Carmel, California — Most of us would agree that the price of the $148,000 Porsche 911 Turbo is prohibitive. Even selling your house might not cover it. But could you raid the 401(K) and come up with $35,280?
That’s the buy-in for the new 2015 Subaru WRX STI.
What you won’t get for that bargain price is the 911 Turbo’s plush, around-town ride, because the 2015 Subaru WRX STI is on all-attack mode, all the time. The torque vectoring that rips you through turns and the turbo-punched, 305-hp engine in the STI is positively Porsche-esque. It’s awesome on a (relative) budget.
When Subaru execs talk about the 2015 model, it’s a lexicon of added stiffening, rigidity, and responsiveness. If the latest WRX is a massive step up in attitude and aggression over the proletarian Impreza, the STI is an armor-clad warrior.
It soon becomes clear just how serious the folks at Fuji Heavy Industries have become about their halo car’s chops. I’m handed the keys of the STI Launch edition—blue paint, gold wheels, and an STI short-throw shifter—and am pointed southeast on Carmel Valley Road.
Once it clears the posh golf courses, the lane wends along ridges and wiggles over hills, following the vagaries of California’s shifting tectonic plates. It narrows and widens capriciously and is hardly the smoothest stretch of asphalt in the West—an appropriate tarmac rally stage; the kind of shakedown road that either shows a sports car off or shows it up.
Those stiffened crossmembers, firmer control arm bushings, and 22-percent-higher front spring rates? Subie was not joshing. It takes about a tenth of a mile for the reality of that stiff frame to translate to your tailbone. This is the kind of suspension that will irk non-fanboy passengers to no end. I see messy breakups and endless recriminations as a result: “It seems like you love that crass car more than me.” “I adore, you honey, but the car is an STI.” “It’s me or the car.” “Well….”
In the hot moment, swept up in those sweeping corners, the stiffness seems like a fabulous idea. What do I, a backroad bombardier, care for comfort? The combo mechanical limited-slip and electronic differential pops the Subaru out of the deepest bends. The car’s scrabbling trajectory is impervious to broken pavement and roadside debris. The STI has real-deal sports car bite.
The reason for all that snap is hidden under the skin: the differentials, the active torque vectoring, and the symmetrical all-wheel-drive that normally operates with a 9 percent bias to the rear wheels. The systems work hand-in-glove, humming somewhere in the engineering ether, never giving the impression they’ve hijacked the process. The STI still seems analog.
That’s partly because of the six-speed manual (fittingly, the only transmission offered), which slips into gears with a firm, cradling confidence, plus old school hydraulic steering. The steering ratio has been quickened; it’s a tactile experience, giving plenty of feedback but not unsettling with harsh vibrations.
Halting at a stop sign, I discover smoke tendrils rising from the right front brake. I’ve been diving deep into corners, but not so deep as to warrant that. The Brembo system has 13.0-inch front discs with four-piston calipers and 12.4-inch rear discs with two-piston calipers. I experience very little fade, but several times during the day I am greeted by a smoke signal.
The new STI is not offered as a hatchback, only as a four-door. Still, the boy-racer stance and compact size feel right. If you’re hoping that the rear doors and seats will make it seem a more practical buy, well, best of luck. The sizable rear wing wouldn’t look out of place on a shogun warrior and will help ensure that newly single STI drivers stay that way.
The windshield gains more rake and the A-pillars are brilliantly thin, doing wonders for sightlines. You can see through corners perhaps better than almost any modern car. The standard alcantara sport seats are well bolstered and comfortable. Otherwise, the plastic on the doors is shabby and the leather highlights unconvincing. The cost for all the sharp-edged mechanicals has to come out of somewhere.
It’s a just trade, as this is a sports car, and so we detour from public roads and head to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Here, decisions must be made. Which mode for the differential (there are three)? What throttle response (three) and traction control settings (three)?
It is rather overcomplicated, and the busy digital instrument cluster doesn’t help matters. The best racetrack mix is the differential in “auto minus” for smooth roads; the throttle left in “intelligent” mode, allowing the least jerky modulation of the accelerator; and the traction/stability control in track mode, which allows plenty of yaw and still gives you active torque vectoring.
Weight is almost the same as the outgoing base model, at 3386 pounds, and the boxer engine is plenty familiar. The 2.5-liter turbo puts out 305 hp at 6000 rpm and 290 lb-ft at 4000 rpm.
The one-two combo of Laguna Seca’s long front straight, which rises spookily over a blind crest, and the slow, deep Turn 2 speak plenty about how the STI handles power and weight. By the time you’ve arrived at the off-camber braking point at the end of the straight, your heart is in your throat. There’s power aplenty across the range, and the STI feels lithe and balanced through Turn 2’s double apex. You have to work hard to induce understeer, and it’s easy to correct a bad line.
Only 1000 examples of the Launch Edition — with those gold-painted forged alloy wheels –will be sold for $38,190. The STI Limited, at $39,291, has a few more feature comforts but adds more than 50 pounds of weight.
So the real questions become: How badly do you want the semi-affordable, hard-edged sports car of your dreams? And how stable is your relationship, anyhow?
2015 Subaru WRX STI
- On Sale: March/April (depending on market)
- Price: $35,290/$38,190 (base/as-tested)
- Engine: 2.5L turbocharged H-4, 305 hp @ 6000 rpm, 290 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
- Drive: 4-wheel
- Cargo Capacity: 12.0 cu ft
- EPA Est. Fuel Economy: 17/23/19 mpg (city/highway/combined)