by Gerhard Horn
The Subaru WRX STI is a bit of a dinosaur but in a good way. In a world where most performance sedans and hatches also have to be refined enough to handle the daily grind, there's something oddly satisfying about an unashamedly brutal car without the more premium, refined gloss of something like the Volkswagen Golf R. The WRX STI is practical, for sure. But when you drive it, you get the idea that the practicality is just a bonus because of the bodyshell Subaru wrapped over the hardcore underpinnings. More than anything, the Subaru is an unfiltered, all-wheel-drive, flat-four monster. Designed and built to offer a thrilling driving experience above all else, that's exactly what it does.
Nothing has changed between 2020 and 2021. Subaru added some specifications to the lesser WRX range, but the STI lineup remains the same. You get the base STI and STI Limited. Subaru's main bragging point is the fact that the price increase over the 2020 model is just $250. Oddly, there's no limited-edition model this year, as Subaru breaks a two-year tradition. In 2019 it introduced the Series.Gray model, and in 2020 it launched the Series.White. Both were produced in limited numbers and included Recaro seats, a Bilstein high-performance suspension, and unique alloys. It's a pity there's no limited model included in this year's line-up.
See trim levels and configurations:
There's nothing subtle about the WRX STI's looks. It's so obviously geared toward performance that it could only be improved by having a speaker on the roof constantly reminding other road users what it is. The STI has a huge hood air-intake scoop, 19-inch alloys, Brembo brake calipers, LED steering-responsive headlights, and a massive trunk spoiler. You can tone it down a bit by adding a low-profile trunk spoiler as a no-cost option on the Limited model. The Limited model also includes a moonroof as standard.
The WRX STI sedan has a total body length of 180.9 inches although its dimensions don't differ dramatically from those of its hatchback competitors. It's wheelbase measures 104.3 inches, while the width measures 70.7 inches. The STI is quite tall for something so speedy, measuring in at 58.1 inches high. The lightest model is the standard STI with a curb weight of 3,450 pounds, while the STI Limited weighs in at 3,514 lbs. The WRX STI is a bit longer than its main rivals, like the Golf R and Honda Civic Type R. That's obviously because the STI is a sedan, whereas the competition has hatchback body styles.
There are seven hues to choose from for the STI range. There are less extroverted colors to choose from, including Ice Silver Metallic, Crystal White Pearl, Crystal Black Silica, and Magnetite Gray metallic. The shoutier hues are Lapis Blue Pearl, Pure Red, and the famous WR Blue Pearl. None of these colors will add anything to the base price of the sedan.
The WRX STI follows basically the same recipe Subaru has used since the very first WRX model was introduced in 1992. You take a powerful flat-four engine and turbo charge the heck out of it. In the current model, that results in 310 horsepower and 290 lb-ft from a displacement of 2.5 liters. That's enough for a 0 to 60 mph sprint in less than six seconds according to independent tests but launches are hardly a smooth experience as it requires clutch drops from high revs that are mechanically jarring.
The STI has a few inherent characteristics, like the unmistakable soundtrack of a flat-four engine, and the initial turbo lag followed by a massive shunt of power. There's no modern twin-scroll turbo trickery at play, which means you have to work the six-speed manual gearbox hard to keep the engine in its powerband.
The manual gearbox is the only transmission option available, so it's worth keeping in mind that this is a car that demands driver involvement. It's not like the outgoing Golf R, where you have the option of sitting back and letting it do all the work. The Subaru demands attention and engagement, which is exciting in a way but limits its appeal as an everyday car.
In 2019, Subaru made some subtle tweaks to the STI's engine. The air intake was revised, the pistons were strengthened and the ECU was remapped. The result was 310 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque. Still, the STI's engine feels old-school. Modern turbocharged engines mated to automatic gearboxes with eight gears or more have virtually eliminated turbo lag, so it's odd to get into a car where the lag remains so prominent. Once you get it going, and you manage to keep it in the powerband, it flies.
The six-speed manual gearbox is the only transmission option. It's a fantastic manual gearbox but it limits the day-to-day appeal of the STI. The STI wants you to work hard to get the most out of it, but it can be exhausting if you only want to get from one part of town to the other. The STI is at its best on an open road, with the turbo already boosting up a storm. In that setting, there's nothing quite like it. The question you have to ask yourself is whether this fairly limited reward is worth the effort of living with it on a day-to-day basis?
Subaru still brags about its rally prowess on its website, even though it has been more than 12 years since it has competed in a WRC event. While we think Subaru should update its marketing strategy, it's worth pointing out that the STI's inherited rally car traits do make it a highly entertaining car to drive. To find the limits of its adhesion, you have to be a very brave person. In addition to the symmetrical all-wheel-drive system, Subaru has built a lot of technology into the underpinnings. This includes the Multi-Mode Driver Controlled Center Differential, Active Torque Vectoring, and Multi-Mode Vehicle Dynamics Control.
The adjustable center differential allows you to vary the torque split between the front and rear axles. When you're feeling brave, you can feed most of the torque to the rear axle, while a more equal split is perfect for amateur drivers. The active torque vectoring helps it turn in with a bit more verve by braking the inside wheel. The Multi-Mode Dynamics Control allows you to dial things back a bit, but never to the point where the Subaru could be called relaxing.
On the plus side, the Subaru provides loads of feedback via the electrically-assisted steering, while the all-wheel drive ensures that it remains relatively quick, even in less than ideal conditions. When the roads are wet, few rear-wheel-drive sports cars can keep up with this thing. The AWD also allows for a quick zero to 60 mph sprint time. It is possible to get it below six seconds, but as an owner, you most likely won't ever try the methods needed to match such times. You have to be prepared to dump the clutch at high revs, while you cringe at the amount of abuse the powertrain is going through. The downside is that there's very little in the way of refinement, as you'll quickly see in any test drive review. Every bump, no matter how small, works its way up from the wheels and through the cabin. It's a stiff setup, and it can be taxing on the body. It also doesn't have an active exhaust system, so it's always noisy, whether or not you're hurtling along at the top legal speed. Perfect for a sprint on a quiet road, but less so when you just want to drive home in comfort and silence after a long, busy day at the office. The Brembo brakes are superb. Feedback is plentiful and the braking power provided by the six-piston calipers is strong.
The WRX STI is nowhere near frugal. While modern turbocharged petrol powertrains have become known for being fuel efficient, this old 2.5-liter turbocharged flat-four will drink its way through a 15.9-gallon tank in just 286 miles. It has EPA-estimated figures of 16/22/18 mpg across the city/highway/combined cycles. To put that in perspective, the Mercedes-AMG C63 S, which has a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8, has EPA-estimated figures of 17/26/21 mpg. You can expect those figures to drop even further when you regularly make use of its full performance potential.
The interior has a functional theme, aimed at enhancing the experience for the driver. There's a flat-bottom leather-wrapped steering wheel, a leather-wrapped shifter exactly where it should be, and a leather-wrapped handbrake to the left of that. The driving mode selector is located just below the shifter, and the button for the torque-split adjustment just beneath that. Within days, you'll be able to interact with these features without taking your eyes off the road. The seats are the sporty, body-hugging kind, in black and red leather. They offer decent support in the corners.
The rest of the interior is made up of basic amenities carried over from the Impreza lineup. These features include dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, keyless access, cruise control, dual USB ports, seven-inch Starlink infotainment with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Bluetooth capability. The Limited model adds navigation, a Harmon Kardon surround-sound system, and an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat.
The Subaru WRX STI's sedan body does not give it an advantage in terms of interior space, but it gives the Scooby a place to put the large rear wing. The legroom is generous in the front and rear, measuring 43.3 inches at the front and 35.4 at the rear. Headroom is equally ample, rated at 39.8 inches at the front for the base model without the sunroof, 37.2 inches at the front for the model with the sunroof, and 37.1 inches at the rear. The front seats have decent side bolstering for hard cornering, but you can upgrade to Recaro seats if you need something more hardcore. You have to upgrade to the Limited model for a power-adjustable driver's seat. Being a sedan, the STI has big, wide-opening doors, making it easy to get in and out of. Visibility is good, but the massive rear wing makes it difficult to see out of the rear.
As standard, the 2021 Subaru WRX STI has Ultrasuede/carbon black leather upholstery. The bolsters are red, and they have red stitching. This adds a sporty touch to an otherwise bland, functional interior. In the Limited model, the front seats are upgraded to Recaros, also featuring red leather inserts. In Limited guise, the driver's seat is eight-way power-adjustable. The other sporty touches include a leather-wrapped, flat-bottom steering wheel, as well as aluminum-alloy pedal covers. The rest of the car is pretty average, and nothing special.
You'd expect the WRX STI's sedan shape to have more cargo space than its hatch rivals. The reality is that the hatches easily give it a beatdown in this particular category. The Honda Civic Type R has 25.7 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, while the outgoing Golf R has 22.8 cubic feet of space. The STI only has 12 cubic feet of cargo space. It's a large enough space, able to carry three suitcases, but weak compared to its direct rivals. This space can be extended by folding the rear seats flat in a 60/40 split.
Overall storage space is merely average. The center console has a large storage area beneath the climate control. The console between the front seats also has two cupholders, while the doors each have a single bottle holder. There is also a rear center armrest with dual cupholders. The glovebox is illuminated and lockable, for storing valuable items.
As we said before, the WRX STI is unashamedly about the driving experience. Only the essentials are included as standard, but at least they're nice essentials. The base STI comes with dual-zone climate control, keyless entry with a push-button start, cruise control, a tilt and telescoping steering column, STI-specific instruments, a rearview camera, heated front seats and mirrors, and hill start assist. The Limited model adds Recaro seats, eight-way power-adjustment for the driver's seat, blind-spot detection, lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and a power moonroof. Depending on how much you value comfort and convenience, the Limited isn't a bad choice.
The STI's Starlink seven-inch color touchscreen infotainment system is easy to use and integrates Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, HD Radio, and SiriusXM. You can also stream music via Bluetooth, or the dual USB ports. It also has a CD slot, which many manufacturers don't include these days. The Limited model adds navigation. The base model uses a six-speaker setup, while the Limited model is equipped with a nine-speaker Harman Kardon premium sound system.
The new WRX STI has never been rated by the J.D. Power survey, but its WRX sibling has. It received 82 out of 100. It received excellent ratings in most areas although quality and reliability was average, with a rating of 77/100. According to the NHTSA, the Subaru WRX STI has not been affected by recalls for several years. The sedan comes standard with a three-year/36,000-mile limited warranty, as well as a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty. The rust perforation coverage lasts for five years.
There have yet to be any Subaru WRX STI crash reviews, although the similar WRX sedan has been rated. The 2021 Subaru WRX received five out of five stars from the NHTSA. In addition to that, it was also named an IIHS Top Safety Pick with a maximum Good rating in every crashworthiness test. These cars share the same basic structure, so the STI should perform equally well in the event of a crash.
There's an oddity within the WRX lineup when it comes to safety. Subaru's advanced driver assistance systems, which all fall under the name EyeSight, are available on lesser WRX models, but not on the top-spec STI. These advanced features include adaptive cruise control and pre-collision braking. The reason for this is the gearbox. EyeSight is only included as standard on models with a CVT transmission, which means they can't be equipped on the manual-only WRX STI.
On the Limited model, you do at least get blind-spot detection, lane-change assist, and rear cross-traffic alert. The base model comes with seven airbags (including a knee airbag for the driver), a rearview camera, daytime running lights, ABS, ESC, and a tire pressure monitoring system.
To a specific group of people, this car is everything. It's unapologetically hardcore. A true driving tool that never settles down. It has over-the-top design elements and is only available with a manual transmission. It doesn't nestle or comfort you. It demands your attention. And it's attention worth giving because it is an intoxicating driving experience. The turbocharged flat-four growls majestically as you bomb around, knowing that the all-wheel drive system is there in the background to save you if you get slightly overenthusiastic. It feels like an old-school driving experience that's slowly dying out. This unique experience is certainly one of the reasons it continues to sell.
But there's a reason it's dying out. A similarly-priced hatchback is better in several areas. The outgoing Golf R is a magnificent all-rounder, and the new model will likely be even better. The Civic Type R is a brilliant hatch, which not only offers similar performance but also a quirky, divisive design. To love this car, you have to be a serious Subaru fan. There are plenty of sacrifices you have to make to live with it - sacrifices that you don't have to make if you buy one of the hatches.
The base WRX STI has an MSRP of $37,245 while the WRX STI Limited costs $41,945. The brand also charges a destination and delivery charge of $925 in the US.
The 2021 WRX STI range consists of two models: the base STI and the STI Limited. Both of them are powered by the same turbocharged 2.5-liter flat-four engine with 310 hp and 290 lb-ft. They also share the same six-speed manual gearbox and symmetrical AWD system, with no other configurations available.
The base STI comes as standard with 19-inch alloy wheels, daytime running lights, and LED headlights. Inside, it has manually adjustable Ultrasuede/leather sports seats, dual-zone climate control, STI gauges, and keyless entry with push-button start. The infotainment interface consists of a seven-inch color touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Bluetooth capability. In the base STI, the infotainment is mated to a six-speaker sound system.
]The STI Limited adds Recaro front seats with eight-way power adjustment for the driver, navigation, a nine-speaker Harman Kardon premium sound system, a power moonroof, blind-spot detection, lane-change assist, and rear cross-traffic alert.
On the base STI, there is one optional package which retails for $2,250. It only adds the Recaro performance front seats with eight-way power adjustment for the driver. There's only one optional package for the STI Limited and it's the low profile trunk spoiler. It's a no-cost option, and one you should tick if you like seeing out of the rear window. There are a few standalone options you can spec, including an Ultrasuede steering wheel ($499), an STI-branded shift knob ($185), and an auto-dimming mirror with a compass and Homelink ($359).
There's a $4,700 price difference between the base STI and the STI Limited in the USA. Considering that the Recaro seats alone nearly account for half of that price difference, the STI Limited does make more sense. In addition to the fancier seats, you also get a Harman Kardon premium sound system, navigation with voice activation, blind-spot detection with lane-change assist, and rear cross-traffic alert. Look at it that way, and the Limited makes more sense. If, however, you want the driving experience and nothing else, the base STI should do just fine.
Nearly two years after it left the local market, the Volkswagen Golf R remains one of the WRX STI's most fierce rivals. When it was new in 2019, it had a retail price of $40,395. The bad news is that depreciation never hit the Golf R that hard. A nice 2018/2019 example with very low mileage still retails for nearly $40,000. Should a defunct car be considered a rival? Most definitely, yes. The Golf R will still feel advanced compared to the STI. It was one of the most complete all-around performance cars ever sold, offering blistering performance, a comfortable interior, exemplary build quality, and space. It was the classy option, but it could run circles around an STI when the mood struck. By comparison, the sprint to 60 mph is dealt with in less than five seconds, making it easily quicker than the STI. It doesn't offer the same level of drama as the STI, but the interior is in a different league. If you're willing to go used rather than brand new, the Golf R beats the STI convincingly.
The Honda Civic Type R (starting at $37,895) should appeal to the same sort of buyer who would be interested in the STI. The two of them do have a lot in common such as an extrovert exterior (it's possibly even more flamboyant) with a massive rear wing, a turbocharged engine with over 300 horsepower, and only a six-speed manual option. That's where the similarities end, however. The Honda is only front-wheel drive, but thanks to advancements in technology, it's even faster than the WRX STI. It sprints to 60 mph in five seconds dead. It also outclasses the STI dynamically, and it has a much better interior with more advanced comfort and safety features. It even has a much bigger boot. The only department where the WRX STI has the upper hand is noise. A flat-four engine has a very distinctive sound. The only reason you'd choose an STI over this is that you're a massive fan of the brand. The Civic Type R is one of the best all-round performance hatches of all time, and one of the best cars on sale today.
The most popular competitors of 2021 Subaru WRX STI: