Why is Nickelback still relevant? They haven’t produced anything innovative in a long time, they keeps making the same mistakes, Chad Kroeger isn’t getting any less annoying, and they still think they are ‘Metal.’ All signs point to their record label trading them in for a new model. But no, we keep getting album after album of Chad singing with gravel in his gullet, and ‘edgy’ lyrics that still somehow come off as vanilla. I think we are due for a fresh version.
Incidentally on the automobile side of things, this is the case with the Subaru WRX STI. It has indeed been around for a long time in the same form. Thankfully though, the 2018 Subaru WRX STi Sport that I had on test is still quite good, and very much less annoying than Chad Kroeger.
Let’s start with the drivetrain, because while it feels like the most dated part of the car, it still gives me the tingles. The base STi starts at $39,495, and my tester in Sport trim came in at $41,795. Considering a fully loaded WRX (reviewed here) is $39,095 and comes with a torquey twin-scroll turbo slapped on its boxer engine, you might have a hard time convincing yourself to pay the extra for the STi. Driving the STi out on regular roads (read: not the track), it feels downright sluggish (by modern standards anyway). Peak torque in the regular WRX is reached at just 2,000RPM, while peak torque in the STi is reached at 4,000RPM.
This means that when you are just putting around town, the STI just doesn’t feel responsive. There is quite a bit of turbo lag, and it bogs easily low in the rev range. However, if you keep it on boost, high up in the rev range, 305 horsepower at 6,000RPM will kick up gravel, and tear up tarmac. Intelligently, Subaru has kept the close ratio, fairly aggressive transmission. This means you will be shifting more often as the gears are shorter, but you can use that to keep it higher up in the revs. The shifter is fairly short as well and the clutch is firm. The whole shifting experience is still good.
The STi has more advantages over the regular WRX when it comes to the rest of the drivetrain as well. You get Torsen differentials front and rear, and the centre diff is an electronically-controlled multi-plate transfer clutch. You can leave it in Auto, and the STi will shunt power to the correct axle for you, or you can move the power fore and aft with a little dial. That’s good stuff.
It also has some pretty impressive brakes. Not because they are anodized in a radioactive green, which is a bold move in my opinion, but because they are actually very powerful. It stops with ferocity, and fade is minimal over track time, as we learned after discussing the car with owners of existing models.
The steering is another strong point of the WRX STi. In a sea of electronic steering racks, this setup remains hydraulic. It feels good off center, and the STi comes with a quicker steering rack than the WRX so the helm of this car is pretty engaging. When it comes to track performance, I’ve been lucky enough to lap several of these cars. The STi is fun at the track, and the chassis does a good job of keeping the car composed. It does understeer severely under power, and does not rotate at the limit. You have to aggressively trail brake, or lift abruptly to get any motion out of the chassis. It is easily bested by the Focus RS (reviewed here) and the Honda Civic Type R. I can tell you that the STi feels more at home tearing up a gravel backroad, or munching through Canadian snow.
So as a performance car then, the STi still does the trick, even if it feels a little less refined than rivals like the Golf R (reviewed here). But as a daily driver? This is where it needs the update. The ride is a bit harsh, and it gets fairly poor fuel economy if you drive aggressively at all. The interior is at least better than older generations, but it still could use an update. The seats are comfortable at least, and Subaru’s Starlink infotainment system is good, but not excellent. Albeit, it’s not quite fair to be picky about that sort of a thing in a car with this level of performance.
The 2018 Subaru WRX STi is still a strong performer, but it is in need of a refresh. Its drivetrain feels dated compared to rivals, and in the face of its little brother the WRX. I have driven the new Subaru global platform in the new Impreza (reviewed here) and was quite impressed. The new chassis feels like it has a lot of potential. The new STi then, whenever it comes out, should be pretty exciting.