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Subaru WRX STI

Subaru's rally-inspired WRX drops the Impreza name and returns to its roots with a saloon body, and hardcore suspension.

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.0 out of 5

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This saloon sees a return to the bodystyle that made Subaru’s rally-bred sports car famous – but times have changed. Yes, its performance and character will still hold plenty of appeal for enthusiasts. But despite generous spec, the revamped cabin lacks quality, and high running costs and a garish bodykit mean the WRX STi is fun but outdated.

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It’s the return of Subaru’s supersaloon! There hasn’t been a four-door version of the Japanese company’s rally-bred sports car since 2007 – but now it’s blasting back.

However, it’s not carrying the Impreza name – that badge will be used only for lesser models. Instead, turbocharged performance machines such as this will simply be called WRX STi.

While the saloon keeps the wide-body stance and blistered wheelarches of the hatchback, the styling has been toned down from the rally-inspired Mica Blue and gold livery of previous-generation STi models. This means that, although the new car still has an aggressive on-road presence, it is more subtle to look at than rivals such as the Ford Focus RS.

The biggest change for 2011 – apart from the return of the saloon shape – is the Spec C chassis upgrade. Previously available only in Japan, this set-up features a stiffer bodyshell and significantly increased spring rates, plus beefed-up dampers and bushes. The modifications make the WRX STi a much more focused, hardcore proposition than before.

Meanwhile, its ride height has been lowered by 5mm, and the lighter 18-inch wheels and bigger, stickier Dunlop tyres are now fitted as standard. Under the bonnet, the 2.5-litre flat-four boxer engine remains unchanged, delivering 296bhp to all the wheels through a set of differentials that send nearly 60 per cent of the power to the rear.
 
The potent combination of turbocharged muscle and all-wheel-drive traction is as addictive as ever – particularly when you put the WRX STi into Sport Sharp mode, which gives real cornering poise. The characteristic burble from the exhaust is accompanied by the hissing sound of induction as the turbo boosts above 3,500rpm.

Although the short-throw manual box’s close gearing means it’s easy to stay within the powerband, it also renders the car tiring to drive in traffic – as does the firm ride. However, the steering remains the STi’s main flaw. Electrical assistance makes it rather light, so it’s difficult to have full confidence in the taut new chassis, and there’s also too much dead play in the wheel on the straight-ahead.

Inside the cabin, there’s been a concerted effort to lift interior quality over that of the outgoing model. There are now darker graphite inserts around the doors and dash, and lower Recaro bucket seats. However, a dated design and cheap plastics mean the WRX STi still lags well behind Euro rivals such as the VW Golf R.

While Subaru has tried to broaden the new car’s appeal, the WRX STi still requires the kind of sacrifices only a real enthusiast would be willing to make. It remains a very niche choice that will be expensive to own.

Claimed economy is 26.9mpg, but don’t expect to get much more than 20mpg in regular driving, and CO2 emissions of 243g/km mean a £425 road tax bill. That muscular performance comes at quite a price!

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