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Car Review: Subaru WRX STi

The Subaru WRX STi may dominate the track, but it comes up short on the commute

The Subaru WRX STi holds mythical status among car enthusiasts.

It was the fastest four-door car on earth in 2017, crushing the Nürburgring racetrack in six minutes and 57.5 seconds — only a half-second slower than the Porsche 918. A decade and a half earlier, it had crushed numerous World Rally Championships, until around 2003 when Subaru started to fade. 

Given this earned prestige, it would be reasonable to assume the Subaru WRX STi is the car that you need to own, right? Unfortunately, nope. The only people who should buy this car are those who value performance above all else. I may be a heretic for admitting this, but many of the car’s track and rally-centric abilities actually impede daily driving. After reviewing the car’s interior, performance and handling, I’ve concluded the STi is not the car I was hoping for. 

Subaru WRX STi interior
Photographer: Alexander Cheung

Let me begin by discussing the Subaru WRX STi’s interior, which I will admit, is prosaic and spartan at best. Hard plastic, dull interiors and simple design are Subaru’s hallmarks. The model I drove was a Record Attempt limited edition, with only 75 units made for Canada. One of my largest interior critiques is the car’s minuscule main screen is difficult to see due to glare. The sound system in my model was absolutely abysmal, making every song sound like a garbled mess. 

I’m not a fan of Subaru’s double screen layout where performance information is placed on the top, middle portion of the dashboard. It may be great if you’re a navigator rallying in the German backwoods, but it’s kind of pointless if you’re driving to class in Edmonton. I would’ve preferred if they had just kept everything on the dash screens. While some car enthusiasts may discount the STi’s sub-par interior, I feel it’s relevant to any car analysis.  

Subaru WRX STi monitor
Photographer: Alexander Cheung

When it comes to handling, however, the Subaru WRX STi’s symmetrical full-time all-wheel drive (AWD) system keeps the car planted through the corners. The AWD system applies the power perfectly, giving the car very neutral handling abilities. The 2.5 litre BOXER® engine (305 horsepower/ 258 foot-pounds of torque) is powerful, but it’s not the rocket engine it’s made out to be. The STi also has a good clutch and the shifter has clean feeling, short throws. 

Unfortunately, this is where all the positivity ends. There is a reason why the Subaru WRX STi won the Nürburgring in 2017 and it has nothing to do with comfort. The suspension on the STi is brutally stiff. Every pothole and divet in the road would send your grandparents to the hospital, and I had to mentally prepare myself for the seat cushion compressing my spine an inch or two with every bump. A stiff suspension is great for the track but not in a pothole ridden city like Edmonton.

Another issue I found is rev-hang. The STi loves to hang out north of 3,000 rotations per minute, which is fine, but you don’t need to red-line at the stop sign next to Winners. Again, great for the track, but not for daily driving. Lastly, the car includes a driver-controlled centre differential which allows you to control the differential electronically. While this is a good feature, I can promise you there will never be a situation where you will need to use it. Having to send 90 per cent of your power to the front wheels on your way to Calgary isn’t something that happens in the real world. 

Subaru WRX STi console
Photographer: Alexander Cheung

I will likely suffer severe disapprobation at the hands of Subaru enthusiasts, however, I had to break past the STi’s unassailable shroud of flawless perfection. If you’re a track or rally driver, this car is perfect. However, one has to be aware of the STi’s shortcomings, especially from the perspective of a commuter.

While the STi is well balanced and powerful, it comes at the expense of comfort and interior fanciness. It also suffers from rev-hang and has a horrifically brutal suspension system. At the end of the day, I’m not saying not to buy the car, but rather I’m saying who should buy the car. The Subaru WRX STi is good at one thing, and one thing only: winning races.

Subaru WRX STi wheel
Photographer: Alexander Cheung

Alexander Cheung

Alex is a writer and photographer with the Gateway. He is a senior contributor and specializes in tech and travel.

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