The hottest version of the WRX is cheaper and better than ever before.
There’s a lot to be said for history and heritage, but it also means a car like the 2015 Subaru WRX STI also has a mighty weight to carry in motoring terms when the new kid on the block has such high standards to live up to.
Subaru fans will be expecting serious performance and ability from this new STI given the brand’s reputation for rally-bred performance at a relatively affordable price.
And price is where the big highlight comes for the 2015 Subaru WRX STI. Given the razor sharp starting price of $49,990 – a massive $10,000 cheaper than before – a whole host of potential new fans will be watching closely, in addition to existing fans of the brand.
That’s without taking into account the fact there is an extra $7000 worth of standard equipment over the outgoing model. Subaru Australia sold 130 STI models in 2013 but expects to sell 300 this year. We think that might be a little conservative.
From the outside, there’s been a subtle shift from Subaru’s styling department that had its genesis in models like Forester and has gradually worked its way through the stable.
This new STI is quite understated compared with its predecessors – with the only leftover overt part being the sky-high rear wing. You don’t even have to have that, though. For the first time in STI history you can delete the wing at order for no cost and slip even further under the radar if you wish.
Even the centrally mounted bonnet scoop has been toned down. It’s still there; it just isn’t such an assault on the visual senses.
We like the lightweight 18-inch BBS alloy wheels and personally I think I’d delete the wing. I say think because I’m just not 100 per cent sure which way I’d go. The wing says so much about the STI brand, but it’s also something that polarises non-believers. Despite the softening down of the hard edges, there’s still a certain something about the 2015 Subaru WRX STI that reminds passers by it is in fact an STI.
Inside the cabin, the old bugbear remains that the STI isn’t quite a significant enough step away from the basic WRX (and in turn the WRX not differentiated enough from the Impreza).
The lack of Recaro bucket seats – standard on older models – adds to that issue and there’s also the small matter of an audio system that feels, and looks, decidedly old school. That said, the fit, finish and touch surfaces are all a significant step forward (as noted in CarAdvice’s recent WRX first drive) from the outgoing model.
The race-inspired, D-shaped steering wheel is an attractive touch, too, although the driver’s footwell is a little tight, so you won’t want to be wearing wide shoes for track days. There’s little doubt that from behind the wheel, though, the 2015 Subaru WRX STI is the most refined STI ever.
Interior legroom both front and rear is impressive for what in reality is still a compact sedan. With the driver’s pew set for my 187cm frame, there’s more than enough room for another adult to sit directly behind in the back seat. The 25mm that’s been added to the wheelbase has had visible positive results. Despite finding myself longing for the previous model’s Recaro buckets, the new front seats are definitely comfortable, if not quite as hip hugging – especially on the racetrack. I had to really bolster my legs around tight, fast corners at speed.
The view both fore and aft is uninterrupted with plenty of visibility and no obvious blind spots. The rear wing, should you choose to keep it, has even been lifted to aid in rearward visibility. The gauges and major controls are easy to decipher and you’re not drowning in a sea of switchgear and controls from behind the wheel.
Our first taste of the 2015 Subaru WRX STI was out on track, at Goulburn’s tight and twisty Wakefield Park. It’s been some time since I’ve taken an STI for a track thrash, but I certainly don’t recall having as much confidence in the pure mechanical grip as I had in this new model.
Unless you’re being silly, understeer is almost completely non-existent, and you can dial in more or less traction control with the various drive modes. There’s a surfeit of grip and surety that no front- or rear-wheel-drive car can match, thanks to the active centre diff and clever AWD system.
We also noticed the engine note, which is decidedly muted from the grandstands, is significantly more pleasurable from the driver’s seat at speed.
The 2.5-litre engine pulls like a train right up to redline once you get rolling, but you do need to work the six-speed gearbox to keep the engine spinning in the meat of the power and torque delivery. The gearbox has been sharpened up a little, too, meaning shifts are smooth and precise. Stronger, less flexible mountings mean there is nothing in the way of vibration through the shifter at any speed.
Subaru is keen to remind us that the steering ratio has dropped from 15:1 to 13:1 to move the STI close to what Subaru describes as ‘Porsche-like’ in terms of steering feel and precision. The sharper, more direct steering and suspension compliance deliver real confidence on the track, which is a significant step forward from the previous model that had a tendency toward understeer. Turn in is quick and sharp and there’s enough feedback to keep the driver informed as to exactly what is going on under the front wheels.
Out on the open road, the STI is similarly impressive. Bump absorption, even on rutted country backroads, comes in for special mention. You don’t expect a car that handles as competently as the STI on a racetrack to soak up bumps so effortlessly on the road but the STI eats up country miles in comfort and insulation.
There’s ample shove from the engine, which has its torque right where you want it on the open road to execute an overtaking manoeuvre. And while 5th and 6th gears are both tall, they come into play on the highway. At crawl speeds around town, the combination of gearbox and clutch is never harsh or jerky, making for a pleasurable daily commute. There is no doubt that the STI is a genuine performance flagship that you can live with comfortably every day.
There’s no auto option, however, unlike the regular WRX that is available with a CVT. Some keen drivers might consider such a thought heresy, but today’s enthusiasts are not necessarily all fixated on a manual gearbox.
The Subaru WRX STI has always been keenly respected by enthusiasts of both the Japanese brand itself and of sedans with a sporting heritage. Despite past flaws like turbo lag and an interior that was every bit the garden variety Impreza, there’s always been something innately attractive about a vehicle that is as fast point to point as cars costing more than double. Given the new, razor shape pricing, the new Subaru WRX STI is could be even harder to resist.