Scientists have puzzled for a couple of hundred years about what killed the dinosaurs, but there’s one particular blue-and-gold Tyrannosaur whose demise can be explained a little more easily. The Subaru WRX STI died in the UK market at the hands of Europe, America and Japan’s ravaging pack of hot hatchback wolves. The STI failed to evolve and it was eaten.
Its once-indomitable line survives, though, and in an exciting twist seems set to return stronger than ever. A new flat-four engine dubbed ‘FA24’ is rumoured, with a totally new DNA that should make it good for around 400bhp even before the aftermarket gets hold of it. As you’d expect from the successor to the brilliant but fatally flawed WRX STI as we knew it, this new wolf-hunter is going to perform in ways the mainstream machines don’t.
Subaru does things with a focus on the best mechanical solutions, which is the dichotomy behind why it couldn’t sell the WRX STI in significant numbers. Rivals were using more efficient and lighter front-wheel drive systems assisted by clever traction-boosted differential tech, or 4WD systems that disconnect the rear axle on anything but full beans. Subaru, meanwhile, steadfastly stuck to the fuel-sapping permanent all-wheel drive setup it calls Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive.
We admit we just wrote ‘best’ and then slagged it off, but bear with us. Anyone who has ever driven a WRX STI back-to-back in anger with a Haldex-based 4WD hot hatch like a Golf R will have seen flaws that give the Subaru the clear real-world edge. For a start, sudden, aggressive starts can overwhelm a part-time 4WD system and spin the fronts for a second before the rears kick in. Not a problem with permanent AWD.
Then there’s the mildly terrifying moment when, in a hot hatch that uses throttle-linked differential tech or part-time 4WD, you lift off part-way around a bend you entered 5mph too fast only to find the tech disconnects and you’re back in an understeering front-driver, suddenly heading way off line. Again, not an issue when all four wheels are permanently juiced. Clonk the throttle and you simply grip and go. This is what we mean when we say permanent AWD is the best solution. Subaru is the absolute king of making it work for the driver, too.
Subaru clearly had/has the chance to develop its own part-time 4WD or a front axle-based alternative with limited-slip assistance, but if the rumours are true, it’s sticking resolutely to Symmetrical AWD. Unless it’s gone totally barmy, it must have solutions for the efficiency shortfall. Hybridisation is all-but guaranteed in basic ‘mild’ guise but it’s just as likely that the WRX STI will have a crowd-pleasing plug-in element. We’ll have to wait and see on that front, but a 20-30-mile EV driving range would be transformative for running costs.
The really mouthwatering thing about the prospect of a new WRX STI with enough power to compete with the class best on raw pace is that hot Subarus always deliver an experience that’s way more exciting than the sum of the parts that created them. The way the final UK-edition WRX STI clung limpet-style to the roads, cannonballed out of corners and roared its way to the redline left an indelible imprint on one’s mind in a way comparable hot hatchbacks simply didn’t. It made so much more of what it had.
Most people we know who owned and sold an old WRX STI or equivalent Impreza got rid of it because of how much it cost to run. But most of those people still hanker after another. I’ve driven a few and I’d have one in a heartbeat if I wasn’t doing something daft like 25,000 miles a year in my own car. A future WRX STI must rectify some of those failings of old, because it’d be stupid to say they didn’t matter, while delivering a driving experience way beyond what the competition can match. And if it does, the hunting wolves will find suddenly themselves the hunted.