Engine: 2.5L turbo four-cylinder
Power: 305 hp, 290 lb-ft
Transmission: 6-speed manual
EPA Fuel Economy (MPG): 23 hwy, 17 city
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 13.8 city, 10.2 hwy
US Price: Starts at $35,195
CAN Price: Starts at $40,795 (for Sport model)
Subaru people are among the most vocal in the world of automotive fandoms about how much they love their cars.
They will challenge anyone who says their vehicles are inferior, which is very understandable because although the cars have a lot of merit, Subaru is a bit of an underdog and underdogs are often misunderstood. Underdogs have to fight extra hard to get a fraction of the recognition that the Hondas and Toyotas of the world often take for granted.
I’ve driven practically the whole lineup of Subaru cars, and while they are very decent vehicles, I was never overwhelmingly impressed by them. They were good, but not the best. The Subaru fandom always left me a bit confused, and I assumed they adhered to some sort of cult mentality with their blind faith in a quirky brand.
That’s until I finally got to drive the 2017 Subaru WRX STI, which may have made me into a convert.
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The STI is obviously a legend, a fact that everyone knows and accepts as fact. As one of the least subtle sport compacts on the market with one of the richest histories, the STI’s fanbase is even more fervent than the general Subaru fandom, which makes sense, as the STI is the flagship product of the Japanese automaker’s lineup that represents the very best of what Subaru has to offer.
After spending some quality time with the sedan, I am now able to fully understand the draw of the STI. The beautiful thing about it — and let’s not kid ourselves, it’s not how it looks — is how it makes you drive like a teenager who has nothing to lose. There’s a level of driving engagement that is pretty much unmatched by anything else in its price range, save for the new Ford Focus RS. It’s impossible not to have fun when driving it, even when you’re going slow. Cars like this are really rare, and I was actually really surprised by how giddy I felt driving it.
Drama Is Always Nearby
There’s a constant drama surrounding this car that adds to its novelty. Other Subaru drivers flash their lights and wave at you, STI drivers give you the combination to their secret handshake, and everyone else wants to race you. Clapped out Civic Sis from 10 years ago will be super aggressive and try to provoke you, and police officers will be running your plates left and right.
The one thing that people might not like about this car is that drama. Nobody is going to see this car and assume a responsible adult is driving it. Passersby and law enforcement will notice the huge hood scoop and comically large wing sitting on the trunk, hear the exhaust’s aggressive cracks and burbles, and see someone who’s looking for trouble. I think that’s all part of the fun. Sleepers have their place in the world, but I’m just so entertained by the constant drama surrounding this car.
A Fantastic Powertrain/Rally-Bred Chassis
The fun starts with the powertrain, a turbocharged 2.5-liter boxer four-cylinder and permanent full-time all-wheel drive. The engine puts out 305 hp and 290 pound-feet of torque, and the STI is one of the only cars that is still exclusively available with a manual transmission. This six-speed manual is great to use, with short and precise throws (it’s much better than the one in the WRX). The gearing for first and second are a bit short and you’ll hit redline in no time, so I wish those gears were a little bit taller, but it’s not a deal-breaker.
In terms of power, it feels more than sufficient, but with the Focus RS banging on the STI’s door with 350 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque, spec sheet shoppers might be turned off.
The brakes are sharp, the clutch is the right weight and feels intuitive to use and the steering is also fantastic, heavy, dialed-in and responsive, and quicker than WRX. Off-the-line acceleration is freaky fast, though not drag strip fast, and max torque is available as early as 2,000 rpm. There is a wee bit of turbo lag, but the car feels light, and like it’s always ready to throat punch you, but is also entirely manageable at the same time.
The suspension is incredibly stiff and helps the car stay miraculously flat in corners, while the AWD system provides the type of traction powering out of corners that makes you way too confident to be law abiding. That confidence keeps pushing you to take corners faster and faster than you normally would. By default, the car has a rear torque bias, sending 41 percent to the front and 59 to the rear, but Subaru allows you to adjust the split via a little toggle switch close to the drive mode selector.
A lot of people say the STI isn’t as refined as its competitors, but the way I see it is that that raw feeling makes it feel more engaging to drive. It’s really good at giving you a sensation of speed that is lacking from cars that are much more polished. The Golf R, for example, is a great car and feels much more refined than the STI, but it is lacking when it comes to engagement and fun.
And that’s just on paved roads. Throw a dirt track or snow storm at it and you can almost hear the Subaru yelling, “SUCKASSS!!” as it screams past other sports cars, kicking up dirt and snow all up in their grilles.
Besides performance, one of the other reasons people love STIs so much is because of their everyday usability. It truly is a practical all-weather sports car. Sure it’s fun, but it’s also not so low that you have to worry about scraping it on speed bumps and ramps, and it has great visibility. Big windows and good sightlines are something that makes it more user-friendly.
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The interior is also much improved, and although it’s not as nice as something you’d find in a Volkswagen, for example, it’s functional and well laid out. Of course, the infotainment system is lacking, but Subaru has added some flourish to its interior that at least makes it less boring to look at.
The Verdict: 2017 Subaru WRX STI Review
The 2017 Subaru WRX STI has converted me into one of those slightly crazy Subaru fans. I finally understand what Subaru fanboys are always going on about. It just has that fantastic level of driver engagement and is fun no matter what speed you’re going and all for a price that won’t bankrupt you.
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