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Subaru WRX STi

The latest generation of turbocharged Subaru might have changed its name - but does it still offer the same driving thrills as before?

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3.0 out of 5

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The new WRX STi is definitely more focused to drive than the old model. It’s still got the gritty, muscular character for which fast Subarus have always been famous, and it’s a lot of fun on the right road, even if it ultimately feels like a throwback. But better dynamics can’t hide the STi’s lack of sophistication in other areas – for example, the interior trails European rivals on quality – while running costs are very high. Its £32,995 price is hard to justify, unless you’re a diehard fan.

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At nearly £70,000, the GT-R is out of most buyers’ reach – so could Subaru’s new WRX STi offer similar thrills for a lot less cash?

We put the performance saloon through its paces for the first time in the UK to find out. At first glance, it seems the STi has had a crisis of confidence – the Impreza name has been dropped and the garish styling toned down.

Still, thanks to the gaping bonnet scoop and bulging rear arches, it sends out some aggressive signals – especially in the dark metallic grey of the car we tried. Underneath, the suspension has been reworked to deliver a sharper drive, with changes including higher spring rates, thicker anti-roll bars and tougher dampers.

Yet on the move, it’s not as uncomfortable as you might think. The ride is stiff, but no more than in other hot hatches such as Ford’s Focus RS. While the 2.5-litre turbo remains untouched, tweaks to the exhaust mean a return for the characteristic boxer warble.

There are three driving modes to choose from – the most aggressive being ‘Sport Sharp’ – and although turbo lag remains an issue, once above 3,500rpm, performance is truly ballistic. The 4WD chassis also gives you the confidence to tackle corners at speed, but the steering is still vague around the straight-ahead.

Around town, the WRX STi is less successful – the weight of the major controls makes driving a very physical experience. Out on the open road this effort is rewarded, but opportunities to use the car’s full potential are rare. The WRX’s price has increased, too – by a hefty £5,000 – and from the inside it’s hard to see where this money has been spent.

While the grippy new Recaro seats are welcome, the rest of the interior is underwhelming. Hard, shiny plastics feature throughout, and with its dated displays the dash lags well behind cheaper European rivals.

Practicality is also an issue; only true enthusiasts will be able to justify the sky-high running costs and sub-20mpg economy. What’s more, even though the saloon has a bigger boot than the hatch, its seats don’t fold – so you can’t carry as much luggage.

Rival: Mitsubishi Evo X
The Subaru’s arch-rival might not be around for much longer, with rumours that the current car will be the last of the line. But for now, the FQ-300 is cheaper, faster and more rounded than the STi.

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