ONE CAR TWO CRITICS: Subaru’s practical performer
The Subaru WRX STI is a hero car to many thanks to its stellar motorsport career and, priced from $55,527 on the road, it's among the best value, genuine all-round performance cars money can buy. Four doors, five seats and a decent sized sedan boot bring practical benefits, too, but can it serve both as a family daily driver and a weekend plaything?
IAIN: A living legend, this one. What teenager in the 1990s didn't long for a Subaru WRX?
JULES: Well, me. Revheads used to have them, with giant wheels and exhausts, ridiculous suspension and booming audio, right?
IAIN: Ignore the shouty modified ones; think back to Impreza WRXs flying sideways, spitting flames and making World Rally Championship heroes of Colin McRae, Possum Bourne, Chris Atkinson …
JULES: I remember the WRX in the Colin McRae Rally video game. Shouldn't it have gold wheels and lighter blue paint?
IAIN: Fair call. You can still get WRC blue but no gold wheels sadly. Ours is a bit subtler in dark blue.
JULES: Not subtle, no. Giant rear wing? Massive bonnet scoop? Painted glow-in-the-dark brake calipers? I've got to do the school run in this thing.
IAIN: Well you'll be the raciest mum in the car park then, plus the kids love it. They knew it was a race car from the barking of the 2.5-litre turbo boxer. You don't need the rear wing by the way, it's a $300 option.
JULES: Even so, surely for the $55,000 we could get plenty of other talented performance cars?
IAIN: Rivals for similar money include the VW Golf R, Honda Civic Type R, Ford Focus RS, Renault Megane RS, or spend a bit more and get a BMW M140i … all hatchbacks.
THE LIVING SPACE
JULES: Well, it ticks the sporty boxes. Alcantara trim, manual gearbox, metal pedals, chunky steering wheel plus stitching, seat sides and seat belts in red.
IAIN: Other than that, it's a bit dark and dated but feels very well screwed together.
JULES: It's not dated, it's a tech fest. There are information screens everywhere. It's hard to pick out relevant data when driving. I don't care about my cornering g-force or throttle percentage, a digital speedo is fine.
IAIN: All that on-board telemetry will be handy at the racetrack. The steering wheel is a sea of buttons though. It all takes a lot of learning.
JULES: The audio is incredible but, even with all those screens, why no Apple CarPlay? Criminal.
IAIN: It's not great for the family either. The kids have plenty of space for their car seats in the back but I couldn't fit even one bike in the boot. Hot hatches do the trick there.
JULES: I love a manual but not this one in school traffic. The clutch is heavy and it's hard not to bunny hop away unless you nail the throttle.
IAIN: Yeah, that's not really good form outside the school gates. It's a hugely eager engine and certainly prefers to be worked.
JULES: The performance is awesome but we just haven't got the roads to do it justice.
IAIN: It's not that powerful or quick though. For a turbo car these days, 221kW isn't huge and 0-100km/h in 5.2-seconds is fast rather than hyper. It's the STI's cornering speed that will truly show where your money's going.
JULES: That must be why it's so stiff and uncomfortable. Not a daily driver for me, even though the sport seats were unexpectedly comfortable on a long drive.
IAIN: I reckon it could just about do daily duties without too many chiro appointments. But if you don't intend to take one to the track, save your money and get a normal WRX.
JULES: I really enjoyed the performance when out on rural roads but I didn't enjoy taking it to the supermarket. It's such a male car. I felt people were judging me for driving one. They were expecting a hoon to climb out.
IAIN: You may get mistaken for Molly Taylor; she was 2016 Australian Rally Champion in an STI, you know.
JULES: I bet her rally version doesn't have a rear camera. That was handy and the dash monitor is very good too. But for around town I was shocked by how much fuel it drank. I averaged over 15L/100km there.
IAIN: Leadfoot. It needs premium 98 too.
IAIN: What a weapon. The engine makes a thumping noise at high revs. You've really got
to be close to the redline to get the most shove; the turbo lag can be surprising otherwise.
JULES: It loves being driven fast and that dirt road section we did showed off how playful it could be, yet safe with brilliant brakes and all the technology underneath.
IAIN: It's so stable and grippy in the turns but, yes, it feels as if it was made for dirt road shenanigans. In Sport Sharp mode the engine felt more responsive. I had a play with the adjustable centre differential to send a bit more torque to the rear wheels.
JULES: I told you not to touch that button. I was happier with how safe it felt in full all-wheel drive mode.
JULES: It's super fast, clever and good value but its style is just too male. And it's not easy telling your friends you have an STI. It's a no for me.
IAIN: I see your point. It's a yes for me but only if you plan to use your WRX STI on the track or if you live down a long, twisty gravel back road.
SUBARU WRX STI
PRICE From $55,527 drive-away (cheap for the ability)
WARRANTY AND SERVICING 3 years/unlimited km, $2296 for 3
ENGINE 2.5-litre 4-cyl turbo, 221kW/407Nm (plenty)
SAFETY 5 stars, 7 airbags but no AEB or other driving aids (not good)
THIRST 10.4L/100km (thirsty; 98 RON)
SPARE Space-saver (expected)
BOOT 460L (average)