Power comes from a turbocharged 2.5-litre petrol engine tuned to produce 296bhp and 300lb ft of torque. Performance is distinctly unremarkable until the turbo wakes up at about 3000rpm, but after that acceleration is brutal. The two faster versions – the 316bhp 320R and 335bhp 340R that come courtesy of a dealer-fit power upgrade – are right up there on the ‘blink and you’re past ’em’ scale.
The WRX’s low centre of gravity, four-wheel-drive traction and stiff suspension makes for some serious cornering ability. You can carry ludicrous speed through bends, but the vague steering takes the shine off things. The ride is also hard at low speeds, but it gets better the faster you go.
The engine is raucous when you want it to be – it produces a delicious burbling noise that’s full of character – and pretty quiet when you don’t, although there’s no escaping the blare of the sports exhaust. There’s lots of road and wind noise on the motorway, and you can hear all sorts of road debris hitting the wheelarches.
Buying a WRX STI is expensive, but that’s just the first of the big bills. It’s a thirsty car, so don’t expect to get much more than low-20s mpg, while its CO2 emissions put it in the top bracket for company car tax. You’d better budget a lot for insurance, tyres and brakes, too. Resale values are good, though, which helps to keep whole-life costs down.
The interior is more Aldi than Audi; all the plastics are hard and drab, and the switches feel low-rent. There’s little to love about the design, either. At least Subaru’s reliability record is a strong point, so you shouldn’t have any worries about being stranded by the side of the road.
The basic design of the WRX STI – with its four-wheel drive and low centre of gravity – gives the car a certain degree of safety. Stability control is standard but, if a collision is unavoidable, there are also front, side and curtain airbags. Security equipment includes deadlocks and etched windows, and there’s a satellite-tracking system just in case your car prematurely starts heading for the wrong postcode.
The seat and steering wheel both have extensive two-way adjustment, so it’s easy to get comfortable. Headroom is a little tight up front, though, and the steeply angled windscreen makes you feel a bit hemmed-in. The major controls are simple and clearly marked, but some of the stereo’s functions are a little confusing.
Rear-seat passengers get a reasonable amount of head- and legroom, so a pair of adults can get pretty comfortable. Don’t attempt to squeeze a third in, though, because the middle seat is narrow and there’s a bulky transmission tunnel to straddle. The boot is small and has a sloping floor, and the saloon body restricts the size of the opening.
As befits a car costing this much, the WRX STI has plenty of standard kit. This includes climate and cruise controls, xenon headlights, Alcantara-trimmed Recaro seats, a USB socket and Bluetooth. You’d expect an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and automatic lights to be fitted, but they aren’t available, even as options.
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