2017 Subaru WRX
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2017 Subaru WRX STi Sport: Don't forget the gravel (or Gravol)
By Mark Richardson
Aug. 24, 2016
There really isn’t a road-legal rally car to match the Subaru WRX STi. It’s been the leader for years, but it’s only ever been in a field of one or two. The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution competed against it for a few years and finally came to Canada in 2008, but was discontinued in 2015 (though that “Final Edition” model is still listed on the Mitsu website). The Subaru was too ingrained in the Canadian market for it to succeed.
This means there’s not a whole lot of change for the 2017 model over the previous year, which was a refreshing of the all-new generation introduced in 2015. There’s a new headliner and some new standard equipment, but the actual mechanicals are basically the same.
Pros & Cons
- + Proper sports car seats
- + Acceleration
- + Comfortable enough for daily driving
- - Fuel economy
- - Price
- - No automatic transmission option
The Canadian STi comes in three different trim levels: basic, Sport and Sport-Tech. They’re all sport models because this is the STi, after all, but the basic does not have the distinctive rear spoiler that tells the world not to mess with this car. Whether the spoiler actually works is not something you’ll discover outside of competition, at least not legally, but it looks the business and that’s what most buyers will want.
All WRXs also have a distinctive hood scoop to let extra air into the breathers. Other cars have automatic grille shutters to make them more aerodynamic and reduce fuel consumption, including the Subaru Legacy and Outback, but the World Rally Cross racers need More Air! Fuel consumption is not a strong point for the STi, and the hood scoop surely doesn’t help, but it looks cool.
All STis also get 18-inch wheels with sharp, red-painted brake calipers. Those are Brembo performance brakes and they work very well indeed.
Other than these features, the WRX is a relatively subtle vehicle. If it wasn’t for the rear spoiler, you might not even look twice at the car, but people who know their racers will appreciate what you have.
The Sport tester had heated fabric seats but leather comes in the high-end Sport-Tech model. That’s a bit much for a true sports car – a rally racer should not be too luxurious.
The new headliner is nice enough, though it doesn’t help keep out any more of the noise. It can get loud inside when everything starts cooking as it should, but again, that’s all part of the appeal for most STi owners. New for this year is an automatic up-down switch for the electric front windows, which winds the glass all the way with just one touch – ooh, welcome to the new millennium, Subaru.
Otherwise, it’s all soft-touch black plastic, faux carbon-fiber and brushed aluminum accents, and a small, 6.2-inch display screen in the centre of the dash that works the apps. If you want navigation and a slightly larger seven-inch screen, you have to upgrade to the Sport-Tech trim level. This also gives you the Sirius XM Travel Link, so you can check the weather, sports and your stocks while sliding around dirt roads.
It’s nice enough inside. Actually, very nice, given the limited approach to options. There’s reasonable space in the back seat for two people and three at a pinch. Make sure to keep some Gravol in the glove box if you expect to carry people back there.
The Sport trim level includes “Subaru rear/side vehicle detection,” which every other maker calls blind ppot warning and cross traffic alert. This is ironic because the driver’s visibility in the STi is actually very good indeed – probably one of the best vehicles currently available for not obscuring your vision. Thin A-pillars and B-pillars and quarter-panel glass help this, but you also sit fairly high behind large windows. Rally drivers need to see where they’re going more than most others.
Subaru’s excellent Eyesight system is not available on any of the STis, however. This is the twin-camera system that monitors the road ahead to help keep the car in the lane and watch for obstacles. There’s a price for Eyesight of just over a thousand bucks, and it was probably agreed that most rally drivers – and budding rally drivers – don’t want to be told they’re veering out of their lane, or headed directly toward a house. They know this already, and they’re doing it intentionally.
The real technology in a car like this comes in the suspension and the chassis and the differential. In fact, the differential is one of the key upgrades from the regular WRX. In the STi, it can be adjusted with the flick of a switch to any of six different settings: the mildest allows the mechanical differential to split torque between the wheels for better grip on corners, while the other settings are all electronic graduations, allowing less and less software intervention to permit more and more oversteer if you want it. The amount of sliding can be finely tuned to just the way you like it – there’s no other production car in Canada that offers this level of adjustment from the driver’s seat.
There’s also a handy dial on the centre console for selecting intelligent drive, sport or sport-sharp. Unlike most drive mode selectors that adjust the gear-shift ratios and steering feel and sometimes the active suspension, this only adjusts the throttle response. Intelligent means normal, and gets the best overall driving performance, but sport and sport-sharp quicken the throttle for a racier experience. Warning: if you select sport-sharp on a normal city street and then stop at the lights, the car will probably jerk all over the place when it’s time to move on. Don’t ask me how I know this.
The STi used to be stiff as a board, rattling all the fillings in your teeth on regular asphalt and shaking those fillings right out on dirt roads, and owners loved them for this. Maybe it’s why so many STi drivers keep their lips closed when they smile. The 2015 redesign fixed a lot of this, though, and the car is now quite comfortable for just driving to the store. Leave it in intelligent drive and don’t mess around with the differential control, and you’ll be fine.
You’ll need to know how to drive stick, though. The STi is not available with the wimpy CVT that’s sold with the lesser WRX, even though that comes with paddle shifters. No – the only option is a really sweet-shifting six-speed manual transmission and three billet aluminum pedals down in the foot-well. That’s okay: it’s a lovely box and you’ll be happy to hold onto the lever’s leather-covered shift knob all day long, just like a real racer.
I never did take the STi onto a closed course, so I never did need to change the differential settings; to do so would have been too dangerous when you’re never sure what’s coming toward you around a corner. I cannot vouch for the more extreme rally settings, but I can report that the STi is a joy to drive on both asphalt and gravel. You don’t have to actually go fast to appreciate it. This is probably typical for 90 per cent of STi owners, anyway.
The Subaru’s boxer engine is basically the same tried-and-true 2.5-litre four-cylinder that’s been powering the STi since its introduction in 2007. It makes 305 hp (37 hp more than the basic WRX) and 290 lbs.-ft. of torque, and it puts that through all four wheels with a 35/65 front/rear bias. This is far from monstrous, and plenty of ignorant riff-raff were hoping for more power with the 2015 generation, but the STi’s not about absolute power. It’s about manageable power through superior handling. The fastest car on a track is the one that doesn’t need to slow down for the corners, after all.
This doesn’t mean the STi is good on fuel, however. Its official rating is 13.8 L/100 km in the city and 10.2 on the highway, for an average of 12.2. That’s with premium fuel required, too. My own overall consumption was a thirsty 13.4 L/100 km, but there may have been some hooning involved.
If you’re a rally racer, or a potential rally racer, then there’s no better production car straight from the box than the Subaru WRX STi. You already knew that, and you’re just reading this to confirm your smart decision to buy one. The value score for you is 10 out of 10, though you’ll probably be just as happy with a used model at half the price. Make sure you clean the seats well before buying it, however.
The only real competition now is from the Ford Focus RS, which has only just come to Canada and costs a pricy $46,969. There aren’t many available yet and I’ve not driven one to compare it, but the 350 hp from its Mustang-derived Ecoboost engine promises quite the drive.
If you’re not really much of a racer, or you never intend to take your car onto a closed course, then the extra power, improved suspension and brakes, and superior adjustability of the STi’s handling is a complete waste of money for you. You’ll be quite content with the regular WRX, which starts at $29,995. Save that $8,000 difference for a motorcycle. You could even buy a regular Mitsubishi Lancer, or a Mini Cooper S, or a Volkswagen GTI. You won’t get the high rear spoiler, though, so you’ll never have all the bragging rights.
There’s only one STi. If you want a rally car, or at least a vehicle that drives like a rally car and lets you think you could be a rally driver, then the STi is pretty much your only choice until the verdict comes down on the Focus RS.
And when you’re not hooning around, or seeking out gravel roads, or endlessly and pointlessly adjusting the differential, the STi will be a street-friendly, comfortable sedan that you could even use for driving your mother-in-law to her local Probus meeting. Just don’t try to explain why you need a spoiler on the back, and don’t forget the Gravol.