2008 Subaru Impreza WRX STi review

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2008 Subaru Impreza WRX STi spec. R review & road test

“I’m not that interested in what the WRX/STi purists think about the new WRX STI. They as a group do not like change. The 2008 weapons grade STi Spec.R is probably the most complete performance package for under $65,000 bar none”

Model Tested:

  • 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX STi spec. R - $64,990 (RRP)

Performance, handling, brakes, Recaro seats, new looks (Anthony)

New looks (Alborz), lack of exhaust note, no option for DSG style gearbox

CarAdvice Rating:

by - Anthony Crawford & Alborz Fallah - Photography by Anthony Crawford

Anthony - When I planted my right foot into the throttle of the first Subaru WRX I ever drove, back in 1994, I would have done back flips, had I had the talent to perform such physical manoeuvres. I didn’t, so I just smiled – a lot.

But then I got busy with work and ended up with an SV5000, the first Australian sedan to have 200kW under the bonnet. It was a great car, but it didn’t go around corners like a WRX.

Some years later Subaru started preparing ‘super’ versions of the WRX in the guise of the WRX STi. Now, this was a car I aspired to, but the price increase of around $20,000 over a standard REX, meant that I had to either get a new job, or sell our home (unit actually).

Again, fate stepped in, and I was offered a mint 1981 Porsche 3.0 911SC, for less than a song. Still no STi but then, that was probably a good thing, given the car’s impending dark times.

Subaru’s finest tarmac weapon, had risen to newfound notoriety, as the best getaway vehicle ever made. The “Ram Raiders” as they were known, endorsed the WRX STi, with more successful escapes than the police had cars.

It’s also the reason I had lost interest in acquiring what I considered the Holy Grail of affordable super cars. Chances are, you would be pulled over by the boys in blue, every time you took the car out for a drive. That’s something I didn’t need.

Crash cut to 2008. Some would argue that Subaru have gone way too pedestrian with the design of the new WRX. Not me. It’s a hatch, so it’s got practicality on its side and performance wise, its still a very quick car, into and out of corners.

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The only problem is, that from the rear three quarter view, it’s difficult to tell the performance spec variants from lesser-priced versions, like the RS or even, RX badged Imprezas. You could also argue, that this is a good thing from a licence preservation perspective.

But then, that’s probably why I would need to put the brakes on family holidays for a year or two, and go with the STi, Spec.R, no less. The quad exhaust pipes, deep rear diffuser and extra wide wheel arches, are more than enough to sway me.

Yes, it’s a whole lot more coin to come up with but then again, you would be driving something exclusive, and looking far more the business. Even the non-enthusiast punters will know the difference.

And why wouldn’t I go for the $59,990 standard spec STi and save five grand by doing so?

I’ll grant you, they do look almost identical, even the specifications match, number for number. But I did say, almost.

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You’ll notice the wheels on the Spec.R; they are 18-inch lightweight BBS alloys, shaving over 3kg off each corner. They also suit the car’s aggressive body kit more so, than the entry level five spoke alloys.

So far, it’s not a bad deal. These BBS mags on their own would set you back close to $5,000 for a set of four.

And while the sports seats in the entry level STi are well-bolstered examples in leather and Alcantara, they’re not branded Recaro. You get those in the Spec.R, and at around $1500 each as an after market purchase, you’ve just pulled ahead by three grand.

But let’s be honest, you’re not going to put down $65,000 because you think the STi looks good. What you are buying in the 2008 STi Spec.R is probably the most complete performance package for under $65,000 bar none.

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According to Subaru’s performance figures, the 2008 STi is only 0.6 seconds quicker than the current WRX. That’s 5.2 seconds Vs 5.8 seconds, and while that may not seem like a lot, the difference behind the wheel, is dramatic.

To anyone out there who is clinging to the false belief that the previous generation STi was somehow quicker than MY08 car, we brought along a slightly modified MY07 STi as a comparison.

On a rolling acceleration run, I was surprised that the Spec.R began to noticeably pull away from the MY07 car. That’s something I didn’t expect with a rather smallish 15kW and 15Nm increase in power and torque. The new car is also 10kg heavier.

The six-speed manual shift is a treat and allows for rapid gear changes which require little effort. The gear ratios seem well placed too.

But while I am still a fan of manual shifting, I am more a fan of gear changes via paddles. They allow for far more control and speed in the twisty sections and frankly, the STi would be a more enhanced driving experience with them.

I’ve got to be honest, I have never been into dumping the clutch at 3,000-5000rpm and launching cars, except of course on the start line of a race track. Always thought it was a pointless waste of a good clutch and of course, there’s that awful smell.

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But a car like the WRX STi Spec R can bring out the devil in you, like no other. Let me explain.

There’s a small roundish metal dial labelled “SI-DRIVE” just behind the six-speed shifter. You have three engine map settings to play with here, Intelligent (I) for smooth and economical driving, Sport (S) for all round performance and Sport Sharp (S#) which the press release describe as “Truly dynamic engine performance”.

That is way too dull a description of how just one little twist to the right, transforms this car.

If there were ever a "launch" competition for stock standard production cars up to $100,000 I can assure you, the STi would be undefeated. This car is rocket ship quick off the mark, as all four tyres put one hundred percent of the power down, without a hint of traction loss. It just launches like no tomorrow.

If you are on the throttle, and coming into a corner, there’s some slight body roll. Don’t worry about it. Turn in hard like you’re committed and the STi will hold the line perfectly and sort it all out for you.

Directly behind the “SI-DRIVE”, there’s another very interesting bit of technology, which is labelled “C-DIFF”. Subaru’s acronym for this is the DCCD (Driver’s Control Centre Differential). By moving the lever up or down, you can control the torque distribution between front and rear axles.

There is no doubt that were you to track the car or even a little rally driving, you might want to familiarise yourself more with the characteristics of each available setting. We, on the other hand, left it in auto mode, with no complaints.

If I had one gripe with the STi, it would be the lack of a truly purposeful exhaust note. While Subaru have produced a high performance car you can live with 24/7, I’d like a little more of that ‘tuned’ boxer burble from the quad pipes.

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Alborz - Pictures of the new STi caught me completely off-guard, think of it this way, it felt like a gorgeous blonde walked out of a beauty salon and came out as a brunette, began dressing like a professional and grew up... a lot.

Some people will always love the blonde look (I do!), but I can somewhat see where Subaru is coming from with the new STi. It no longer has the 'look-at-me-now' factor to it, which although was one of the previous generation's draw cards, seems to have become a liability. Let me explain.

I drive a different press car every week and in my time doing so, have never been pulled over by our men in blue. However, when I feel like a more wholehearted drive, I get in my own car, a modified previous generation and I can assure you, the term cop-magnet is not unjust.

The question of whether or not I will buy the new STi has nothing to do with the performance or handling, the car is better than it has ever been, it's quicker, has more power and the engine and entire performance package is still the best bang-for-your-buck this side of 70g (although the Audi S3 is a great competitor).

Even Subaru's once lacklustre Impreza interior is looking better than ever, but, and it's a big but, the car just doesn't push the right buttons for me. Maybe it's because I am still young at heart or maybe because it's a hatchback.

As Anthony says, Subaru enthusiasts like myself, don't welcome significant styling changes to a cult car, so when Fuji Heavy Industries decided that it no longer wanted to cater for the "boy-racer" market, did the company forget its past and armies of die-hard fans?

Perhaps, we can still refer to the blonde-now-brunette girl, the ones that loved her when she was a blonde, will secretly still love her but continue to complain about her hair, meanwhile her new looks attract an entirely new set of eyes - the ones she is apparently after.

My question, however, is whether or not the new-lookers will fall in love or simply glance over her new looks and remember the blonde?

Video review coming soon.


CarAdvice Overall Rating: How does it Drive: How does it Look: How does it Go:


  • Engine: 2457cc (2.5) 4-cylinder turbo
  • Power: 221kW @ 6,000rpm
  • Torque: 407Nm @ 4,000rpm
  • Transmission: Six Speed manual
  • Brakes: Brembo
  • Top Speed: ~240km/h
  • 0-100km/h: 5.2 seconds
  • Fuel Consumption: 10.3 litres / 100km (Combined)
  • Fuel Tank Capacity: 60 litres
  • Fuel Type: 98 RON only
  • ANCAP Rating: Five Star
  • Safety: ESC (VSD), side and front airbags+
  • Warranty: 3 year / 100,000km
  • Weight: 1,465kg (Tare)