8 Oct 2014

2014 Subaru WRX STI Review

Matt Hubbard reviews the new Subaru WRX STI

2014 Subaru WRX STI
2014 Subaru WRX STI

It's back and it's still brash.  The Subaru WRX STI is once more available in the UK due in part to a weak yen and strong pound. Thanks to that favourable exchange rate it's priced competitively too, at £29k.

The old Subaru Impreza STI was loved by many but bought by few.  Over the years it got uglier, morphed into a hatchback and eventually dropped the Impreza name (which now exists as a sensible, non-turbocharged hatchback).

In 2011 the fourth generation Impreza was launched in Japan and in summer 2014 the saloon version was badged WRX STI, given a 2.5-litre 4-cylinder boxer engine with a twin-scroll turbocharger (and a massive spoiler) and launched in various markets, notably the UK and US.

Its recent history might be confusing but make no mistake the new WRX STI is rammed with the old Impreza's DNA.  This thing is fast and it is raucous.

Let's start with the looks. It's not a pretty car but it is purposeful with big bulges around the wheels and angular shapes all over the body. Take a look at the photos, there's hardly a curve on it.

The enormous wing is 8mm higher than the last generation's in order to improve visibility from the rear view mirror and it succeeds in this regard, you don't notice it much in the mirror. But you do when you're standing outside the car.
2014 Subaru WRX STI
2014 Subaru WRX STI

It's a 4-door saloon with a spacious boot and full size rear seats.  All the seats are clad in Alcantara and leather and are super-comfortable and supportive. The driving position is superb with deep set pedals and a steering wheel that adjusts for reach and rake so much that short and tall drivers can get comfortable.

The materials used in the cabin are largely of a decent quality with leather, suede and aluminium in abundance.  It's a sporty cabin that's grown up since the Imprezas of old but not too much, with carbon trim and splashes of colour to add some pizzaz.

There is no satnav or infotainment system, although you can order a satnav as an option.  The standard stereo is a plain, old fashioned affair which will be swapped out in most cars for an aftermarket unit. It plays FM/AM and CDs and streams Bluetooth but you have to read the handbook to work out how to use it.

At the top of the dash is a second screen which displays various items such as a boost gauge, economy and time/date.

There is a dial aft of the gear level which controls the SI-Drive system - which alters engine modes. In most cars the difference between these is hardly felt but in the WRX STI it makes quite a difference. Next to that is a switch that controls the centre-differential lock.
2014 Subaru WRX STI

The dials are pretty funky and glow when you press the start button to fire up the engine.  The flat bottomed steering wheel is chunky (it's a multifunction wheel with such things as cruise control buttons - so modern) and the gear knob is in just the right place.

The engine sounds right, just as a turbocharged Subaru flat-4 should, but is quieter than expected. It revs to 7,000rpm and never gets particularly noisy.

Hit the road and the turbo doesn't kick in until 3,000rpm.  The engine is the same as in the old car and turbo-lag is plentiful. Happily the gearbox is a short-throw unit in both senses, the amount you move the stick is short and the difference between the ratios is short.

So, start off in 1st, pull the muscles in your neck as it shoots forward then change into 2nd as quickly as you can, then into 3rd at 50mph. Keep it above 3,000rpm and it's as brutally quick as you imagine a WRX would be.

Drive in a more serene manner and let the revs dip below 3,000rpm and acceleration is sluggish until it hits the sweet spot again.

This behaviour is a complete pain in an automatic, especially with a diesel engine, but the WRX STI's manual gearbox is pretty slick so you can keep it on the boil and, because it's a petrol, the power before the turbo kicks in isn't so bad.
2014 Subaru WRX STI
2014 Subaru WRX STI

Drive it like you stole it and the WRX STI is as much of a nutjob as the old Impreza.  It grips like glue, unless you want to break traction a little...

With a low centre of gravity and permanent 50:50 all wheel drive, and torque vectoring, the car refuses to lose grip in almost all conditions but push it that little bit into the area marked 'edge of the envelope' and it'll slide just a touch.

When exiting a sharp corner in a low gear with your foot planted the rear will shimmy for a nanosecond before the electronics gather it up.

The hydraulically assisted steering is heavy and has bags of feel and feedback. The grip with a touch of pliability along with the steering prowess makes for a great handling car.

To increase throttle response select SI-Drive to the maximum. In this mode you just need to tickle the accelerator and it flies off the line. From a standing start it's difficult getting a smooth getaway but in any other situation frenzied changing up through the gears is the order of the day.

In many ways the WRX STI is a bit old school.  The engine has turbo-lag, CO2 and economy are terrible and the sound system wouldn't have looked out of place in the 80s but its looks, responsiveness, comfort and general bad-boy image make it stand out from the crowd.

That crowd consists of the Merc CLA45 AMG and Golf R.  These two both have four wheel drive, more refinement and cost less to run but are more expensive to buy.  Neither has permanent four wheel drive and neither is quite so hairy.

Personally I'd take a Golf R over a WRX STI but their characters are far apart enough that some people will happily choose the Subaru, and they won't regret it.

Besides, in what other car could you get away with that blue paint and gold wheels and still look good.


Price - £28,995
Engine - 2.5-litre, flat-4 (boxer), petrol, single twin-scroll turbocharger
Transmission - 6-speed manual
0-62mph - 5.2 seconds 
Top Speed - 159mph
Power - 296bhp 
Torque - 300lb ft 
Economy - 27.2mpg 
CO2 - 242g/km 
Kerb Weight - 1,534kg
2014 Subaru WRX STI
2014 Subaru WRX STI

2014 Subaru WRX STI

2014 Subaru WRX STI

2014 Subaru WRX STI

2014 Subaru WRX STI

2014 Subaru WRX STI