Car Reviews

2016 Subaru WRX STI review

Isaac Bober’s 2016 Subaru WRX STI review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and rating.

2016 Subaru WRX STI

Pricing From $49,490 (+ORC) Warranty three years, unlimited kilometres Safety five star ANCAP Engine 2.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder Boxer engine Power/Torque 221kW and 407Nm Transmission six-speed manual Body 4595mm (L); 1795mm (W); 1475mm (H) Weight 1525-1535kg Wheels/Tyres 18-inch/245/40 R18 97W (Dunlop SP Sport Maxx RT) Spare Spacesaver Boot 460 litres Fuel Tank 60 litres Thirst 10.4L/100km

In a nutshell: Subaru’s hard man, the WRX STI, is tweaked for 2016 with some cool new practical touches.

Editor's Rating

How we rated the 2016 Subaru WRX STI
Practical Motoring Says: The latest WRX STI adds some much-needed safety tech and remains one of the planet’s great performance car bargains and indeed, one of the planet’s last true driver’s cars. That the STI is capable of working as both a family car and a trackday terror is icing on the cake.

THE SUBARU WRX STI should be seen as being just important in the motoring pantheon as, say, the Volkswagen Golf GTI or Lamborghini Miura. Both of those cars are seen as defining moments in motoring and, so to, in my mind, is the WRX (STI). It’s a passenger car with the soul of a hurricane.

Go to a library and flick through old car magazines from the 1990s and 2000s and there’ll be a test or comparison in every other issue of whatever motoring magazine you pick up. Usually, they’ll show the WRX (STI) being compared to things costing much, much more and, more often than not humbling the pricier hot-shoe performance cars.

Since those heady fisticuff days the WRX STI has grown up, filled out and become, dare we say it, more refined. But that hasn’t hurt sales, with the current generation WRX and STI selling in the same numbers as they did at the giant-killer’s peak in the 1990s.

Late last year, Subaru announced some safety tweaks for the 2016 WRX Premium and the WRX STI (which we’re testing here). Those safety improvements include the addition of Blind Spot Monitoring; Lane Change Assist; Auto Dimming Rear View Mirror; High Beam Assist; Side View Mirror; Rear Cross Traffic Alert; and Power Folding Mirrors. Subaru also announced a price drop by $500 (to $49,490+ORC) on entry-level WRX STI and $200 for those fitted with a rear boot spoiler. Not bad.

Of all the changes, the Side View Mirror is probably the one you’ll most make use of, at least I did. See, the week before I collected the STI I’d touched a wheel on our long-term Toyota Camry Atara SX against a gutter leaving a tiny mark on the shiny black rim. Sure, I don’t make a habit of this, but the side camera was handy indeed.

WRX STI review

Unlike some systems which try and show multiple views on the one screen, the STI’s Side View Mirror shows in the small screen at the top of the dashboard (via a camera mounted under the passenger side rear view wing mirror) while the main screen shows the reversing camera view. What’s even cooler, though, is the fact you can activate the side view mirror in general driving and let your passenger watch your left-side apex clipping expertise.

Beyond these safety and price changes, the WRX STI here is very much the same WRX STI as the 2015 model. That means that under the bonnet is a 2.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder Boxer engine running a 8.2:1 compression ratio and producing 221kW at 6000rpm and 407Nm of torque at 4000rpm. This is mated to a six-speed manual transmission and will see the STI stop the clock to 100km/h in 4.9 seconds.

WRX STI review

In general driving, though, the STI doesn’t feel blisteringly quick and that’s because, due to packaging issues in the engine bay, the STI is still a bit of an old-school turbo car. And that means if you poke the throttle with less than, at least, 3000rpm almost nothing will happen. From 3500rpm, though, the STI’s nature starts to change and by 4000rpm the thing is hard-charging towards the horizon.

Like most Subarus, the WRX STI offers the car maker’s SI-Drive system which allows you to choose from Intelligent, Sport and Sport# (sharp). Should you bother with it, and what does it do? I’d say, yes, if you’re a person who thinks seeing the revs rise slightly and the engine note harden as you toggle through Intelligent, Sport and Sport# means the thing is going faster then, by all means use it. But, in the real world the system adjusts throttle sensitivity only which is noticeable as I’ve just mentioned, but it doesn’t take it from mild to wild…

The gearshift and clutch action has been criticised elsewhere, but that’s nonsense. This is easily the best of the breed, at least as far as the gear shift and clutch relationship is concerned. The throws are short and direct and without the notchiness of previous generation hot-shoe WRX STIs, and the clutch is well weighted in its actions and there’s decent feel through the pedal.

WRX STI review

All that said, if you try and rush the STI’s shifts with ham fists it’s very likely you’ll catch a shift on a gate or even grind a gear. And that’s simply because, despite being smoother than ever, the shift and clutch don’t reward being manhandled (or woman-handled for that matter), preferring a smooth action on both the shifter and clutch.

If you are pressing on in the thing, you’ll need to concentrate on your shifts and keep them coming too, because although 6000rpm sounds okay for peak power, there’s only 2000rpm difference between peak torque and peak power. But hey, the pay-off is that you’re intimately connected to, and directly responsible for the cars doings, and feeling the turbo boost swell from 3500rpm is intoxicating.

But that’s not to say the WRX STI is a snail around town because it isn’t. There’s enough usable grunt below 3500rpm that you’re never left flat-footed. It’s just that torque builds more slowly from idle until 3500rpm, and you can always drop down from sixth gear to fourth, or more, if you need instant squirt.

WRX STI review

Being able to grip and go has always been a hallmark of both the STI and its little brother, the WRX. And this current model delivers more of the same. Much more of the same. Easily the firmest riding WRX STI in memory and thus, probably ever, you’d be hard pressed to describe it as hard riding.

Sure, suspension travel is short, but the dampers do a good job of smoothing out harder hits and the body insulation is such that there’s little transmission of impact into the cabin. Across a variety of surfaces and at both high and low speed, the STI resists tram lining which is impressive for a vehicle this stiff and there’s no torque steer either, even when the grunt arrives in a big dollop at 4000rpm.

The steering is super direct and while the weighting seems a little inconsistent and feel through the wheel is a little light on, there’s enough of everything that you can make the most of the car’s grip and power. And every time you drive the thing the steering will become more familiar, until the thing’s that niggled in the beginning will be almost unnoticed at the end… that was certainly my experience, at least, after a week behind the wheel.

Now, the grip. For a long time it’s been a hallmark of the WRX STI and it continues in this current model. The main difference between this model and ones that went before it is the attitude of the thing. No matter how hard you push the STI, thanks to its big anti-roll bars, is refuses to roll mid-corner and turns in and grips with scalpel precision.

Arrive at a corner too fast and the STI will fall into understeer, but thanks to Subaru’s Active Torque Vectoring which brakes the inside front wheel when understeer is detected (rather than some systems which brake both the front and rear inside wheels) this is minimised. And, in most cases almost completely eliminated.

The STI also offers a Mutli-Mode Driver-Controlled Differential (DCCD) which is a fancy way of saying you can control the front:rear torque bias, and level of differential lock via a toggle switch, if you like. We fiddled around with it a bit but, if we’re honest, for 99.9% of owners we’d suggest just leaving it in Auto and letting the car’s computer brain work it out. In essence though, you can set the front:rear torque bias from 50:50 to 41:59 for a rear-drive feel. Then there’s the differential lock function which allows you to alter the level at which the front and rear driveshafts are locked together. We’ve got a more thorough explanation of DCCD, and more, here.

Climbing inside and the WRX STI feels more premium than it ever has before but, to be honest, that’s not saying a whole lot. That said, in the majority of places you’ll touch you’ll be touching soft plastics. All of the buttons and switches feel nice to the touch and sturdy enough to last the test of time.

WRX STI review

The dashboard layout is nice and easy to use and the colour Starlink touchscreen unit is responsive to touch and straightforward in the way you access the things functionality. At the top of the dashboard is the 4.3-inch colour screen that displays the side view mirror image as well as turbo boost and drivetrain operation. It’s a nice touch and while it doesn’t feel like an afterthought, it’s not exactly in your eyeline.

The front seats are grippy without trying to come off like a racing seat has been stuck in a passenger car. And there’s enough adjustment on the seat, as well as with the steering wheel, that both short and tall drivers will be able to get comfortable behind the wheel.

In the back, there’s decent room for two adults in each outboard seat, the middle is best left for adult accommodation on shorter journeys only as it’s really only a perch. I managed to fit my two child seat restraints into the back (one’s a harness restraint and the other a booster) and both kids said they had enough leg and headroom. There are three top tether mounts in the back but only the two outboard seats carry ISOFIX mounts.

The boot offers 460 litres of space and the rear seats are 60:40 split fold.

There are two trim levels: WRX STI and WRX STI Premium. Both get the same five-star ANCAP rating, seven airbags and the usual suspects like all-wheel drive, LSD, traction and stability controls, reversing camera, hill start assist in forward and reverse and the brakes are the same on both variants. The STI Premium adds side view monitor, blind spot monitor, lane change assist, and rear cross traffic alert.

General features include: push button start; Datadot security and immobiliser; dual-zone climate control; eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat (STI Premium); seven-inch touch screen with sat-nav, Bluetooth connectivity and voice control.

Subaru offers capped price servicing on its range, including the WRX STI with intervals of six-months or 12,500km with servicing prices ranging from $294.07 to $584.07 at 35,000km.

WRX STI review

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Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober