The 2014 Subaru WRX STI is coming to the UK, after the company did a handbrake turn and decided it would offer the sports car to British customers, following early reports that it wouldn't be sold here.
The WRX STI gets the same 296bhp version of the 2.5-litre boxer engine as before; a reduction of 20bhp on the tweaked 320R model of the previous STI, but enough to get the car to 62mph in 5.2sec.
Of more interest, though, is news that Subaru has made a raft of changes to the suspension and handling, which it claims offers a more composed ride, and delivers more feel through the steering.
What's the 2014 Subaru WRX STI like to drive?
As with all previous versions, the WRX STI has four-wheel drive. However, this time round it also gets a torque-vectoring set-up that can shuffle power between wheels on the same axle to reduce understeer and improve stability when cornering.
This works to some extent. Push very hard into a corner and the front end of the car will start to wash wide, but ease off the throttle and everything quickly comes back onto your chosen line. Ultimately, the STI is a very forgiving piece of machinery; even the most ham-fisted driver should be able to get away with all sorts of misdemeanours without ending up in a hedge.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to enjoy the benefits of the four-wheel-drive, as the steering feels lifeless, heavy and overly keen to self-centre, which sometimes makes it hard to steer precisely and smoothly.
You need to keep the engine spinning at more than 3000rpm to get meaningful performance from it, which invariably means having to make full use of the six-speed gearbox on a regular basis. The gearshift itself feels slightly better than in the old WRX, but it's still not the slickest to use, and it's quite easy to select fifth instead of third (and vice-versa).
Once on song, though, power builds progressively and with no sudden surges, although even when revved very hard it doesn't feel as fast as the 5.2 second 0-62mph time suggests. The standard SI-Drive dial allows you to choose one of three settings; Sports Sharp improves engine response at lower revs and is the one you'll need if you want to get the best from the STI when tackling a series of bends. For normal driving though, the jerky throttle response makes it difficult to drive smoothly in this mode.
The ride is firm on the standard 18-inch alloy wheels and stiffer suspension– as you'd expect from a sports saloon – so you find yourself being jiggled about in the cabin whether you’re in town or on the motorway, though it does cushion the initial thump over potholes quite effectively.
It's not the quietest, either. There's a fair amount of road and wind noise at speed, and while the engine's thrum adds character, it's a constant companion, so longer journeys quickly become tiresome.
What's the 2014 Subaru WRX STI like inside?
The WRX STI is a £29k sports car, so you might expect the cabin to reflect the drama provided by the engine and chassis. After all, those in the STI's key rivals – the Audi S3 Sportback and Volkswagen Golf R – aren't just classy, they're also ergonomic delights.
So how does the Subaru fare? Well, if oblong vents, large swathes of black plastic and smatterings of metallic-effect plastic trim and faux carbonfibre inserts are your thing, you're going to be totally chuffed.
Previous incarnations of the WRX have always fallen flat on interior quality and design, and the new STI is no exception. Sure, subtle improvements have been made over the previous car, but where Subaru has taken tiny steps, rival manufacturers are already in the next county. Reasonable soft-touch plastics top the dashboard, but there are still plenty of brittle plastics further down.
Here in the UK, luxuries such as sat-nav and electric seat adjustment are not available, except as dealer-fit extras, but the seats are trimmed in leather and Alcantara, there's air-con, cruise control, steering wheel-mounted stereo controls, Bluetooth, a USB socket and 60/40 split/folding rear seats.
The new model is no larger than the old WRX, but the wheelbase is slightly longer, which helps boost rear legroom. The boot is bigger (up by 40 litres to 460) and the doors open wider for better access.
Should I buy one?
Not unless you regularly drive on loose-surface, empty rally-stage type roads, which makes this the exclusive plaything of a handful of lucky people - or anyone who lives deep in the rural countryside.
For the rest of the UK’s enthusiast audience, the Subaru doesn’t come close to offering the level of entertainment and usability that its rivals deliver, and we include cheaper, front-drive hot hatches such as the Renaultsport Megane and Seat Cupra in that, let alone its obvious four-wheel-drive peers.
Overall, while the rarity factor, extrovert rally car looks and distant WRC heritage will still make this a hero car for some, it struggles to live up to expectations in the reality of life on UK roads.
What Car? says...
Subaru WRX STI
Engine size 2.5-litre turbo petrol
Price from £28,995
Torque 300lb ft
0-62mph 5.2 seconds
Top speed 159mph
Fuel economy 27.2mpg