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  • Wicked turbo rush; mechanical differentials do an excellent job; more expensive cars will struggle to keep up on smooth roads
  • Budget interior; sensitive clutch; harsh ride at times; slow steering; rough road body control

6 / 10

Subaru WRX STI Review
Subaru WRX STI Review
Subaru WRX STI Review
by Daniel DeGasperi

The rallying exploits are now part of WRC history, though the good news is that hair-raising Imprezas live on in the form of the Subaru WRX STI.

Clocking a near five-year vintage, the current model is the latest iteration of a nameplate that swerved (over crests, past pines…) into the mindset of a generation in the 1990s.

The Subaru WRX STI (along with the similarly aged Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X) has long gapped the affordable performance car spectrum, neatly sliding in between hot hatchbacks (VW Golf GTI) and sports coupes (Porsche Cayman). The $50-70K bracket, however, is now populated by the BMW M135i, while the all-new Audi S3 will arrive next year. Stiff competition, and a perfect excuse for a recap of this all-wheel-drive mega-hot hatch (or sedan).

The WRX STI is getting on a bit, and there are old-school aspects to this Subaru – the wicked turbo rush from the 2.5-litre turbocharged flat-four engine, the gritty snick of the long-throw six-speed manual, and the way the centre and limited-slip front and rear differentials lock and unlock to juggle torque between the axles and each wheel.

With 221kW at 6000rpm, and 407Nm at 4000rpm, the Impreza WRX STI engine presents a healthy, boosted set of numbers to shift 1520kg of hatchback.

Performance takes priority over efficiency, so while official fuel consumption is 10.5L/100km combined (and climbed to 15L/100km on test) the STI will rush to 100km/h in under six seconds (think 5.5sec).

Subaru WRX STI Review
Subaru WRX STI Review
Subaru WRX STI Review
Subaru WRX STI Review

The Subaru WRX STI does need to have the revs kept up, as at the lower end of the tacho acceleration is a little underwhelming. This is overcome when the turbo kicks in to deliver a firecracker response.

Keep the 2.5-litre in its mid-range, surfing the boosted torque with a mere right-ankle flex, and the WRX STI will despatch country roads faster than almost anything that doesn’t wear a Porsche badge.

The suspension settings aren’t of the ultra-taut variety like a Lancer Evo’s, and the Impreza has plenty of body roll through corners. Use the centre console switch, though, to segue the centre differential settings from ‘lock’ at 50:50 front/rear to almost-all-drive-behind-you, and the WRX STI will act much like a rear driver, with the added bonus of some front-wheel traction to keep things pointed, planted … and ridiculously fast.

The differentials do their thing masterfully well, with no braking-wheel electronic wizardry (beyond stability control, which can be turned off) needed to help disguise a lack of handling ability.

Unfortunately, however, smooth and sweeping country roads (and dirt and gravel, naturally) are the only areas in which the WRX STI excels. Throw severe bumps and undulations into the mix, and the soft-ish suspension falters. Body control is poor by hot hatch standards.

Subaru WRX STI Review
Subaru WRX STI Review

Mid-corner bumps also shiver through the steering rack, while the hydraulic power steering is relatively slow.

Four-wheel Brembo brakes fail to communicate their worth, thanks to a long travel brake pedal that softened after only moderate road use and begs a question about how they would fare at a track day.

Yet in addition to being not very good on bumpy roads, the WRX STI struggles at urban running, too. Beyond the frustrating turbo lag, the clutch is overly sensitive – more than one tester stalled it in traffic – and the acceptable ride quality over small imperfections turns nasty the larger the cavities grow. Over speed humps, the same rough-road body control issues appear.

Subaru attempted to benchmark the Volkswagen Golf with the interior of the previous-generation Impreza that not so long ago was part of the WRX’s badge name, and at the launch of the all-new base range, the company confessed it had been wide of the mark.

The all-new Impreza has massively improved plastics, and in an ideal world the WRX twins would have already inherited these.

For the price – $63,000 in the Spec R trim we tested that for an extra $3000 adds sat-nav, BBS alloys and a sunroof – we would also have expected better audio quality and power seats.

The Subaru WRX STI still has its place, but it is being squeezed by newer, more refined entrants – such as the more affordable Volkswagen Golf R (from $49,990) or, better still, the BMW M135i (from $68,400) – to the higher-priced section of the hot-hatch category.

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  • Yetiman

    Still one of the best Japanese mini muscle car. I hope the replacement won’t be to docile.

    • Mills

      Yeah, not bad considering the age of this thing. It’s held up alright.

  • Bart

    Daniel, you left off pig ugly on you negatives summation.

    • Kampfer

      I think with the wide body it look alright.

      • Al Tungupon

         It could have certainly looked better still.

    • Drive

      Purely a subjective statement. I like it and it’s unique profile is still immediately recognisable among hot hatches.The only issue is when you are spending more than $20K over the standard WRX, you probably want something that stands out more.

  • Guest13

    Daniel, please leave the Porsche Turbo out of this.
    At 5.5 secs 0-100 for this WRX, the only current Porsche that’s slower is a Cayenne suv.

    • Daniel DeGasperi

      We’re talking through the corners, Guest13. I made that claim because in a colleague tested an STi against a 911 Turbo years ago, and the Subie could keep up… Cheers, Dan

      • Al Tungupon

        Top Gear saw an Evo sit on the tail of a Murcielago at the track, to the point that the Lambo even spun out. So really, there’s surprise that an STi can keep up with a 911 Turbo.

        • AndyGF

          The STI is an old dog, it is getting thrashed by a M135i and 135i coupes too (almost half the 1 series around) and a host of FWD hatches hot on its tail, if they don’t give it some ‘new tricks’ soon I fear it will be competing with hondas, never mind 911’s…

          • JooberJCW

            I agree, lets hope the new shape WRX and STi, will be a cracker, and if its based on the FA engine off the BRZ it should be…

        • Chaitanya Kumar Samardhi

          The list actually goes on, in a test done by Autocar a Honda Civic type R could keep up with an Audi R8, a Megane RS 265 could keep up with a ferrari 458 on the Nurburgring. It is just because faster cars travel faster hence need to brake harder on corners. still there is no comparison between these cars.

      • Drive

        Put an experienced driver in the STI and your average “wannabe” in a 911T, the WRX will make the 911 look like a well-heeled loser.

        • Drive

          Sorry, STI, not WRX.

        • Claude_defraud

          But have equal drivers and the WRX will get smoked.
          To compare this car with a 911 Turbo is ridiculous and real fanboish.
          The real world doesn’t consist of just corners.

  • davie

    I remember the first time that I sat inside this particular generation of WRX and STI in 08 and stared at the interior.

    The dials looked like something I would see on my kids fisher-price toys – not a fire breathing hot hatch.

    The interior plastics were as nasty and scratchy as a cheap plastic bucket from a crazy-bargains store 

    The layout was incredibly amateur. (yet I saw spy mag shots of this being tested against a Golf V5?!?!)

    This particular generation of WRX and STI has been an embarrasment since the start. Whoever signed off on it should have been sacked.

    • davie

      oh yeah – who on earth thought that a Daewoo Lanos 4-door hatch was a good shape to copy for the impreza ???

      • Zaccy16

        yep i totally agree, this sti was a huge step backwards in every way, the styling looks very cheap and korean

  • Sam

    I just watched a vid at youtube comparing this car to a BMW 135i.  It seems the BMW was better in every way.  Even faster around a track!  Mind you, in this country I suppose there is a 20k gap betweemn them….

    • Claude_defraud

      Yeah, and Daniel’s even mentioning it in the same breath as a 911 Turbo.
      Ridiculous fanboi stuff.

  • Al Tungupon

    The STi is only 5% better in performance than the WRX but costs around $20,000 more. And 5.5 seconds to 100? Obviously, that’s understated, or the tester needs to be more skilled. The Evo can do it in 5 flat, and that’s a much better looking, sharper car, too. Get that if you want the ultimate 4WD scalpel at the right side of a GTR; otherwise the Golf R and 135i are better built, more civilised rockets.

    • Drive

      Horses for courses. The WRX was never meant to be a leather-clad rocket. It’s built to a price for the budget-conscientious enthusiast. If you want a polished daily driver, sure there are better alternatives, but few will deliver the raw driving rush you get with a $40K Subi.

      • Tangible

        So what’s your point, Drive?
        20K is big money, you can buy cheap Hyundai or top grade Grate Wall.

  • Drive

    And it’s long term reliability and resale will be questionable.
    Remember, if you can’t afford a new Merc, you can’t afford an old one!

    • Hector

      doubt resale and reliability will be questionable. going off every AMG that has been  released in AUS (a couple of which we have been fortunate to own in the family) reliability has been very good. Resale, well obviously rrp is higher but resale is no better or worse than the Sti. Resale these days is pretty standard for most performance cars sold in Oz. If you can afford the A45 AMG or even CLA AMG i would go for it over this or even the next Sti. 260kW, 450nm torque, rear biased AWD, Mercedes build quality, NIL boy racer image. Can’t really ask for much more.

      • Drive

        Find me a more highly stressed engine in the marketplace KW/L from the factory. Then ask youself why.

        • Hector

          Highly stressed because of Kw/L? Is this a joke? This comment proves you know absolutely nothing at all regarding the tuning capabilities of AMGs.

      • Denzo

        Once the name AMG is involved you are a boy racer. Sorry.

    • Guest13

      Mercedes reliability is great…what are you talking about ?

  • JooberJCW

    err you mean 80k and thats not drive away, expect 90k+ it will be in the competitive price bracket against the new S3 and 135m.

    • Asdfd

       M135i can be had for $73K drive away so a $90K price is not really competitive.

      • Denzo

        Really? Where????

  • The Real Wile E

    In this price bracket the M135I is the pick for everyday use .But if that is to include robbing banks  the EVO and WRX are the weapons of choice (probably because they are easier to steal or borrow)

  • Heath Russell

    i own basically the same car that is reviewed here, i mean lets not be bashful, all the money you spend is going into a drivetrain, you cant expect civilised daily drivers out of cars like this, i mean most gripes that the reviewer has mentioned can be easily fixed by the HUGE amount of modifications you can buy for both the evolution and STi, after owning other hot hatches nothing even comes close to the tunability of an STi or EVO, i bought mine second hand in the low 30k bracket, great buying for someone who wants to get into track racing, or enjoys a mountain road, nothing compares to an evo or sti on a mountain road for the money.

  • Dave W

    Never mind the hatch, the sedan body style together with the Lancer are pretty much the default choice for an “affordable” sports sedan.

  • Josh

    Thanks for this review, CA.  I thought it was pretty balanced, and gave a fair impression on what I think is one of the best all-round cars for an enthusiast.  

    While it’s true this STI is aging, Im very much looking forward to what Subaru can produce late this year with the new WRX!

  • Davidkymdell

    The worst thing about this site is the commentors. What a bunch of uncivilized, whinging know it alls, wow!

  • Zaccy16

    its way overpriced this is in my opinion, should be high 40’s

  • Denzo

    It’s just not the car it was 10 years ago. It looks good, but that’s it. Decent performance. Not amazing. Good handling. Not amazing. The original car.. Was amazing in these areas.

  • Subaru

    i have a 2011 sti, exhaust, intake & tune brings an extra 50kws atw. but then again do you want a car as is from factory or not, these days everyone one wants more after a while. so from a aftermarket point of view you can turn this car into a rocket.
    the real question is what do you want from your car, sport, sport luxury or just luxury, there is no car on the market atm, with what everyone really wants, at a good price. so u either have nothing or something and modify it to your tastes.

Subaru WRX Specs

Car Details
Body Type
New Price
Private Sale
$48,840 - $55,500
Dealer Retail
$47,180 - $56,100
Dealer Trade
$37,500 - $44,400
Engine Specifications
Engine Type
Engine Size
Max. Torque
407Nm @  4000rpm
Max. Power
221kW @  6000rpm
Pwr:Wgt Ratio
Bore & Stroke
Compression Ratio
Valve Gear
Drivetrain Specifications
Drive Type
Final Drive Ratio
Fuel Specifications
Fuel Type
Fuel Tank Capacity
Fuel Consumption (Combined)
10.5L / 100km
Weight & Measurement
Kerb Weight
Gross Vehicle Weight
Not Provided
Ground Clearance
Towing Capacity
Brake:1200  Unbrake:750
Steering & Suspension
Steering Type
Turning Circle
Front Rim Size
Rear Rim Size
Front Tyres
245/40 R18
Rear Tyres
245/40 R18
Wheel Base
Front Track
Rear Track
Front Brakes
Rear Brakes
Front Suspension
MacPherson strut, Coil Spring, Gas damper, Anti roll bar
Rear Suspension
Double wishbone, Coil Spring, Gas damper, Anti roll bar
Standard Features
Sport Seats
Control & Handling
Vehicle Stability Control
Satellite Navigation, Trip Computer
Sound System with 10 Speakers
Xenon Headlights
Side Airbags, Seatbelts - Pre-tensioners Front Seats
Optional Features
Racing Sports Seats
Service Interval
6 months /  10,000 kms
36 months /  999,000 kms
VIN Plate Location
Driver Side Eng Scuttle
Country of Origin