The WRX STI's continued existence confirms that Subaru's somewhat conservative image is at least partly a myth.
The rally-racer-inspired model is an integral member of the automaker's performance lineup that includes the lower-echelon WRX and the BRZ sport coupe. All three mix it up in dealer showrooms alongside more mainstream Legacys, Outbacks and Imprezas.
In full-on racing trim, the STI has achieved legendary status as one of the leanest, meanest cars ever to duke it out on the World Rally Championship stage. Although not exactly the same car, the 2015 street edition should provide plenty of thrills.
The redesigned sedan is more stylish, punctuated by the new grille, a hood with functional scoop, and flared fenders that integrate more smoothly with the rest of the body. The WRX STI and its tamer WRX sibling will no longer also be offered as hatchbacks.
Of course the STI still has a big rear wing that doesn't serve any real purpose in everyday driving, but it's an iconic badge of honor for any Subie enthusiast and provides some necessary downforce for owners who occasionally venture forth on the racetrack. The STI simply wouldn't be an STI without it.
The new model is only slightly longer and wider than the previous version and adds 1.2 inches between the front and rear wheels and two more inches of rear-seat legroom. The car is just two pounds heavier than before.
Making entry easier are wider doors and a new flat-bottom steering wheel that fronts a carbon-fiber-trimmed soft-touch dashboard.
Subaru has focused on handling and agility improvements for the STI with a stiffer chassis and faster-acting power steering. As well, the suspension components and the Brembo-brand brakes have been beefed up. If you're seeking a pillow-soft ride, the STI definitely isn't the car for you.
Left untouched is the STI's turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 305 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque. It's connected to a six-speed manual transmission that includes Incline Start Assist, which is a feature that prevents the car from rolling backward on a hill as your right foot transitions from the brake to the gas pedal. Fuel economy is unchanged at 17 mpg in the city and 23 on the highway.
STI drivers can control powertrain performance by adjusting the Si-DRIVE rotary dial to sharpen throttle response from Intelligent (relaxed), Sport (quicker) and Sport Sharp (quickest) modes.
Similarly, the STI's new adjustable Active Torque Vectoring with Normal or Traction (less restrictive) settings applies braking force to the inside front wheel for more precise cornering.
The STI's permanently engaged all-wheel-drive splits the torque 41/59 (front/rear) in normal driving conditions, but automatically varies the front-to-rear and side-to-side split when needed. The AWD can also be "locked" by the driver to one of six settings, depending on conditions.
With a base price of $35,300 (including destination charges), the STI arrives fairly loaded with dual-zone climate control, rear camera, six-speaker sound system and an "All Weather Package" with heated front seats, outside mirrors and windshield wiper de-icer.
Move up to the Limited and a power moonroof, leather-seat covers, eight-way power driver's seat and a premium Harmon/Kardon stereo are standard.
Subaru is also adding a limited edition (1,000 cars, in total) STI Launch Edition that includes gold-painted BBS-brand wheels, a short-throw shifter and a special Blue Pearl paint scheme.
A navigation system (perfect for those not employing an actual navigator when rallying) and keyless entry and start are among the few options.
Despite the impressive comfort amenities, the STI remains a serious near-racing car that's ideally suited for the equally serious owner with sporting intentions. For non racing-inclined drivers, the tamer (but still potent) WRX might be more to their liking.
Either way, your drive route will have you traveling on Subaru's wilder side.
What you should know: 2015 Subaru WRX STI
Type: Four-door, all-wheel-drive compact sedan
Engine (hp): 2.5-liter DOHC horizontally opposed four-cylinder, turbocharged (305)
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Market position: The STI exists in an ultra-exclusive rally-race niche bracket where the only direct competitor is the Mitsubishi Evolution. And that model's upcoming retirement leaves only hot hatchbacks to compete against.
Points: Redesign results in the most attractive STI yet; No change in base engine, but with 305 horses there's no urgent need for any improvement; Six-speed manual is the only transmission. Perhaps it's time for an automated manual option; No more Mitsubishi Evo after 2014 is sad news for fans of this genre, but give the STI free reign.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy) 17/23: Base price (incl. destination) $35,300
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Fast, but dated Lancer-based rally machine will sadly be missed.
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