The Subaru WRX STI has been the affordable race-car for generations of new drivers. Every model combined powerful turbo engines with rally-ready suspension setups to create a unique driving experience. Since it was a Subaru, it was cheap enough for young buyers to afford and it has since become a cult icon in the automotive scene. Subaru has just released the all-new 2015 WRX STI and it is promising that not only is this new car the fastest and best performing STI ever, it is also the most refined car in the model’s history.

Our very own Mark McNabb recently spent some time with the new 2015 WRX STI, but he felt that its wild visual styling and cheap interior trim detracted from its overall appeal. We decided that it would be worth checking to see if these small short comings could be overcome with a few changes to the option sheet. We grabbed a new Premium trim model of the STI to give it a try. With a less flashy coat of gray paint, a more traditional wheel design, and an interior that sees upgrades like leather seats, this STI is the best chance Subaru has to convince everyone here at TopSpeed that this is a grown-up car that matches its grown-up price tag.

Continue reading to find out if the new options made the 2015 Subaru WRX STI any better.

  • 2015 Subaru WRX STI Premium - Driven
  • Year:
    2015
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    flat-4
  • Transmission:
    6-Speed Manual
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    305
  • MPG(Cty):
    17
  • MPG(Hwy):
    23
  • Torque @ RPM:
    290
  • Displacement:
    2.5 L
  • 0-60 time:
    4.2 sec. (Est.)
  • Top Speed:
    155 mph (Est.)
  • Price:
    38495
  • car segment:
  • body style:

Exterior

2015 Subaru WRX STI Premium - Driven High Resolution Exterior
- image 581385
2015 Subaru WRX STI Premium - Driven High Resolution Exterior
- image 581393
2015 Subaru WRX STI Premium - Driven High Resolution Exterior
- image 581397
The STI is longer, wider, and taller than the base sedan.

The outside of the STI is certainly its most striking feature. While it holds a strong resemblance to the simple Impreza on which it’s based, the STI features a body that is almost completely unique. The only panels it shares are the trunk lid, roof and doors. The STI is longer, wider, and taller than the base sedan. The extra width comes courtesy of the new bulging fender flares. The half-inch length increase is thanks to the new more aggressive nose with its jutted front lip and gaping grilles. The hood has been swapped for a unit with a massive scoop that feeds the car’s top-mounted intercooler.

2015 Subaru WRX STI Premium - Driven Exterior
- image 581414
2015 Subaru WRX STI Premium - Driven Exterior
- image 581410
2015 Subaru WRX STI Premium - Driven Exterior
- image 581411

Out back you will find a angrier rear bumper with integrated diffuser, quad exhaust outlets and that signature wing that is large enough to see from space. Compared to the red car that Mark reviewed, our STI looks far more subtle thanks to its Dark Gray Metallic paint option. This tester also has a wheel option that is more subtle than the black units that come with the standard STI. Overall the car still looks angry and aggressive, but this darker paint helps to hide the most outrageous of the body lines, and makes the car seem much more adult. You’ll still get some weird looks, but it is far less likely that the police officer pulling you over will ask if this car belongs to your teenage child.

It is all subjective, but overall I like the sharp and aggressive look of the new STI. I still think that the last-generation car is still far more attractive, but I love driving down the road seeing that large scoop on the hood devouring air. It feels almost as if the car itself is actually eating the road through its gaping maw as I destroy every back road I can find.

Interior

2015 Subaru WRX STI Premium - Driven Interior
- image 581368
2015 Subaru WRX STI Premium - Driven Interior
- image 581367
2015 Subaru WRX STI Premium - Driven High Resolution Interior
- image 581370

The cabins of Subaru vehicles have long been a sore spot with cheap materials, questionable build quality and a distinct lack of luxury. In part Subaru and Subaru owners defend this by extolling the virtues of the car’s position in the market as more of a utility object. You don’t want expensive leather in a car that is filled with dogs and wet kayakers after a trip up into the local state park. While that line of reasoning is partially acceptable for lower priced cars, the price point of the WRX STI makes it harder to swallow.

In Mark’s review he noted that while there was plenty of space and nice details, he lamented about issues like high NVH levels and a terrible stereo. As a Limited trim model, my tester is far more luxurious inside thanks to a swap to leather seats, an eight-way power driver’s seat and a premium Harman/Kardon stereo unit.

Sadly there is very little here that has been changed besides the seat covering. There appears to be no more attention to NVH levels, and despite the “premium” label on the stereo, sound is sub par with the stereo sounding like it came from a cheap hatch a decade ago. I am a bit disappointed that Harman/Kardon allowed Subaru to use its name on such a system.

2015 Subaru WRX STI Premium - Driven Interior
- image 581365
2015 Subaru WRX STI Premium - Driven Interior
- image 581364
2015 Subaru WRX STI Premium - Driven Interior
- image 581361

I also draw issues with the fact that eight-way power seats is an extra option that comes with the higher trim car, rather than being standard across the board for STI. Even in this trim level, the passenger seat is still a fully manual affair and at this price that is unacceptable. Equipment is also a little sparse. Despite being the most expensive car that Subaru sells, the navigation system is still an optional extra that costs $1,500.

There are some nice points to the interior, and they are thankfully focused around the driver. The seats are very supportive and the two-tone red-and-black styling of the leather with the red contrast stitching throughout is rather handsome and sporty. The steering wheel is nicely shaped, and the flat bottom looks sporty and makes entering and exiting the STI a little easier. The carbon fiber paint job that covers hard trim pieces on the dash and center console is good enough as long as you don’t look too closely, but it is still feels cheap when you touch it.

In a final note about the interior, despite Subaru’s dramatic improvement in quality that came with this new-generation car, there are still some traditional build-quality issues that I must address. I have had five new Subarus to test in the last year or so, and this STI marks the third one that has defects or problems. As you can see in this photo above, the top center light console isn’t properly attached to the headliner and is hanging out on the passenger side. I tried applying pressure to see if it would snap into place, but I was applying enough force that I was worried of damaging something else and it still wouldn’t fit correctly.

Drivetrain

2015 Subaru WRX STI Premium - Driven Drivetrain
- image 581403

Subarus have almost universally always been ugly and poorly equipped. The real thing that draws people to a car like the STI is the rally-heritage and the thumping heart of a turbocharged flat-four. The engine powering this STI is the same one that powered the last-generation car. It is the same EJ25, 2.5-liter, four-cylinder boxer engine that comes with one turbocharger and 305 horsepower. Torque sits just shy of the 300 mark with 290 pound-feet. As a downside to using one larger turbo to build boost, power does come a little late in the rev range with peak torque at 4,000 and peak horsepower around 6,000. Just like the old car, and quite refreshingly, the STI is still only sold with three pedals coming mated to an exclusive race-ready six-speed manual box.

2015 Subaru WRX STI Premium - Driven Drivetrain
- image 581401

The transmission is an interesting unit that takes a bit of time to get used to. The throws are crisp and short, but the odd-numbered gears have a shorter throw from neutral than the even. If you think of the shifter pattern as an “H” just move that center cross piece up a little bit. That will give you an idea. It works just fine, and while you may miss a shift or two when you first step into the car, I found it very easy to adjust to quickly.

Fuel economy is a slight issue with the STI. The EPA is kind enough to rate it at 17 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway, but I struggled to hit those numbers. During a cautious “fuel economy run” on the highway I was able to push the car to just over 22 mpg. When I was doing heavy performance testing, I was able to get that number down to just 7.5 mpg. When my time with the STI was done, I had managed to average right at the 21-mpg mark with an 80 percent, or more, lean toward highway driving.

Chassis and Brakes

2015 Subaru WRX STI Premium - Driven High Resolution Exterior
- image 581379

Making sure all those turbocharged ponies effectively hit pavement, the Subaru STI comes with an all-new chassis and a very fancy all-wheel-drive system that comes with packed with acronyms like DCCD (Driver-Controlled Center Differential), SI-Drive (Subaru Intelligent Drive) and VDC (Vehicle Dynamics Control).

The actual unibody construction of the new platform is much stiffer than the outgoing model reducing flex and sharpening the cars reflexes. Mounted to these new bones is a revised suspension setup with inverted dampers, revised spring rates and lower arms made of aluminum with new pillow ball mounts. Subaru said that together the whole thing was good for a 16-percent reduction in roll. A tighter steering ratio and bigger anti-roll bars front and rear improve steering response.

The AWD system is extremely clever, and the DCCD allows you to alter the amount of power the car will send forward or rearward. The car can be locked into a full 50/50 split, forced to hold a more rearward bias, or you can leave it in auto mode so it shuffles power around as needed. Even in auto mode, you can chose to still ask the computer to bias the system more forward or more rearward. The SI-Drive affects throttle response and comes in three settings, Intelligent, Sport or Sport#. Intelligent is the least aggressive and made around town driving easier, but for anything else I left the STI pegged at maximum in Sport#.

Bringing everything down from speed on the STI is a big ol’ set of Brembo brakes. The discs are a full 13 inches in diameter up front and they are clamped by four-piston calipers. The rear uses 12.4-inch discs and two-piston calipers.

Price

2015 Subaru WRX STI Premium - Driven Emblems and Logo Exterior
- image 581412

The asking price of a standard STI is $34,495. A Limited trim model like this tester runs an extra $4,000 with a base price of $38,495. That four grand buys the leather interior, BBS wheels, a sunroof and a (mostly useless) stereo upgrade. Our car came with no other options, so after the $795 destination fee the final total rang up to $39,290; just a shade under $40k.

Driving Impressions

If you only care about the speed and excitement level of a car, the WRX STI should be at the top of your list. The suspension is bouncy and stiff, the exhaust note is deep with a unique gargle, and once you get that flat-four into boost your periphery is nothing but a blur. The STI is fast and angry; it takes no prisoners regardless of the road surface. In Sport# the throttle response is immediate, and thanks to the DCCD allowing me to keep the power pointed to the rear wheels I was able to partake in all the sliding shenanigans I wanted to. The clutch is a little heavy but its positive engagement coupled to the short throws of the six-speed manual shifter made me swap gears more often than I really needed to just for the fun of it.

Every moment of the driving experience of the STI is about feel and fury. From the way the suspension plows through bumps rather than glides over them to the way the nose darts the instant you turn the wheel, this thing just screams race car. That suspension will do a number on your sanity over long trips though. I spent 400 miles in the STI in one day, and it seemed that every bump I hit caused a new piece of plastic trim to start rattling. It almost seemed as if the car would shake itself apart. For the majority of people who can actually afford to buy this car it will be too loud, too uncomfortable and lacking key equipment, and that leaves me wondering who this car is really for. Most people in their late 30s are looking for a more practical and comfortable machine than the STI, and buyers in the younger 20s who would enjoy this machine the most, can’t step up to the $40k asking price.

If there is one portion of the interior that does seem worth the asking price, it’s the seats. These front buckets a sculpted in all the right places, and they do a solid job of keeping both driver and front passenger planted during daring maneuvers. The rear seats are large and have plenty of legroom for adults, but they lack the nice bolstering on the seats, so you need to be careful to not beat up your backseat denizens when flogging down the back roads.

Competition

Volkswagen Golf R (Mk. 7)

2016 Volkswagen Golf R High Resolution Exterior
- image 537639

Volkswagen’s Golf R has always been a solid competitor for the slower WRX, but for the all-new Mk.7 model, Volkswagen has thrown a new 2.0-liter turbocharged engine under the hood and bumped power up to 292 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. This engine routes its power through either a six-speed manual transmission or VW’s award-winning DSG dual-clutch automatic. Regardless of transmission choice, you get a 4Motion AWD system as standard that uses a fifth-generation Haldex center differential. Despite the increased power and the AWD system, Volkswagen has cut the Golf R’s weight and is claiming the machine is good for 31 mpg on the highway.

Cost for the new Golf R is a relative bargain at $36,595 with the DSG (Volkswagen has yet to release pricing of the manual transmission model). For that price you get leather seats, ambient interior lighting, touchscreen audio system, unique leather-wrapped “R” steering wheel, dual zone climate, heated seats and keyless entry with push-button start. If you bump that price up to $39,090 you get the DCC with Nav trim level. That adds VW’s DCC adaptive suspension system, 19-inch alloy wheels, navigation and a Fender premium stereo.

With only the smallest deficit of power and a host of more advanced equipment and luxury features, the Golf R seems to be poised to take the STI’s lunch money.

Subaru WRX

2015 - 2016 Subaru WRX High Resolution Exterior
- image 533258

Perhaps the most compelling competitor to the STI is the car it is based on, the WRX. The normal WRX takes the same recipe of turbocharged boxer engine, AWD chassis and a slick manual transmission but provides it with a smaller price tag. The only real performance hardware you are losing by taking the lesser sibling is the trick DCCD differential and the Brembo brake kit. The engine in the WRX is a smaller 2.0-liter unit, but it is based on a newer design and it only gives up 37 horsepower to the STI. With a new exhaust and a decent tune, the WRX can easily be pushed to the same power levels as its big brother.

As a bonus for some drivers, the WRX is sold with an automatic transmission and the EPA has given it fuel economy ratings of 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.

The real reason to look at the WRX over the STI is simply its price. At a cool $26,295 a base WRX is $13,000 less than our STI tester. If you want all the bells and whistles, you can get a WRX Limited that is essentially identically equipped to our STI for a fiver under $30k. The real question you need to ask yourself is this; is 37 horsepower and some bigger brakes worth $9,000?

Conclusion

2015 Subaru WRX STI Premium - Driven High Resolution Exterior
- image 581394

From a pure driving standpoint, the WRX STI is a phenomenal machine. Its combination of power and agility is unrivaled in its segment. I just still can’t get over that massive price tag on the window sticker. For just $26k you can have a WRX that is nearly as fast and powerful, or for the same price you can get the Volkswagen Golf R and get the bonus of German luxury and build quality.

The STI is a very special machine; there is no doubt about that. It is a proper Subaru and it ticks every performance enthusiast box. I just don’t see how I could ever recommend it over its little sibling or German competitor. If you really want an STI with the extra horsepower and trick differential, grab a base model car like Mark had last week. The four grand that Subaru wants for leather seats just isn’t worth the cash.

  • Leave it
    • Fuel economy is pretty poor
    • The engine is basically an antique at this point
    • Price tag is eye-watering considering the sparse equipment sheet
What do you think?
Show Comments
Car Finder: