Ask a teenaged automotive enthusiast today what his (or her) idea of an affordable performance car is and the reply you’re likely to get is “VW Golf GTI”. However, ask the same question just a decade or so ago, and it’s more than likely they would have said “Subaru Impreza WRX STI”.
The world, or Singapore at least has moved on a little since the early 2000s. Skyrocketing COE premiums have seen the balance of power shift towards more premium marques, which means someone out for an affordable performance car (for a given value of affordable) is likely to pick something more upmarket from continental Europe.
Doing the WRX no favours is, in its previous five-door hatchback iteration, the car lost plenty of its mojo, and was widely panned by critics (us included) for having gone fat and soft. This seventh-generation model, however, is attempting to reclaim some of the street cred it’s lost since then.Available only as a four-door saloon, the new WRX STI, against some of its more beng ancestors, looks rather conservative. It has now lost the flared wheel arches that used to be a WRX STI hallmark, and interestingly, the Impreza name has been dropped as well, to better differentiate the hot WRXs and even-hotter STIs from their more run-of-the-mill brethren (the range-topping STI is picked out by its larger wheels and humongous rear wing).
A little more of note is how the hottest cars of the Impreza range have a chassis that Subaru says is 1.4 times stiffer than that of standard Imprezas. This helps to deliver quicker and more linear responses to steering input, with “agility similar to a Porsche 911”.
To ensure that the STI delivers on that claim, Subaru enlisted the help of four-time WRC champion and former Subaru rally team driver, Tommi Makinen, for the new car’s development. While the Finnish legend said the new car “could be driven with one hand”, I attempted nothing of the sort during the WRX STI’s regional launch in Manila, given there’s probably some degree of disparity between his driving ability and mine.According to the small mountain of data Subaru threw at us, the difference between the old and new WRX STI is stark – there’s a 0.1 of a second delay between steering input and the vehicle generating 0.1 G, versus the old model taking 0.27 of a second.
But the key thing here is how perceptible the improvement is, and from the brief spin we took in the new WRX STI, we can say it feels a good deal more rigid, with greater precision to the steering and even some fancy electronics that can brake the inside wheel while cornering, for more agility (it does, after all, have its sights on the 911). Aside from the newness of chassis and (Subaru hopes) newfound sense of purpose, the WRX STI still has the same “heart” – a 2.5-litre flat-4 engine that produces an unchanged 300bhp and 407Nm, and it has a marginally quicker (by 0.1 of a second) zero-to-100km/h time of 5.1 seconds.
It feels a little more grown up, too, ostensibly a move to tempt buyers from the European upstarts that have done so much to steal the STI’s thunder in recent years. Yes, the characteristic boxer burble is still there, but it’s more muted, though I’m sure some work at the local speed shop will “cure” that.Harder to “cure” with aftermarket “surgery” is the interior. The ergonomics cannot be faulted, but the absence of branded bucket seats (that is, from Recaro) and the presence of hard, cheap-looking trim, made cheaper with a faux carbon fibre motif, are a little difficult to accept.
This is especially so since Motor Image wants $199,600 for it (no thanks in part to a $10,000 CEVS surcharge). For just $800 less at presstime, you could get yourself a VW Golf GTI. Or you could get yourself a BMW 220i Coupe, or a Mercedes-Benz C180 Coupe for roughly the same amount as the WRX STI. The German coupes won’t get you to your destination anywhere as quickly as the WRX STI, but it could certainly get you there in more style.
Despite the new WRX STI being thoroughly decent, it doesn’t quite match its famous ancestors, because it’s not anywhere near them in terms of rawness focus or bang for the buck. That, and the fact Subaru won’t be returning to the top rung of rally racing, with the automaker citing the new WRX as “too big”, makes us question its continued existence in the first place.
Perhaps it should have taken a leaf from Mitsubishi’s book and quit while the memories were still (mostly) good. The people the WRX STI once appealed to, the people familiar with the Kopitiam at “Orchard Gudang”, have been replaced by a younger group more familiar with the Starbucks at Ion Orchard.
For the latter set, the famous blue cars driven to glory by the late Colin McRae and the once-hallowed “Cherry Blossom Red” logo don’t have quite the same gravitas. This just makes the WRX STI look like a fading rock star attempting to regain some past glories, and that is just a bit sad.
ENGINE 2457cc, 16-valves, flat-4,
MAX POWER 300bhp at 6000rpm
MAX TORQUE 407Nm at 4000rpm
GEARBOX 6-speed manual
0-100KM/H 5.1 seconds
TOP SPEED 250km/h (governed)
CONSUMPTION 8.1km/L (combined)
CO2 EMISSION 243g/km
PRICE INCL. COE
$199,600 (after $10k CEVS surcharge)