2018 Subaru WRX STI spec.R Review

2017 Subaru WRX STI Road Test, Review

Since Subaru peeled off the WRX (World Rally eXperimental) from the rest of the Impreza range, it has stood alone and unique in the Subaru Range.

STI (Subaru Technica International) is at the top of the heap, and the Spec R is the best equipped of the 3 STI models.

Subaru have steadfastly refused to turbo the BRZ for fear of cannibalizing WRX, but I think that’s just them being a bit difficult.

All 3 STI models have a delightful six-speed manual matched to a 221kw/407Nm, flat four, turbo petrol, engine.

This “boxer” engine has that familiar chuffing sound we have come to love.

It heralds the arrival at dinner parties, and creates a spooky echo in secluded forest rallies.

You can hear it screaming a mile off.

There is an electronic throttle “drive by wire” system, which feels cutting edge. Yet, there is a fabulously old-school hydraulic power steering set-up. I love it.

You can feel the road under you, and the wheels can transmit each, and every, undulation of the surface.

The 245/35 series Yokohama tyres fitted to 19” rims make the muscular sedan look even meaner.

The AWD hot-hatch (even though it is actually a sedan) has 6pot Brembos at the front, with 2pots around the back.

Instead of the ubiquitou boring old red calipers, they’ve been given the customary Subaru spit-and-polish with a coat of bright fluorescent yellow.

STI doesn’t come with EyeSight assist, sadly. However, there is still a full suite of safety features like blind spot, and front view monitor, High beam Assist, Lane Change assist, side view monitor, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.

Seven airbags, including one for the driver’s knee, gives STI a five-star rating when tested some years ago.

Standard cruise control, and SI-drive make a Sunday arvo cruise fun. Si-drive, usually reserved for the automatic gearbox models, give extra pep to performance, as if STI needed it.

It changes the way the torque is delivered. Standard mode is slightly thriftier, but if you care not for the petrol sitch, stick it in Sport Sharp “S#”, and feel the burn.

If you do this while at lower revs, you feel an instant, and very satisfying, surge.

The bespoke guards back and front, STI badging, and huge high-set rear spoiler, let people know you mean business.

The Torsen rear LSD helps the symmetrical AWD shunt power to wheels back and/or front, while keep a balance on either side. They say it helps keep the rubber on the road, but I think it is just to have boasting rights at the pub.

The centre diff has a driver selectable mode switch, but we didn’t fool with it.

0-100 is a brisk 5.2 seconds, which in the days of twin-turbo V6 and V8, is pretty damned good.

The interior design of Subarus has had some unfriendly critique, but rarelyfrom loving owners. The new Impreza has sorted all that out, but WRX is still stuck with the older look.

Some don’t like it, but I think it looks fab, not drab.

STI shoppers are not buying a car based on how posh the cabin looks, in fact, they probably don’t even notice. I know I sure don’t give a rats.

I have come to understand that all WRX owners are of a particular ilk. Nowadays, 221kw isn’t that remarkable, and the ride tends towards firm, but STI maintains that air of disrespectable respectability.

WRX ownership is a cult.

The Recaro seats in the Spec R are very firm, but surprisingly comfortable. I was able to get the driving position perfect.

In fact, the WRX STI fits like a glove.

You can then easily reach all instruments without having to over reach.

The 7” touch screen infotainment system lacks Apple CarPlay.

This is an unforgivable oversight on a car costing $57,690 (plus on-roads).

Sound, thanks to a Harmon-Karon speakers, sub-woofer, and amplifier set-up, is awesome.

I found the voice command system to be a trifle temperamental, but that would probably improve with practice. There is no digital radio, which is disappointing.

I particularly like the reversing camera. It displays different angles on both the main LCD screen, and the smaller 5.9” sitting on the dashboard above. It’s genius.

A central LCD displays driver information between the main gauges. It’s a simple, but sensible layout. I’d expect nothing less.

The drive, is now, and has always been engaging, even enthralling.

WRX aficionados come in all sizes. They all want the same thing: a slick manual, a 4pot turbo with the cylinder lying down, just the way they should.

The 2.5 in the STI is a slightly older engine, and differs from the unit in the standard Scoob.

None the less, it feels punchy when it needs to, and cruises blissfully at any other time. The extra oomph from the SI drive is a welcome. It remaps the power so that punch kicks in a little earlier.

Peak torque at 4,000 RPM, and power at 6,000, gets a bunch of rubber turning in a way only an AWD can.

Getting stuck in will get a tiny amount of torque steering going, but completely manageable. Please note that sticking the boot in will see the fuel figures head north alarmingly. Subaru claim 15.4 in town!

Otherwise you can expect a claimed 11.2 combined, and 8.7 on the highway.

Oh, and it drinks only the good stuff, 98ron if you please.

As I said before, the ride is firm, but not so hideously uncomfortable that bones are shattered.

The steering has nice balance, and is light enough to be able to park without needing biceps like Atlas.

The Summary

WRX is a favourite, and STI more so. I love the experience. To my surprise, people still notice it.

A practical 4 door sedan all the time, and a slightly mental smack in the face when you want it, it is the right balance between needs, wants, and desires.

The cabin feels comfortable, with a nice ambience. There are sporty touches, and bespoke Recaros at add gravitas.

It has stiff competition. The hatch-brigade snap at STI’s heels. Ford’s fab Focus RS, and Honda’s snarling Type-R are laudable in their own right. But, when it comes down to signing your life away, the Subaru is the easiest to live with.

NUTS and BOLTS – 2017 Subaru WRX STI spec.R

  • Engine: 2.5L turbo petrol producing 221kW and 407Nm
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual
  • Warranty: Three years
  • Safety: Five stars
  • Origin: Japan
  • Price: From $57,690

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