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Redesigned 2015 Subaru WRX STI proves thrilling and tame

Improvements abound in this civilized rally car

Published: March 20, 2014 01:00 PM

The high-performance Subaru WRX STI has matured into an almost civilized car with the 2015 redesign. Compared to the previous iteration, this new WRX STI has a nicer interior, more comfortable seats, more rear legroom, better visibility, folding rear seats, larger trunk, and sadly, the same crappy radios. The move away from the boy-racer appeal and rally heritage is most apparent in the fact that they are only making 1,000 Launch Edition models that have the distinctive WR Blue Pearl paint job and gold BBS wheels that have so identified the WRX through the years. We recently sampled the new 2015 WRX STI to see how this icon has evolved.

The STI is about a turbocharged engine that pulls hard almost all the time, an all-wheel-drive system that can put that power to good use, and a chassis that corners like crazy and shrugs off rough roads at speed. The driving experience will no doubt leave you grinning and wanting more. (See our snow-throwing Subaru WRX first drive.)

The draw to this rally legend may be strongest among car buyers who recall the glory years of the late famed rally driver Colin McRae and with a maturing video gaming set who saw this overseas legend first arrive Stateside via the PlayStation.

Despite maturing with the latest iteration and carrying a $38,000 price tag, the WRX STI is by no means a luxury car. The ride is still harsh, and the noises (wind, engine, and exhaust) are still ever-present. As before, the styling can be divisive, appealing to those enthusiasts who fondly recall the motorsports heritage and perhaps seeming overwrought to others.

Yet, this is my favorite STI in ages. The first STI we tested in 2004 was really fun because it brutalized your senses and sensibilities. The appearance was so over the top with a ludicrous rear wing and ostentatious gold wheels. It accelerated so quickly that you were always shifting to keep up with the engine. When you dropped the clutch to launch the car, you rocketed forward in the blink of an eye—the blinking shift light. Grab second gear and a heartbeat later, it was signaling you to shift again. By the time you were in third gear, you were past the legal speed limit and giddy from the excitement of it all! The interior was cheap, but you justified it by saying, look at all the go-fast technology you got for the money!

This new STI, now with 305 horsepower, maintains that fun, but it's less frantic and more livable. Acceleration is still very quick, and that short throw six-speed shifter makes it a delight to row the gears. The ride is punishing at low speeds, but it smoothes out nicely at higher speeds. Intake noise is pumped into the cabin via the Sound Generator, and it's linked to throttle position, so more gas equals more roar.

The seats are improved and more comfortable, but they still use abundant, body-hugging bolstering to hold you in place during hard cornering. The interior is more welcoming, with soft-touch rubberized materials replacing former hard plastics. And that big rear wing is still there, but it doesn't impede your visibility like previous models did.

Where the car really shines is on the track. Where the previous version suffered from terminal understeer, this new one is really well balanced and dances at the limit, responding to your throttle inputs promptly and adjusting the cornering line at will.

Since the 2004 model was redesigned, I've advised people to just buy the regular WRX. It's fast enough (sometimes faster), it rides better, is about $10,000 cheaper, and is just as fun to drive. But now, the paradigm has shifted. I really like this new STI a lot better than the new WRX. It's still more expensive than the WRX, but for me the added substance justifies the cost now.

The 2015 STI tames the hooligan aspect of the original model with a nicer interior and more room, but it still preserves the essence of this rally-racing icon. For anyone who’s young enough at heart to endure some roughness, this is guaranteed to be a heck of a thrill ride.

—Mike Leung

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