A Final Drive In The Subaru WRX STI Broke My Heart

Brutal, detailed and rewarding to drive, the final WRX STI as we know it might be an anachronism in 2018 but that doesn't stop it being incredible
A Final Drive In The Subaru WRX STI Broke My Heart

The night is dark and full of terrors. That is, if you’re a sheep standing on the damp, dark A4069 over south Wales’ favourite driving playground, the Brecon Beacons. It’s the cold hour before dawn and the icy drizzle is petering out at last, but the darkness is split by a pair of xenon headlights and the unmistakeable growl of a very specific Japanese quartet.

Four horizontally-opposed cylinders sing the song of a people; clamouring for air and fuel on the rising Black Mountain road, crying out to an automotive sub-culture that has lasted 20 years. From the first deeds of rallying success in the 1990s it grew strong in the early 2000s, before laws, rivals and a global environmental conscience began to erode its once mighty seat of power.

A Final Drive In The Subaru WRX STI Broke My Heart

Sadly, the 150-car Final Edition of the WRX STI you see here doesn’t have the legendary gold wheels. Instead, there are yellow-painted and STI-branded Brembo brake calipers behind larger, grey-finished Y-spoke hoops. There are special Final Edition door badges and a token logo on the shiny, piano black trim behind the gear lever.

The recipe is Subaru’s finest, in time-honoured tradition. The latest and ever-proud Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive layout sits beneath a rumbling, whistling 2.5-litre turbocharged boxer engine. Both are stretching their legs as the road rises into sheep-laced moorland, a few woolly obstacles sensibly sprinting for cover as the biggest and angriest hound they’re ever likely to meet rounds bend after bend in a barrage of light and angry flat-four music.

A Final Drive In The Subaru WRX STI Broke My Heart

Not as much ‘music’ as you’d expect, though. It’s easy to forget, when you spend any time around Impreza and WRX STI culture, that some of them actually have standard exhausts. Like this one. From the spacious but grippy driver’s seat I can’t hear the solid, throaty and famously distinctive tailpipe burble rise and fall. That’s a pleasure only the sheep get to enjoy today.

Instead I’m reminded how the engine sounds without silly double-fister aftermarket cans and dump valves. Clear turbo whistle furnishes the offbeat thrum as soon as spooling begins in the mid 2000s revs per minute. After 4000rpm that whistle peaks addictively before the barrel-chested baritone reaches a pitch near the 6500rpm redline that sounds almost uncomfortable. Better to grab a new cog by 6000rpm, via the stiff and slightly notchy but satisfying six-speed manual.

A Final Drive In The Subaru WRX STI Broke My Heart

Our departing hero is definitely happiest between 3000rpm and 6000rpm, delivering smooth thrust in its softer, progressive I (‘Intelligent’) driving mode. A flick one way or the other on the chunky mode dial and the settings switch to maximum-trouser Sport Sharp or Sport, if you prefer a middle ground. But there will be no half-measures today.

The A4069 is a challenging road, at once tempting and yet narrow, with drops steep enough to end your day on a very sour note. It’s easy to make a bad decision here, but it’s also the perfect test for this car. Switching to Sport Sharp, the difference comes like a Chuck Norris roundhouse to the face. The ride becomes track-day hard at low speed, and suddenly 3000rpm brings with it an explosion of speed; a hammer blow of acceleration that comparably priced super-hatchbacks have only recently become able to beat.

A Final Drive In The Subaru WRX STI Broke My Heart

Part of the STI’s downfall is that it hasn’t changed much over the years. Of course, that’s also the reason those of us who loved it back then, still love it today. Its 296bhp – there’s no celebratory power hike – is even beaten by plenty of different Impreza WRX STIs from a decade or more ago. It has singularly failed to move with the times.

With that, as the sun pokes its head over the hills and I settle into the car’s unbelievable abilities, hitting the throttle harder and sooner through bends, feeling the incredible reactions of the all-wheel drive, suspension whose genius emerges only at speed, brilliantly strong and progressive brakes and that bomb under the bonnet, the realisation comes. This may be a distant descendant of a rally legend, still clinging to old glory days despite its makers having long since left them behind, but its talents haven’t been diluted by the passage of time. Quite the opposite.

A Final Drive In The Subaru WRX STI Broke My Heart

The STI feels like it’s milled from one block, barring a few trim rattles. There’s epic cooperation between key elements, from the feelsome steering to the outrageously grippy tyres. It aces the mechanics of catapulting you away from an apex like a giant hand has grabbed the inside front corner and yanked. It also chats busily about how it’s doing it. It clearly signals when grip is low, when the front-to-rear weight balance shifts under power or braking and when there’s still more depth to plumb in the talent tank. Some might call it a blunt instrument but it’s balanced, communicative and anachronistically analogue. By God, does it feel good.

The Final Edition might not be the glorious final hurrah we would have wanted for an iconic lineage that stretches back to our childhoods, where, with mouth agape, we watched blue-and-gold missiles contest the World Rally Championship. The brilliance of the WRX STI, and the Imprezas that came before it, has nonetheless been constant. Even in the face of its faster, more comfortable and more fashionable rivals, the Subaru is now more special than any of them. And my, doesn’t it look good filthy.



Nice article Matt

01/14/2018 - 12:32 |
2 | 0
Aaron 15

This will likely be the one of the final nails on the coffin for the Japanese performance car industry… barring the GT-R and NSX, of course.

01/14/2018 - 12:42 |
150 | 2

There’s always toyota’s offerings. They’ve got the gt86, the rumored supra and the 1000 super car. There’s lexus with the rcf and lc500. Nissan still makes the 370. Subaru is still making the wrx… Just not for Europen markets. Mazda has the miata, might release a new rotory model, and their motto is something along the lines of driving fun! Honda has the nsx, civic type R, and might release a new s2000 soon. And to top it off, the after market scene is more alive then ever! Sure, it’s not the 90s but it’s still pretty great!

01/14/2018 - 12:49 |
110 | 2

Well, guess this is the end of the STI, at least as we know it. Burble around in peace, old friend… 😢

01/14/2018 - 12:46 |
74 | 0

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Still on sale outside of Europe, so you could import one. JDM versions get a better engine too.

01/14/2018 - 13:17 |
26 | 0
Chewbacca_buddy (McLaren squad)(VW GTI Clubsport)(McLaren 60

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)


01/14/2018 - 13:20 |
0 | 0
The VW Beetle

Although saddened to see the WRX die off, I’d rather it’d be given a proper, last hurrah than have Subaru reuse the WRX name in a completely different car in the future. A car like this deserves a fitting farewell.

01/14/2018 - 13:13 |
20 | 0
Chewbacca_buddy (McLaren squad)(VW GTI Clubsport)(McLaren 60

In reply to by The VW Beetle

Like I don’t know, a slight power boost and some different styling perhaps (like maybe a splitter, wheels, etc.)

01/14/2018 - 13:21 |
0 | 0

Sure, it may be slightly ancient, uncomfortable, inefficient, and less powerful than it should be, but it handles SO much better than the newer, supposedly superior rivals like the Mercedes A45 AMG and the Golf R. And its cheaper.

I just hope the next one retains its own character, as opposed to becoming another fast but characterless car.

01/14/2018 - 13:15 |
24 | 0
Tomislav Celić

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

The RS apperently handles as good as the STi.

01/14/2018 - 19:27 |
2 | 12
Nishant Dash


01/14/2018 - 13:44 |
4 | 0

Those photos are indeed great wallpaper material :p

01/14/2018 - 13:45 |
0 | 0

Rest In Peace wrx, may you join the evo in car heaven

01/14/2018 - 14:20 |
40 | 0
AC2 - The Now 14 Year Old CTzen

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Well, the STi is only in European heaven until the Viziv becomes real, and the Lancer is still the Grand Lancer

01/14/2018 - 22:51 |
6 | 0
The Stig's Macedonian cousin


01/14/2018 - 14:23 |
6 | 0
Rise Comics

America still gets the WRX

01/14/2018 - 14:45 |
4 | 0
AC2 - The Now 14 Year Old CTzen

In reply to by Rise Comics

So does Europe, they lost the STi

01/14/2018 - 22:52 |
0 | 0



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