With the competition heading in a new direction, the Subaru WRX STI seems to be lagging behind. While the hatch is gone and so is the hype, that doesn't mean you should count it out when considering the likes of the Focus RS or the Golf R. While many of the others have inched toward - and even over - 350 horsepower, the STI has remained around 300 horsepower. Combine that with a lack of a fancy gimmick like a drift button or masses of carbon fiber and you might reasonably think, "hmmm... maybe I should get the Focus RS." So, to settle this dispute myself, I took to a lovely blue 2011 WRX STI 5-door for the day.
First of all, I think the '08-'14 5-door (or hatchback) model looks the best and from what I can tell the difference in performance between that and the new WRX is minimal, with the most significant changes residing in the AWD system. For that reason, the 5-door STI would be my choice over a new one - plus saving a few grand on depreciation. Today, however, the question is not which STI to get, but rather is the STI still the legend it once was and is it still reasonable to choose the STI over the competition.
In terms of looks, it is almost as if the 5-door STI had to grow into itself. It started life in 2008 as a geeky, gawking and awkward teenager. At the time, I despised the look of the new WRX - I was still loving the boxy shape of the 22B. While many would have agreed the looks left something to be desired, the new tech the '08 STI brought was greeted with a warm welcome. Now, the tech may be slightly outdated, but the looks seem to have grown into their own proportions. Sure, the headlight design could certainly be better, but overall the car has some quite beautiful lines. Best of all, there is still a massive hood scoop to occupy your attention while you drive blindly into the snow.
Okay, so the WRX doesn't seem as ugly as it once did - so what? The Focus RS isn't exactly an eyesore, and the Mercedes A45 AMG is a quite good looking car, why not go for one of those? On top of looks, the RS has 350 hp, and the A45 has an astonishing 381 hp to the WRX STI's 305 hp. Safe to say, the RS and the A45 would both leave the WRX for dead in a drag race. So where is the appeal?
Well, we all know the Subaru AWD system is one of the best on the market, and for inclement weather the WRX may well be the best choice. The STI drives great, and is plenty fast for daily road use. Add in a Cobb Stage 2 kit, as was installed in this particular STI, and you will gain nearly 30 hp and, more importantly, a whopping 80 lb-ft of torque. Doing so will cost you considerably less than the difference to buy a new WRX instead of the 2011, and will put the car much closer onto par with the slightly more muscular competition. The truth is, however, that isn't the best reason for installing the Cobb kit, nor is it the best reason for buying a WRX. The fact of the matter is, while the Focus RS and the A45 AMG - or even the Golf R - may be faster and more technologically advanced, I don't think they sound very good. Sure, the RS makes some nice pops and bangs and the A45 has all the 4 cylinder charm you could ever need, but the WRX has that signature Subie bobble... and who doesn't love that? Add to that the increased volume and turbo noise from the Cobb kit, and you have a truly great sounding car - something the others fall far short on.
As soon as I started driving the car, I immediately noticed that my body was positioned in some strangely crooked way, my knees had no room to move and my feet had hardly enough room to heel-and-toe. The turbo lag was quite noticeable, as under 2,500 rpm the car felt as if it was powered by an infant's cough through a window screen. Once I got above 4,000 rpm, however, I was lost in a daze of Subaru bobble, differential noise and blow-off valve noise. The car launches hard enough to keep a passenger from touching the dash all the way to a speed which should not be publicised on public roads, and can corner hard enough to make sure none of your groceries make it home undamaged, even in poor driving conditions. The suspension eats up the bumps and provides enough clearance to not need to worry about the average pothole or sleeping policeman.
The point is, the WRX may be slower, technologically outdated, less comfortable and more unknown to those less automotively inclined than ourselves. It may also be the official car of computer programmers who played a bit too much Gran Turismo. Nonetheless, it is still a very fast AWD, 5-door hatchback with a good old fashioned manual 6 speed transmission. Best of all, it has something the others don't: an all consuming soundtrack. The others may be faster and better in many ways, but once the sound of the flat 2.5 liter kicks in you simply won't care. It sounds like a racecar, it feels (sort of) like a racecar, and as far as I'm concerned, it is a racecar.