STI: Peak performance for a price

With the $37,000 WRX STI, Subaru intends to lure young buyers in the door, then let them leave with a cheaper sedan.
With the $37,000 WRX STI, Subaru intends to lure young buyers in the door, then let them leave with a cheaper sedan.
Posted: March 03, 2014

The Subaru WRX STI is one of those cars whose value to the automaker is greater than the sum of its sales.

The STI is Subaru's premier performance car, a 305-horsepower, compact sport sedan with road-racer handling. As such, it serves as a "halo car."

A halo car is typically not a big seller (the STI accounts for only about 4,000 sales a year). Rather, it is a sexy showroom magnet that pulls customers in the door. Like the rest of the industry, Subaru uses the STI to attract largely youthful buyers, even though those customers often can't afford its $34,495 starting sticker.

That less-than-affluent customer stares lustfully at the STI, salivates on its front fender, and then buys a $20,000 Subaru Impreza sedan. (All's well that ends on the bottom line.)

But there are some younger folks who have enough enthusiasm and shekels to sign up for this funster, which has been extensively reworked for the 2015 model year. That buyer has a median age and income of 36 and $106,000. For almost all of that clientele, the hormone of choice is testosterone, not estrogen.

Like its less expensive (and less athletic) compact sport sedan, the WRX STI is based on Subaru's Impreza architecture. Beyond that, the only other things it shares with that modestly priced family car are its roof, deck, and glass.

The STI, which goes on sale by the end of March, is essentially an even higher performing WRX. The STI's carryover engine, a 2.5 liter turbocharged 4, packs 305 horses, as opposed to the WRX's 268. But the big difference is in the STI's superior dynamics.

How the engineers improved the new STI's handling, steering, and braking is a many-faceted tale. First, they stiffened up the structure with myriad reinforcements and the use of high-strength steel. The result was to increase torsional and bending rigidity 40 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

Couple that increased rigidity with an even tighter, stiffer suspension and you have a 16 percent reduction in body roll during turns. Dial in a set of wide-performance tires and you get cornering grip comparable to the Porsche 911S. Reducing the steering ratio from 15:1 to 13:1 made for sharper steering. Retaining the hydraulic power steering system (instead of going to electric) also retained the car's nice steering feel.

The rear-torque bias in the STI's all-wheel-drive system also improves handling, as does a helpful bit of software that taps the inside front brake to facilitate cornering.

A new set of big Brembo high-performance brakes (13 inches in diameter up front) gets this guy to shut down in a hurry.

The interior is a bit roomier than it was, and well-bolstered seats keep you planted during spirited driving. Visibility is great up ahead, something less when you have to look back past that hulking, peeping tom of a rear spoiler.

Firing up the Launch Edition of the STI ($37,395) at a recent regional press preview, I was greeted by a nifty engine note, and a new 6-speed manual gearbox whose short throws and precise shifts made it a delight. The steering proved equally precise - and without the twitchiness that usually attends such a quick system. The precision was joined by a marvelous degree of road feel.

Push this automobile hard in the corners and it builds your confidence in the chassis to a degree few other cars could.

This STI may not be any faster than the last one (0-60 in 5.1 seconds), but it is more athletic. Is there a trade-off for this sort of performance? There always is. In this case, it's a stiff ride and forgettable mileage.


2015 Subaru WRX STI (Launch Edition)

Base price: $37,395.

As tested: $38,190 (including shipping).

Standard equipment: 2.5-liter engine, 6-speed manual transmission, all-wheel drive, lots of sporty styling cues inside and out and a generous serving of amenities.

Options: None.

Fuel economy: 17 city and 23 highway.

Engine performance: Excellent.

Handling: Other galactical.

Styling: C+.

Ride comfort: Stiff.

Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles bumper-to- bumper.

 The Ben key: four Bens, excellent; three Bens, good; two Bens, fair; one Ben, poor.

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