by Roger Biermann
We live in an age where front-wheel drive hot hatches can lap the Nurburgring in almost seven and a half minutes. Renault reclaimed the record from the Civic Type R with its new top performing hatchback, the Megane RS Trophy-R running a time of 7:40.1 around the Nordschleife. To put that into perspective, a 2010 Mercedes Benz SLS AMG runs similar times. Not only are the new generation of compact sports cars insanely fast, but they are starting to match premium cars in terms of interior luxury and features. The 2019 Subaru WRX STI can therefore be considered the odd one out. It doesn't have the same refinement or build quality as its competitors and it uses a flat-four engine, but Subaru's recipe for a fast compact has become quite endearing. The big question is can the legend of the STI keep up with the new kids on the block?
For 2019 Subaru has kept the recipe more or less the same, albeit with revisions to the turbocharged flat-four engine knowing that any engine updates will prick the ears of performance orientated buyers. As with its sub-compact sibling the Crosstrek, customers will be given the opportunity to get behind the wheel of the limited Gray.Series, which doesn't add any performance, but paints the car in a Cool Gray Khaki color scheme, some exclusive badging, folding mirrors, black 19-inch wheels, and silver painted brake calipers amongst others. An updated infotainment system can be found lurking inside the STI.
Subaru's WRX STI has always looked like a proper Japanese rallycar, and for 2019 that trend continues. A menacing face with a larger than ever hood-intake scoop reminds you that this isn't any ordinary Impreza grocery hauler. The muscular lines continue to the rear of the car where you'll find the classic picnic-bench size wing perched on the trunk lid. The bbespokewheels look great, and add to the rally-inspired overall look of the car. The WRX STI certainly looks like a sports car that means business and can be described as sedate looking if you compare it to the likes of Honda's Type R, yet wild when parked next to a Golf R. The limited edition Series.Gray adds just enough exterior styling to make the WRX STI really stand out, mostly thanks to that Cool Gray Khaki paint job. All in all, it's classicSubaru; more function, less form.
The WRX STI retains the VA generation's dimensions, but it is interesting to compare the latest version with one of the firsts. The 1995 WRX STI Version 2 was part of the first generation of the Subaru Impreza lineup, and was one of the cars that made the WRX name synonymous with high-performance driving. These early first gen cars were lightweight, and the 1995 STI weighed in at only 2734 lb, over 700 pounds heavier than the 2019 version. This theme continues in the length/width/height department; the gen 1 STI was a compact little number, measuring 170.9/66.5/55.3 inches, while the 2019 model grows to 180.9/70.7/58.1 inches. Comparing the 2019 STI to the Golf R, another rapid all-wheel-drive compact performance car makes the Subaru seem a tad hefty; the Golf measures 168.4/70.8/56.5 and weighs 146 pounds less.
The WRX STI's choice of exterior colors show that Subaru has grown its premium performance car from a purebred rally car for the road with the exterior colors to match, to something a bit more mature and sophisticated. That said, you can still get it in classic blue, but the rest of the range is rather refined, and suit the 2019 WRX STI's lines well. The base STI and Limited get the same options: WR Blue Pearl, Crystal Black Silica, Dark Gray Metallic, Ice Silver Metallic, Lapis Blue Pearl, Pure Red and Crystal White Pure. The limited edition Series.Gray comes in Cool Gray Khaki. If you don't want to go classic WR Blue, we'd suggest the Gray Metallic or Crystal White Pure.
The 2019 WRX STI is quicker than ever, and thanks to Subaru's Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, this car has no problem with putting all 310 hp down to the black stuff and accelerating to 60 in under six seconds, something that its front-wheel-drive competitors struggle to achieve in real-world driving situations. Performance from the updated flat-four turbo is strong and coupled with good steering response and well-sorted chassis means the STI can entertain a complete novice as well an experienced driver. Previous gen owners will be amazed at how far Subaru has come since the days when the STI would understeer whenever a corner was taken with too much enthusiasm.
The 2019 WRX STI's 2.0-liter DOHC direct-injection, turbocharged and intercooled aluminum-alloy 16-valve 4-cylinder horizontally opposed Boxer engine with dual active valve control system (that's a mouthful) has seen some significant revisions over last year's model. The STI now gulps in more air thanks to a revised air intake, and a performance exhaust system gets the gasses flowing faster. The ECU also gets a reworking, but the most interesting change is found inside the motor, where new strengthened pistons can be found. Could this be a nod from Subaru to the aftermarket tuning community? We think so. These changes translate into a power bump of only 5 hp. Upon startup the STI gives that characteristic flat-four growl, but when you start pushing the engine, you'll find a lack of low-down torque accompanied by a dose of turbo-lag. The flat-four fails to punch as hard as it's competitors' four-pots; (the Honda Civic Type R and Golf R come to mind), even with a larger turbo, and the relative lack of refinement and all or nothing burst of performance can become tiresome when driving around town.
The fully synchronized close-ratio 6-speed manual with Incline Start Assist is the only gearbox option on offer and does a fine job of getting the STI going, but constant gear changes are required to keep the car in its sweet spot. Getting the perfect launch off the line will require you to dump the clutch at high revs.
This is where the 2019 WRX STI truly shines. Gone are the days of excessive understeer when under throttle. Instead, the 2019 STI will go where you point it, and boy how so! The chassis shines through as one of the car's best elements and coupled to a firm suspension set up, excessive body movement is kept to a minimum. This, however, comes at the cost of ride comfort, and rougher road surfaces will feel jarring, to say the least. This shouldn't deter the enthusiast most likely to buy this car. Subaru has done an amazing job with the STI's steering. The electrically assisted setup reacts well to quick steering inputs and feels direct. Electrically assisted steering can sometimes feel overly light or artificially heavy, but in the STI, you'll find a beautifully balanced steering feel that chooses moderation over the extremes. The STI's secret trick is its electronically managed limited-slip differential in conjunction with a planetary-gear-type center differential. This fancy diff allows the STI to shift its power between the front and rear wheels.
The clever electronics behind this system monitors parameters such as wheel slippage, steering angle, throttle position and braking to help determine ideal torque distribution and direct it to the wheels with optimum traction. What does all this mean? The WRX STI handles hard cornering and slippery road surfaces better than ever. Pedal spacing for the 6-speed manual is good and allows for comfortable heel-toe shifting. The WRX STI's Brembo branded ventilated and cross-drilled 4-wheel discs bite down hard: 6-piston front and dual-piston rear calipers with 4-channel, 4-sensor Super Sport ABS and electronic brake-force distribution gives good feedback when driving hard.
Unfortunately, the 2.5-liter flat four engine is an aging beast, and can't compete with its rivals. The fact that it's a six-speed manual and all-wheel drive doesn't help either, but those who buy the WRX STI won't really be bothered by the numbers. Subaru provides official numbers of): 17/22/20 mpg city/highway/combined. The Civic Type R will see you get a fair bit further up the road with numbers of 22/28/25 mpg, and the Golf R, also AWD, gets four more miles than the STI at 21/29/24 mpg. Of course, these numbers tend to be wishful thinking, especially when it comes to performance compacts that tend to get driven hard, so get ready to become a regular at your local gas station.
The WRX STI's interior has never been its strong suit, and even though it has improved by leaps and bounds from the laughably basic interiors of the 90's, it still lags behind the competition. In essence, the 2019 WRX STI offers occupants a basic layout and a decent list of features, but the point here is that this is a drivers car, not a comfortable daily runaround with performance aspirations, which is a shame since it's competitors manage to do both really well. What we can say is that the updated materials and sound deadening do just enough to keep it in the running. Both the base and Limited trimmed cars come with a STI-design leather-wrapped flat-bottom 3-spoke steering wheel that allows the driver to control the audio system, cruise control, and Bluetooth. It's finished off in red stitching, and down below you'll find three aluminum-alloy pedal covers.
The WRX STI will seat five adults with relative easy and both front and rear seats are quite comfortable. The front bucket seats are reminiscent of those found in Ford's Focus ST, and do a good job of keeping you planted while you throw the car about and both smaller and larger drivers will find that the seats offer a good level of support. The base model's driver's seat can be manually adjusted in six-ways, while the higher spec Limited benefits from an eight-way power adjustable driver's seat. Both trim levels will keep your tush warm thanks to heated front seats. Forward visibility is good, but the rear is somewhat obscured by the massive rear wing. The 2019 WRX STI has class-leading levels of interior space thanks to its boxy sedan body shape and beats the Golf R and Honda Type R in legroom and headroom space, front and back. Shoulder space in the back is also good for two adults.
Both the base model and the higher spec Limited STI comes with Ultrasuede and leather-trimmed upholstery that has a quality feel and finish. Interior color options are limited. The base trim STI gives you the option of either a broody Black Ultrasuede and Carbon Black Leather trim or the Recaro Black Ultrasuede and Carbon Black Leather trim with red highlights. Important touchpoints get the leather treatment, and it looks good too; the STI-design leather-wrapped flat-bottomed steering wheel with red stitching and the leather-wrapped shifter handle lifts an otherwise basic interior space. Subaru has made use of better quality soft-touch materials, which are appreciated, but still can't match the quality, fit and finish of its rivals, especially the Germans. The Series.Gray features a cool looking Ultrasuede-wrapped steering wheel with red stitching.
The WRX STI is at a slight disadvantage when it comes to trunk and outright cargo space. Its competitors have the benefit of being of the hatchback variety, so swallowing cargo isn't a problem they need to worry about. The STI's trunk, measuring in at 12.0 cubic feet, can handle the suitcases of three people or enough baggage for two heavy packers. On the plus side, the trunk lid has a lower liftover height than its hatchback counterparts, and it has a wide opening thanks to the WRX STI's square design. The 60/40-split flat-folding rear seatback doesn't give you a perfectly flat surface but opens up some much-welcomed space. Small item storage is taken care of by a fairly sized center console with an LED-illuminated storage tray and 12-volt power outlet as well as an Illuminated and lockable glove box.
You won't find a long list under this section, but what you get works well, and makes the car comfortably livable. From the outside in, the 2019 WRX STI features LED steering-responsive headlights, the Limited will have you gazing at the stars thanks to its standard power-tilt/sliding-glass moonroof and also makes getting in and out easier with its keyless access with push-button start and pin-code vehicle access. Both models get cruise control and a dual-zone automatic climate control system. Like we said, there ain't much, but it's enough for the person who cares more about driving than using Bluetooth to set the temperature just right for his left pinky toe.
The latest range of Subaru's Starlink infotainment systems feature here. The base STI gets the mid-level 7-inch setup that includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Pandora, and Aha smartphone app integration, voice-activated controls that work sometimes, dual USB port/iPod control, SiriusXM all-access radio and Travel Link. The basics such as Bluetooth audio streaming, hands-free phone, and text messaging connectivity, and 3.5-mm auxiliary jack are included. This system proves to be quite intuitive, and you won't struggle to find the function you're looking for. The Limited trim gets an upgrade to a similarly sized display unit but now features a high-resolution GPS navigation system. The base trim bumps the tunes through a six-speaker system. Limited models get crisp sounding Harman Kardon speakers (9 in total) and a 440-watt Harman Kardon amplifier.
The 2019 WRX STI hasn't been recalled for any defects or safety issues, but unfortunately no J.D. Power Scores are available for this model but the 2018 version scored a respectable 75/100, and got a perfect ten for depreciation, something Subaru likes to boast about. Subaru will cover your new WRX STI for 3 years or 36,000 miles. Wear and tear is covered for 3 years or 36,000 miles and powertrain coverage for all models is 5 years or 60,000 miles.
The 2019 Subaru WRX STI hasn't been tested by the IIHS or NHSTA, but the 2018 Subaru WRX was placed in the IIHS's top ten list of the safest cars in the US and was classed as a Top Safety Pick+ automobile. Seeing as the STI is Subaru's flagship performance car, and receives the bulk of the media's attention, it seems nonsensical that Subaru doesn't offer the STI with the same levels of safety equipment. Even so, you can be sure that the 2019 Subaru WRX STI will keep you safer than most in case of an accident.
Firstly, it should be noted that the STI range does not benefit from Subaru's EyeSight Driver Assist Technology. That means the STI loses out on important safety tech such as adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, and lane departure and sway warning functions. WRX options such as reverse automatic braking or high beam assist is not available on the STI. The Limited model gets blind spot detection with lane change assist and rear cross traffic alert, which is not available on the base trim STI. What the WRX STI does get is symmetrical all-wheel drive (which truly is a safety feature, especially for unskilled drivers), vehicle dynamics control with active torque vectoring, traction control, brake assist, ABS, tire pressure monitoring, daytime running lights and a rear-vision camera. Passengers are protected by an advanced ring-shaped reinforcement frame that keeps things together in case of a serious accident. A plethora of airbags, including a driver's knee airbag, and side-curtain airbags for front and rear outboard occupants will significantly reduce the chance of serious injury.
The Subaru WRX STI is a wild one. It laughs in the face of its more refined competitors such as the Golf R or Civic Type R and packs a bite that's as potent as its flat-four bark. Make no mistake, the STI isn't the fastest or the most refined compact sports car, it doesn't come packed with the best features, and it doesn't have a modern double-clutch gearbox. It's a loud and brash six-speed brawler that looks and sounds the part and will offer up more performance than the ordinary driver would ever be capable of exploiting on the street. It's also not the most fuel efficient of performance cars, but again, those who love the STI brand will turn a blind eye. Yes it has grown up, and for the better; it's better in the bends, easier to live with and safer than it's ever been. A rally car for the road it remains.
You can have your Subaru in two flavors. The standard WRX STI starts at an MSRP of $36,595 before tax, registration, licensing, and a $885 destination charge. The Limited trim STI with extra safety and tech features starts at an MSRP of $41,395 and if you manage to snap up a Series.Gray, it will cost you $$40,580. As always, dealerships are responsible for their own pricing, so look hard and you might pick one up for less.
You'll be able to choose between the base or Limited trim STI as well as a limited edition Series.Gray version. The base model might seem a bit sparse in the features department, but if all you care about is blasting up that canyon road it will do just fine. For those who want a touch of class, the Limited provides a bit more luxury. The Limited gets a power sliding moonroof and Recaro branded seats with an 8-way power adjustable driver's seat (the Recaros are optional in the base model). Keyless access with push-button start and pin-code vehicle access comes standard on the Limited and is an optional extra on the base STI. The base model will entertain you via a 7-inch Starlink infotainment system, featuring Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Pandora, and Aha smartphone app integration and six speakers. If you're looking for more of a kick, the Limited gets an exclusive Harman Kardon sound system with 9 speakers and a 440-watt amplifier. On the safety side, the Limited model will be your best safety bet as it comes standard with blind spot detection with lane change assist and rear cross traffic alert, an option that's not available on the base model. The limited Series.Gray gets the Limited's Recaro seating and push-button start, but the biggest news is under the skin, where a unique Bilstein suspension setup with sport-tuned dampers, inverted-strut front suspension, and double wishbone rear suspension now lives.
Subaru lists one package option for the base STI that adds the Recaro front seats as well as keyless access and push-button start for $2,500. You can have the Limited with a low-profile wing at no additional cost. A roof mounted "Vortex Generator" gives the STI a bit more rally cred for an additional $107. Real performance benefits can be found however; the STI short shifter kit that, according to Subaru, drastically reduces shift throws and improves shifting feel will cost you $483. The STI front under spoiler gives the front of the car an even meaner look and will see you handing over an extra $399.99.
Subaru has made it relatively easy for you to make a decision. If you're only interested in the WRX STI's driving capabilities and nothing else, then the base model will be the obvious choice. If you're looking for more everyday practicality and some added safety, then cough up the extra bucks for the Limited.
The Golf R is a relative newcomer to the all-wheel-drive compact scene, but that doesn't matter one bit when you actually get in and drive the thing. It's an absolute blast. It's more refined, better equipped and more comfortable than the STI and delivers better gas mileage. Interior space is comparable, but the Golf's hatchback design makes it easier to live with, and interior materials and fitment is noticeably better than that of the Subaru's. The Golf is slightly less powerful, but delivers its power in a more convincing manner, and will reward the less skilled driver more, thanks to that amazing DSG gearbox. Volkswagen offers a better warranty (a full 6-year/72,000-mile basic warranty as opposed to the WRX's 3-year/36,000-mile basic). The Golf R comes at a price, however, and a no-frills version will set you back at least $40,395.
The most obvious difference here is the fact that the Civic only drives the front wheels while the Subaru turns all four. Do not let that fool you; the Honda Civic Type R accelerates and handles better than cars way above its price range, and its lap time around the Nurburgring is a testament to that. The Civic is the better driving car, on and off the road, but both can be jarring on rougher city roads. The Civic and Subaru have comparable legroom and headroom space, but the Civic's hatchback once again makes it easier to load and unload cargo. The Civic's V-tec turbo engine blows the Subaru's 2.5 flat-four out of the water, though it might not have as much character. Honda's reliability should trump the Subaru's, but the STI will retain its value better. The Civic Type R starts at an MSRP of $35,700, a smidge pricier than the Subaru ($36,595).