The last one was flawed but brilliant.
Subaru grabbed attention from enthusiasts when it first brought the Impreza WRX to the United States in the 2002 model year. Two years later, Subaru made heads explode when it finally imported the hotter WRX STI model, cementing the invasion of Japanese performance cars in America. The STI could keep up with cars costing twice as much yet still carry kids in the back seat and groceries in the trunk.
It's safe to say the original WRX STI was a world-beating car, but today, it's not as competitive. The 2021 Subaru WRX STI no longer faces stiff competition from the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, but it has gained rivals from Honda, Hyundai, and Volkswagen. A subset of car enthusiasts still adore the STI for its old-school design and driving characteristics, but we look forward to seeing what Subaru will do with the next-generation model. In anticipation of the soon-to-be-revealed next-generation WRX, we made a wish list of what we'd like to see from the next STI.
The WRX STI is not a subtle car, but its styling can go from sporty to manic in a hurry. It's impossible to ignore the massive rear wing sitting on the trunk, but Subaru offers a more subtle lip spoiler at no extra cost on the STI Limited trim level. As with the current generation, Subaru should offer numerous special editions like the Series.White model we tested. Offered during the 2020 model year, the Series.White added the signature STI bronze finish BBS forged wheels and unique Cherry Blossom Red accents on the grille. Buyers should get a choice between an eye-catching blue with crazy-colored wheels or a stealthy grey with subtle sporty accents. Signature features like the massive hood scoop are a must-have.
The original STI blew away its competition with 300 horsepower from a turbocharged EJ25 flat-four engine, all for only $32,000. To put that into perspective, a 2004 Porsche 911 Carrera produced just 20 more horsepower for twice the cost, the Ford Mustang GT only eeked out 260 hp from its 4.6-liter V8, and even the Chevrolet Corvette (the king of budget performance) produced 50 more horsepower for $10,000 extra. The STI was a budget hero.
It's safe to say the original WRX STI was a game changer. But after 18 years on the market, the 2021 WRX STI still uses the same EJ25 engine, producing 310 hp. A 10-hp gain in nearly two decades simply won't cut it in today's market. The current car isn't sluggish, but we've been spoiled by today's crop of hot hatchbacks.
A brand-new 2.4-liter turbocharged boxer-four should replace the aging EJ, producing nearly 400 hp with hybrid assist. This powertrain should send torque to all four wheels through a manual transmission with a clever differential to adjust the power delivery front-to-rear.
Aside from the phenomenal steering wheel and Recaro seats, the STI's cabin feels more like a $20,000 Impreza than a $44,000 performance car. The interior feels dated with inexpensive plastics and small screens that look old for 2021. More recently-refreshed models like the Legacy and Outback have improved on Subaru's lagging interior design with larger screens and more premium materials, so we believe the next-generation WRX and STI will benefit in this area. We don't mind keeping the base model more simple, but we'd like the optional technology to feel like it belongs in the current decade.
While we eagerly await the next-generation STI's arrival, we don't want Subaru to forget what made the current one so great. Sure, it has many flaws, but that's what makes it feel special. The STI offers a raw nature that you don't get from a Honda Civic Type R or a Volkswagen Golf R. Those cars are more compliant and offer better practicality, but the STI is arguably more fun at the limit. We'd place the STI high on our favorites list for steering feel, engagement, and handling prowess, which is impressive for a supposedly out-of-date car. This vehicle feels like a sharp knife in a word of safety scissors, and we hope Subaru can transfer that lunacy into the new model.