It's 5PM and I'm stuck in payday traffic behind the wheel of the recently updated Subaru WRX STI. It was perhaps one of the most stressful, tiring commutes I've had in a while and I was longing for a good, long nap after that drive.
Call me a bit of a pansy but the new WRX STI is too loud and too raucous for everyday life. Then again, I spent most of my life with my bottom firmly planted on big, wafty sedans. And yet, despite the discomfort, there was just something so right about the rally rep.
But before I get ahead of myself, perhaps its best to take a closer look at tweaked WRX STI.
This generation of WRX STI has been around since 2015 and has long been a familiar shape in high-performance circles. Late last year, they gave it a bit of a facelift and, quite frankly, it looks softer than its blistered-arch predecessors. Sure, there's a new front bumper and, oddly enough, it loses its front foglights in the process. In this variant, dubbed the Premium, it also loses one of its styling signatures, namely the rear wing. As a kid who looked up to Colin McRae growing up, that made me a bit sad.
But perhaps you want your 300 horsepower pocket-rocket to look a little bit more subtle. The loss of the rear wing helps in that, although one might mistake it for its lesser-powered sibling, the WRX. Still if acute angles, aerodynamic adornments and daring styling are not to your liking, then this rally rep won't divide opinion on styling. Besides, the signature WR Blue makes the wingless STI look that bit more vibrant. It's ironic that the STI, one of the more wacky and daring-looking cars of the 90's, has become more subtle and subdued, at least compared to its rivals.
If you've sat inside the previous-generation XV, then the WRX STI's cabin should look somewhat familiar. The low window sills provide a great view out of the cockpit and the ergonomics are pretty spot on. Call it a tarted up (previous-gen) Impreza and you'd be somewhat correct but the STI details lifts up cabin ambiance. The suede/leather combination seats are snug, just as it should in a car with performance intentions. Also, the thick-rimmed steering wheel makes it feel that bit more special too.
So what did they change in the interior? It's mostly relegated to new displays. For starters, there's a new, more detailed instrument cluster with white numbers instead of red. The information display on the other hand is lifted from the all-new Impreza. Perhaps the most significant news in the cabin is a new infotainment system. Like the information display, it too comes from the all-new Impreza. That means it's pretty easy to use and comes with a decent amount of functions that brings it bang up to date.
Of course, under the hood is a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder boxer engine aided by a turbocharger. Like before, it makes 300 PS and 407 Nm of torque. Manual fans rejoice as the WRX STI still shifts via a six-speed manual transmission. Being a Subaru, all-wheel drive is standard but they made a lot of changes as to how it works. Whereas the pre-update models had a mix of mechanical and electronic controls for the center differential, this one works purely with electronics. That said, you can still fiddle around with the center diff from full lock, to leaving it to its own devices in Auto.
By performance car standards, the STI looks tame but that all changes when you start it up. Crank up the boxer engine and you're greeted by the signature off-beat burble these cars have been known for. Granted, it's a bit quieter than the old models but the volume is still loud enough to likely bother a few of your neighbors (ask me how I know). The character is still there, enough to reassure fans that the STI hasn't gone soft at all.
Clutch engagement is positive, although a little on the heavy side. Biting point is high but it quickly snatches the gear and the car pretty much tries to hurl you into the horizon, even with little gas pedal application. Run through the gears and it feels a bit rubbery and notchy but the short throws make up for it.
In everyday situations, the STI feels a bit tedious to drive. The heavy clutch, coupled by the firm, (sorry, stiff) low-speed ride means your back will be in for a fair amount of pounding in the Metro's pockmarked roads. Your left leg will have quite the workout in heavy traffic and the steering is not for those who were raised in an era of electronic power steering. Bring it up to cruising speeds and the WRX STI feels bored as the boxer engine thrums in the background, egging you to twitch your toe and send you flying into the distance. Frustrating? You bet it was.
Bring it up on winding roads however, and all the things that made it such a drag to drive in town made it a wonder elsewhere. On a spirited drive, it offers bags of grip thanks to the all-wheel drive system and, with that stiff suspension, it keeps you firmly to the ground. With pedals lined up for heel-toe downshifting, it makes you want to row through the gears just so you can hear the engine rumble. It was planted, secure and yet, offered fun as you took on the twisties.
That heavy (by today's standards) steering transmits a lot of feel and feedback, something sorely lacking in the cars of today. It makes you feel more involved in the drive and, despite the new electronic all-wheel drive system. Plus, those new Brembo brakes scrub off speed at an impressive rate. Even at moderate (read: responsible) speeds, the STI is a blast to drive; perhaps more so if you bring it out on the racetrack.
As for the engine, it delivers its power in one big lump and carries it through to the mid-range. Lag is definitely there but all it forgiven when you get to about 2,700 RPM when the turbo spools. It gets rowdy too with torque steer kicking in about the same time the turbo spools up. The WRX STI is loud, vicious and in-your-face, just like punk rock.
And on that note, punk rock is perhaps the best analogy I can give to the WRX STI. Yes, it can be a bit crude, unrefined and it has the uncanny ability to upset the elders. But if you want a quick shot of adrenaline and thrills, Subaru's rally rep is one of the best ways to get your fix. Nevermind the fact that it gets poor fuel economy (I averaged 4.3 kilometers per liter in the city), give you body aches and possibly higher maintenance costs, at Php 2,748,000, it's the most 'affordable' way to grab 300 horsepower. It's no family car nor is it daily-friendly commuter. It's a sports car-baiting ball of energy that just happens to come with four doors.
However, there is one car looming in the WRX STI's rear view mirrors. In case you haven't guessed it, that would be the Honda Civic Type R. It's safe to say that the Honda Civic Type R has grabbed headlines across the globe. A record for front wheel drive cars in the Nurburgring, followed by its first official appearance in the Philippines, the Type R has sent local motoring media into a frenzy, us included.
With the Civic Type R being the darling of the automotive press, both here and abroad, can the WRX STI hold a candle to Honda's hot hatch? Well, that's a story for another day.