Sometimes the life of an automotive journalist can feel a bit like the Goldilocks fable: for every car that’s too soft, there’s always another that’s too hard. As someone who appreciates performance – and who is willing to make sacrifices in order to get it – I occasionally find myself in the rare position of complaining about a car that seems to go just a little to far in delivering visceral thrills.
In this case, it’s the 2013 Subaru Impreza WRX STI that bears the brunt of my words. Before you send a horde of angry emails, or accuse me of going soft myself, I should qualify the first paragraph’s setup. The Subaru Impreza WRX STi is one of the best high performance deals on the market, a rocket-propelled arrow that shoots straight through the same bull’s-eye aimed at by much pricier vehicles like the BMW M3. On the street, however, the WRX STI’s relentless pursuit of a fast lap is often at odds with its mission of getting you from point A to point B without breaking the carton of eggs you just picked up at the supermarket.
Compounding things is the fact that the Subaru Impreza WRX – the less brash base model that provides the genetic underpinnings for the STi – delivers an exceptional driving experience all its own, one that doesn’t call for a sanity check after a full day behind the wheel. In many ways, the WRX STI is a victim of its own success, a top-tier sport sedan bogey that’s honed its track skills to the point where it simply can’t integrate into civilian life in quite the same way as its less-focused brother.
I Came To Praise the WRX STI, Not Bury It
There’s a continuity that comes with the 2013 Subaru Impreza WRX STI that I find comforting, especially in a world where the dilution of formerly-fast models by way of gimcracks and doodads has watered down previously-proud sport compact cars like the Honda Civic Si. I can trace the lineage of the WRX STI’s smells, sounds, and even (not a point in its favor) interior trim back to the first-generation WRX bug-eye wagon that I was once proud to call my own.
When it comes to speed and handling, however, it’s clear that the Subaru Impreza WRX STI hasn’t spent the last ten years resting on its laurels. The sedan that I drove was startlingly quick thanks to its 2.5-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine rated at 305 horsepower and 290 lb-ft of torque. This is a significant upgrade over the base WRX. Of course, harnessing all of this output lag-free is largely a function of selecting the correct cog in the STI’s six-speed manual transmission, a non-trivial task due to an arrangement of ratios that kept me on top of my engine revs so as not to lug the car forward at lower speeds.
Fantastic Hands-On Tuning For Track Fiends
The Subaru Impreza WRX STI might be largely free of the creature comforts found in some of its competitors, but it hasn’t escaped the march of technological progress entirely. Rather, Subaru has focused its research and development dollars in areas that shave seconds off of the sedan’s time slips rather than coddle its passengers. This is most visibly manifested in the car’s drive-controlled center differential (DCCD), which works together with the STI’s SI-Drive feature and standard all-wheel drive to provide pilots with an unusual amount of power delivery tuning. Simple toggles on the center console allow for the management of the initial torque of the vehicle’s center differential, which controls the power split between the front and rear axles (both featuring limited-slip differentials of their own).
For track fanatics, this means that the Subaru can be setup to take into account the handling preferences of the driver and the tarmac (or lack-thereof) conditions being faced on a given day. For the rest of us, there’s an auto setting that lets the differential figure out how to dole out torque for the most effective acceleration for the current driving situation. This also jives with the SI-Drive’s rotary controller, which features auto, Sport, and Sport Sharp settings to help manage throttle response and a few other performance-related parameters. Sport Sharp transforms the car’s acceleration by putting a noticeable spring in its step if one so much as breathes on the throttle, and it’s likely that most drivers will switch between Sharp and auto, ignoring the middle-child Sport setting.
Orville Redenbacher Express
Aside from the 2013 Subaru Impreza WRX STI’s stark interior, the one aspect of the car that weighs most heavily on my decision not to recommend it as a daily driver is its suspension system. Pointing the WRX STI down a rough stretch of road called to mind being trapped inside a popcorn popper, with my various joints and bones the unwilling kernels being bounced and jostled up, down, and side-to-side.
There’s no question in my mind that the car’s chassis tuning is the perfect complement to its all-wheel drive system’s excellent grip, and that in a track situation it’s far easier to appreciate the reduced body roll exhibited by the tighter setup that the STI model lords over the standard WRX. On anywhere other than a glass-smooth asphalt surface, however, the more powerful car’s stiffness is a liability that reveals a maraca solo’s worth of rattles from the vehicle’s interior, and, of course, my molars.
Am I just getting old? It’s a valid question, but I think the answer to the 2013 Subaru Impreza WRX STI’s appeal is more nuanced and resists being boiled down to how many years a prospective pilot has been on the Earth. Although not an expensive automobile in comparison to those that share its lofty performance capabilities, it does lack the same polish of many of its rivals, and it’s in this metric that the STI suffers the most. It’s not simply a question of pure performance versus padded leather passenger compartments, either, as basic vehicles like the Mazda MX-5 Miata and even Subaru’s own BRZ coupe manage to deliver segment-topping driving experiences without asking occupants to reach for the Gravol – or that they pay a premium for a sub-par interior.
The Subaru Impreza WRX STI fails by over-achieving: by giving us all too much of what we thought we wanted. Yes, there exists a minority of buyers out there who see the extra power and adjustability of the STI as extremely attractive – because they are – and who will grit their teeth and smile as the car bounces them to work in the morning. Then there’s the lucky few who can afford to shell out the STI’s MSRP and use it exclusively as a track ride, a role for which it is supremely gifted. For the rest of us, however, who like most living things seek out balance in our lives, the cheaper, more comfortable, and almost-as-potent Subaru Impreza WRX will be enough to both quench our passions and soothe our pocketbooks.