Subaru’s WRX has seen immense success here in the States since it first came to these shores in 2002. The car’s mix of practicality, reliability, and affordability, along with some very useable high performance makes it one of the best overall cars that money can buy. This includes the even higher slated WRX STi model that offers even more in the performance realm. The whole model line continues to see successful sales and a still growing fan base, including myself, so the issues I am about to bring up by no means imply that I dislike the cars as they are. I do however have some issues.
My issue lies with what Subaru has (or really hasn’t) done with the STi. For me, it is really an image thing, but also touches on my hatred for internal competition. You see, back in 2002, when Subaru first brought the WRX here, they were testing the waters of the American market. When the WRX succeeded, they decided to bring the STi over. Back in 2004 when the, STi first was released here, it was one of the hottest cars around. It even won such distinction as Road&Track’s 2004 Car of the Year. Back in 2004 it was in the same performance league as the BMW M3, Porsche 911, Corvette C5, Acura NSX and not too far down on the likes of a Ferrari 360 either–extremely impressive, considering it cost around half as much as most of those cars and still had the practicality and reliability of any normal Japanese sedan. It was truly a great car when it came out, but sadly its greatness would not be sustained.
When Subaru redesigned the Impreza in 2008 they needed to evolve the STi to meet the new standards of its competition. The M3 now had over 400hp, as did the Corvette, and Porsche was pushing the same with its new 997 S models. There should have been an evolution of the STi to meet such cars in open battle, but no such changes were made. The new STi had basically the same power and had gained some weight. Handling was supposed to be improved but it turned out to be by a miniscule amount, if at all. The new STi was just softer than the ones before it, something that should never happen to a car that is supposed to be so focused on performance. Now, in 2011, Subaru has given all WRX and STi models a facelift and some much needed changes. The STi’s handling has shown much improvement and can now legitimately claim to take turns better than the original. That’s all great, but the current STi is still far from where it should be, and for me another huge problem still exists.
In 2009 Subaru upgraded the WRX to make a claimed 265hp over its former 227hp. Real-world tests have shown that in fact the newer WRXs are putting out similar power to the high and mighty STi, and in some regards the WRX can even be seen to be quicker than its big brother. In my opinion, all of this is completely unacceptable. Not only has Subaru not allowed the STi to evolve as it should, but they have now made it slower than its cheaper baby brother. Sure, I am well aware that these cars are not made for straight line races and that the STi is still faster around a track, but if I’m going to pay around $10,000 more for the STi it had better damn well be better than the WRX in every single way, but, in reality, it is not. Overall, the STi is still a better car with higher quality and better-performing parts in the brakes, suspension, transmission, and engine. The simple fact remains though, that at a stoplight the guy with the STi won’t be pulling away from the guy in the WRX. Not at all–and that makes spending the extra money much harder in my eyes.
So what needs to be done then? Well, simply put, the WRX is fantastic and is exactly what it needs to be (but with a bit more solidly built gearbox), while the STi is slacking and needs to be drastically updated. In the current scheme of things, I see the ideal STi as a car with around 375bhp and much sharper driving characteristics on par with those seen in the Lancer Evolution. The current STi understeers far too much and is clumsy when compared to an Evolution X. I think the STi should go back to being an AWD drift machine full of power-on oversteer like my 2004 is, and let safety be damned, this is a rally car for goodness sake! It shouldn’t aim to be a straight up corner carver like an Evo, but it desperately needs some sharpening in the dynamics department. Also, if Subaru would throw in some forged engine internals as well, I think a slight price increase could be justified.
If Subaru were to make such an STi in the coming years, I think the STi’s “greatness” would return to where it was. As of now though, Subaru is falling into the same trap Honda fell into with the NSX; great car when it first came out, but then remained unchanged while its competition grew better. I love Subaru and I love the WRX line of cars but I hate seeing them just let the great STi fall into the pit of mediocrity. This is not to say that the current STi isn’t a good car, because it really is still one of the best buys you can make, but it should be so much more than what it is. Subaru, I continue to be disappointed.
PS: I am quite aware that these issues can be fixed with modifications as I have done many myself, this article only discusses the manufacturer’s concerns.