The 2013 Subaru WRX STI represents a somewhat strange, but very interesting entry into the high-tech compact sports car segment. The Impreza, WRX, and STI nameplates have all been staples of the Subaru lineup for many years, with the higher-performance WRX and STI variants dating back to the late-1990s in Japan. The Impreza is sold as a mild-mannered compact family sedan with standard all-wheel-drive included. It is a smart choice in the mostly front-wheel-drive segment for those who desire additional traction in inclement weather. The WRX and WRX STI, by extension, are sold alongside the standard Impreza and could not be any more different. Even though the exteriors of all three models are the same in a lot of ways, there’s a lot more going on underneath the surface that are worth looking at from an enthusiast point of view.
I like to consider myself a nerd. I like to wrap my head around (at least try!) to understand all the ins-and-outs of the high-tech toys in my possession, whether it is the latest smartphone or newest car. My tester, a 2013 Subaru Impreza WRX STI Sport-Tech sedan, in a striking Plasma Blue Pearl, was that high-tech toy I’ve wanted to try out for some time. Our particular car stickers for $41,695 and comes with nearly every relevant option box checked. HID headlamps, fog lights, heated sport seats (excellently bolstered; by the way), power sunroof, and in-dash navigation are what you get when you opt for the top-of-the-line Sport-Tech package. One interesting item is that the aim of the HID low-beam headlights can be manually adjusted via a little dial to the left of the steering wheel. More elaborate solutions automatically adjust the headlight aim based on ride height, but Subaru leaves it to you in this car.
Subarus often stand out amongst their peers for their unique powertrains, and the WRX STI is no exception. With their standard symmetrical AWD and horizontally-opposed “boxer” engines, they carve out a niche that has built up quite a following throughout the years. Powered by a 2.5L horizontally-opposed, turbocharged, and intercooled four cylinder motor, the WRX STI produces 305hp at 6000rpm and a very healthy 290lb-ft of torque at 4000rpm. This power is fed through a six-speed manual transmission, out to a centre transfer case which then distributes it to all four wheels through limited-slip differentials. This configuration makes for some serious traction available in nearly any condition: rain or shine, or even snow. This car truly can be your year-round companion. I averaged about 13L/100km in spirited driving. Premium fuel is required.
Being the top-level STI model, the powertrain is not the only place Subaru focused on. Larger multi-piston brakes, short-throw gear shifter, firmer springs and dampers, firmer engine mounts, and a more aggressive wheel & tire package (featuring sticky 245-section Dunlop SP Sport 600 summer-only rubber) round out the go-fast bits added on. In terms of cosmetic differentiation, the STI adds a massive rear decklid spoiler. Subaru actually calls it a “high-profile” rear spoiler. It is big enough that it doesn’t impact your rearward visibility – you get a good view under it!
Subaru also gives you additional electronic goodies to help you go faster, in the form of a driver-controlled centre differential, or DCCD for short. Unique to the STI, this little knob and controller mounted in the centre console lets you move the torque bias around between the front and rear axles. It is easy to appreciate this feature, because it has the potential to drastically change the behaviour of the car in certain situations. In short: you can tell the STI to favour a frontward torque bias, which improves straight-line stability and increases overall traction when starting from a stop. On the other hand, you can tell the STI to favour a rearward torque bias which improves lateral grip and helps rotate the car under hard cornering. Now for the English version: more toys for nerds like myself to play with. There is also an automatic mode for those who do not wish to constantly fiddle with their car’s settings, so not all is lost.
One might expect such a focused performance car to compromise in other areas. This is where the Impreza WRX STI shines, because it does nearly everything pretty well. You get all of today’s creature comforts, decent interior and cargo space, rear seats that fold down (a rarity as you go up the performance car ladder), and no glaring quirks that make the car difficult to live with on a daily basis. The only ones that come to mind are: a useless centre armrest, (though Subaru will gladly sell you an extended arm rest which should help), and a slightly dated, if not utilitarian, interior. A lot of people like to complain about the basic interior (loaded with hard plastics), but I feel it is of acceptable quality. Besides, it is fairly obvious that most of the car’s asking price is going towards the powertrain. Another small item that stuck out was the keyless entry fob. All the buttons (door lock/unlock, rear trunk) are not actually on the key itself, but on a second, separate module. You have to carry around two items in your pocket as the ignition key lives on its own. Fans of push-button starters will be disappointed here. The STI is comfortable enough, but I feel some may find the firm springs and dampers a bit much on poor quality roads. It is no Lexus, nor does it pretend to be. The tires do exhibit some howl at highway speeds, but grip is ferocious.
None of the above really matters when behind the wheel, because the STI readily redeems itself and makes its priorities clear to the driver. This is a serious technology-laden speed machine and you will accept the little quirks that make it a Subaru. An Impreza WRX STI review is not complete without mentioning its main competitor: the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. It makes similar horsepower figures and also features a lot of techno-wizardry to get that power to the ground, and both are even similarly sized. It is also getting a bit long in the teeth, but still remains relevant for another set of reasons. I personally prefer the Subaru as it is also available in hatchback format, and the fact that the Lancer Evolution interior is even less inviting.
At the end of the week, my inner nerd was satisfied and I was sad to have to give the car back to Subaru. I feel the STI is one of the most well-rounded do-everything-all-year machines available. Sure, the huge rear wing draws some attention (I swear I’m not 19!), and it is not the prettiest car around, but I love the no-nonsense function over form design philosophy Subaru has poured into this car. The new-generation Impreza has already been on the market since 2011, leaving the WRX and STI to carry on the old body style. Subaru has indicated they will be splitting the Impreza and high-performance WRX and top-end STI. The latter two are expected to be released later this year and have some high expectations to meet.
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