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Subaru revives blast from past as iconic WRX STI roars back

06:01 09 October 2014

Subaru

Subaru's extrovert WRX STI saloon is back on sale in the UK with a distinctive new look and improved drive.

Subaru

To the delight of die-hard enthusiasts and loyal customers, Subaru’s iconic WRX STI sports saloon is back, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

Subaru WRX STI

Price: from £28,995

Engine: 2,457cc, 300PS, horizontally-opposed, flat four-cylinder turbo petrol

Performance: 0-62mph 5.2 seconds; top speed 159mph

MPG: Urban 20.2; extra urban 33.6; combined 27.2

CO2 emissions: 242g/km

Benefit-in-kind tax rate: 35%

Insurance group: 40 (out of 50)

Warranty: Three years or 60,000 miles

Will it fit in the garage? Length 4,595mm; width (excluding door mirrors) 1,795mm; height 1,475mm

We live in an age of ever-growing environmental awareness, where performance tends to be measured by economy and emissions rather than exhilaration, and overtly sporty cars are considered an automotive anti-christ in some quarters with moves to tax them off the road.

But that hasn’t deterred Subaru from relaunching its iconic WRX STI flagship sports saloon in the UK after a year’s absence.

This is a car that doesn’t hide its heritage or play down its sporty credentials with its muscular, flared bodywork, bonnet air scoop, 18in alloy wheels filling out the arches and huge, high-level rear wing spoiler. And then you fire it up and that 300PS turbo petrol engine snarls into life.

Its return is mainly down to the much more favourable exchange rate for the pound against the yen – hence the reason that not only is it now financially viable to offer the WRX STI in the UK again, but an enticing £4,000 has been sliced off its predecessor’s price to a more competitive £28,995 on the road.

And Subaru says it is also a car the die-hard ‘Scooby’ enthusiasts deserve and loyal customers crave following the glory years of the Impreza WRX and international rallying domination in the late Nineties and early Noughties. Even so, Subaru admits there is a diminishing demand for cars like the WRX STI so it is more about meeting a current need than a halo model for the range as it sees its direction in all-wheel drive and sport utility vehicles, such as the Forester – its biggest seller, aimed at people who live in the country.

With the WRX STI it hasn’t just been a case of bringing the old model back for the latest version is effectively a new car.

The steriod-pumped muscular styling is evolutionary but virtually everything else is new, reworked or retuned.

Its heart is still the 2.5-litre, flat-four Box engine, pumping out 300PS and a big shove of torque, but with improved response at lower revs. It is helped by three selectable driving modes – intelligent, sport and sport sharp which alter throttle response. You still need to hit 3,000rpm before it really picks up – and it’s much more enjoyable bringing it to life with the new short-throw six-speed manual gearbox with has a precise action snicking through the ratios – but the power delivery is more progressive and less brutal with no sudden kick in the back which I used to find quite scary if it caught you unawares.

It can blast its way to 62mph in just over five seconds with the all-wheel drive, traction control and torque vectoring systems putting the power down safely and keeping the Subaru in a straight line but you won’t get more than low 20s to the gallon and, despite moves to clean up its act, CO2 emissions are still 242g/km.

The chassis has been extensively reworked with upgraded suspension for more agile handling while at the same time improving ride comfort and, for such a performance car, it copes with bumpy roads remarkably well. Combined with a body that is 140% stiffer, the beefier suspension set-up sees the WRX STI cornering even more flatly with better stability and, with all that grip and traction, it can be pushed through corners safely and quickly. Adding to the fun factor, the hydraulic power steering, known for its feel and feedback, has quicker ratios so is more responsive with sharper turn-in.

While the new WRX STI will appeal to the keen drivers, passengers will appreciate more legroom in the back with an extra 25mm between the front and back wheels. The cabin is also slightly wider while the base of the front A-pillars are 200mm further forward, all adding to the sense of the space – no bad thing given all the black interior trim.

The boot has also grown by 40 litres to 460 litres and the rear seat backs split and fold down 60/40.

The WRX STI has always been more about performance than cabin ambience and quality but the new model’s carbon and metal effect fascia panels gives the dated dashboard a much-needed injection of style, although it still falls short of the aesthetic elegance of rival brands’ high-performance models.

That said, the upgraded materials look and feel much better while the redesigned sports seats are more comfortably and supportive – I could happily have one in my living room instead of an armchair!

Just one trim level is offered but it is generously kitted out and includes leather and Alcantara sports seats, seven airbags, 18in alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, aluminium pedals, cruise control, Thatcham category 1 security system with satellite tracker, 17in Brembo brakes and Bluetooth.

Subaru’s WRX STI is a low-volume niche model – it’s back but won’t be here forever. So make the most of it for, when it finally comes to the end of the road, it will also be the end of an exciting era.

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Andy Russell

Andy Russell

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EDP motoring editor, journalist who loves wheels and engines but hates cleaning them.

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