Maybe we should just jump right in and ask the most obvious question first: is there a place in the world any more for the Subaru WRX STI?
There can be little doubt that the WRX (Subaru no longer calls it an Impreza) is a truly iconic car.
Rally fans have spent years standing in Welsh forests clutching a Thermos and a damp sarnie just so they could be sprayed with mud by a flash of blue and yellow on its way to victory, and that’s something the Subaru has notched up quite a few of over the years.
Watch our 2015 Subaru WRX STI Video Review
Its drivers have been pretty iconic, too, with the late, great Colin McRae and Richard Burns heading a list that includes Ari Vatanen, Carlos Sainz, Tommi Makinen and Petter Solberg among many others.
Its success was borne out of its unconventional layout – a low-slung flat-four ‘boxer’ engine and a symmetrical all-wheel-drive system that resulted in a low centre of gravity and truly tenacious levels of grip – perfect for rallying.
An unofficial arms race with Mitsubishi’s Evo kept things interesting, but when Subaru pulled out from the WRC in 2008, it felt as if the bottom had fallen out of the brand’s identity.
Since then, pressure on car manufacturers to reduce emissions and improve efficiency has changed the automotive landscape, and today the champion for those wanting bowel-tearing pace and brain-haemorrhaging grip levels is the VW Golf R.
Into this brave new world arrives the new Subaru WRX STI, a car that steadfastly follows the same recipe as it has for over 20 years: 2.5-litre flat-four turbocharged petrol engine, all-wheel-drive, the option of familiar bright blue paint with gold wheels, and a picnic table of a spoiler on the rear boot-lid.
That engine is carried over largely wholesale from the previous car, last seen on these shores over a year ago. From its 2.5-litres it produces 300 PS and 407 Nm of torque, and that imbues the STI with a 0-62 mph time of 5.2 seconds and a top whack of 159 mph.
It’s a little more efficient than before with an official economy figure of 27.2 mpg, a figure our testing showed to be largely on the money. Drive sensibly and you might see 33 mpg or more, but that feels a bit like asking Mo Farah to walk everywhere.
Subaru have fiddled with the interior, too, and by moving the A-pillars forward by 200mm and adding a quarter light to the front windows they’ve given the driver greater forward visibility and the interior a brighter ambiance.
Also new is a chunky steering wheel with a flat bottom, while a smattering of aluminium and carbon-effect trim has been added to reinforce the sporting theme. The carbon stuff looks a bit implausible, however, and the stereo looks a little dated, although there’s nothing wrong with way it sounds.
The dials glow red like something in an Amsterdam shop’s front window, and they include the option of a configurable rev light and alarm so you don’t clatter into the limiter. There’s also a multi-function display on top of the centre stack that provides a boost gauge as well as more mundane info such as fuel economy.
Next to the gear-lever are controls for the centre differential and Subaru’s Intelligent Drive system. By default, the diff splits engine torque 50/50 front to rear, but you can choose between two additional pre-sets (Auto+ and Auto-) to send more torque to either the front or rear according to preference, or switch to manual mode if you hanker for more precise control.
Similarly, the SI-Drive control allows you to alter throttle response between Sport Mode, Sport Sharp which offers the most aggressive response, or just leave it in Intelligent mode which, to our mind, felt the most natural.
Whichever mode you’ve opted for, the STI laughs in the face of the laws of physics. Its incredible levels of traction mean you can pile into a corner with more speed than seems conceivable and – as long as you keep the power on – the Subaru will just grip and pull you through.
Come off the power and it’ll revert to an attitude that favours understeer, but there’s no snappy histrionics to it. This balance between under- and oversteer is easily regulated by your right foot, and any change in the car’s attitude can be easily accommodated with a few degrees of extra steering input.
Even sawing away at the wheel fails to upset it, and it doesn’t take too much of this before the STI begins to take on an air of invincibility.
It’s the polar opposite of the driving experience on offer in the Subaru BRZ, for instance. That car’s deliberately lower grip levels are the key factor in its ability to have fun without cranking up the speed. The STI, by comparison, positively goads you into trying to find its limits, but if you have any respect for your licence, you won’t get anywhere near them on the public road.
If the STI could talk, it would be sat on your driveway shouting “come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough!” It would growl at your neighbour’s cat, and swear at your postman.
This is a car that’s confident in its own abilities, and it’s not afraid to let you know it.
That means it’s hard work to drive – you’ll need at least 3,000rpm on the clock before the party in the engine bay gets going, the gear-change is short but needs a good shove, the steering offers plenty of feedback but is heavy in the hands, and the ride is beyond firm and well into the territory of rock ‘ard.
But that’s the point of this car – you don’t so much drive it as go for a work-out.
For a thousand pounds more, you can buy a Golf R. It’s got an identical amount of power, offers similar performance, and drives all four wheels, just like the Subaru.
But that’s a car you can drive one-handed while half-asleep. Sure, its performance is more accessible to people with a wider range of driving abilities. Whereas the Subaru expects you to grow a pair and just get on with it.
That said, the STI isn’t totally unsympathetic to modern life. It’s got four doors, back seats with more space than before thanks to a 25mm longer wheelbase, and a 460-litre boot with a 60/40 split rear seat. And while it’s more economical than before, the only real downside is its high emissions and a £485 bill for road tax.
So is there still a place for a car like this in today’s world?
Oddly, in an age of electronic driver aids and anaesthetised power steering, the WRX is almost a breath of fresh air.
Cancel the gym membership; buy an STI instead.
|Entry-level Price||£28,995||Price as tested||£28,995|
|Engine||4-cyl turbo ‘boxer’, 2457cc||Transmission||Six-speed manual|
|Power||300PS @ 6,000rpm||Torque||407Nm @ 4,200rpm|
|0-62||5.2 secs||Top speed||159 mph|
|Economy||27.2 mpg||CO2||242 g/km|
|Dimensions||4595 x 1795 x 1475 (LWH)||Kerb Weight||1534 kg|