Things had been going a touch loopy in the NZ Performance Car office during the lead-up weeks to being given the latest Subaru WRX STI. We had been having dreams of all things 555 blue, rally victories, and grumbling turbo boxers — it’s safe to say that when we finally received the keys, we didn’t leave the driver’s seat.  

The NZ Performance Car team tested out the new Subaru WRX STI

First impressions are everything and the STI didn’t disappoint. At first glance the Subaru’s body demanded our attention. The large alloys, the enormous calipers, that familiar blue paint, and, last but not least, the mouth-wide-open bonnet scoop. Subaru has really stepped up its game since the earlier GC8 model, with things now resembling well-known European sedans, such as the BMW for example. The model we received didn’t have the large rear wing, but we didn’t mind, it actually looked much smarter this way, almost as if it had its business suit on. We aren’t ones to argue with a grumbling boxer, so let’s get down to it.

Jumping into the driver’s seat was a very simple job, the seat position is low and the door gap is very large providing a great sense of space. As the STI doesn’t require the key to be entered into the ignition barrel to start, it was simply left in the centre console, and the ‘start’ button was pushed. As the Subaru jumped to life we threw on the safety belts and got ready for the drive ahead. Initial gearbox feel was good, very tight and direct. The clutch felt tolerable, but engaged early and suddenly — yes the STI got stalled more than once. We set out for the first drive.

Rene spent "a good few hours" in the driver's seat 

Power —  this souped-up sedan has lots of it as we confirmed on our initial blast down the motorway on-ramp. Up from the 197kW WRX we reviewed in Issue No. 211, the STI now boasts 221kW, and 407Nm of torque, which peaks at 4000 rpm. As we are a huge fan of racing games, we were delighted to see that the STI retained the SI-Drive dial which allows gamer-like tuning options on the fly. There are three different modes; intelligent, sport, and sport sharp mode. Intelligent mode offers a more environmentally friendly performance, with throttle mapping balanced between smoothness and efficiency for an enhanced level of control. Sport mode offers you a middle ground with instant linear response, which basically means it brings boost on quicker than intelligent does. What we instantly spun the dial to, however, was sport sharp mode (of course we did). In sport sharp mode, SI-Drive modifies the engine’s electronic throttle mapping to deliver lightening-quick throttle response. The difference is noticeable straight away, the STI instantly has more torque and throttle response which makes for an exciting drive. We decided we would test out the other great features like VDC and (Driver’s Control Centre Differential) DCCD, so we needed some twistier roads.

We finally arrived at our touge destination so we pulled over, adjusted the DCCD to auto (-) and set off again. Auto (-) mode shifts the torque to the rear and reduces the centre limited-slip differential lock, which allows sporty driving on high-traction surfaces. Throwing the STI into these tight and twisty corners was incredible, the huge 245/40R18 Dunlop tyres never ran out of grip, and the car was very easy to control with very little under steer. The extra rigidity mentioned earlier has made a huge difference on the WRX model, you can literally drive this car on the throttle, more like a sporty rear-wheel-drive car. What was most impressive though, was corner-exit acceleration. The diffs split to a true 50:50 on corner exit, nothing comes close to this kind of grip on windy back roads with boost coming on instantly. After a good few hours of testing every setting on offer, with both the differentials and stability control, it was time to head back. The SI-Drive dial was simply turned anticlockwise to intelligent mode for extra comfort, and the fantastic six-speaker with subwoofer stereo install was cranked up.

What other cars are being released these days with this much factory performance for such little money? We aren’t sure there is one. You can drive it to the racetrack with one of the comfier settings, kick ass all day once at the track, and head home in style — a true all-rounder.

René Vermeer

Dutch, French, or just a Kiwi, René isn’t quite sure, but he does know he has a passion for Japanese vehicles like no other. A well-seasoned Gran Turismo player dating back to his single-digit days, René has a comprehensive knowledge of a wide range of performance vehicles and has owned more than 30 performance cars here in New Zealand, ranging from Nissans to Hondas. A lover of photography, you’ll find him either peeping under someone’s bonnet to snap a detailed shot, or on the side of the racetrack, perfecting his panning.