2015 Subaru WRX STI First Drive
Everyday Hero: The Best-Driving STI Yet
The STI has always been difficult to confine to a conveniently simple definition. If you were unaware of its rally heritage, its mix of performance hardware and economy car versatility would seem bizarre, but intriguing. Why not have a sports car you could drive every day, everywhere?
Redesigned for 2015, the Subaru WRX STI continues to be the sports car for the everyman, but as I discovered at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and on curvy central California roads, it’s the best driving version yet.
It still feels like an STI, in part because the EJ-series 2.5-liter flat-four and six-speed manual carry over from the previous generation with a few changes. The engine now has a tube that amplifies a pleasing array of sounds into the cabin. You hear the flat-four grumble, and the turbo whooshing and sneezing. Like the last-gen STI, you can also hear the hydraulic power steering swish around, too. The transmission has been tweaked to improve shift quality, but feels familiar as well.
While Japan’s STI has a high output 2.0-liter, Subaru says that low octane fuel is the reason for its absence in North America. While we’re disappointed by that and the unchanged-since-2008 power output (305 hp @ 6000 rpm and 290 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm), it’s hard to argue with this engine’s enthusiasm. Short gearing makes accelerating to freeway speeds feel like a succession of powerful jabs. Subaru claims 0-60 mph takes 5.1 seconds, which sounds conservative considering our 2008 long-termer did it in 4.8 seconds.
Another concern is the WRX’s steadily increasing performance. Now there’s just a 38 hp difference between it and big brother, which might make you question the STI’s $8200 premium. After all, they share this new body structure, with its greater use of high-strength steel, and, aside from the STI’s inverted front struts and damper tuning, they have similar suspension components.
The bulk of the difference lies in the 2015 Subaru WRX STI’s drivetrain. While the WRX makes due with just a viscous center diff and nominal 50/50 front/rear torque split, the STI has an electronically controlled center diff with a 41/59 split and locking diffs on both axles: a helical up front and a Torsen in the rear. Like last generation, the STI driver can bias the torque split rearwards or lock it at 50/50, depending on the type of driving they plan doing.
The STI also has beefier braking hardware (13.0-in rotors with four piston calipers front and 12.4-in rotors with dual piston calipers rear) and wheels an inch up in diameter and width (8.5 x 18-in shod in 245/40R18 Dunlop summer tires). The downside of all this is a 119-pound increase in weight over the WRX. These changes make for a better handling car. While the WRX is a ton of fun, the STI’s added drivetrain sophistication and bigger tires enable higher limits and better control. With the center diff set to rear-biased, the STI will yaw on throttle, helping the car take a faster line out of a corner. This helps because the chassis is set for stability, with understeer that’s noticeable, but not punishing. It’s suited for point-to-point driving, lining up and nailing reference points through high-speed kinks, and not for long, steady-state corners.
Make no mistake: The 2015 STI isn’t a graceful machine. It’s a car you beat on. It’s a car you throw through a corner, shrug, and see what happens. Permitting this is a high level of accessibility; it’s easy to drive the STI fast. Like the WRX, the new body structure and suspension pay huge dividends in steering response and control. Pedal placement and the interaction between the clutch and shifter make heel-toe downshifts simple, while the growls amplified into the cabin make them rewarding.
This is important because you have to shift a lot. Though it has 32 lb-ft more torque, the STI’s overall gearing is shorter than the WRX’s. On Laguna Seca, that means going into fifth on the front straight and having to decide between staring at the flashing shift light in second down the Corkscrew or lugging it through in third, in hopes that you’ll have boost on exit. Fortunately, the STI feels accessible enough that you’ll try it all.
Off the track, this user-friendliness translates to the ability to drive down unfamiliar roads at “I can’t believe we’re going this fast” speeds. There might not be a quicker car on rough roads with lots of bumps. You can keep the throttle pinned, and the car just soaks them up, never feeling unsettled. Like the WRX, the 2015 STI has a brake-actuated faux-torque vectoring system, and, though noticeable at times, it seems to do a decent job of helping the STI turn during longer corners. I spent the majority of my drive with the system off (it turns off when stability control is disabled), fearing long-term brake pad wear. (While the car I drove on the road had stock pads, the track cars had aftermarket Ferodos installed to withstand a day of constant journalist abuse.)
Our test car, a $38,190, one-of-1000 2015 Subaru WRX STI Launch Edition model, came equipped with a short-throw shifter, hands-free keyless access, and blue interior trim highlights. Its biggest draw, however, was the WR Blue paint and gold, BBS forged wheels. While the wheels are available in silver on other STIs (standard wheels are cast), bizarrely, you can only get gold rolling stock on the Launch Edition. It’s a strange decision by Subaru, considering how iconic Subaru’s 555 WRC cars are.
You may wonder why gold wheels aren’t offered on the non-Launch Edition, or why the 2.5-liter is still being used, or why there’s no hatchback, but those thoughts don’t last long from behind the wheel. Offering far friendlier commuter behavior than the rapidly aging Lancer Evolution and greater fun around a track than the outgoing Golf R and its undefeatable stability control, the STI continues to be an enjoyable, capable, and intriguing outlier of a car.
|2015 Subaru WRX STI|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||2.5L/305-hp/290-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve F-4|
|CURB WEIGHT||3400-3450 lb (mfr est)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||180.9 x 70.7 x 58.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.1 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||17/23 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||198 / 147 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||1.01 lb/mile|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Currently|