Subaru WRX STi review
The blisteringly quick Subaru WRX STi is great fun to drive, but costs a small fortune to run
For many years, the Subaru Impreza WRX STi was the super saloon to beat. With its rally-bred roots, fire-breathing turbocharged flat-four engine and four-wheel drive grip it was a true performance car hero. However, while the latest version is every bit as rapid and entertaining, newer rivals such as the Mitsubishi Evo X have stolen the Subaru’s thunder. So, in an attempt to broaden its appeal, Subaru has launched hatchback and saloon versions and dropped the Impreza name tag. Both models are powered by the same 2.5-litre turbocharged motor and feature the same price tag.
Our choice: Subaru 2.5 WRX STI Type UK 5dr
The Subaru WRX STi would never be described as subtle. With bulging wheelarches, huge bonnet scoop and aggressive bodykit, the Subaru leaves you in no doubt of its performance potential. The hatchback WRX boasts the best looks, as the saloon’s ungainly rear end looks like an afterthought. The Mitsubishi Evo X looks equally aggressive, so buyers wanting something a more restrained will be better off with a VW Golf R. Inside, the Subaru is solid and workmanlike. Given the high price tag of the WRX, the cheap plastics and dated dashboard design are disappointing. Still, there’s plenty of standard kit, with Bluetooth, climate control and keyless entry all included.
To appreciate the WRX STi you need to get to know it. Light steering, clunky six-speed manual gearbox and the drone of the flat-four engine will have you wondering what all the fuss is about. Yet find a twisting back road and the Subaru comes alive. The front end responds instantly to steering inputs, there’s incredible poise and the four-wheel-drive system provides limpet-like grip. What’s more, engaging the SI-DRIVE function sharpens the throttle response, while you can adjust the electronically controlled centre differential to alter the handling balance. Arguably the star of the show is the 296bhp turbocharged 2.5-litre flat four engine that blasts the WRX from 0-60mph in only 5.2 seconds and sounds like a beast. The company has recently introduced two performance upgrades - the 320R and 340R use a full engine remap to free up extra power for even quicker acceleration.
A four star Euro NCAP rating leaves the WRX trailing similarly sized rivals in the safety stakes. Still, the Subaru certainly isn’t lacking the right kit, as electronic stability control, six airbags, and side impact beams all feature as standard. There’s also the confidence-inspiring traction provided by the car’s all-wheel-drive system in slippery conditions, while the WRX also benefits from dazzlingly bright xenon headlamps. Subaru has a good reputation for reliability, thanks to its robust mechanicals but the turbocharger on the STI is known to be quite fragile and it does not qualify for the new five-year warranty offered on the other models in the range. However Subaru dealers regularly score highly in our annual Driver Power satisfaction surveys so ownership should be a relatively hassle free experience.
Few high performance machines are as practical as the WRX. Look past its scorching pace and aggressive styling and you’ll discover the same qualities that make the standard Impreza such a versatile family car. With its 420-litre boot, the saloon provides 119 litres more carrying capacity than the hatchback with the back seats in place. Yet the five-door car gets a folding rear bench, which helps to liberate a healthy 1,216 litres of space. The hatchback also gets a more thoughtfully trimmed load area – the saloon suffers from lots of exposed metal. There’s a decent amount of head and legroom for occupants in the rear, while the cabin benefits from plenty of useful cubby space and cupholders.
The WRX STi is an expensive machine to run. With CO2 emissions of 243g/km expect a hefty tax bill. And while Subaru claims the WRX will manage 26.9mpg, most drivers will be lucky to return 20mpg – and hard use will see fuel consumption drop into single figures. Maintenance bills will also be hefty, the consequence of complex mechanicals and short service intervals. The Subaru does come generously equipped, but its price tag pitches it head-to-head with more upmarket models from BMW and Audi. On the plus side, its predicted residuals of around 40 per cent put on a par with the classier yet sparsely kitted out VW Golf R.