The big wing. It's the first thing you notice. It's like Subaru mounted a billboard on the back of the 2015 Subaru WRX STI that simultaneously creates downforce and repels women of all ages. No fat chicks, fat downforce. This is not a car that will get you laid, not that it really matters.
(Full Disclosure: Mere days after driving the 2015 Subaru WRX, Subaru flew me to California to get some time in the 2015 WRX STI. We stayed at a lodge, drove on track at Laguna Seca, and ate Mexican food. It was nice there. Now I'm back in New York. It's not nice here.)
When I saw the new WRX for the first time, all I did was complain. Complain complain complain. It's boring. It isn't more powerful. It's the same car. My life is empty. Who would buy this? Ugh. You know, things of that ilk.
But then you drive it. Holy hell. It's so good. It's an immediate friend. It's someone you want to play Goldeneye with on N64 for hours. Hours. So how could the WRX STI be worse? It's the WRX with more power, stiffer chassis, faster steering, bigger wheels and rubber, and a wing so big it creates a forcefield which repels women and attracts teenagers.
That's the formula. But it also isn't as new as its baby brother.
The powertrain is carried over, which means it is basically a brain and nerve transplant into a new shell. Some will see that as Subaru being lazy. Others, mainly the STI faithful and tuners, will love that they can just bolt on what they've honed for the last decade. That makes the new WRX STI a tuner paradise as soon as it hits showroom floors, though Subaru says that they see most modified cars coming from second and third owners.
And before you get mad, Subaru won't be making a hatchback. This is one case where those poor guys can't win. When the STI was hatchback only, everyone wanted a sedan. Now, people are complaining that there is no hatchback. But the STI is a low volume car, and 2/3 of sales of the STI were of the sedan. For a low volume car, making two body styles makes no sense at all when you can make one really good one.
Instead of complaining, just be happy that we get the STI at all, you ungrateful bastards.
In an hour long powerpoint that covered everything from the faster steering rack to the number of CDs the STI's interior can hold (24!), we also heard how much better it drives. But hearing marketing speak and demographics on a driver's car is so boring. Subaru is dangling a rally bred cake in front of us, and we're standing in our own way of being able to dig in.
Once you actually see the car, the first thing you notice is that the WRX suddenly looks right. The tiny wheels and naked rear deck of the WRX are gone, replaced by the traditional STI wing (which Subaru called out in large red highlighted letters in their presentation) and 18 inch wheels which can come in gold. I loooooooove gooooooooold. They are minor changes, but they come together to make the WRX look aggressive, angry, rude, and menacing. It isn't in your face, but it's not someone or something you'd want to meet in a back alley. The STI looks like a rally weapon should.
Inside, the seats are covered in God's fabric, Alcantara. Also switched from the base WRX are some trim pieces which are now in STI red, as well as some red accents on the doors (blue on the launch edition models). Other than that, it's pretty basic WRX. That means materials are crap and nothing is really that appealing to the eye.
If you care about the interior, you're buying the wrong car. The STI, like the WRX, is about driving. And damn is it good.
The 2.5 liter, 305 horsepower, 290 pound foot flat four is paired with the same close ratio six speed manual that STI loyalists know and love. The new car is also about five pounds heavier than the last model, so it's not like the new powerplant has extra weight to slow it down. That means you have a broad powerband and a great, direct gearbox. If the WRX's is bliss, this one is even better, and that's because it has no linkage. You're going straight into the box itself. It's lovely.
What isn't as lovely is the gearset, which just seems to be a little off. In general, gearing is a bit too short. Third, normally my choice for a workhorse do-it-all gear, is such a short window that you find yourself shifting far more than you should need to. Sure, shifting is fun blah blah blah, but if third were just a scoche longer, it'd be even more fun to flog on backroads.
Not that the gearbox spoils the handling or anything, which is sublime. The STI has all the same trickery as the last gen car, which means a 41:59 torque split that adjusts to 50:50 depending on the grip situation along with an adjustable diff and a torque vectoring brake system like that on the base WRX.
On the road, the STI has such high spring rates and aggressive suspension that it isn't comfortable. At all. Not that that's a problem. If you're buying an STI to be comfortable, you're a demented fool who might also be just a little sadistic. At low speeds, it's like punishment, but once you get to higher speeds, it all makes sense. The STI grips for ages. Subaru says they benchmarked the Porsche 911 for much of their handling testing, and in many ways the STI is a perfect match.
Monterey's Carmel Valley Road is one of the few public roads in the country with actual banking. It's also bumpy, with tight blind corners and decreasing radius sweepers. In other words, this is tarmac rally country. This is Subaru country.
The STI is perfect here. At quicker speeds, it just digs in and goes. If you jump on the power a little too early in a corner the front end will wash out, but a brief lift will bring the rear around and set you on the right direction. Steering is hydraulic (!!!!) and fantastic. The ratio is quicker than in the base WRX and it is weighted excellently with great feel.
If you want to really get it in its element, switch the traction control to Trac Mode. That turns off the traction and stability control, but leaves the torque vectoring on. Then drive it onto a curvy, wide, one-way road with no speed limits, preferably one that has a lot of elevation change.
Something like Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Like any high performance car, the track makes the STI come alive. It was recommended we put Subaru's SI Drive, which controls throttle response into Sport or Sport Sharp, both of which sharpen throttle response considerably. The problem with sharpening that response is that it also make the car jumpy. On track, you want a more progressive throttle that allows you more variability in your inputs, the more analog the better. That's why I left the car in Intelligent mode, which makes a smooth, linear progression as you put the pedal down, not a nearly immediate jump to full power.
Turn-in is crisp at higher speeds with a nice little bit of lift off oversteer to bring the tail around. Like on the road, jump on the power too early and you'll feel the front end wash out slightly. But the sheer amounts of grip in stock form make it a proverbial hoot at MRLS, especially on the back half of the track from the uphill kink at turn six all the way through the Corkscrew to super fast turn nine, which is secretly the best corner there.
A little issue did arise on track, and it was indirectly related to the gearbox. Heel/toeing in this car requires a sidestep of the pedal, not a literal heel on the gas and toe on the brake. There just isn't enough room for a semi-big footed person like me (men's size 11) to get my heel on the throttle without having the transmission tunnel get in the way. So I just switched up the method slightly. Not a big deal, but it's good to know.
That should make this a tuner's, autocrosser's, and track day fiend's dream when it comes time to put in that new suspension that will make it even less joyful for normal road use.
The STI starts at $8,000 more than a base WRX, which is a good chunk of coin. I have no doubt that amount of money could be put into a base WRX to make it as fast as the new STI, or to make it handle just as well. But it won't really be enough to make it an STI killer, since you'd need a new diff, new steering rack, new wheels, new rubber, and a bunch of other changes to put them on the same plane.
I do wish Subaru had a hotted up version of the DI 2.0 from the WRX in here instead of the old 2.5 flat four, since the new motor is a sweetheart and the old mill is, well, it's basically 10 years old. That doesn't mean it isn't good and doesn't sound great, with a more distinct warble than the new one, it's just time to move to the next development. But the suspension tuning, steering, handling, transmission, seats, and outward appearance are all noticeable and welcome improvements compared to the already excellent new WRX.
Color me WR Blue smitten. Long live blue and gold.
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
Photo Credits: Ian Merritt/Subaru