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The Subaru WRX and STI are performance sedans and hatchbacks that have a few things in common with Subaru's Impreza. The body may be similar, but these cars are Subaru's fastest performers, thanks to a turbocharged four-cylinder and standard all-wheel drive.Strong engines, excellent handling and traction from all four wheels make for a magical combination here. You can drive these cars spiritedly in snow, on gravel or down the highway, and they're happy in every instance. If you're shopping for a high-performance racer and live in the snow belt–or if you just have a hankerin' for rally races–chances are you can stop reading now. These are the cars you want to consider.
In case you don't, we'll dig deeper into why the WRX and STI work so well. With strong turbocharged flat-four engines, roomy interiors, a comfortable ride, and a good reputation for safety, these models continue to offer both strong performance and are an impressive value for the money.Simply put, the Subaru WRX is quick, while the STI is even quicker. But there are plenty of other differences in the STI that make it a worthy upgrade for focused enthusiasts. Both models share the same 2.5-liter engine displacement, with the WRX making 265 hp and the STI getting a 305-hp version (and a six-speed manual versus a five-speed). But the STI's sharper tuning and Driver Controlled Center Differential (DCCD) extracts the most from the powertrain and the chassis. Between sedans and hatchbacks, all else the same, performance is equally rewarding. There's one potential issue for some shoppers, though: No automatic transmissions are available. To many driving enthusiasts, that's how it should be.
The two engines are only 40 hp apart, but they're tuned quite differently. The WRX is more tractable in all-round usage, while the STI is harder to drive smoothly; it needs to be revved and driven hard to extract its potential.
The WRX and STI models both carry over to 2014 in sedan and hatchback body styles with no significant styling changes versus 2012. 2011 had been a big model year for these models; that's when the WRX got the wide-fender look that had been previously reserved for the top-performance STI. The WRX and STI remain divorced from the more pedestrian Impreza, which got a long list of changes last year that made those models more unanimously good-looking--albeit in a more mass-market kind of way. The down side of this separation is that the WRX and STI are left with interior trims and switchgear that now feel slightly behind-the-times.
The WRX comes in base, Premium, and Limited models, with navigation available at extra cost on Premium and Limited models. STI models come in base and Limited models, with navigation available on both. The STI hatchback is an exception; it's offered in a single trim. Top Limited models include a moonroof, fog lamps, heated power mirrors, a windshield-wiper de-icer, and heated leather seats. Aha Radio is now part of the navigation package for 2014, should opt for it.
The racing-style bucket seats hold the driver and front passenger firmly in place, but the fixed headrests in the STI project forward at an uncomfortable angle.The STI models get fancier black Alcantara trim and upholstery with red stitching, front and rear, though the rear seats remain the standard-issue item from the regular Impreza. In either of these models, rear-seat space is remarkable for a compact car, with oceans of headroom even for those with tall torsos. Cargo space is respectable, but a rear seatback that won't fold completely flat and a trunk (in the sedan) with a floor that's not flat are sore points.
Considering they're performance models--with crisp handling response--both the WRX and STI handle bumps, potholes, and coarse surfaces with aplomb. We've noted some engine rumble and wind noise from the side mirrors, but otherwise it's very quiet in the cabin. The STI's considerably louder (lower and pulsating) exhaust note isn't obtrusive while cruising, though you'll notice it when accelerating.
- Excellent handling
- Roomy interior
- A performance car for the Snow Belt?
- Strong flat-four engines
- Ride quality
Next: Interior / Exterior »
- Lacks automatic transmission option
- Low gas mileage
- Interior style lags behind Impreza
- STI can be pricey