making Subie-rivalling Lancer Evolutions to the family oriented and fuel sipping cars we see today. That’s right, Mitsubishi has already shelved all plans of continuing the Evo breed, so that’s the end of that chapter.
Cars aren’t dying, no. They are thriving because of the world’s volume-driven marketplace. So why should we bother making niche products like the WRX STI when the unforgiving world of consumerism has moved to idolising the likes of Volkswagen Rs and Mercedes AMGs? Don’t get me wrong, they are both absolutely fantastic products in their own rights, but that’s another story altogether.
So again, why bother, right? Let’s put things into perspective. Comparatively, on paper, the Golf R is dwarfed when put next to the WRX STI. But because the former comes with all the niceties and daily driving conveniences Volkswagen has to offer, plus the fact that it’s priced only about RM7,000 more than the STI and comes with a lightning quick dual clutch gearbox as opposed to the Japanese’s six-speed manual, it somehow is the more sensible buy.
It’s almost as if the WRX STI is in the midst of an existential crisis, like it exists only because it can, not because it should. That said, is there really no light at the end of the tunnel for this rally thoroughbred? We’ll find out in just a bit.
This time around, the WRX STI is only available in a four-door sedan form and the reason for not conceiving a hatchback is because they lacked solid development resources. With that, they channelled all their focus to producing a new model worthy of succeeding and continuing the WRX STI nameplate. And boy have they done so.
At its world premiere, it was obvious that the WRX STI didn’t stray too far off from its concept. In classic STI style, the front bumper gets an aggressive squared styling, this time featuring more chiselled lines than before. Then there’s the gaping hexagonal grille housing the Subaru and STI badges, lower intake and hood scoop. A functional hood scoop, mind you.
Illumination source is through a pair of LED projector headlamps and fog lamps, while the C-shaped DRL strip is simply the LED positioning lamps. Underneath the enlarged fenders, you’ll find a set of 18-inch wheels wrapped with 245/40 series Dunlop Sport Maxx tyres. That makes for terrible road noise, but they provide insane amount of grip.
Towards the back, there’s that familiar look of the Version 10 sedan’s, but there’s no mistaking this for what it is. You get LED combination tail lamps, WRX STI’s signature rear wing, shark fine antenna, more badges, a trim exclusive rear bumper with diffusers and quad tail pipes. In terms of improvements, the exterior is a major leap forwards. That, we dig. A lot.
Step inside and you’ll be quick to realise how quickly the cabin ages. Subaru could have at least given the dashboard (and the air cond vents for that matter) a little bit more styling finesse. I mean, when the outside looks that good, why not spend that bit more time crafting the interior?
Naysayers will argue that real driving enthusiasts care less about form and more about function. But truth is, if I were to dump some odd RM280k on a car that I would appreciate driving more than just staring at it parked at a random valet lot, I’d prefer having a nicer cabin. Let’s not even get started talking about the materials used and build quality.
On the lighter scale of things, the interior is more spacious and expensive-looking than before, and you also get a nice leather mixed Alcantara seats. The leather wrapped flat-bottomed steering wheel may look like there’s a lot going on, but the switches are quick to get used to. It turns quicker (meaning more responsive) than the WRX too, requiring just 2.5 turns lock-to-lock compared to 2.8.
There’s a lot of faux carbon fibre inserts round the cabin, but that does nothing more than keeping you right in the zone. An additional 25mm growth in wheelbase directly translates to better rear legroom space. Favouring the sedan form means swinging practicality right back to the STI, and this is where you get to brag about having a sports car with 460 litres of boot space. If that wasn’t enough, the seats do fold completely flat, so haul away.
Other user convenience features include dual-zone auto air conditioning, push-start button, passive cruise control, reverse camera and a 4.3-inch coloured multifunction display built atop the dashboard. This screen is navigated via a 4-way rocker switch between the centre air vents and displays turbo boost, drivetrain operation, fuel consumption, air-cond temp and time.
Pop the hood and long-time Subie fans will instantly recognise the horizontally-opposed block. Instead of chucking in a brand new mill, Subaru chose to carry over the same turbocharged 2.5-litre flat-four engine. Hey, if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it, right? Now here is where the debate heats up.
The engine, in essence, has nothing new at all save for a very slight bump of 5 horsepower and a brand new ECU. It’s got a compression ratio only people in the 80’s will sing praise of – 8.2:1, and relies on 14.7 psi of boost to draw all its grunt. And that’s not all. There’s no direct injection, meaning you’ll be burning more cash refuelling this thing than changing its tyres after a full day at the track.
That said, it makes 296 hp at 6,000 rpm and 407 Nm of torque at 4,000 rpm, rightfully paired to the close-ratio six-speed manual transmission that sends power to all four wheels through Subaru’s Symmetrical AWD system.
As a result, the car sprints from 0 to 100 km/h in 5.2 seconds, though it could easily do better with aftermarket mods. Nobody leaves their STIs stock after all, right? Top speed is 255 km/h, and the automaker suggests that the STI consumes just 10.4 litres of fuel per 100 km travelled. Yeah.
In contrast, the cheaper WRX runs on a new 2.0-litre FA20F engine that makes just 32 hp less, producing 264 hp at 5,600 rpm and 350 Nm of torque at 2,400 rpm thanks to a turbocharger. This engine is more advanced, having a compression ratio of 10.6:1 and features direct injection. The only downside here is there’s no manual gearbox, so buyers will have to settle for the Lineartronic CVT.
We recently reviewed the Golf R and spewed many wonderful things about how it should be THE fast car to get for the money. Knowing that the WRX STI is next in line, we weren’t sure if it could match up to the prodigious breed that is the R. We expected nothing much, but that mentality simply paved the way for it to tug every heartstring of this writer.
For the most part, this is one STI that obliterates the word understeer with fair ease. It’s more than happy to nail any corners you throw at it and won’t go wide when you floor the throttle immediately after. There’s so much grip – and man, the short-stroke 2.5-litre mill feels most alive from 3,500 rpm. Climb slightly upwards and you will be sold. Never mind the antiquated boxer engine because once you hit 4,000 rpm, your vision blurs and before you know it, the rev limiter calls on you to upshift.
The hydraulically assisted steering wheel is perfectly weighted and reacts instantly to every change of input. Driving position is also pretty darn close to perfection. As much as it is an instrument of hoon, the STI is remarkably forgiving as well. I say that because the STI, even without load, appears to sit very closely to the ground. Drive it however you want over any grade of tarmac; the front bumper will never scrape the road. Ever.
This newfound agility is courtesy of a new chassis and suspension that is much stiffer than before. Add Subaru’s world renowned Symmetrical AWD system into the mix and you’ll realise the wonders that they do in tandem. For starters, the system uses a combination of two centre differentials (electronic and mechanical, mated to a third planetary gear-type diff) that defaults to a rear-biased 41:59 torque split, but can continuously vary to an even 50:50 split.
Then, a helical-gear at the front axle will split this power to both wheels while an electronically controlled limited-slip differential (Torsen torque-sensing) manages the two rear wheels. Icing the cake is Subaru’s new Active Torque Vectoring software that utilises bias braking to readily send more torque to either the left or the right wheel when cornering. In short, the WRX STI hates understeer. That’s why there’s five differentials at play.
Like the WRX, the WRX STI also comes with SI-Drive, operated via a dial just next to the parking brake. This gives you three driving modes; Intelligent – for the laid back daily drives, Sport – the default mode for sporty drives and Sport Sharp (S#) which grants you the sharpest throttle response regardless of engine speed. To be frank, even in Intelligent mode, the car screams a ton of fun, but Sport mode hits right in the sweet spot.
Notice the +/- rocker switch that says C.Diff? That’s the Driver Controlled Centre Differential (DCCD) with three settings; Auto [+] for increased traction on slippery roads, Auto for daily driving and Auto [-] for quicker steering response. Tip: just leave it in Auto, but when you hit the track, drop it to Auto [-] and you’re good to go.
Sure, it handles great and is nimble around the corners, sprints to 100 km/h two tenths of a second slower than the Golf R (still fast by any measure) and is intoxicatingly fun to drive. But how do the stock brakes perform? Pretty much up to par, really. The 4-pot Brembos at the front and 2-pots at the rear bite rather firmly and are confidence-inspiring. The aluminium pedals are also well spaced, making heel-and-toe downshifts a breezy task.
Unlike most sports cars out there, the WRX STI doesn’t come with adaptive suspension. It’s super stiff, resulting in a very go-karty ride on undulating surfaces (go-karts have no suspension arms, as goes without saying). In spite of all the on-board user customisation features, this is one part you don’t get to tinker with.
IS THIS CAR FOR YOU?
The WRX STI is quite possibly more car than one can handle. Unless you’re a regular at the track or have always been the STI-or-nothing kinda guy, then this may well just be a passing thought. However, we’d strongly recommend giving the WRX a shot. It’s priced lower, you pay less for fuel and road tax; there’s a new direct injected engine and comes with an efficient CVT gearbox. If you’re a Subaru virgin, the WRX is certainly a good place to start.
So is the STI the car for you? At RM276k, options are aplenty – BMW 328i, MINI JCW Cooper S, VW Golf R… you get the point. They are all great cars and are even better daily drivers. Sure, they’ll have the larger piece of the pie. But the STI; it’s the ultimate car for purists to happily drain their full tank of V Power Racing empty, only to repeat the cycle time and again until the next service is due. It’s the perfect machine to go ferociously fast while thumping up the six-speed box; the authentic adrenaline racing through the veins when driving one part of World Rally’s most celebrated cars.
We’ve picked three cars to pit against the STI; Renault Megane, Ford Focus ST and the Golf R, all of which are cars built for speed.
|Subaru WRX STI||Renault Megane RS 260 Sport||Ford Focus ST||Volkswagen Golf R|
|Type||4-cylinder (flat) petrol||4-cylinder petrol||4-cylinder petrol||4-cylinder petrol|
|Type||Hydraulic Power Steering||Electric Power Steering||Electric Power Steering||Electric Power Steering|
|Transmission||6-speed manual||6-speed manual||6-speed manual||6-speed DSG auto|
|Type||Front / Rear||MacPherson strut / Double Wishbones||MacPherson strut / Torsion Beam||MacPherson strut / Multi-link||MacPherson strut / Multi-link|
|Front||Ventilated disc (Brembo 4-pot)||Ventilated disc||Ventilated disc||Ventilated disc|
|Rear||Ventilated disc (Brembo 2-pot)||Solid disc||Ventilated disc||Ventilated disc|
|TYRE & WHEELS|
|Tyres||245/40 R18||235/40 R18||235/40 R18||235/35 R19|
|DIMENSIONS & WEIGHTS|
|Max Kerb weight||kg||1,516||1,374||1,362||1,495|
|Luggage Capacity (VDA)||L||460||344||316||380|
|Tank Capacity||60 litres||60 litres||55 litres||55 litres|
|Consumption||10.4 L/100 km||8.2 L/100 km||7.2 L/100 km||6.9 L/100 km|
|0 – 100km/h||sec||5.2||6.0||6.5||5.0|
|PRICE (without insurance)||RM||271,387.00||199,999.00||203,359.00||293,060.00|
WILL I BUY IT?
By now, you would have realised that the benchmarks I’ve drawn against the STI is of the Golf R’s. To pick either one would have me cracking my head for weeks, if not months, on which is the more rewarding car to have in the long run. My choice was initially very much skewed towards the German after a thoroughly pleasant drive, then came the STI and jumbled it all up in the air. But all things considered, the time for me to give the WRX STI the green light is still to come.
I stand by my case that unless the STI gets the belated powertrain upgrade it deserves, my club swings in favour of the Golf. Mitsubishi, if you’re reading this, we plead of the Lancer Evo’s revival.