Huge rear wing; bigger wheels; and badges on wings, grille and boot lid mark out the STI over the WRX

Huge rear wing; bigger wheels; and badges on wings, grille and boot lid mark out the STI over the WRX

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Infamous as the ATM ram raiders' getaway vehicle of choice, the WRX STI brings Subaru lots of welcome and unwelcome publicity. For all that, this compact super-fast sedan remains an engineering tour de force and a seriously exciting car to drive.

First off a reminder that officially, this is not an Impreza. And yet, that’s exactly what it is: the WRX and WRX STI shifted over to the current shape four-door body style in 2013 and 2014 respectively. IM Group, the UK importer, only brings in the more powerful of the two. 

There’s no WRX or STI wagon, nor is there a five-door. And of course there’s no Impreza wagon either: Fuji Heavy has created three models from one, releasing each into the marketplace at different times. So while the Impreza is now four years old and will be replaced in 2016, the WRX and STI are still fresh, and the wagon, which is sold as the Subaru Levorg, is also fairly new. It surfaced in Japan in 2014 and will reach Britain in a few months’ time. Fuji Heavy will be performing a clever trick with this model, by marketing what is a C segment sized car as the effective replacement for the Legacy/Liberty wagon. PSA does the same with the Citroen C4 Cactus, the prefix being meant to make people think it's as big as a C4, when in fact it's more of a B+ segment crossover. 

Despite being under the wing of the mighty Toyota Motor Corporation - TMC has a minor holding in Fuji Heavy Industries - Subaru must pay its way, there is no vast pool of cash with which to develop money-no-object cars. This strategy has worked brilliantly, with Subaru very nicely profitable. Some of that is down to manufacturing and R&D tie-ups with TMC but the majority of the success comes from having the right products for the US market, and the sort of customer loyalty that money can’t buy. 

In the first half of 2015, Subaru of America sold a record 272,418 cars. Compare that to Volkswagen of America's mere 174,442. And how about this: in June, the brand even outsold Dodge, the totals being 44,335 and 43,457. For obvious reasons, the division spends very little on incentives and has now had 43 consecutive months of rising sales.

Neither the WRX nor the STI are cheap cars, even in the US, so just imagine the black ink which has been flowing to Japan from a combined 15,035 registrations of these cars in H1 of CY2015. The Forester is Subaru of America’s best seller (80,828 YtD), followed by the Outback, XV Crosstrek and the Impreza. See the full breakdown here.

If you’re wondering how our market compares, well, the brand is more exclusive here, as a PR person might put it. In June, 245 cars were registered, which was a rise of just 2.51%, so Subaru in effect went backwards as sales for all brands were up by a combined 12.93%. It’s a better story looking at the year to date, as the total is 1,667 versus 1,309 for 1 Jan-30 Jun 2014. That’s a gain of 27.35%.

For most of H1, 2014, you couldn’t buy any form of WRX in the UK, but a weakening yen against sterling convinced IM Group that the STI could turn a profit here. The latest car arrived in showrooms last May. The launch price of GBP28,995 has not changed for the MY2015 car, which was announced two months ago.

There is one spec only, and there’s a lot of standard gear, though a few strange omissions, such as one-press lifting and and lowering being fitted only to the driver’s window motor. The seat adjustment is manual and that’s a good thing, as it gets rid of unnecessary weight in what is a four-door supercar.  

FHI says the car was tested at the Nürburgring circuit but this was towards the end of the development programme. Subaru chassis engineers obviously get to dictate the spec of this car, which is another great reason to keep it apart from the Impreza in the overall development cycle. That way, there are far fewer compromises. 

Compared to the previous model, the body and chassis were significantly stiffened to improve torsional rigidity, and Subaru’s Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) with Active Torque Vectoring is fitted. You can adjust the centre diff too, via a switch between the front seats. Unusually, the steering system has hydraulic rather than electric assistance, and compared to the previous STI, there is a stiffer rack and a quicker ratio. 

The feeling you get through the steering wheel of any generation of WRX is here in this one too. It’s perfectly weighted and there is only the tiniest telegraphing of torque steer when you floor it as the electronics push drive to the back axle. Grip? In a word, immense. Nor is that an intimidating car in the way that something like a 911 can be at first. The Porsche comparison comes to mind as the acceleration and grip are comparable. You can test your limits without scaring yourself - obviously on the right deserted road - and if you do find the edges of the comfort zone rapidly approaching, the brakes are just phenomenal. FHI had these developed by Brembo. 

Power in Euro 6 spec is 300PS at 6,000rpm and what a noise it makes as the 2,457cc H4 aluminium engine spins to that redline, and beyond. This is a car which has beautifully spaced ratios, yet it’s all too easy to be sometimes approaching the limiter if you’re used to an engine which is less willing to sing. This one isn't as baritone as older WRX STIs, and the volume goes gleefully growly from around 3,000rpm upwards. Below that it's all a bit grumbly. Not rough; far from it. Just that it seems as though being up towards 6,000rpm and beyond is where this engine was developed to be at its best.

Now. The inside story. It doesn’t look quite like what you might be expecting for twenty nine thousand. There is very little wrong with the interior; it’s more that it doesn’t major on luxury. In its favour, this is a classier cabin than that of the BRZ and GT86 twins. You can sense that there was an obsession to get the weight out and if that means less sound deadening here and there, then some of us are not complaining. Who in their right mind would want this car’s engine to be quiet anyway?

Kerb weight is 1,534kg but what really matters is performance, and the STI delivers. Zero to 62mph takes just 5.2 seconds and top speed is 159mph. Combined consumption is 27.2mpg. Remember when seemingly every other car wasn't a sub-100g/km model? Well, here's a flashback to those times: this one has average CO2 of 242g/km. Ouch. Stop-start would do wonders for reducing that number but it's not available. The same applies to the automatic gearbox with paddle shifters. This is standard in Japan and optional in the US.

Back to the interior: soft touch materials feature in some places but there is a lot of plastic which has the opposite feel to it. You’d find STI-branded dials, carbon-effect and metal trim, and a small diameter D-shaped steering wheel.

There’s decent room for four, perhaps five at a pinch, and some of that is down to the extra 25mm in the wheelbase compared to the old model. Boot volume is better too, its cubic capacity having gone up by a handy 40 litres to 460. Both boot liner and headliner are made from what look and feel like a kind of parcel shelf cardboard-carpet mashup. But hold your hating, it’s all about keeping things as light as possible. The same applies to the BRZ-like clang that the boot lid makes. And that giant wing? Well, it attracts attention from unmarked patrol cars - one followed me for a long time on the M5 - so if you want to maintain a low profile, best go for a 1.6-litre Impreza hatchback instead. You'll save ten grand too, and get an automatic gearbox. It's quite a bit slower, mind.

One advantage of the whale tail is being in doubt about how close you are to a wall when reversing. Which is welcome, as there are no parking sensors at either end of this car.

The gearchange has a short throw and you can almost feel the next ratio being pushed into place it’s so direct. There’s more than enough torque to pull away in second if you’re feeling lazy, or perhaps wishing to restore fuel consumption into the 20s. Hard acceleration will drop it into the low teens but you can’t own this car and not drive it as though you stole it, every now and then. 

Boasting 407Nm (300 lb-ft) of torque at a high 4,000rpm, the boxer engine is nonetheless happy to be in constant low-revs mode if you hit a traffic jam. That was not always the case with Japanese four-door hyper saloons, so FHI’s engineers’ work should be recognised. Those same engineers will right now be working on some updates for this model, as it heads towards the half way point in its lifecycle. A facelift is likely two years away, with the successor model due in 2019.

The next WRX and STI will be based upon Subaru Global Platform. SGP is a front- and all-wheel drive architecture, and it will debut with the Impreza. Shortly after this car’s launch, a replacement for the recently announced Impreza Sport Hybrid should go on sale in Japan. Then in 2017 will come the next Forester and the follow up to the XV/XV Crosstrek. 

Last year’s Legacy and Outback will be the last major models to have been released before SGP appears. Their eventual replacements should show up in 2019 or 2020. As for the BRZ, we’re unlikely to see any potential successor until 2018.

The next vehicle review from Glenn Brooks will be of the facelifted and newly Euro 6-compliant Kia Rio. The Korean brand has many models under development for multiple regions, and some of these will be looked at.