Subaru WRX STi saloon (2014-2018)
"The Subaru WRX STi is a flawed but fun performance car that offers great value for money, but little in terms of comfort or luxury"
- Lots of fun to drive
- Good grip in all weather
- Relatively cheap to buy
- Expensive to run
- Firm suspension
- Poor interior quality
The Subaru WRX STi is a high-performance saloon car that draws on years of World Rally Championship success to offer impressive performance and unrivalled grip, as well as lots of standard equipment and enough room for four adults.
While the relatively low list price might seem attractive at face value, the 2.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine means running costs are high – you’ll be lucky to average more than about 20mpg. Insurance will be expensive, as will first-year road tax due to hefty CO2 emissions.
However, if you want bags of performance, don’t mind sacrificing a degree of ride comfort and can stomach the high running costs, then the Subaru WRX STi is well worth a look. Just make sure you cross off rivals like the BMW M140i, Ford Focus RS and accomplished Volkswagen Golf R first.
If you’re a hardcore STi fan, the WRX STi Final Edition will be particularly desirable. Designed as a swansong for the iconic model, with just 150 on sale, it’s a thoroughly engineered special edition. Not only does it get 19-inch alloy wheels with enlarged Brembo brakes and yellow calipers, there are new bumpers and C-shaped headlights, along with a reversing camera and new multifunction computer above the dashboard.
MPG, running costs & CO2
If you buy a performance car, more often than not you’ll accept some trade off in terms of running costs, fuel economy and CO2 emissions. However, when you compare the Subaru WRX STi to its main rival, the Volkswagen Golf R, you realise that for some, this will be one sacrifice too far.
The Subaru will do just 27.2mpg (there’s only one engine available) – and in our experience that figure is very optimistic. In reality, you’re likely to average closer to 20mpg, with rather high CO2 emissions of 242g/km. By contrast, the Volkswagen Golf R will return around 40mpg and emits as little as 160g/km. The Final Edition has even worse official figures of 25.9mpg and 252g/km, mainly because of its larger wheels.
The Subaru WRX STi will cost £140 a year to tax, but not before you’ve paid the first year’s £1,700 CO2-weighted bill (this is usually rolled into the on-the-road price).
Engines, drive & performance
Four-wheel drive and a power output of around 300bhp is almost unheard of in the under £35,000 bracket, and aside from cars like the Volkswagen Golf R and Ford Focus RS, the four-wheel-drive Subaru almost has the market to itself. The six-speed manual gearbox is notchy, the clutch has a high biting point and the steering is quite light, making the STi feel difficult to gel with at low speeds.
But pick up the pace and the four-wheel-drive system mentioned above provides plenty of grip and allows you to corner at much higher speeds than in a standard front-wheel drive car. It’s great in the wet, too, giving confidence where in most other cars you’d feel anxious.
The 2.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine has 296bhp, propelling the car from 0-62mph in five seconds. Unfortunately, it feels quite sluggish at low revs, but once you get past that and the turbos get going, there’s a big rush of acceleration. It feels impressively quick on winding country roads thanks to the huge amounts of grip, while the stiff suspension means there is very little body roll in the corners. It’s a raw experience, making the WRX STi feel faster than a Golf R, even if it isn’t in reality. The body-hugging sports seats ensure you stay firmly planted in the car, too.
The Subaru WRX STi comes with large, high-performance Brembo brakes and a clever ‘torque vectoring’ system that allows faster cornering, by pushing more power to the wheels that need it. The brakes, suspension and four-wheel-drive system have been improved following customer feedback. As a result, the WRX STi is now a great sports saloon with added appeal for the keenest of drivers – it’s a good choice if you like to attend trackdays, too.
While their engine remains untouched, Final Edition cars get slightly different suspension settings to accommodate 19-inch wheels and the front brakes are even larger Brembo items, painted yellow to help set them apart. The four-wheel-drive system is also fully electronic for faster response and can be adjusted manually using a rocker switch behind the gearlever.
Interior & comfort
The Subaru WRX STi takes its inspiration from a series of World Championship-winning rally cars – and as a result, isn’t the most comfortable car in its class. The suspension is stiff and the interior plastics don’t feel particularly high quality, but everything is fairly well laid-out and easy to use. The newest car also gets a eight-inch infotainment screen.
All this means that while the Subaru may be enormous fun to drive, it’s not the kind of car you’ll want to cover long distances in – especially not on Britain’s rutted roads.
Thankfully, the body-hugging Recaro sports seats are fairly supportive. They are covered in part leather, part suede-like Alcantara and do a good job of holding you in place – especially when you’re driving down fast winding roads. The grip from the four-wheel drive and stiff suspension means that body roll is almost non-existent, too, but there’s no shying away from the fact that if comfort is a priority, then the Volkswagen Golf R is a better bet.
Visibility – regardless of the huge boot spoiler – is pretty good. Parking sensors are a notable omission though, and would come in useful when trying to squeeze into tight gaps. The Final Edition model addresses this omission by offering a reversing camera as standard.
The runout special edition is also a bit more plush inside thanks to heated front seats, DAB radio and small tweaks to the design of the instrument panel. Everywhere you look there’s glossy black trim inserts and red stitching adorns the steering wheel and gear gaiter, matching the red seatbelts. The digital display above the dashboard has also been replaced with a new 5.9-inch screen.
Practicality & boot space
When you consider that the Subaru WRX STi will do 0-62mph in five seconds and go on to a top speed of almost 160mph, the fact it can carry five people and their luggage is particularly impressive. While it may not be very comfortable due to the firm suspension and cheap interior plastics, there’s enough room for two average-sized adults in the back (or three at a squeeze), and up front there’ll be no complaints from driver or passenger in terms of outright space.
The boot is a decent size, too, offering 460 litres of space and 60:40 split-fold rear seats. That compares favourably to the Volkswagen Golf R, which offers just 343 litres – although the hatchback body shape is arguably more usable if you regularly carry large or bulky items. There’s a space-saver spare wheel, too, so you’ll never be left stranded at the side of the road on a cold winter’s night.
Interior storage is good, with a big glovebox and a pair of useful central cubbyholes. All the controls are within easy reach and you won’t struggle to find a suitable driving position thanks to the range of adjustment in the seat and steering wheel.
Reliability & safety
Subaru has been making fast saloon cars for over 20 years, and has developed a proven track record for reliability and owner satisfaction. The brand finished in an impressive 4th place out of 27 brands in our Driver Power 2017 survey.
The WRX STi is a safe car too, and while Euro NCAP hasn’t yet tested it, all cars feature a host of airbags, powerful Brembo anti-lock brakes, a tyre-pressure monitoring system and side door reinforcement beams. There’s a pair of ISOFIX child seat tethers in the back and all cars get special whiplash reducing seats. Subaru’s Levorg and Outback both received five-star ratings, so it follows that the WRX STi should be a safe car, too.
The WRX STi is also a good car to be in if the weather turns, as the grippy four-wheel drive keeps things in check – even in heavy rain.
Price, value for money & options
As with many modern cars, the Subaru WRX STi comes with a lengthy list of standard equipment designed to lure you away from its accomplished rivals. However, the WRX STi falls down in terms of cabin quality – both the BMW M135i and VW Golf R feel like better built products, and both cost around the same.
The Subaru’s standard equipment includes LED head and tail lights, black 19-inch alloy wheels, tinted rear windows and four exhaust pipes. Inside there are electric windows, a push button start, cruise control and separate air-con controls for the driver and passenger. Safety kit includes tyre pressure monitoring and a host of airbags and whiplash reducing seats. There’s also a satellite security tracker and a Thatcham Category 1 alarm and immobiliser – essential when you consider this car falls into group 40 insurance.
Subaru also claims that the newest WRX STi is the cheapest car on sale to feature track-ready six-piston Brembo brakes, painted bright yellow to make a sporty statement. The brakes are an effective high-performance feature usually reserved for high-end sports cars.
Used values for the WRX STi tend to be quite good thanks to the niche nature of the car and a dedicated following. This is especially true now Subaru has confirmed the WRX STi has reached the end of an era, and the 150 Final Edition cars may even become collector’s items. Both the BMW M140i and Volkswagen Golf R are strong in this area, though, so unless you can live with the car’s downsides, we wouldn’t let this be the deal maker.