SUBARU WRX STI SPEC.R REVIEW
Vehicle Style: AWD performance sedan
Fuel Economy (claimed): 10.6 l/100km
Fuel Economy (tested): 13.2 l/100km
The WRX STI automatic is essentially an Australian-delivered version of the Japanese market-only WRX STI A-Line. The good news is that ticking the box for the five-speed automatic over the six-speed manual is a nil-cost exercise.
But there’s a downside: hooking up the automatic box to the STI saps a lot of the fun out of what is otherwise a very capable performance car.
Quality: From a quality standpoint, it’s practically the same interior that you get in a $28,000 Impreza RS, albeit with a black headliner, STI-specific instruments and centre console switches and seats.
Build quality is great, mind you. Everything feels solid, and there were no uneven panel gaps in our tester’s interior.
Comfort: If you can afford them, go with the optional Recaro front seats. The standard leather-trimmed seats (which were fitted to our tester) are fine for everyday driving and the occasional burst up a mountain road, but lack lateral support compared to the grippier Recaros.
Getting into a comfortable driving position is easy, thanks to the roomy cabin and reach/rake adjustable steering column.
For track-day enthusiasts there’s plenty of headroom to accommodate a helmet-clad driver, and a pair of large metal shift-paddles sitting just behind the steering wheel.
The back seats are roomy too, although lateral grip isn’t as plentiful. And, despite its performance, the STI is still very much a practical car: there’s plenty of room for a couple of adults in the back.
Equipment: The WRX STI comes with Bluetooth phone integration, a 10-speaker sound system with USB/auxilliary inputs, steering-wheel mounted audio controls, dusk-sensing xenon headlamps, fog lamps, cruise control and climate control.
The range-topping spec.R adds leather upholstery, 18-inch BBS alloys, Satellite navigation and a sunroof. Recaro seats are a cost option on the spec.R
Storage: Boot capacity is respectable, athough the boot floor is not entirely flat due to the space taken up by the STI’s AWD hardware. The rear seats fold flat though, which is a feature the STI’s nemesis, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, doesn’t have.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Unfortunately, opting for the five-speed automatic robs the STI of 50Nm of torque compared to the standard manual-equipped model.
Power remains the same at 221kW, but peak torque drops to 350Nm - and you can really feel that loss out on the street and on the track.
The STI’s 2.5 litre turbocharged flat-four engine is also a laggy unit, and can feel lethargic below 2500rpm.
Boost pressure rises strongly above 2700rpm and peak torque is delivered between 3000rpm and 6000rpm, but the automatic STI simply doesn’t have the sledgehammer-like torque delivery of the manual.
Floor it and acceleration is fairly brisk, but nowhere near as rapid as the manual. The automatic’s taller final gear ratio doesn’t help either.
Its automatic gearbox does make city driving easier though, as the softer boost response takes a lot of the edginess out of the STI’s power delivery.
It’s not bad as a performance gearbox either, blipping downchanges and executing reasonably quick upshifts (although not as lightning-fast as the Lexus IS F). Around town, it’s as smooth and refined as any other conventional auto ‘box.
Refinement: Transmission noise, engine noise, tyre noise and wind noise are always present inside the STI’s cabin. It sounds and feels as raw as a race car; although it gets a bit tiresome on long journeys, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Suspension: Long wheel travel and a relatively supple damper tune endows the STI with excellent traction on bumpy surfaces, and body control is superb even on off-camber surfaces.
There’s a bit of sharpness to the suspension over rougher bumps, but on the whole the STI delivers a confidence-inspiring level of grip on both twisting rural backroads and glass-smooth racetracks.
Given its nose-heavy weight distribution it will push into understeer eventually, and, because the automatic model misses out on the tricky limited-slip differentials and torque-split controller of the manual STI, you can’t pull yourself out of understeer by applying more power.
There’s also plenty of rack rattle, and the steering feels a lot lighter than we’d prefer. That said, it’s comfortable enough for the daily grind. The suspension, although firm, still retains a decent amount of compliance - perfect for dealing with pockmarked urban roads.
Braking: Weighing in at 1535kg and capable of hitting triple-digit speeds in under six seconds, the WRX STI needs big brakes.
The sizable Brembo hardware (four-piston calipers at the front, two-piston at the rear) are untroubled bringing the STI to a halt, and do so easily without fade. Pedal feel is good too, with a firm, responsive feel that inspires confidence.
ANCAP rating: 5-stars
Safety features: Single-mode stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD, brake assist. Front, front side and curtain airbags are standard and all seats are fitted with three-point seatbelts..
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres.
Service costs: Sevice intervals are set for every six months or 12,500km. A basic service costs around $240, while more involved maintenance (such as the 24 month/60,000km service) can cost up to $550.
Two major services are scheduled for 54 months/112,500km and 60 months/125,000km, and cost $820 and $950 respectively.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR SST ($74,390) - Vastly more expensive, but vastly more capable than the auto-equipped STI. The Evo’s clever twin-clutch automatic trounces the STI’s automatic for performance, and it corners more sharply and feels more alert.
Harder to live with around town due to a tiny boot and stiff ride, but definitely one of the best performance cars around. (see Evolution reviews)
Volkswagen Golf R 5 Door DSG ($52,490) - Volkswagen’s incredibly-refined Golf R marries a willing turbocharged 2.0 litre engine with a sophisticated AWD drivetrain, and packages it all in a practical hatchback bodyshell.
Options can be pricey though, and the suspension is a bit too firm unless you opt for the optional adaptive damper system. (see Golf R reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
If you want an automatic AWD performance car, it’s difficult to recommend the WRX STI auto over its logical closest competitors.
While it’s a fantastic car in manual form, equipping an STI with an auto neuters the performance. It’s still quick point-to-point, but loses that blistering crushing brawn of the manual.
But, if you’re after all-out performance and must have an automatic, we’d say the other two cars give more thrills than the Subaru.