THE GOOD: With an all-wheel drive system and 305 horsepower, you can have fun almost anywhere in the Subaru WRX STI. The old-school hydraulic power steering system offers plenty of road feel and feedback, making for an engaging drive.
THE BAD: No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and the ride can only be described as harsh and uncomfortable. The six-speed manual transmission takes a bit of muscle to manipulate.
THE BOTTOM LINE: If you like your cars like you like your coffee, namely hot, you’ll enjoy the Subaru WRX STI.
When I first glanced at the rearview mirror of the 2016 Subaru WRX STI, I wondered what the hell was following me so closely. It takes a while to get used to the massive wing fixed to the rear of this little speed demon.
In fact, there is a lot to get used to in the STI, but when it all comes together, the aggressive Subie, with its serious rally racing technology, is a kick and a half.
In Subaru-land this model starts off as the sedate Impreza. Add 120 horsepower and it’s a WRX. Add nearly 40 more ponies, a giant wing and Brembo brakes and you’re looking at the Subaru WRX STI.
Driving the STI is a bit like riding the Oregon Trail in a covered wagon. It’s a stiff and harsh ride; great for the track, not so great for daily driving. The comfortable seats help, but you’ll have to get used to feeling every bump and divot in the road. Other track-ready street cars have multiple driving modes that soften up the suspension. While the STI has SI-Drive, which adjusts the throttle and transmission mapping, it does not cushion up the ride. Deal with it.
The STI really comes into its own on the track. I wasn’t able to find a proper dirt rally course, but I spent the day on the pavement at Thunderhill Raceway, a short drive from Roadshow HQ in San Francisco. The 2.5-liter turbocharged engine, four horizontally opposed cylinders, pumps out 305 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque, plenty for the twisties at Thunderhill. Power gets to the pavement through a six speed manual gearbox. Subaru doesn’t offer an automatic, as God intended.
The all-wheel drive system inspires much confidence when the road goes bendy, enough that I found myself carrying a near ludicrous amount of speed through the turns. The suspension, perfect for the track, keeps the STI flat and neutral through twisties. Sport and Sport Sharp tighten up the throttle mapping, and there is an adjustable center differential. Keep it in Auto for daily driving, or switch to Auto Plus to tighten up the limited slip differential, improving traction on slippery surfaces like snow or gravel. Auto Minus shifts the torque bias to the rear and opens the center differential, optimizing the STI for track driving.
And if that’s not enough, you can manually adjust the center differential six different ways, varying the torque distribution from front to rear for a personalized track experience. Having said all that, I kept the car in Sport Sharp with the diff control at Auto Minus while on the track. The throttle response was nearly instantaneous and I could downshift and power out of the turns with little turbo lag and a whole lot of thrills.
The STI has one of the best steering systems I’ve experienced in a car at this price point. While many cars now sport electric power steering, including the venerable Mazda Miata and even the Porsche 911, the STI still gets the job done with a hydraulic set up. It’s very quick and offers an incredible amount of feedback. I felt every pebble on the track, every stripe of paint on the road. It lets you place your tires exactly where you want them, resulting in precise turn-in and an engaging drive.
The interior goes beyond the basics, but not by much. Navigation wasn’t optioned on my test model, but it is available. Subaru doesn’t support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but it does integrate Pandora, iHeartRadio, Stitcher and Aha in the dashboard electronics. iPod connectivity and Bluetooth are standard.
Although the ride is rough enough to require a sports bra on my part, the seats are comfortable enough. They are not true racing seats but they still offer plenty of support while remaining soft enough for long drives. It was a blast to row my own gears, but the shifter requires a bit more effort than other manuals I’ve driven, and first and third gear are pretty close together, so be ready to miss an upshift or two when you first get behind the wheel.
Also, be ready for looks. Lots of them. Let’s just say the styling on the STI is aggressive. It’s all sharp angles and angry headlights. The wing can only be described as obnoxious, but it does improve the aerodynamics enough to add 3 miles per hour to the top speed. It also is a giant billboard saying Give Me a Ticket, Officer. I found myself driving conspicuously at the speed limit on the highway my whole week with the car. The STI in Limited trim offers a low profile spoiler if you don’t want to attract quite as much attention.
If you’re a Subaru fan you’ll notice two design elements are missing: The BBS gold wheels and the hatchback. Sadly, Subaru discontinued both with this latest generation of the STI. America is sadly lacking in five-door scream machines, and it’s a shame Subaru is contributing to the death of the hatch.
Having said that, the competition is heating up with hot hatch production. Ford is finally bringing the Focus RS to America, which offers an easier ride on the street and more power and torque to boot. Looking toward Europe, the Volkswagen Golf R with the optional DSG gearbox may be your bag if you refuse to learn to drive stick. Not yet in production is the Civic Type R, which will more than likely sell like hotcakes when it arrives in the States.
The 2016 Subaru WRX STI can be had for $35,490 including destination charges. Blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alerts as well as adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and pre-collision braking are all part of a $2,600 option package not included on my test car.
The STI is a fun little sport sedan as long as you can handle the harsh ride and the feeling of being followed by a very large wing indeed.