SUBARU WRX & WRX STI
Awesome performance meets ultimate value for money - plus great Japanese build quality and top-notch customer support
See also: Subaru Levorg (a.k.a WRX wagon) >>
WRX & STI: Need to know
The Subaru WRX and WRX STI are iconic performance cars - at least, this is the status they've established after the WRX's two decades (plus) on sale in Australia.
Both are blisteringly fast from A to B in the real world thanks to great drivelines and solid fundamental engineering. Subaru's trademark Symmetrical AWD is surefooted and forgiving in all conditions - dry, wet, sealed, unsealed, smooth, rough - but the real brilliance of these cars is not that they're forgiving. The real brilliance is that they also respond to finesse - so if you know how to make a car go quick, these things are astonishingly rewarding for the money.
The price is unbelievably low. It's amazing that this much performance is available at these prices. WRX and WRX STI perform better than German cars costing twice as much, and they're a lot cheaper to run, as well as generally more reliable.
In this model iteration, WRX and STI are available in sedan only. The hatch has been dropped. But the platform is very well sorted, and the 'Premium' variants in WRX and STI are something you could tolerate driving every day. They're civilised and refined as well as quick.
STI remains manual-only and carries over the previous STI's engine (which is almost certain to be revamped next time around) but with this sedan version the WRX now also comes with a CVT as well as a manual. That's a first for WRX - they have previously been manual-only.
Don't let anyone tell you the CVT is a travesty. Quite the opposite: it's brilliant. Really brilliant.
- Unbeatable performance/value equation (both WRX & STI)
- Forgiving and fast from A to B in the real world
- Really shines in wet and slippery conditions
- 'Premium' spec makes STI (& WRX) quite upmarket and even tolerable as a daily driver
- CVT WRX is brilliant - despite what 'die-hard' detractors say
- Stupid rear spoiler on WRX STI is - thankfully - a 'delete' option ... but perhaps you like driving a cop magnet
- Brilliant driveline technology on STI - dial in the centre diff engagement anyway you want
- No hatch availability :(
- STI engine deserves a re-vamp
- It's not the sexiest looking performance car
- Driving an STI like an STI is approximately the same thing as putting your driver's licence in the shredder
- 6mth service interval (versus 12mths with Impreza and XV)
2.0-litre turbo petrol
Power: 197 kW @ 5600 rpm
Torque 350 Nm @ 2400-5200 rpm
Economy: 8.6 L/100km (CVT)
2.5-litre turbo petrol
Power: 221 kW @ 6000 rpm
Torque 407 Nm @ 4000 rpm
Economy: 10.4 L/100km
Transmission: 6 sp manual or CVT (STI: manual only)
Preferred models: They're all brilliant
Length: 4595 mm
Width: 1795 mm
Height: 1475 mm
Kerb weight: 1562 kg (WRX Premium CVT)
Seating Capacity: Five
Safety: Five-star ANCAP
Warranty: 3 years / unlimited kilometres
Service interval: 6 months or 12,500 km (whichever comes first)
Spare wheel: Space-saver
SAFETY: FIVE STARS
ANCAP crash-tested the then-new WRX platform in early 2014. The vehicle aced the offset frontal crash test, and the severe pole-impact test, and was officially awarded five stars. More related safety information at the WRX & WRX STI crash test page of ANCAP's website >> or you can download the full WRX crash test technical report >>
Visit Subaru Australia's official WRX & WRX STI pages >>
SUBARU WRX REVIEW
The Subaru WRX proves nobody needs 100 different driver-selectable modes and settings. This car just works, out of the box - it's the Apple Mac of affordable performance
In updating this review, I stepped out of a week in the WRX STi and into the base-model manual WRX you see in the latest video above. Frankly I expected to be disappointed at being punted back to economy from business class.
Happily though, I wasn’t.
Far from being underwhelmed at my ersatz demotion to economy class - I actually kinda like it. In some ways it’s even better than the STI.
Purists will be pounding the keyboard indignantly, but I can think of 12,000 really good reasons up front why I like it a whole lot more than an STI.
When this current shape WRX was released in 2014, Subaru pumped it right up in the technology department.
(My 2015 review is the video to the right - essentially the same car as now.)
You got the current engine: a direct injection 2.0-litre horizontally opposed 'boxer' four-cylinder engine, a six-speed manual gearbox (up from five in the predecessor) and Subaru's trademark Symmetrical All-wheel Drive system.
They even slashed the price of the then-new 2014 WRX (compared with the previous model) and provided an automatic option - for the first time in 10 years. That's an eight-speed manual-mode paddle shifted Sport Lineartronic Continuously Variable Transmission. (Spoiler alert: It's awesome.)
THE NEXT REX?
One of the unfortunate consequences of separating WRX from Impreza in terms of design and manufacturing (apart from being sedan-only) is that the current Impreza (which was released a year ago in November 2016) did not also mean a platform-up re-jig of this 2018 WRX. A new model WRX is not due until 2019 - so this 2018 model version is more of a comprehensive primp of the hair and makeup. Full details of that coming up.
ON THE ROAD
The first thing you notice about WRXs is: they just feel like they're Velcroed to the road - the grip is just immense, in all conditions. They're supremely fast point-to-point cars.
This is sticky and firm - there’s a joke there, I’m sure. But let’s keep it classy, for a change. To me, this car is kinda the Goldilocks tuning for a performance car that you could drive every day.
WRX sits seemingly dead flat in the corners, the steering is precise and the ride’s firm but not brutal like the STI. And it’s so neutral - meaning you can tweak its attitude easily with the throttle.
Steering is maybe a frag light - but it’s very precise, and the ride is firm but not brutal. I could drive this car every day and be pretty happy - this is in the context of owning a performance car.
It’s not the epitome of comfort. It’s the epitome of great value and chuckableness. (That’s not a word. But it should be.) In many ways it doesn’t choose to highlight all your driving deficiencies the way an STI does.
WRX proves to me you really don’t need 100 different driver-selectable modes and settings. This thing just works, out of the box - the Apple Mac of performance cars. Wet, dry, sealed, unsealed, it’s a blast. And despite the firm ride, it’s not skittish on rough surfaces.
It’s like: This is a performance car. Here’s your firm suspension - no ‘comfort’, ‘sport’ and ‘track’ modes. Here’s your direct steering. Here’s your 245/40s on 18s. Here’s your Symmetrical AWD. Wet, dry, sealed, unsealed, it’s a blast. And despite the firm ride, it’s not skittish on rough surfaces.
It’s also very forgiving in the way a BRZ is not. I’d be getting the interplay between steering and throttle dead right in the wet in a BRZ, unless you want the rear to overtake the front. WRX will give you more rope - and more warning that the limit is imminent. But it will ultimately let you hang yourself if you drive like a Muppet.
Like all its predecessors, the current Subaru WRX's drive is delivered to all four wheels all the time, and that boosts control (and forgiveness) - especially when grip levels are low: like on gravel and wet bitumen. The transition from grip to slip is very progressive - on every surface.
The Subaru WRX's Symmetrical All-wheel Drive system means the power delivery is very forgiving. The only downside is: you're never going to have a slow loss of control crash in a Subaru WRX. If you lose it, it's going to be monumental. Your clothes will be out of fashion before it ends.
CONTINUOUSLY VARIABLE TRANSMISSION
This CVT WRX is the car that changed my tune on continuously variable transmissions. (I used to hate them.) We’re talking ‘handbrake turn'. Hat-eating time. I withdraw without reservation all the nasty things I said previously about CVTs. Ride-on lawn mowers: Did I actually allege that? (Yes, many times...)
The CVT WRX in both videos above is the six-speed manual; I drove the CVT WRX for a week, and also spent three or four weeks in the Levorg, which is CVT-only.
The verdict? Give me the CVT every time: the power delivery is just seamless. There’s no lag. None. The manual actually seems clunky by comparison. Maybe manuals really are dead.
Given the choice of all WRXs, I would own the CVT. No question. I never thought I'd say those words - without using 'in my worst nightmare' in the same sentence. But there you go. Have the Subaru WRX CVT wrapped and sent to my room...
EVOLUTION, SAFETY & VALUE
Australia is the third biggest market in the world for the Subaru WRX. There are 40,000 (ish) of them running around on our roads after 20 years on sale - minus, of course, the ones that have been crashed.
Speaking of which, at the time of its launch in 2014, this model evolution of Subaru WRX was the safest Subaru ever, scoring 35.85 out of 37 for the combined ANCAP crash-test score. It’s also bigger, better equipped and cheaper than its predecessor.
But the most amazing thing about the Subaru WRX isn’t the grip or the performance. It’s the price. The accessibility. WRXs have been a salient feature of Australian roads for 20 years. They give you Porsche performance on a beer budget.
20 years ago, the base model Subaru WRX cost $42,000. Today, it’s $39,000. But we’ve had two decades of inflation since then. When you factor in inflation over that time, a 1994 Subaru WRX actually cost more like $70,000 - in today’s dollars. And, compared with this car, it was a real junior burger.
It’s impossible to be anything but overwhelmingly positive about such a capable, comfortable performance car that’s just better in every respect than 20 years worth of its predecessors. If you spent your entire life driving Corollas and then you drive a Subaru WRX it’ll terrify and thrill you in equal proportions. It’ll come as something of a shock to learn a car can actually do the kinds of things a WRX can do. It’s better than fiction.
Well, there's no hatch. That's going to break a few deals, right there. And one of the most iconic hot hatches can't really park itself in that category any longer - so there's that...
It's not the sexiest looking performance car - eye of the beholder, and all that, but it's just not sexy like the Golf (or as unreliable). At least it's not as Japanese-fugly as the Civic.
Driving an STI like an STI is approximately the same thing as putting your driver's licence in the shredder.
Finally, the 6mth service interval means frequent dealer visits - compared with 12mths with Impreza and XV. Still, I guess turbos are hard on engine oil, and an intermediate oil change is less inconvenient than a blown engine.
The body structure is very stiff. And you can feel it - the benefits are hugely under-rated. Because it’s just not sexy technology. But it makes the car so predictable in extreme handling situations - or at least it allows the engineers to tune that predictability in.
WRX has active torque vectoring - gotta give that 13 out of a possible 10. It works like this: You tip the Rex into a bend, hard, and you’re near the cornering limit. The computer applies the brake automatically to the inner wheel. Not enough to slow you down. Just enough to distribute more drive to the outer wheel, which is fully loaded up, thanks to inertia. And that just gives the steering wonderful neutrality, even when you’re going really hard.
Torque vectoring is an extension of stability control - at least it puts the same hardware to a different use. But the really cool thing is: you can enter ‘traction mode’ and that cancels stability control, but leaves torque vectoring active - which is just right for having a red hot go on a track day. If you want to void your insurance, and your warranty. Or practise for a bank job in the manner of the Kev Spacey film, Baby Driver.
We’ve had WRXs for a quarter of a century now - and there’s no question this is the best one ever. That’s on objective criteria - you’re allowed to be infatuated with the past. There can absolutely be a special place in your heart for the WRC Blue bug-eye hatch. Just be aware you’re looking at history through rose-coloured glasses if you allow that sort of infatuation to seep in.
It’s also pretty clear the WRX recently has lost its place in the drug-dealing, ram-raiding hall of fame. And, as nostalgic as those halcyon days were, I’m sure senior management at Subaru Central is patting itself on the back for that. Today’s WRX is a car that a fat middle-aged white man could own without feeling like a paid-up member of the Neddy Smith fan club.
It’s like having a thoroughbred racehorse, and riding it through a regulated system that’s compatible only with cantering or trotting. Another way to look at this whole WRX-owning proposition is: the Subaru WRX will shred your licence faster than just about any other $40,000 car, unless you bring to the table a highly developed sense of self-restraint.
WRX is six seconds to 100 kays an hour for $40-odd grand. And in the wet it’s one of the fastest, most confidence inspiring cars on the road. Always super-rewarding to drive. It’s 0.8 seconds slower than an STI to 100 - a saving of about $15,000 a second, when you calculate it out. On that basis alone, I’ll take one.
SUBARU WRX STI REVIEW
This thing is the iron fist of a dominatrix in a velvet glove*. (Velvet glove only in Premium.) Guaranteed, 9 out of 10 WRX STI owners can't keep up with its stringent demands
If too much Subaru WRX is barely enough, the Subaru WRX STI is the car you’d crawl over broken glass to get into.
But take another look. There’s an obvious question with this latest model: Has the Subaru WRX STI has gone soft?
The Subaru WRX STI is an incredible $10,000 cheaper than previously.
Although the engine carries over, the WRX STI has certainly discovered refinement for the first time, later in life. If you’re into performance cars, and not a bogan - the Subaru WRX STI is a gift from heaven. It’s sophisticated, blindingly fast, and very forgiving. So if your IQ is greater than the room temperature - in Fahrenheit - the Subaru WRX STI is the kind of car you lie awake in bed, lusting after. I know I do. And this new model is an incredible $10,000 cheaper than its predecessor - which means it’s 10 grand closer to jumping out of those half-asleep fantasies, and into your driveway. That's a damn fine scenario.
Minor criticism: Subaru designers, take a note. You need to lay off the STI badges and logos. They’re everywhere. Inside and out. I stopped counting at 18, admittedly because I had almost run out of fingers and toes. But I couldn’t find one under the bonnet, oddly enough. So there’s an unexploited marketing opportunity there - but everywhere else is taken. It’s not as if you’ll need reminding that you’re actually driving a Subaru WRX STI. It's hardly as if this fact - what you're driving - is not likely ever to slip your mind.
Of course, a car like the Subaru WRX STI demands a significant rear spoiler. But in reality, I hate these overt towel racks - they’re a joke. Great for attracting (the wrong kind of) attention. They just scream ‘police: book me’. And me? I’d prefer to fly under the radar. So thankfully, for the first time ever you can order your STI without the ridiculous towel rack, as a no-cost delete option. Sounds pretty good to me. I guess it depends if you're buying the Subaru WRX STI to impress yourself, or to impress everyone else.
You also can't have the Subaru WRX STI as a hatch - the entire Subaru WRX range is sedan-only. But you can have a Subaru Levorg >> - which is essentially a WRX wagon, even a Levorg GT-S spec.B version with STI cosmetic bits (but sadly no STI performance upgrade).
STI HISTORY LESSON
The Subaru WRX STI first appeared on Australian shores in 1999 - for $62,500. When you adjust for inflation over that time, using average weekly earnings growth, spending $62.5 big ones back then would be like spending about $114,000 on a Subaru WRX STI today.
So, you’d have to say, buying a Subaru WRX STI today for about $50k - because that’s where they kick off - represents truly incredible value. It means the Subaru WRX STI is one of the truly great performance car bargains available today.
Porsche performance on a Jack Daniels budget...
ENGINE CARRIES OVER, BUT REFINEMENT IS HUGE
The engine outputs are the same as the previous model - 221 kilowatts and 407 Newton-metres, but the driveline has been upgraded. You get active torque vectoring, which the previous model lacked. Overall, though, the Subaru WRX STI is basically the performance you've always loved, plus a huge step forward for refinement and equipment levels. So, in a sense, you could mount a case that the Subaru WRX STI has gone soft - the hard edge of performance is still there, totally, but it’s wrapped in a level of refinement that you just never got before in any previous Subaru WRX STI
The real story with this fourth-generation Subaru WRX STI isn’t the awesome performance. STIs have always delivered that. It’s a given. The big story is all the extra equipment they’ve jammed into this model, for $10k less. That opens the vehicle up to an entirely new group of potential buyers.
You no longer have to forego all creature comforts to drive a Subaru WRX STI. You get the D-shaped steering wheel, a proximity key with pushbutton start, multi-function display (which is just right for watching the turbo boost while you hit a kangaroo, unless you’re very careful). There’s a beefy sound system with Harman Kardon speakers and amp. I never bothered with that, not for the whole week I drove the car; Frankly, I was happy listening to the engine's fat beats. Sat-nav is standard, there’s a reversing camera, daytime running lights, dusk-sensing LED headlamps with halogen high-beams, rain-sensing wipers and dual-zone climate control.
The cabin is bigger and more comfortable, and it’s much safer - in fact the Subaru WRX STI is the equal top-scoring Subaru ever in terms of ANCAP crash test score. It's hard to criticize a car that manages 35.85 out of 37 in the most severe independent crash tests there are.
Frankly, you could stick the boss in the passenger’s seat and drive to a meeting without embarrassment at the lack of creature comfort. And, you could drive it like a Subaru WRX STI until he signs off on your proposed pay increase. That shouldn’t take too long.
DRIVING THE STI
This WRX STI sounds like a proper performance Subaru, it feels like a proper performance Subaru, and it goes like a proper performance Subaru. But it’s not brutally uncivilised. It’s firm and direct, but you could drive it every day. Only, you’d have to be so prudent if you wanted to retain your licence.
The stopping power is outstanding, thanks to the Brembo brakes. The Subaru WRX STI is one of those cars that goes fast enough in a straight line, but excels in corners. The transition from grip to slip is very progressive. Nothing jumps out at you, and the car really rewards drivers with finesse. It’s fun to drive fast - hugely controllable; very rewarding.
And then there’s the multi-mode Driver’s Control Centre Differential, which allows you to dial-in centre diff engagement to suit the prevailing conditions.
The only real downside is: if you’re having a real crack in a Subaru WRX STI, you’re driving insanely fast. The performance potential is, frankly, beyond the driving ability of most drivers. And even if you can drive at that level, if you take it there on a public road, your licence is going to be hanging by a thread. And if something goes wrong, the scenery not going to stop moving before you get to the next postcode. So, in a sense, even if you own a Subaru WRX STI, you’re not going to be driving it like a Subaru WRX STI ... at least, not if you know what's good for you.
Some cars just get mocked, in traffic. Spend a week driving a Mitsubishi Mirage and you’ll get that. When you drive a Subaru WRX STI: doesn’t happen. Even HSV and FPV bogans give you a certain grudging respect. Especially when you overtake them on the outside, in the wet, which can be quite therapeutic.
Nobody mocks Subaru WRX STI, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get mocked. The sad truth is: the Subaru WRX STI will probably mock you. You chuck it into a bend. You think you’re having a real, red-hot go. Mid-corner, it kinda looks back at you and says: ‘Is that all you got?’ It’s humbling. And scary. And humbling. And scary. But mainly it’s just totally engaging and absolutely awe-inspiring.
The Subaru WRX STI is manual-transmission-only, so your girlfriend might not be able to drive you home after a few drinks, depending on her. Personally, though, and not just because of the added post-inebriation GF chauffeur flexibility, I’d love to see a CVT in a Subaru WRX STI, because the CVT in the garden-variety Subaru WRX >> is just so good. I’d buy one.
That car changed my view on CVTs for ever.
And maybe they could just cut the total number of STI logos down to just 10 or 12 - or eight. It’s logo overkill at the moment. You need to take your shoes off to count them. And there's no hatch, nor is there a Levorg STI, which would rock, totally.
The main problem with the Subaru WRX STI was: I had to give it back. Saddest day of the year: the day Subaru came to take the WRX STI back. And, OK, because, after numerous threatening letters they turned up with the Jaws of Life, and the sheriff … ultimately I just handed it over without a fight. But I hate myself now, for being so soft about it.
The Subaru WRX STI is one of those cars that’s so close to being exactly right for its intended purpose, substantial criticisms just don’t pertain. It feels like a real performance car - I guess the average driver wouldn’t like that. It’s kind of irrelevant; you only buy a Subaru WRX STI if you want a performance car.
The Subaru WRX STI would be a great car for $60 grand. Only it’s available for just $50 grand - and that just makes it better, or at least more accessible. So: you can either pick up Thor’s hammer, swing it around, or you can drive a Subaru WRX STI. Those two things probably feel about the same. And there’s no stupid red cape when you play with the Subaru WRX STI. (Or, maybe there is, but you can delete it at no extra cost if you want...)
Driving the Subaru WRX STI - especially the Premium - is like being upgraded to business class. It’s easy to move forward in the plane, but heart-wrenching to move back. That’s exactly what giving the WRX STI back is like. Suddenly you’re back in economy. There’s plastic utensils and no more Veuve Cliquot. There’s a screaming baby on one side, and a fat man knitting on the other, and your seat is bang in the middle. All the way to Dubai. And you’re wondering: How do these peasants travel like this?