I drive a 2009 Subaru WRX sedan quite regularly (my dad is founder, president, and perhaps only member of the Fifty-Year-Old Jewish Professional WRX Owners Club). For about $25,000, it's a strong proposition, offering lots of power, all-wheel-drive traction, decent handling, excellent front seats, and Japanese reliability for the price of a modestly equipped mid-size car. Considering the value, I can gladly overlook flaws like numb steering and so-so shift action.
The STI, however, is a more complicated story. It's better at all the things the WRX is already good at -- even quicker acceleration, flatter handling, more traction -- but it fails to address the drawbacks. Steering is still numb, and even with a short-throw shifter and an extra gear, shifts feel sloppy for a sports car. The interior is functional but lacks for style and materials quality. And despite the cosmetic enhancements, the Impreza still is not a particularly attractive vehicle. Again, these are acceptable imperfections for $25,000. For $35,000, there are other options. I'd consider a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo GSR, Ford Mustang GT, Chevrolet Camaro SS, and BMW 135i (slightly more expensive, but worth it). That said, the STI still has its selling points. For one, none of the vehicles just mentioned offer as much practicality. It's a four-seasons, four-door sports car that yields decent fuel economy, although it does drink very heavily when you drive aggressively and has sufficient cargo room even in sedan form. If those qualities match your requirements, the STI is certainly worth a look. But so is the cheaper WRX.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
This STI sounds awesome at idle when you're standing behind the car, as I learned while warming it up on a cold morning. And from inside the Subaru, the glorious sound continues through much of the flat four's rev range. I think it's more fun to listen to the sounds of the engine in the STI than that of its Mitsubishi Lancer Evo MR archrival, particularly since Subaru offers a stick shift in its most powerful rally star. That fact alone would probably lead me to buy an STI over an Evo MR with its high-tech, quicker, but less involving TC-SST dual-clutch automatic. Most likely, though, I'd pick a base Evo and enjoy its slicker shifting gearbox, better steering, cooler looks (in my opinion), and lower monthly payments.
I almost slipped on my ice-glazed driveway when I got home late last night, but the sticky Pirelli Sottozero winter tires on the STI had given me little hint as to the marginal conditions of the roadways; they just kept begging me to push this amazingly grippy car harder and harder. Don't mind if I do.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor