Subaru WRX STi - Still Great Fun

 

Subaru’s WRX STi gets a makeover that might be on the mild side but that’s all okay as it means they haven’t messed with the winning formula

Words: Kyle Cassidy   |   Photos Tom Gasnier

Subaru has made a few updates to what it calls the Performance Range, the go-fast brigade consisting of the WRX, the Levorg GT-S and this, the venerable WRX STi. While Subaru’s STi isn’t what some might regard a grand automotive icon, it has stayed the course for some 23 years, while most of its direct competitors have been axed. We’re looking at you Mitsubishi. All of the Nippon 4x4 turbo rocketships have been chopped and there’s now just a few Euro models in existence.

The Ford Focus RS is the most obvious adversary, but it’s also coming to an end soon in its current guise, and there are a few German offerings like Golf R, and the mad RS 3 and A 45. Those are all more expensive than the WRX STi, helping it to lay the best claim to the bang-for-buck crown. As to the revisions for the WRX STi, the most notable is a hardware change for the Driver Controlled Centre Diff. This is now fully electronic in operation, giving the torque-splitting device better control of how this process occurs.

Previously the DCCD unit consisted of a planetary gearset, a mechanical ‘cam’ and clutch pack. They’ve deleted the second item, the electronics now in control of the clutch pack. The system still runs a typical 35 per cent front, 65 per cent rear torque split but it varies thanks to that DCCD control, and this can still be influenced via the switch on the centre console to encourage even more of a front or rearward bias.

The braking department has more staying power with bigger, cross-drilled rotors measuring 340mm up front and 326mm on the rear, and these are clamped by new six-piston front and twin-piston rear Brembo calipers, resplendent in yellow. There are bigger 19-inch wheels too. Up front the grille is new, as is the bumper and headlight design, the latter featuring adaptive lighting which moves with the steering. The biggest visual difference is the deletion of the lower fog lights. The premium model also picks up the front view camera and a powered driver’s seat with memory.

This still has phenomenal grip in curves, and great drive off them too.

There is no Eyesight safety technology as the STi is a manual-only proposition but still somewhat of a performance bargain, staring at $59,990, or $64,990 for the Premium model. The 2.5-litre flat four is revised in the name of emissions, now conforming to the stricter Euro6b standards, but otherwise it’s still a tiger with 221kW and 407Nm at 4000rpm. And the WRX STi remains a true driver’s choice, available only with a six-speed manual. Some might call the STi a bit old fashioned but this we find charming. The steering still has hydraulic assistance giving it a solid feel and weighting. There’s no variable ratio rack here, but the front end responds dutifully and it’s filled with a vibrant sensation.

It can get rattled by mid-corner bumps but we can live with that. It’s heavy at a town pace compared with more modern electric set ups, but we can deal with it. A mechanical feature we write little about these days is a clutch pedal, and this has a nicely defined bite point, not too stiff in its action and you can slip it easily to improve those fast getaways. The gear lever action is positive and doesn’t mind a firm and fast movement, at least once the fluids are up to temperature as it’s a bit grouchy first thing in the morning.

The new brakes have a feelsome pedal action and when you need to stand the STi on its nose, they duly comply. Not sure about the yellow paint on the calipers but the set-up is squeal-free.


The STi goes without myriad drive modes, just the adjustable throttle response (I for ignore, S for sweet as, and S # for the sort of driving you post on your socials #STisidewaysagain). In general driving, the Auto mode for the DCCD does the trick but for the spirited stuff there can be a hint of power-on understeer. This can be quickly sorted with a couple of clicks on the switch, and this rearward bias gives the STi a more neutral feel. Then you can power on that bit earlier on the corner exit.

This still has phenomenal grip in curves, and great drive off them too. The 2.5-litre delivers enough punch for the STi to be an invigorating drive; while its performance numbers might not be pack leading, this isn’t slow either. The four has a quaint charm to its delivery; it’s a little lazy below 2000rpm but surges on once past 3000rpm and is lively round to 6500rpm. The soundtrack is lacking; there’s a bit of a burble to the tune but it can be drowned out by the tyre noise on coarse chip. Other than having to change your own gears, potential suitors may be put off by the ride characteristics.

Most competitors offer some form of adaptive damping with a soft mode but not here, as it’s fixed and firm. It’s not untenable though, just a little bumpy at times, yet not harsh; the hits won’t reverberate around the cabin and you’d be very unlikely to run out of suspension travel.

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The WRX STi is not without a bit of tech though, the Premium model outfitted with most of the convenience features. And the new front view camera gives you a visual reminder of what you might be about to rearrange the lower bumper on. There’s also a camera watching the left front wheel so you can keep that new style 19-inch rim looking round.

And the view is easy to bring up; just hit the button and it appears in the small screen atop the dash where the trip info is displayed. The old infotainment system is not as good as that in the new XV, but the interior is otherwise up to snuff with comfortable seats (no harsh bolsters here) and soft surfaces where they should be. It’s practical too, with seating for four in relative comfort, and a wide and deep boot, complete with a split-folding rear seat.

The passive safety is sorted, and while a blind spot warning features, there’s no AEB or active cruise. The turning circle is good for an AWD sportster, the clutch not too heavy to be a pain in traffic, and there’s a hill-hold function. As we mentioned the steering is a little heavy at slow speeds but we’d be happy to live with the STi everyday. Fuel use worked out to an average of 13L/100km, including the testing regime.

Crystal black wouldn’t be our choice of colour though; it’s impossible to keep looking shiny. The paint is one area Subaru needs to lift its game with swirls and orange peel in the finish. There are six other hues to choose from, including WR Blue.

The other choice is to go with or without the wing. Deleting it is a no-cost option, but the STi looks a bit neutered without its highrise appendage. And it’s all part of the model’s old school charms, of which this retains plenty.

The Stats

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Model Subaru WRX STi Premium  Price $64,990

Engine 2457cc, flat 4, T/EFI, 221kW/407Nm

Transmission 6-speed manual, all-wheel drive

Vitals 5.25sec 0-100km/h, 10.4L/100km, 242g/km, 1565kg