Is the Subaru WRX STi Worth it?
This car needs no introduction, but I’ll do it anyway. If you’re “of a certain age,” you probably used the Subaru WRX STi in Gran Turismo or Need For Speed. An affordable rally car for the street that rocked on or off pavement. A low price, easy upgrades, and all-wheel drive grip made for a fantastic video game hero. Many gamers found out the real car rocked too, and put down their PS2 controllers for real-world STi steering wheels. While mostly a good time, the STi, like the PS2, is showing its age.
If you’re new here, the STi stands for Subaru Technica International. It was initially a homologation special, a WRC rally car for the street. A four-door, turbo four cylinder monster that could keep up with the Corvette on the streets, and go blazing down a gravel back road, for a good price. While it is a four cylinder, the cylinders are horizontally opposed instead of the typical inline configuration. Subaru says this creates a smoother engine, as engine vibrations cancel each other out, unlike an inline or V-design. Enthusiasts see that it results in an engine lower with a lower center of gravity and better handling. The 2.5L boxer engine utilizes a twin scroll turbo for less lag and features slightly bumped pressure compared to the WRX. Direct fuel injection oddly didn’t increase power in recent years, which still sits at 305 horsepower and 290 lb/ft of torque at 4,000 RPM. Those aren’t huge numbers, but are decent in a vehicle that weighs 3450 lbs. It makes that standard Subaru rumble at idle due to the unequal length factory header, and you can tell this definitely isn’t your friend’s Chevy Cobalt’s four banger sound. When driven hard, it makes the familiar “BRAAAAP!”
Speaking of noise, there’s some goofy sounding standard features inside, like SI-DRIVE, which is fancy-speak for Subaru Intelligent Drive. It makes more sense on seeing the “intelligent,” “sport,” and “sport sharp” settings. This lets the driver adjust the electronic throttle sensitivity, so it’s basically a factory installed Apex-i Smart Throttle Controller. Then there’s the Multi-Mode Driver Controlled Center Differential (DCCD) which lets the driver adjust the front/rear torque distribution. Cool. Brakes are solid, with six-piston Brembo calipers in mandatory red over big 13” rotors. They’re nice and grabby, and don’t fade easily. Subaru’s website is a little odd, bragging about aluminum control arms, which were available on the Olds Alero 20 years ago. However, it all works together, to the tune of a 0.92 skidpad.
Acceleration is equally acceptable, but definitely depends on the driver. MotorTrend managed a zero to 60 of 5.7 seconds, while the quarter mile took 14.1. Ouch, 1999 called and wants its Mustang GT back. Car and Driver did a better 5.3 seconds and a mid-13 quarter mile. Flat out, the STi will reach a top speed of 160 MPH.
Outside & In
Outside, there’s a few major clues that this isn’t a base model Impreza. While the giant hood scoop up front is more subtle than previous designs, the classic in-your-face rear wing is still there. Up front, the differences are minor, with only an STi badge and different fake air intakes in the bumper to let others know you upgraded. About the only other visual difference you’ll see are the wheels, with the STi receiving some boss multi-spoke BBSs over the base WRX’s forgettable design.
Overall, the exterior is the car we’ve seen the last several years. That’s because – unlike the new base Impreza – the STi is based on the previous generation Impreza. So while the current 5th generation Impreza looks modern and Volvo-ish, the STi looks a bit frumpy, like the 4th gen car underneath.
Seating comfort is great, visibility is good, and way better than most performance cars. The dash and gauge cluster have a nice modern layout, but it falls a bit when you realize it’s in the upper $30k range. That’s low-end BMW & Mercedes territory. Rear seats still have unimpressive comfort and space, slightly better than what you would expect to find in the back of a Sentra. The trunk is decent, with 12 cu ft and a usable sized opening. New for 2018 is standard roof rack brackets. Hey, it’s a Subaru, so they expect you to go camping.
Base price of the STi starts just under $37,000, which is an even ten grand over the base WRX. More on that price later. Gas mileage numbers are 17 city/22 highway. While STi buyers won’t care, that mileage is pretty dreadful even for a performance car, and it gets expensive since it needs premium. Recaros are available, or standard on the $41,000 STi Limited. That package also gets you leather-trimmed upholstery, a power-tilt/sliding moonroof, GPS navigation system, keyless entry, push-button start, and blind spot detection in case you don’t know how to use mirrors.
Is the STi worth it?
Way back in the dark ages of internet forums in 2002, Chevy enthusiasts warned their rivals at Ford not to celebrate the end of the 4th gen Camaro. They said that without the rivalry, the Mustang was going to stagnate. That didn’t happen in that particular example, but oddly it seems to have happened here. Today isn’t the same as 15 years ago, with the STi battling the equally formidable and desirable Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII. The Civic Si and Focus SVT back then were just competent sport compacts, never to be cross-shopped with the likes of Subaru’s hero car.
A lot has happened since 2004. Just as a reminder: Evanescence was huge, Dodge Ball was in theaters, and the Toyota Prius was Car of the Year. This STi has a whole FIVE more horsepower than the 2004 model. It hits 0 – 60 a giant 0.2 seconds faster than the base WRX. The Lancer and Evo are gone (except for a heavily restyled model for the Chinese market). The Focus went insane, with the 350 hp RS. The Civic is nearly as unhinged, with the 306 hp Type R. While a little pricier, there’s the Golf R with 292 hp, and better gas mileage, interior, and drive quality than the STi. Want more power for your money? The base Mustang GT is a grand cheaper, and offers 460 hp, 420 lb/ft, and big smoky burnouts. It’s not AWD, but with that much power, who cares?
With that said, the STi is not a bad car, it’s just that Japan has been looking elsewhere and it shows. The MazdaSpeed3 is gone, as Mazda is too “mature” now. The Nissan 370Z and GT-R have their fans, but are long overdue for their next generations. There are reasons to own an STi or the other dated performance cars above, but they aren’t the value or performance leaders anymore. And so it is with the 2018 Subaru WRX STi. No one would fault you for buying one, they’d nod their heads and say, “Oh, cool.” But, it doesn’t blow people’s minds either, which is too bad, because that’s exactly what the old STi did. Hopefully Subaru can find their mojo again soon.