Full disclosure: I’m a Subaru fanboy and the author of the High Performance Subaru Builder’s Guide. So you know I’m going to like this car.
Let there be no doubt ? the Subaru Impreza WRX STI is the primary design for the Impreza chassis. The STI is not a hotted-up Impreza ? the Impreza is a detuned STI. You can tell when you?re in the ?real car? because everything just works. There?s no sense of anything being wedged in where it doesn?t belong for marketing reasons, nor do you find that features have been deleted in an attempt to cut costs. That?s what the STI is for Subaru ? and it makes one hell of a halo car for the brand.
The Impreza model is now in its 18th year of development, having been rolled out by Subaru in 1993 with a 1.8-liter engine and front wheel drive ? with an optional 2.2-liter engine and all wheel drive. In 1998, the ?hot rod? Impreza was a 2.5RS, with a 2.5-liter normally aspirated engine at about 170 horsepower. The Impreza WRX was introduced in 2002 (along with a new sedan body) with a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine ? compliant with the World Rally Car (WRC) homologation formula. In 2004, the STI was born (as the STi ? capitalization is critical) with a turbocharged 2.5-liter engine and about 300 horsepower.
That history lesson is all leading up to this ? Subaru standardized on a 2.5-liter engine across its lineup in 2006, and used the STI engine as the basis for all its 4-cylinder offerings thereafter. The current STI engine is the tuned-up version of all other Subaru engines, with an 18-year development cycle. The STI also comes with an ultra-strong 6-speed manual transmission and a heavy duty all wheel drive system with a driver-controllable center differential to help maximize road drivability while also allowing the driver to select for better limited traction performance on gravel or snow.
The result is an Impreza that drives the way virtually all automotive engineers would like their cars to drive. Historically the STI was a bit softer and more luxurious than its direct competitor, the Mitsubishi Evo. That has switched around now, with the Evo X rising in price and competing with the Audi A4 and Volvo S60 for the luxury market. The STI is now king of the hill among unabashed AWD sport compact performance.
Inside, the STI looks and feels very nice ? Subaru has gotten an unfair rap over the years for a cheap and cheesy interior, but that?s long gone in the current STI. You?ll find leather touch surfaces where it makes sense to have them, nicely laid out controls, and no chintzy touches like fake wood grain anywhere in the vehicle. Just basic piano black for shiny and soft rubberized plastic everywhere else ? unless you make the jump to a much higher price bracket, that?s what you?re going to find in every other car on the market ? and Subaru?s design is both tasteful and well-made.
With any performance car, you have to understand up front that you?re going to trade off some comfort and quiet for that performance. The STI is no exception ? you not only have a great feel for the road with the sports car suspension, you?ll hear it, especially on our comparatively rough roads in the Pacific Northwest.? The low-profile tires? add a bit of their own noise to the mix as well. But on the other hand, the test car had a nice stereo ? so turn it up and enjoy the performance!
Our real-world fuel economy over about 500 mostly highway miles was right at 22 MPG. In the city, our actual mileage was about 18 MPG. So the 300 horsepower of the STI doesn?t come for free in per-mile costs, but that?s still a respectable economy for the class of cars that the STI represents.
You will pay about $35,000 to $38,000 for a 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STI. The least expensive is the 4-door sedan, and the most expensive is the hatchback premium edition. You can get the price almost to $40,000 if you add GPS navigation.
So at the beginning of this, I talked about the STI as the ?real? Impreza ? let me close by noting that the basic Impreza and mid-grade WRX are still good cars, but if you want all of the full-on power and handling experience that Subaru can offer, you want the STI.