£32,055 Price range
There was a time when buying a Subaru Impreza WRX STI meant that you were getting hold of one of the most potent point-to-point cars available on the market. A combination of four-wheel-drive traction and a flexible turbocharged engine meant that in everyday conditions and on the average UK B-road, even many supercars would be unable to keep pace with the Subaru.
The fact that you were also buying into the reputation that comes with a road-going version of a World Rally championship-winning car, and we could always forgive the slightly below par refinement and cheap plasticky cabin.
Now having dropped the Impreza tag from it’s name, the WRX is no longer used in rallying. In an age when the average hot hatch is hugely accomplished (and often hardly any less powerful) is it worth heading down to place a deposit at your nearest Subaru dealership anymore?
To say that the cabin was not a strong point of the WRX STI would be something of an understatement. The overall styling is very dated, and the quality of plastics is poor. The dials, switches and graphics on the sat nav screen all appear to be written in different typefaces, which leaves testers under the impression that Subaru really didn’t try hard enough.
On the plus side, the front sports seats are great, offering both support and comfort, there’s decent space for passengers in the back, and the 460-litre boot is very generous.
If there is one thing that previous hot Imprezas have been renowned for, it is the cross-country pace that came courtesy of a sharp chassis and unshakeable all-wheel-drive traction. From that point of view, little has changed from previous models.
Grip is described as “phenomenal” by testers, while the overall feeling is of a car that is “nimble and agile.” An adjustable differential can be tailored to suit driving conditions, aiding secure handling in wet weather and keener turn-in on smooth, dry roads.
One critic describes the steering response as “instant”, which is thanks to a more sensitive rack than the one fitted to its predecessor. Like the old model though, the weighting is inconsistent, which robs the driver of some confidence when pushing on through a sequence of corners.
Far more of an issue is the ride quality. Not only is it irritatingly harsh when you’re just want to drive around normally, but on bumpy UK roads it can even sometimes make it difficult to get the best out of it. A little more compliance in the damping would allow the car to flow along the road, and it just makes the whole experience rather frustrating.
The Subaru rally specials have always utilised a four cylinder engine in a “boxer” layout (with the cylinders moving in and out horizontally and away from each other.). The 2.5-litre turbo unit is pretty much identical to the engine found in the previous Impreza WRX STI, which means that 300 horsepower and 300lb ft of torque are available. These figures – combined with the four-wheel-drive system – are enough to help the STI launch from 0-62mph in 5.2 seconds, and onto a claimed top speed of 159mph.
The gearshift is improved when compared to previous generations, though one tester still describes it as “notchy and ponderous”. That can sometimes be a frustration. Until the turbos come on song at about 3,000rpm very little happens, so some stirring of the gear lever is more necessary than you might hope.
At the £29,000 mark, the WRX STI is quite reasonably priced, considering the performance on offer. There is very little in the way of additional options to choose from, which means the price you see is pretty much the price you’ll pay. Thanks to the low volumes it will be likely to sell in, residual values should be better than average, too.
However, in some respects the running costs will start to get steep. Servicing costs will be above the likes of the Volkswagen Golf R and the Renault Megane RS, while insurance costs are always sky high on Subaru’s performance models. Fuel economy can creep up into the low thirties if you’re extremely careful, but if you’re not, some critics note that it can go easily into the teens. Oof.
In many ways this is a hugely impressive performance machine. Thanks to the strong engine and impressive traction, it’s cross country pace is almost a match for anything else on the road.
Unfortunately for Subaru though, they are still clinging onto a rally pedigree which hasn’t existed since 2008. In the past, you could forgive the cheap interior and poor fuel economy because you were driving around in a road going version of Colin McRae’s or Richard Burns’ title-winning rally cars. Now though, you’d just be driving around in a car which is all but matched for pace by the RenaultSport Megane or Volkswagen Golf R, but without anywhere near the same refinement or quality they offer.