Driven: Subaru WRX STI Final Edition

Time and tide wait for no man, but Subaru’s WRX seems to have dodged the cull. Until now…

It’s the end of an era for Subaru. It’s growing up, concentrating on SUVs and crossover vehicles, rivalling the likes of the Nissan Qashqai and myriad other similar cars. The future is about practicality, reliability and security. There’s no place for a rally-bred fire-breathing monster with a rear wing the size of a dining table and fuel economy that would cause Boeing to raise an eyebrow.

That means the WRX STI has to go, but there’s time for one final flourish before it’s permanently killed off. This is it, the Final Edition, the pinnacle of Subaru’s development of the WRX. Which means it’s got some new lights, a reshaped bumper and some smart wheels. Other than that, it’s pretty much business as usual.

Still, business as usual takes on a different meaning when it’s a WRX. There’s a 2.5-litre turbocharged engine that pushes 300hp to all four wheels via an old-school six-speed manual transmission. A limited-slip centre differential balances the power between the front and rear wheels, with its impact adjustable by the driver using a small switch in the cabin.

Get it all setup right and there feels like there’s no limit to how hard the Subaru will grip the road. It’s unashamedly old-fashioned, requiring a hefty input to make it work, but wind the engine up, get the turbo spinning, and it comes alive in you hands. But boy, do you have to wind it up – at low revs, almost nothing happens, while the middle of the rev range produces not much more. Ony as the needle reaches round towards the red line does it unleash all of its power, and that’s enough to propel it to 62mph in 5.1 seconds.

Drive it hard, so so hard, and it’s a phenomenal bit of kit, reminding you of it s rallying heritage. The noisy gearbox that’s a pain normally rewards fast changes at high revs, while the normally indifferent steering tightens up and allows fine control of direction. The throttle changes the cars behaviour, meaning you line round a curve can be adjusted using nothing but your right foot.

But roads where you can drive like that simply don’t exist in the UK, or at least it would be foolhardy to attempt to find the cars sweet spot on a public road. And therein lies the problem. For 99.9% of the time the WRX is simply not up to scratch.

A few years ago it would have been something to shout about, but now you can get a family hatchback with more power and a more sophisticated four-wheel drive system, and save some money in the process. An Audi RS 3 costs barely any more, but packs a whopping 100hp extra punch and hits 62mph more than a second quicker.

Take the Civic Type R, as another example. It’s cheaper (just) and more powerful, undoubtedly faster and, at the flick of a switch, turns into a car you can live with every day. It’s comfortable, well equipped and makes a valiant effort at being economical. The Subaru’s cabin is cheap plastics and shiny surfaces, it’s tiring to drive thanks to thumping suspension and so much noise, and the steering, gearbox and even engine are all frustrating either in the city or along the A14.

There’s nothing else on the road quite like the WRX STI, and that’s its saving grace. The generic appeal of the Volkswagen Golf R, the executive one-upmanship of the Audi RS 3 and the normality of the Ford Focus RS are absent, replaced by a street presence, an aggression, that can’t be found anywhere else. For some, hopefully 150 people, that will be enough and they’ll leave the showroom very happy.

For everybody else, the end of this era probably shouldn’t be mourned.

Model Tested: Subaru WRX STI Final Edition
Price: £33,995
Range: £33,995
Top speed: 159 mph
0-62 mph: 5.2 seconds
Power: 300 PS (296 bhp)
Torque: 407 Nm (300 ft lb)
Monthly PCP*: £464
Official fuel economy: 27.2 mpg
Road test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 242 g/km
Car Tax: £140
Insurance group: 43E
* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36 month term, 5% APR, final payment of 40%.
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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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