Subaru WRX v STI

The original Rex ran a boy-racer aero kit draped over a trigger-happy turbo engine. It was light, ferociously fast on boost and a lot of fun once owners had worked out all-wheel drive driving The latest wide-body models are more refined dressers (the STI sedan's massive rear wing aside).

They've grown from blinged-up teens to muscular mobsters - the wheel-arch bulges give the car an aggressive look without needing ground-effect spoilers and skirts that scrape on every driveway.

But has the growth spread diluted the bank-for-your-buck entertainment that first created a cult car or instead developed new devotees? And is the STI really half as good again as a regular Rex? Carsguide puts them to the test.

VALUE

The WRX is $40,000; the STI another $20,000. The Rex still looks muscular and is still relatively raw, though it lacks the vicious exhaust bark and burble of the early models. Put that down to tougher noise and emission standards. 

The interior is comfortable, but its Impreza styling gives it an efficient look that's too benign for this kind of car. Because in most real-world situations it's not that far behind the STI. Track day fans will want the top-spec vehicle because it sharpens the car in almost every area.

TECHNOLOGY

Both cars use a centre diff to spread the torque through all four tyres, but a switch lets drivers fiddle with that spread on the STI model.  Switching to manual and rocking the switch will shunt the torque spread from front to rear, meaning the car will tend to push wide or be tail-out through the corners respectively. Given this was a road test, Carsguide left it in auto ... better not to be tempted.

The Sports model favours the front wheels, so you tend to push wide in corners, while the Sports Plus mode gives the car a more tail-out attitude. The Intelligent mode switches between the two depending on

STYLE

The aggressive exterior isn't repeated indoors, where only concession to the WRX's performance abilities is the contoured seats that grip like seats should and the drilled alloy pedals. The STI isn't a huge improvement. There's a few logos in the cabin, a chromed gearbox surround and a more menacing light display in the instrument binnacle, but it's still understated.

SAFETY

All-wheel drive and a Subaru-tough chassis are backed by electronic stability and traction control, powerful ABS brakes and six airbags to give the performance pair a top ANCAP rating. It also means there's a final suite of electronic intervention in times of driver error or in treacherous conditions.

DRIVING

In traffic and even on most roads, it isn't hard to pick the difference between the WRX and the STI. The regular model has a firm suspension that still gives a degree of ride comfort. The STI set-up trades plushness for performance and while you feel every bump through the wheel, the struts and shocks cope just that little better in tight turns.

Both cars need to spool up to around 4000 revs before the turbo-boost hammers it towards the rev-litmiter. The six-speed STI's shorter ratios and extra gear over the WRX means it ultimately feels quicker if you pick up the pace.

It's easiest to see accelerating out of uphill corners, where the STI is less likely to be caught just off boost on a gear change and if it is, the extra 58Nm winds the lightweight car into acti on just a fractions of a second quicker.

Add in the fact the STI's Brembo brakes will bite harder for longer - and the adjustable electronics should let owner's tune every last inch of tarmac out of it - and it is easy to see how it will be a track-day or rally-based favourite.

But put a good driver in a WRX against a reasonable driver in the STI and the WRX will probably win in most situations - there's that little to it.  Both cars are reasonably light in the steering, but they still let you know what the wheels are doing well before it becomes an issue.

VERDICT

Amateur racers will will rewarded with the STI, but the WRX rules as a value-for-money day-to-day driver.

SUBARU WRX

Price: $39,990
Engine: 2.5-litre turbocharged Boxer four-cylinder
Power: 195kW at 6000 revs
Torque: 343Nm at 4000 revs
Transmission: Five speed manual, all-wheel drive Fuel use; CO2 emissions: 10.4litres/100km (claimed, combined); 247g/km
Brakes: Ventilated front discs, solid rear discs
Suspension: MacPherson strut front; double wishbone rear
Performance: 0-100km/h in 5.3seconds

SUBARU WRX STI

Price: $59,990
Engine: 2.5-litre turbocharged Boxer four-cylinder
Power: 221kW at 6000 revs (manual), 221kW at 6200 revs (auto)
Torque: 401Nm at 4000 revs (manual), 350Nm from 3000-6000 revs (auto)
Transmission: Six-speed manual, five-speed auto, all-wheel drive Fuel use; CO2 emissions: 10.5litres/100km; 243g/km (manual), 10.6litres/100km 249g/km (auto)
Brakes: Four-piston ventilated front discs, two-piston ventilated rears
Suspension: MacPherson strut front; double wishbone rear
Performance: 0-100km/h in 4.9seconds

SPECIFICATIONS

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