You throw the 2015 Subaru WRX STI into a corner. In days of yore, the front end wouldn't bite and you'd start to wash wide. Subaru had developed the recipe for understeer. But this new STI... It bites. It turns in. This is a Porsche 911 fighter for a third of the price. Oh, and one of the best new cars you can buy today.
(Full Disclosure: When you get an email that says "hey, want a WRX STI for a week?" you don't reply "nah, I'd rather drive a Pinto, have any?" You jump at the chance. And jump I did.)
While driving the 2015 Subaru WRX STI, people, especially people in an older WRX, want to race you. It's the giant wing that sets them off, it's like a huge green flag. That's the sort of behavior that the STI engenders from the outside.
But the STI, with its boy racer wing and aggressive stance is a decidedly un-boy racer car. It's refined, it's honed, it's well put together, it's grown up. The STI is one of those kids you see on the news. He's 14 and dresses like a teenager, but also takes college level classes and developed a sonar system that can detect injured baby whales.
For the STI, the wing and bigger wheels make it look like a kid's car, but the tech under the skin makes it a Mensa-level smartass in a backwards baseball cap. You have adjustable diffs, torque vectoring, super stiff high temp steel in the construction, and the trusty EJ series 2.5 liter boxer four under the hood.
The changes from the 2015 Subaru WRX appear to be details, but they're actually rather large details. And they come together to make the STI a giant killer and one of the best cars that you can buy today at any price.
For as boring as the WRX looks, all it needed were a couple small detail changes to go from homely Rachel Leigh Cook in She's All That to super hot Rachel Leigh Cook in She's All That (Sidenote: What's Rachel Leigh Cook up to these days?).
Those changes on the STI include the coffee table-sized girl repellant known as the huge rear wing, 18-inch forged BBS wheels, and some subtle STI badging. And holy crow the STI becomes a menacing, angry looking little sedan. It goes from a car that I didn't want to look at to a car that, while not conventionally beautiful, becomes functionally attractive.
It looks especially good in darker colors, like WR Blue or our STI Limited's black paint with either the gold or dark BBS wheels. I'm a fan.
Yes, there are a few changes from the interior of the WRX, but I wouldn't really call them an improvement. The only improvement that you can spec in an STI as far as I'm concerned would be the Alcantara seats, which this car didn't have.
Instead, you get the same WRX interior with some red accents that are only there to make you think the car is really sporty. It's not terrible, but it does feel a little bit like it's trying too hard.
One thing that is missed that I hadn't realized was gone is the centrally mounted tach, which Subaru has changed for a side by side layout. A central tach is more driver oriented while having them side by side just isn't.
It's a small detail, but a noticeable one.
The engine in the STI is old. It's really old. But the 2.5 liter EJ boxer four isn't a slouch. It has more meat than the WRX lower in the rev range and really comes alive around 3,000 RPM. It's fast, but the way it's geared requires you to be shifting a lot.
As I noted when I first drove the car, third gear is normally my favorite and most useful gear for back road fun. In the STI you're almost always out of the sweet spot for third, which makes a tight backroad an overshifting, sometimes frustrating affair.
The solution is to drive faster. But that has it's own problems with things like traffic and law enforcement.
There are no real complaints with the brakes but they also aren't amazingly good. Repeated hard stops result in smoke, but not a lot of fade. They don't bite as hard initially as I'd like, but stopping distances are short and feel is pretty good.
They aren't bad, but they also aren't as special as the rest of the car.
Subaru went to great lengths to stiffen the WRX. The suspension is stiffer. The body is stiffer. The chassis is stiffer. It's more communicative. And objectively, that makes the ride worse at low speeds. Around town it is pretty horrendous.
It's hardcore. You aren't in an STI to be coddled like you are in an S-Class.
The trade-off comes when you really put the hammer down. The ride smooths out as you speed up and that's because the spring rates are better able to cope with the increased velocity.
If your only drive of the STI is in a city, of course you'll say it's worse than the very compliant WRX. But get it out onto backroads or a gravel patch and you'll see how it really works.
With stickier rubber and a totally retuned suspension and chassis, the STI is more a precision instrument than the WRX, but it's also just as fun, if not more.
STIs of yore were known for being a bit understeery and not all that sharp on the road or a race track. The new STI is the opposite. Get on the power too early and yes, the front end will wash out wide, but a lift of the throttle will make the STI rotate and bring it back in line.
What you should do next is turn off the traction control but leave the torque vectoring on. There is already so much grip in the STI that the aids were never really needed in the first place, but now with no intrusions you can get on the power earlier and really wring out Subaru's new weapon. Where it has a leg up over the WRX is the steering, which is hydraulically assisted and quicker than its little brother. The perfect weight and feedback make it far superior to the WRX in terms of feel.
The engine character might be the same as it used to be, but the handling is so vastly changed that it's as different as Kelly Ripa and Andrew WK. Subaru says that one car they benchmarked in testing was a Porsche 911, and it shows. The best part is that the handling is accessible, you're having fun at moderate speeds and don't need to go a million to make it feel alive.
That's what you need on the road.
Unlike the WRX, there is no linkage here. Throws are short and direct, with a sweet little notch into each gear. There are no missed shifts. I would like the ratios to be slightly different for certain roads (a longer third would do wonders), but overall, I can't really complain.
Makes the already good WRX box look like a piece of water trash.
There are a ton of toys here, but they aren't necessarily where you see them. There's no nav, no radar cruise, and no parking sensors. What it does have are three differentials, three separate throttle maps, a myriad of adjustments for those diffs, torque vectoring, and some very trick suspension tuning to make it a driving tour de force.
That's what matters.
Even the optional Harman Kardon radio is crap.
But since it's the old engine, the audio is back to that traditional Subaru agricultural sound that you either love or loathe. I happen to quite enjoy it. There is also a system to pipe engine sound into the cabin. In this case it's real sound and not simulated, so there is no real issue here AHEM BMW.
The WRX STI Limited that we drove starts at $38,495, and I can't really think of a better value in this price range. Some might say that the better value is right under our nose, the $29,995 WRX Limited, but they'd be wrong, especially if you buy the WRX with the intent of making it into an STI killer.
You can take the delta in price and make it more powerful and handle better, but you won't have three diffs. You won't have hydraulic steering. Your gearbox won't be as good. And those are the parts that really matter.
The STI is an all around better car than the WRX in every measurable way. No, it's not as comfortable, but that's not why you get an STI. Stock, I think this is the deal of the century. This is a car with 911-rivaling dynamics at a third of the price of a 911. Sure, the interior is low rent, but you can fit actual people in the back seat if you need to. If you go to the mall and someone dings your door, it won't be as vexing of an experience.
This is a $40,000 car that can spank cars that cost two, three, or even four times as much. Subaru is on a roll lately, and the STI is just proof that isn't coming to an end soon.
Fantastically good car. A must drive.
Engine: 2.5-liter boxer four
Power: 305 HP at 6,000 RPM/ 290 LB-FT at 4,000 RPM
Transmission: Six-Speed manual
0-60 Time: 5.0 seconds (estimated)
Top Speed: Not listed
Drivetrain: All-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 3,386 pounds
Seating: 5 people
MPG: 17 City/23 Highway/19 Combined (Subaru Estimate)
MSRP: $34,995 base, $37,395 for Launch Edition, $38,495 for limited