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Subaru WRX STI spec.R 2018 review

EXPERT RATING
7.3
The STi version is always the hardest, fastest and pinkly badged of Subaru's WRX range, but the new Spec.R version turns out to be a lot like the last STi, which is no bad thing, of course.

It's funny how some brands break through into the collective consciousness. Subaru Technica International could be absolutely anything, really, but thanks to the efforts of a few chaps flinging WRXs down muddy forest roads and the PlayStation juggernaut that is Gran Turismo, just about everyone has at least heard of STi, and knows it means something fast and furious.

As part of this year's facelifted range of six WRXs, Subaru has presented us with the WRX STi Spec.R. Before you get too excited and start looking for phrases like "power is up..." or "weight is down...", the Spec.R is an STi with Recaro seats and a big wing. That doesn't mean it's not worth reading on, however, because an STi badge is never anything less than interesting. And invigorating.

Subaru WRX 2018: (AWD)
Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency9.2L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$35,785

Is there anything interesting about its design?   7/10

Well, yes. That rear wing really dominates the STi, hanging off the back like it's searching for aliens, so they can land their spaceships on it. It's a hefty-looking unit but is actually so big that it does little to ruin rearward vision. You certainly make an entrance in a Spec.R.

That rear wing is a hefty-looking unit but does little to ruin rearward vision. (image credit: Peter Anderson) That rear wing is a hefty-looking unit but does little to ruin rearward vision. (image credit: Peter Anderson)

The rest of the car is fairly conventional WRX - pumped and vented front guards, big but not stupid-big wheels and blacked out front and rear splitters.

How practical is the space inside?   7/10

It's classic Impreza in here, so it's not a bad place for you and your things. Front and rear headroom are good and, for this segment, rear accommodation isn't bad at all, even if it lacks its own set of air-con vents.

Rear headroom and accommodation is good, even if there is a lack of air-con vents. (image credit: Peter Anderson)
Rear headroom and accommodation is good, even if there is a lack of air-con vents. (image credit: Peter Anderson)

The boot will take 460 litres, with the rear seats folding in the usual 60/40 fashion. Front and rear passengers each have two cupholders and two bottle holders, bringing the totals to four apiece.

The boot will take 460 litres, with the rear seats folding in the usual 60/40 fashion. (image credit: Peter Anderson) The boot will take 460 litres, with the rear seats folding in the usual 60/40 fashion. (image credit: Peter Anderson)

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   7/10

The STI range kicks off at $51,190, climing to $55,490 for the Premium and then on to $57,690 for the Spec.R. I had the all-singing and dancing Spec.R for a week.

Based on the Premium's specifcation, the R arrives with 19-inch alloys wrapped in Yokohama Advan tyres, bright yellow six-pot Brembo calipers gripping drilled discs, an eight-speaker Harmon Kardon stereo, dual-zone climate control, front, side and rear vision cameras, keyless entry and start, auto wipers, active auto LED headlights, cruise control, sat nav, partial leather trim, power everything, sunroof and a space-saver spare.

Behind the 19-inch alloys are bright yellow, six-pot Brembo calipers gripping drilled discs. (image credit: Peter Anderson) Behind the 19-inch alloys are bright yellow, six-pot Brembo calipers gripping drilled discs. (image credit: Peter Anderson)

The R in Spec.R stands for Recaro, the famous bottom-holding company supplying the heated front seats in part leather, part alcantara. Irritatingly, the seats don't fix the too-high positioning of the WRX's front pews, but you can't have everything. The R could also stand for ruddy great rear wing, which comes as standard and is as impressive/obnoxious as ever (delete where appropriate). 

The eight-speaker stereo is a vast improvement on the six-speaker unit in the WRX (which is tinny) but the Starlink screen (all 5.9-inches of it) still doesn't feature Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. The sat nav is welcome, though, and means the lack of proper smartphone integration isn't as annoying.

The Starlink screen still doesn't feature Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. (image credit: Peter Anderson)
The Starlink screen still doesn't feature Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. (image credit: Peter Anderson)

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   8/10

The STi continues with the larger 2.5-litre turbo boxer four, producing an unchanged 221kW (at 6000rpm) and 407Nm. Power hits the road via all four wheels in a fairly attacking fashion, with the centre differential switched out from the viscous coupled one in automatic to a driver-configurable version called "DCCD".

The STi continues with the larger 2.5-litre turbo boxer four, producing 221kW/407Nm. (image credit: Peter Anderson) The STi continues with the larger 2.5-litre turbo boxer four, producing 221kW/407Nm. (image credit: Peter Anderson)

The 0 to 100km/h sprint for the 1572kg STi is dispatched in 5.2 seconds, lopping 0.8 seconds off the standard car's time, which is significant.

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

Subaru claims a combined figure of 11.2L/100km and I managed...well, here's the thing, 11.3L/100km. Truth in fuel consumption? Well, I never.

While the WRX drinks 95, the STi demands 98.

What's it like to drive?   8/10

There are a number of significant differences between the basic WRX and the STi. For a start, the steering in the STi is old-school hydraulic, and it shows. While it might follow ruts a little more assiduously than I'd like, it's much better than the electric rack in the WRX. 

The engine is half a litre bigger, with 221kW and 407Nm, the centre diff is driver controllable, the gear ratios are different and there is a shorter final drive for extra punch. The all-wheel-drive grip is further augmented with a set of delightfully sticky Yokohama tyres wrapped around 19-inch alloys.

If you want, you can also have a ludicrously large rear wing. Well, on the Spec.R, you've got it as standard. If you're a bit of a wallflower, you might want to delete that. There are also a set of bright yellow six-pot Brembo brakes, properly high-vis yellow, gripping drilled discs. 

The all-wheel-drive grip is further augmented with a set of sticky Yokohama tyres. (image credit: Peter Anderson) The all-wheel-drive grip is further augmented with a set of sticky Yokohama tyres. (image credit: Peter Anderson)

The standard WRX was a hard-rider, with a difficult clutch and gearshift. Surely the harder, more focused STi will be a less appealing day-to-day machine?

Nope. I know, it makes no sense, but it's true.

The real revelation is the ride. The WRX's disjointed suspension setup makes for an unholy experience on poor suburban roads while (mercifully) delivering in the twisty stuff. Both the city and getting-up-to-mischief rides in the STi are excellent. It's not soft, but the concretey feel of the WRX has been replaced with a more compliant, less busy ride. And that's despite bigger wheels and lower-profile tyres and a bit more weight.

On top of that, the hydraulic steering is way better, with more feel, more communication and more precision, apart from a slight wooliness a couple of degrees either side of dead-ahead. While the WRX is better in the faster stuff than the slow, the STi is more comfortable and usable everywhere. The extra power and torque is easy to feel and use and the clutch and gearbox are much more interested in not making you look like a goose.

The torque curve does seem a bit different to the 2.0-litre machine - you can't bumble along in a high gear, you will have to keep the left arm and leg working to maintain stately forward progression. Get lazy and you'll be bumping and shunting a bit, but again, the shift and clutch are far less obstreperous. And this is a car for people who want to drive, and be involved, anyway.

In the fun stuff, the STi is a joy. It really hooks up and you don't need to fiddle with the diff setting, which seems like a silly gimmick. Just leave it in auto and enjoy the taut, responsive chassis, the way it grips and grips and grips, and with a bit of power shuffling, resists understeer like a vegan fails to resist telling you about their veganism.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   7/10

The WRX has seven airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, reversing camera and brake assist. The STi picks up lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, lane change assist and high beam assist. There's also a camera that looks forward down the side of the car to help you park  and a front-facing camera.

ANCAP awarded the WRX a five star ANCAP safety rating in March 2014.

EyeSight is not available on manual WRXs and you can't get a CVT STi, so no camera-based cleverness for you. 

The front-facing camera hangs off the left-hand door mirror and for some reason points forward. It's not especially helpful for parking.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   7/10

Subaru offers a three year/unlimited kilomtre warranty with matching roadside assist.

Servicing is capped for the first three years/75,000km on the WRX (Subaru appears to be in some kind of transition to a different style of service pricing). Intervals weigh in at six months/12,500km with prices ranging from $302 to $604 for a total service bill of $2295.72 or $765.24 per year. Oddly, the STi's service pricing is slightly cheaper than the base WRX.

Verdict

Is the Spec.R worth the extra few grand over the Premium? Not really, but it's not like you're buying an STi with your accountant's blessing. The Recaros are good but they aren't amazing and the whopping rear wing is a little embarassing if you want to keep a low profile. But if you must have the top of the range, the STi is certainly far better than the WRX on which it's based and worth the extra dollars and thirst for 98 RON fuel. It's easier to live with and more fun to drive, something I'm still questioning as I type it. I expected the latter but not the former.

You can get the "basic" STi for almost $10,000 less and still get pretty much the same effect, but you'll have to move the seat yourself, live without a few luxuries and go without Battlestar Galactica glued to the bootlid.

Is the STi on your list or does the the all-wheel drive Euro set have its fingers on your money?

Pricing Guides

$46,983
Based on 186 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$35,785
Highest Price
$59,999

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
(AWD) 2.0L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $35,785 – 43,663 2018 SUBARU WRX 2018 (AWD) Pricing and Specs
Premium (AWD) 2.0L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $37,990 – 50,238 2018 SUBARU WRX 2018 Premium (AWD) Pricing and Specs
STi 2.5L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $44,890 – 50,990 2018 SUBARU WRX 2018 STi Pricing and Specs
STi (AWD) 2.5L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $38,610 – 45,430 2018 SUBARU WRX 2018 STi (AWD) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.3
Design7
Practicality7
Price and features7
Engine & trans8
Fuel consumption7
Driving8
Safety7
Ownership7
Peter Anderson
Contributing journalist

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Pricing Guide

$35,785

Lowest price, based on 5 car listings in the last 6 months

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