Subaru WRX STi review
The Subaru WRX STi is back, but can it recapture the popularity the older models enjoyed so much?
For many people the WRX is the epitome of Subaru. Standing for World Rally Experimental - the WRX and its rallying success transformed the Subaru brand from a company famed for workhorse 4x4s loved by farmers to a firm synonymous with performance and handling. However, the market has changed and in recent years and the WRX’s shining light has waned.
However, the car still has a loyal following and is back in the UK after an absence, thanks to a favourable exchange rate with the Japanese Yen.
There’s no escaping the fact that the WRX isn’t for shrinking violets – this is a car that will get you lots of attention. UK models are available with a huge rear wing, while familiar fast Subaru styling cues like the bulging arches and gaping bonnet intake add to the less than subtle look.
With a mismatch of curved and straight lines the Subaru isn’t the best looking of saloons under all the rally inspired decoration, either. However, the biggest turn off for many will be the cabin. While Subaru has fitted new dials, used soft touch materials on the dash and given the WRX carbon effect trim - in terms of layout, design and overall material quality it’s like stepping back ten years - something that’s highlighted even further when you consider the Audi S3’s first-class cabin. At least the chunky air conditioning buttons are easy to use and the three-spoke leather sports wheel is nice to hold.
The saloon body may be new but under the skin the ingredients are very similar. You’ll find the same 2.5-litre boxer turbo engine as the previous car, delivering an identical 296bhp as the old car through a six-speed manual gearbox and symmetrical all-wheel drive system. As you’d expect there’s the same offbeat burble soundtrack and as before, it doesn’t feel quick below 3,000rpm.
Only once you’re heading towards peak torque at 4,000rpm does the Subaru start to come alive. It then gets pretty frenetic and strained up to the redline. This contrasts sharply with the punchy and smooth nature of models like the Audi S3. The Subaru makes more of a drama about its performance but the relaxed S3 just has the edge when it comes to outright acceleration.
Other WRX traits are also unchanged. You get the same tight and notchy gearshift, springy clutch and stiff brake pedal - all of which WRX fans will argue are a feature of its unique nature, although anyone new to a Subaru will take a while to get used to its quirky set-up.
It’s a similar story when it comes to the handling. The steering initially has the unnerving combination of being very fast and pretty light, however once you get used to it, the speed of the turn-in adds to the agility of the WRX.
With a chassis that’s stiffer than before, plus revised spring and damper rates, there’s even more grip on offer. Frankly, at road speeds you’re unlikely to reach the limit of adhesion. Even at the test track the WRX is reassuringly stuck to the tarmac, while the all-wheel drive set up means traction is superb out of tight bends - allowing you to stand on the throttle and punch onto the next straight.
It’s this no-holds-barred approach to delivering grip and taut reactions that WRX fans love but as ever there’s a compromise. The Subaru is clunky to drive at low-speed, while the firm ride and lack of low-down torque means it’s never as relaxing or effortless as the S3 or a VW Golf R. With a bit of tyre roar and more wind noise than the Audi, refinement isn’t great on the motorway, either.
Subarus have always had a reputation for being robust, solidly engineered and tough. With such a large carry over of components and proven running gear, the latest WRX shouldn’t throw up reliability surprises. Subaru ranked 16th in our 2014 Driver Power satisfaction survey.
When it comes to safety the WRX comes with side, curtain and a knee airbag, plus Isofix, rear child locks and a full complement of rear seatbelts and headrests. Hill hold and stability control are standard. You also get a Thatcham approved alarm and immobilizer.
It’s not as versatile as a hatch but the new WRX scores well here. The wheelbase has grown by 25mm, which helps rear passenger space - a pair of adults can sit comfortably in the back, although the big transmision tunnel limits use of the middle chair.
The 460-litre boot is 70 litres up on the Audi S3 and the rear seats fold flat 60/40 to give you a 1.76m load length. There’s 520mm of height from boot lid to load floor, too.
Up front, visibility is better than the old car and the driving position is roomy enough. However, the WRX doesn’t have too much stowage space and there’s no option of parking sensors.
If you’re going to own and run a WRX then you’ll need to stomach some pretty hefty running costs. For starters, if you choose one as a company car, emissions of 242g/km place it in the 35 per cent tax bracket meaning near £4,000 tax bills for a higher-rate earner.
Depreciation and insurance will cost you a lot, too, while you’ll have to pay £475 a year for your tax disc, and lots of money on fuel. Having said that, excluding any track driving we recorded a surprisingly frugal 26.4 but with no stop-start you’ll struggle to match that in town, while keen driving will cost you at the pumps.
The WRX needs servicing every 10,000 miles and while Subaru dealers don’t have prices for the new WRX yet, past experience suggests servicing won’t be cheap, although the firm’s dealers rank highly in Driver Power, so you should at least get good service.
However, unlike the rest of the range, which comes with a five-year warranty, you only get three years/ 60,000 miles of coverage on the WRX.