Executive wheels: A sporty Subaru worth a second look

I reached a different conclusion this time around

I am a huge Subaru fan, despite what some Subaru zealots posted a few years back after I said I didn’t like a WRX.  And I am also capable of changing my mind or at least updating my opinions. If I don’t like a car on any given test drive, I will say so, but the next time I might have a different opinion. Such is the case with this 2016 Subaru WRX STI.

The WRX is the performance-tuned Impreza of old, now just called the WRX, and for 2016 featuring an intercooled turbo-charged H-4 engine, 2.0 liter, with 268 hp, and of course AWD. This STI model features a larger engine, a 2.5-liter, turbocharged H4 with 305 hp, and it has further performance tuning enhancements.

I am not a race guy and not qualified to comment on its finer points. When I last wrote about a WRX or variant a few years ago, I took the point of view, as I always do, of looking at the car from a regular, everyday driving experience. Back then, I didn’t like it. If one purchases this vehicle simply for racing, well good, but I assume much of its buying public is also driving it to work and just around town, and the last one I had didn’t serve that purpose very well.

This one, surprisingly, did. I actually very much enjoyed it. In the mundanity of driving around town, on the highway and even up in the mountains on regular paved roads, this WRX STI I found comfortable, relatively quiet, easy to drive and shift and just overall pleasant. I apparently was sent a limited edition model – a Hyper Blue paint job, with 18” black finish, special STI badging, and a beautiful leather and alcantara (a specialized material) interior that featured blue stitching matching the exterior paint – and only 400 of these models were sent to the U.S. This four-door sedan is beautiful, although since I am not a race fan I could do without the huge wing spoiler on the trunk lid.

I don’t want to suggest that Subaru has taken the beast out of this car – they haven’t. If you want to punch it, if you want a burst of speed with plenty of agility, it’s here. This WRX STI is still a beast, just a refined one. I like that. Sometimes you feel like a nut; sometimes you don’t. 

There are a few things from a driver’s point of view that are extra special. First, whatever they did in the tuning of the suspension and the steering (hydraulic, apparently) worked, for this is the finest cornering car I have ever driven. It has a great driver’s feel, as if the steering wheel is connected to your brain. Second, it has 13-inch Brembo Performance front brakes, anti-lock brakes all around, and man, do they work well. They’ll stop on a dime.

As for this extra fine-tuning, I am not a gear-head or a grease monkey, but I recognize that for some people, that is important. So I’ll just share what Subaru says on its own website in this regard: “The WRX STI takes it up a level with a high-performance suspension, developed by STI racing engineers with the input of world-class drivers. It features inverted dampers, revised spring and damper rates and aluminum-alloy lower L-arms with pillow ball mounts. The result is minimal body roll, while the 13.0:1 steering ratio and larger front and rear anti-roll bars provide quick steering response. In other words, it eats corners raw.”

Personally, I don’t need all that for the type of driving I do – if I was to buy a car these days it would likely be the Subaru Outback. But this WRX STI does have its appeal, and except for the inflated price vis a vis its cousins the Subaru Impreza and XV Crosstrek, it is quick, it is very fun to drive, it corners like no other, and with the spoiler and overall racing look you get a ton of looks from people, particularly young people.

For the record: my driving notes indicate few other important things. The shifter and clutch were both stiff but highly accurate and easy to use. The sound system was great and also easy to use. The suede/leather seats with the matching blue stitching were both comfortable and beautiful. The STI logos on the floor mats, steering wheel, and console are cool. Also, this four-door model has more than adequate room in the rear seat, but the trunk is a bit small (for golf bags you have to put down the rear seats and utilize the larger space).

This 2016 WRX STI is a special car, one worthy of consideration. The base price is $38,995 – which doesn’t seem all that bad for all that is here. On the Options list they talked about the HyperBlue paint, the leather/alcantara seats, the very cool black finish 18” alloy wheels, and some exterior badging that is above the norm – but all of this was listed as “INCLD” – so the only extra charge was the $795 for Destination and Delivery. So, bottom line of $39,790.

I’m not going to buy one because a racing-ready car is just not my thing. But if I inherited it, or otherwise came into possession of this WRX STI, I would keep it and be quite happy.

RATING: 4 WHEELS (OUT OF 4)

Categories: Industry Trends, Transportation