2015 Subaru WRX STi Review
Robert Pepper’s 2015 Subaru WRX STi review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety and verdict.
In a nutshell: The new Subaru WRX STI has finally arrived and brings with it sharp pricing and handling. It’s now also available with or without its trademark rear wing, and with no loss of aerodynamic performance…
Practical Motoring Says: Subaru has delivered a supremely practical small sedan with sharp pricing, sharp handling and daily-driver liveability, but it lacks the urgent potency that separates the good from the great.
I DON’T KNOW HOW MANY THOUSANDS of hours have gone into making the 2015 Subaru WRX STi, but it’s fair to say that quite a bit of that time would have be spent on making the thing fun, and fast. For those needing an introduction, the base car is the humble Impreza, then you have the WRX (World Rally Cross) which is the faster version of the Impreza, then the WRX STi (Subaru Technica International) which is the faster version of the WRX and the subject of this test.
So the WRX STi is a small sedan tuned for the track, with a powerful 221kW 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged Boxer engine, sports suspension, track-ready Brembo brakes and other systems designed for high-speed fun. Now while the STi has racetrack capability, if you wanted a track-only car there’s other ways to spend your fifty large and the strength of the vehicle is to combine performance with practicality, so let’s start by considering the top-end Subie as just a normal roadcar.
Subaru are not noted for their plush interiors and the STi continues that tradition, but certainly has more of a premium air than previous versions. There’s no particular innovations to speak of – it has Bluetooth with audio streaming, a reverse camera, pushbutton start, satnav and safety is good but so is everything else these days. In short, equipment levels tick all the major boxes but don’t otherwise stand out.
There are however two ways the STi differentiates itself from the average small vehicle as a daily driver. First is power. I’m not a fan of raw numbers, but 0-100 in 5 seconds is rapid even by today’s standards and certainly at this price point. If you don’t want to use all that grunt then no matter, just surf along gently in high gears still beating traffic, and the power means you can almost drive the manual like an automatic with little need for second gear. Basically, driving a high-powered manual is a lot easier than a low-powered manual. And there’s Hill Start Assist to help with hill starts too.
The other big difference to a typical roadcar is grip, particularly in the wet. Your average front-wheel drive small car does scrabble a bit in watery conditions, but never a STi or any Subaru (BRZ excepted). This is because of something Subaru call symmetrical All Wheel Drive, which sends drive equally to all four wheels. Now a lot of claims made by manufacturers are, shall we say, ambitious, but Symmetrical AWD really does work and gives supreme traction confidence in all conditions, particularly wet or dirt roads and even if you’re not going fast.
That’s now enough on the normality side of things, so next up is the situation with speed. The STi is designed as a driver’s car and everything Subaru told us about the car emphasised the point. Subaru Managing Director Nick Senior said the objective was to make the driver feel as one with the car as a snowboarder or surfer with his board, and Subaru are keen to play up the fact the STi was benchmarked against the Porsche 911.
So it’s out to Wakefield Park, a lovely, flowing racetrack with a delicious mix of varying corners, and quick changes of both direction and elevation. A kind of heaven if you will. Here we find the STi is quick, simple to drive and confidence-inspiring. Heel and toe gearshifts are easy, the steering is a particular delight, the brakes are firm and visibility is good. The car is rock-solid, hard to upset and when you do there’s plenty of warning and it’s recoverable – the vehicle wants to work with you not kill you. We drove the car in varying modes, and found that with VDC On (Subaru’s stability control, see a Tech Explainer here) the electronic systems gently nudged things into line if you approached the limit carefully, and in Track mode any driver should have corrected with steering and throttle before the computers decide to intervene.
This means that you can enjoy a fast track drive at tyre-squealing limits yet have the safety net of the computers to help with major mistakes. With all the aids off the car feels much the same (VDC button press for 4 seconds), but there’s a left-hander at Wakefield that the Active Torque Vectoring does helps to pull it through. We also tried turning the centre differential up to maximum lock, but that just promoted understeer without helping traction out of the corners.
Of the three driving modes, Auto, Auto+ and Auto- the latter was the most fun, and it slightly helped with the natural AWD understeer by biasing drive to the rear. Fully locking the centre differential would be the way to go on dirt, a surface we didn’t get a chance play with. Changing the SI-Drive throttle response system makes a bit of a difference to the reaction to the loud pedal, but not enough to really change the feel of the car. And all the apexes and track lines were easily visible, so the work on repositioning things like the A-pillar must have paid off. The rear spoiler doesn’t kill rear vision either. Well, not entirely.
Bottom line – this car is fun on the track, rapid and easy to drive. You feel more work with it would be rewarding.
But it’s not a sportscar great. Because what’s missing is a sense of the frantic, the urge, the last little bit of dynamic fun that separates a fast car from a sports car, the extra dimension that turns a smile into a Riccardio-sized grin, the wow factor that has you jumping out the car and high-fiving your mates. Here the STi disappoints, given the lofty standards of the badge, it’s a smooth cappuccino not a double-shot, heart-starting short black.
Acceleration is always linear, no kick in the guts, you don’t floor the car and break into an involuntary expletive, you just notice the scenery blurring – but only when the turbo has had its morning coffee which is later into the rev range. The engine note is muted, no sense of climatic occasion as you reach the rev limit. Nobody will be recording the engine note as their phone ringtone. Oddly, the engine warbles with intent at idle with the windows down, but there’s nothing noticeable at speed.
The seats in the base STi don’t offer sufficient support given the cornering forces the car can generate, and it’d be nice to sit lower in the car. The Premium’s electric seats are better in both respects. The tacho is not front and centre, the headrests are not reversible for helmet use and in general the feeling is of a sedan that is fast, not a sportscar.
Yet this is as intended. The STi is not exclusively for the track. It is designed to be useable as a daily driver, yet also provide driver involvement on performance drives. We took the car on a long rural cruise, and it ate up the miles with aplomb. Significant potholes were heard, but barely felt and certainly did nothing to unsettle the car’s impressive composure. Cabin noise was minimal. The steering was low-stress, not constant-attention darty.
You could easily cruise for hours in this car, in a way you can’t with more track-focused vehicles without ending up at the chiropractor. This car has three child restraint points, a 60/40 rear split, reasonable luggage space and a space-saver spare, and it looks like there would be enough room for a full-sized spare too. The accessory list includes touring gear such as roofracks, bicycle holders and cargo systems, as well as two extra choices of wheel, one of which is white. The only real drawback compared to say a front-wheel drive sedan is the transmission tunnel in the centre of the vehicle which intrudes into footspace, but nevertheless three adults should be comfortable, albeit close.
So while the STi can alternate between track and road it is something of a missed opportunity for Subaru, because with today’s technology cars can be extremes of Jekyll and Hyde, with variable rate steering, remapped throttles, altered shock absorbers, brake bias and more. In 2014 car tech is at the stage where Subaru could have further sharpened up the track experience, given the STi a real shock and awe capability the badge demands, yet not lose the daily-driving liveability.
And now the price. The previous model was $60k, and this new one is $50k, a huge drop and particularly so given the specifications and standard features have been improved. This news will be welcomed by everyone except those trying to sell recent vehicles – but at 103 sales for the year and some of those autos that won’t be many – and reflects increased competition. The fact there is no automatic or three-door option also indicates that sales might be a bit lean as someone clearly crunched the numbers and decided against broadening the range, and there will be no automatic version either. Still, Subaru are targeting sales of 300 for the year.
Servicing is six months or 12,500km and will cost between $276 and $555 up to 100,000km although if you track the car you’re better off servicing more frequently. Practical Motoring asked if warranty would be affected by track use and the answer was to the effect that warranty would be affected if the car was abused. Read into that what you will.
Subaru say the STi buyer is often onto the second or third Subie, and is a hardcore performance car nut, male and aged 35 or more. Could well be this softer STi tempts others into the market, and yes, you could absolutely use an STi as family car and indeed we know one person planning to do just that. One little factor that might see more STis with child seats in the back is that fact that the rear spoiler is a delete option, and given that there appears to be no performance benefit to having it why not ditch the extra weight – but be quick, only 10% of cars are scheduled to be wingless. You have more chance than ever to find out for yourself because Subaru have 18 STi dealers across Australia and an additional 16 centres for test drives, most of which are in rural areas and in some cases there’s free delivery if you’re a long way from a dealership.
We also sampled the Premium model, which is another $5k to bring the ask to $54,990. Here you get a few extras such as a sunroof, heated seats, which are one of those things you never need till you have them, electrical adjustable seats which have the previously mentioned better adjustability. But whichever model you choose, you will certainly have a true multi-role car you can cruise to a track, get your dose of adrenalin, then return to the normality of commuting, school runs and daily driving.