On first encounter, before you even get inside, the WRX STI edition of Subaru’s Impreza is already so impressive. Its muscular look is assured by the bulging fenders, a hood decked with a large air intake, an aerodynamic front bumper skirt, healthy air vents on each side, side skirts, an outrageously overgrown rear spoiler that hulks over the trunk and a rear diffuser.
And that doesn’t even cover all of the visual details present on this version; there are also fluorescent yellow Brembo brake calipers and various stylized red STI badges sprinkled throughout.
All of these elements help convey the message that this here is a true sports car created for true believers in search of strong sensations and performance capabilities.
Note that while an all-new Impreza built on Subaru’s new global architecture platform launched in 2017, the WRX and STI models retain the platform of the preceding generation of the Impreza.
In any event, the real reason folks interested in this kind of thing go out and buy this kind of thing is not so much because of the bling that's visible outside. It has much, much more to do with the car’s performance capabilities and sporty on-road behaviour.
Right from the first few turns of the engine, the mighty rumble of the engine makes the statement that you’re about to hit the road in a truly sporty car. The rumble is so assertive that it feels like you’re making everything in the near-vicinity of the WRX STI shake. It also evolves as you accelerate, and it really feels at times like there’s no limit to the amount of power the engine can deliver.
The seating of the Impreza WRX STI actually offers a commendable level of comfort. The seats offer excellent lateral support and are covered in black ultrasuede leather with red leather inserts. You can adjust them any which way to maximize comfort.
The harmon/kardon audio system is of quality but nothing particularly worth writing home about. In any case the interior sound level is always fairly high. Those choosing the SPORT-TECH version will get the 320-watt harmon/kardon unit and its 9 speakers, which I suspect will be better placed to gain the upper hand against the noises infiltrating the cabin.
Subaru’s new 7-inch touchscreen has been incorporated in the aging dashboard of the WRX STI, and that’s a good thing as it’s well-lit, quick and intuitive to use and gives access to the whole of the infotainment system (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, iPod control interface, two USB ports, etc.). Pairing a smartphone via Bluetooth was quick and painless.
As for that noise level, clearly no one is buying an STI in the hopes that they’ll enjoy a monastically quiet interior; on the contrary, part of the sporty appeal comes from experiencing the engine and its connected components working, on an intimate level. On the other hand, there are limits to this, and the noise level inside the cabin here can get a little excessive and insistent; some might even find it downright unpleasant after a certain time. In this I’m comparing it with other sport compacts, not a Buick LaCrosse.
For performance fans, the centre portion of the dashboard contains a screen that can be configured to your preference, and which incorporates a reading showing the percentage of pressure being driven at and the G forces at play on acceleration.
The beast under the hood
The new WRX STI harbours the traditional high-performance engine from Subaru: a 2.5L horizontally opposed 4-cylinder with 16 valves and a high-pressure turbocharger, delivering 310 hp at 6,000 RPM and 290 lb-ft of torque between 4000 and 5,200 RPM.
The car also features an on-demand multi-mode central differential (DCCD), which manages torque according to need using Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel-drive system. Then there are technologies like the active torque vectoring system and Subaru’s VDC (Vehicle Dynamics Control) working to enhance driving dynamics, plus the improved SI-DRIVE system that helps improve handling.
All of that’s very handy because the drive can get kind of brutal, so sensitive is the accelerator pedal. Power is meted out instantly, and the close-ratio 6-speed manual gearbox is highly competent.
The real challenge is how to drive the WRX STI gently. The balance between the accelerator and the brake pedal is such that the driver needs to focus, and some adjusting of their “normal” driving style is in order so that everything goes smoothly. You can’t precipitate your jump to the next gear up, instead you have to wait for the RPMs to slow, unless you don’t mind getting a little shaken and rattled.
Drivers unused to a sports car like the WRX STI will find it stiff, but its suspension system works well and is actually comfortable for the segment. Both front and rear rows of seats can accommodate even larger adults. The trunk meanwhile is quite large and can easily handle luggage or sports gear.
Really, there are few sedans out there that give drivers the itch to take them out again and again like this one. For the STI, curves are just straightaways under a different name, and the steering is sharp and delivers great feedback to the driver. The intelligent AWD and torque vectoring systems are ever-present.
The Yokohama Advan Sport V105 245/35 R19 89W tires rolling on 19-inch wheels offer strong road grip. The pedals are positioned to make toe-and-heel gear shifting easy, and the powerful Brembo brakes deliver the final ingredient of a recipe that’s sure to satisfy – especially if you have the opportunity to take your WRX STI out onto the track.
There are a few weak points, and they’re ones that should be easy to erase that frankly could have been avoided. When agreeing to a price tag that butts up against $50,000, you would expect to get a few features like a heated steering wheel as standard equipment, for example. No such luck. Also, the commands for the heated seats are very far back on the central console, making them hard to reach (once you actually find them!). It’s a shame as well that the SPORT version has no memory function for the driver’s seat.
Looking for a tame driving experience? The rally-car-inspired Subaru WRX STI is not for you, even if it is perfectly possible to drive it at legal-limit speed. If, on the other hand, you want an engaging, sensation-delivering drive from your ride, say hello to the STI.