• 2021 Subaru WRX STI - Driven

The long-running rally performer still holds up today

The Subaru Impreza WRX STI has been around since 1992, and in nearly 3 decades, the car has gone through a total of six generational evolutions, with the most recent seventh-gen model being released in 2014. Yeah, the current WRX STI really is seven years old as of the time of this writing. This is also the first model to no be marked under the Impreza name, for what that’s worth. The eighth-gen model since its inception is expected to come in the next year or two, which raises the question: Is the current Subaru WRX STI still worth buying or should you wait for the next generation to come around. Here’s what you need to know.

  • 2021 Subaru WRX STI - Driven
  • Year:
    2021

2021 Subaru WRX STI Powertrain and Performance

2021 Subaru WRX STI - Driven Drivetrain
- image 987867

Under the hood of the Subaru WRX STI sits a rather beasty 2.5-liter flat-four that thrives on premium fuel and all but requires the amazing six-speed manual transmission. The engine offers fair fuel economy, sprints akin to that of 90s sports cars, and an attitude that buries you into your seat more often than not.

How Powerful Is the Subaru WRX STI?

2021 Subaru WRX STI - Driven Drivetrain
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The Subaru WRX STI’s 2.5-liter flat-four delivers 310 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque. The STI sits at the top of the WRX food chain, so this is as powerful as it gets outside of the limited-edition models like the WRX STI S209, for example. For the sake of comparison, we’ll look at the Ford Focus RS and the Volkswagen Golf R. The former delivers 350 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque from a 2.3-liter, turbocharger, four-banger. The latter pumps out 315 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque from a 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline-four. As you’d expect these two competing models also sit at the top of the their respective lineups.

How Fast Is the Subaru WRX STI?

2021 Subaru WRX STI - Driven Exterior
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The Subaru WRX STI can sprint to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds on a good day, making it 0.1-seconds faster than the Ford Focus RS and the Volkswagen Golf R. It’s also an impressive feat considering it’s the heaviest of the bunch at 3,450 pounds.

How Fast Can The Subaru WRX STI Go?

2021 Subaru WRX STI - Driven Exterior
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The Subaru WRX STI has a top speed of 155 mph, which is pretty standard among sports cars, and puts it in line with the Volkswagen Golf R, which tops out at the same 155 mph. If you’re buddy is in the Ford Focus RS, however, he’ll end up getting the best of you because that car tops out at 165 mph for the win. So, the moral of the story here is not to do a top speed race with your friend in a Focus RS.

What Kind of Fuel Economy Does the Subaru WRX STI Get?

2021 Subaru WRX STI - Driven Exterior
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The Subaru WRX STI is rated at 16 mpg in the city, 22 mpg on the highway, and 18 mpg combined. And, this is also the STI’s biggest downside as both the Focus RS and the Golf R beat it. The Focus RS, for example, manages 19 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway, and 22 mpg combined. Meanwhile, the new Mk.8 Volkswagen Golf R wins the economy race with 21 mpg in the city, 29 mpg on the highway, and 24 mpg combined.

Does the Subaru WRX STI Come Standard With AWD?

2021 Subaru WRX STI - Driven Exterior
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The Subaru WRX STI comes with Subaru’s amazing Symmetrical AWD system. It is considered standard equipment, and you can’t even option to have it removed. Likewise, the Ford Focus RS and Volkswagen Golf R also feature AWD systems, which is one of the primary reasons we look to them as main competitors.

Does The Subaru WRX STI Come With An Automatic Transmission?

2021 Subaru WRX STI - Driven Interior
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The Subaru WRX STI comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission, and that’s definitely what you want. However, if you’re not a fan of shifting your own gears, you can opt for the company’s “Performance Automatic Transmission.” Make no mistake, this isn’t the same transmission that you get in the WRX Premium – that’s a CVT that you really wouldn’t want in a performance car like the WRX STI. For the sake of comparison, the Ford Focus RS and the Volkswagen Golf R both come standard with a six-speed manual.

2021 Subaru WRX STI Interior Design

2021 Subaru WRX STI - Driven Interior
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One of the most likeable things about the current Subaru WRX STI is the design of the interior. It feels like a sports car, looks like a sports car, and has a look like it’s been customized to some extent in the aftermarket world. Highlights include the flat-bottom steering wheel. The radio\infotainment system, for example, even has the appearance of an aftermarket unit. There isn’t a digital instrument cluster, though, outside of the small TFT screen in the middle that actually looks more attractive than most on the market – probably because of the red and yellow theme. The red contrast stitching on the seats goes well with the subtle red accents and the steel pedals. Overall, you feel like you’re sitting in a very nice car that’s actually designed to go fast.

How Much Interior Space Does the Subaru WRX STI Have?

2021 Subaru WRX STI - Driven Interior
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In the front, the Subaru WRX STI is actually bigger that both the Ford Focus RS and Volkswagen Golf R. However, it should be noted that we don’t have interior specs for the Mk.8 Golf R, so we have to look to the Mk.7 model. Back to the point at hand, the only place front passenger will find a deficit is hip room, which comes in at 53.9 inches for the Focus RS and 52.1 inches for the WRX. In the rear, passengers won’t find as much headroom in the WRX but leg room is beyond impressive at 35.4 inches, only being beat by the old Golf R by a couple tenths of an inch. The WRX does take the cake in terms of shoulder room and hip room in the rear, though, so there are no major comfort issues to worry about.

Subaru WRX STI vs competition - interior dimensions
Subaru WRX STI Ford Focus RS Volkswagen Golf R
1st Row Headroom 39.8 in 39.1 38.4
1st Row Leg Room 43.3 in 41.9 41.2
1st Row Shoulder Room 55.6in 55.6 55.9
1st Row Hip Room 52.1 in 53.9 NA
2nd Row Headroom 37.1 in 37.9 38.1
2nd Row Leg Room 35.4in 33.4 35.6
2nd Row Shoulder Room 54.2 in 52.6 53.9
2nd Row Hip Room 53.1in 52.8 NA

How Much Cargo Room Does The Subaru WRX STI Have?

2021 Subaru WRX STI - Driven Interior
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One of the biggest faults of the Subaru WRX STI is its cargo room, which comes in at 12.0 cubic-feet. The STI’s rear seats don’t lay down, either. Meanwhile the Ford Focus RS offers up 23.8 cubic-feet in the rear with the seatbacks in place and 44.8 cubic-feet with the seatbacks laid down. The old Volkswagen Golf R has a minimum space of 22.8 cubic-feet and a maximum of 52.7 cubic-feet. Of course, I should point out that the Focus RS and Golf R are real hatchbacks while the WRX STI is a sedan.

Does The Subaru WRX STI Have An East-To-Use Infotainment System?

2021 Subaru WRX STI - Driven Interior
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The Subaru WRX STI’s infotainment system is very easy to use. It has the perfect blend of physical and digital buttons, offers up quick responsiveness, and is very easy to use and navigate.

Subaru WRX STI Exterior Design

2021 Subaru WRX STI - Driven Exterior
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The Subaru WRX STI may have rallied through seven different generations and even shed the Impreza name in 2014, but it’s still instantly recognizable as a WRX STI. Part of that recognition obviously comes thanks to the massive spoiler in the rear that is unlike anything you find on 99-percent of the cars on the road – especially straight from the factory. Rally wheels are an obvious given as well, but the barely functional corner vents are a little annoying. The thing about the WRX STI, like the 2021 model we have here, is that it does look a little dated. Again, it’s been on the market since 2014 and Subaru facelifts tend to fall on the mild side at best.

How Big Is The Subaru WRX STI?

2021 Subaru WRX STI - Driven Exterior
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The Subaru WRX STI sits quite firmly in the compact segment. Technically, it’s part of the sports compact segment, but that’s neither here nor there, as it’s quite a bit longer than both the Focus RS and Golf R that it competes with. Part of this is its sedan nature, of course. All in all, the WRX STi measures 180.9-inches long, 70.7-inches wide, 58.1-inches tall, and rides on a 104.3-inch wheelbase. The front track measures 60.2-inches while the rear track measures 60.6-inches. Despite the fact that the WRX is longer, it’s actually the smallest of the bunch in terms of width but it does have a slightly taller roof at its highest point.

Subaru WRX STI vs competition - exterior dimensions
Subaru WRX STI Ford Focus RS Volkswagen Golf R
Length 180.9 172.8 168.4
Width 70.7 71.7 70.8
Height 58.1 58 56.5
Wheelbase 104.3 104.2 103.5
Front Track 60.2 61.6 60.7
Rear Track 60.6 60.6 59.7

How Much Does The Subaru WRX STI Cost?

2021 Subaru WRX STI - Driven Exterior
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As of the time of this writing, the Subaru WRX STI has an MSRP of $37,245, but you should realistically expect to pay in the low-$40ks by the time you get through taxes, registration, other fees, and maybe an option or two. Meanwhile, the Ford Focus RS carries a price tag of $41,995 and we’re still waiting on official pricing for the Mk. 8 Golf R. The Mk.8 in the U.K starts from $52,852 at current exchange rates, but the old Golf R commanded $40,295, so were expecting the Mk.8 to sit right in the middle around the $45,000 mark.

Subaru WRX STI Competition

2021 Subaru WRX STI - Driven Exterior
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On the performance front, the Subaru WRX STI has plenty of competitors, but as a whole package, you kind of have to get creative. It used to compete with the Mitsubishi Lancer, but we all know how that story goes. So, in the name of creative freedom, we’ve been comparing it to the Ford Focus RS and Volkswagen Golf R. Let’s learn a little more about them.

Is the Subaru WRX STI Better Than The Ford Focus RS?

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In all reality, the WRX STI is designed at its core to be a rally car while the Focus RS and Golf R are designed as hot hatches destined mainly for the road. But this is a creative comparison, so let’s leave that part behind. The interior of the Ford Focus, in my opinion, doesn’t really compare to the WRX. It’s nice and all, and it’s even comfortable, but the WRX STI just feels a little more commanding when you’re behind the wheel. Ford’s infotainment system is quite awesome, though, and the Focus RS does have drift mode, so it has that going for it.

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The Focus RS is also the more powerful of the cars we’ve talked about here today. It’s 2.3-liter, turbocharged, four-cylinder delivers 350 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. The six-speed manual transmission has a firm feel and is quite precise while power is send to all four wheels until you activate drift mode, of course. The sprint to 60 mph takes just 4.7 seconds and you’ll top out at 165 mph – a wining number compared to the WRX and Golf R. The Focus RS is actually a little more expensive compared to the WRX, though, so be prepared to drop a premium. Before options, taxes, and dealer markup, you’re looking at a sticker price of $41,995.

Subaru WRX STI vs Ford Focus RS
Subaru WRX STI Ford Focus RS
Engine 2.5-Liter Flat-Four "2.3-liter Intercooled Turbo Premium Unleaded I-4"
Fuel Premium Premium
Horsepower 310 HP 350 HP
Torque 290 LB-FT 350 LB-FT
Transmission 6MT 6MT
Drive AWD AWD
Fuel Economy 16/22/18 19/26/22
Curb Weight 3450 LBS 3434 Lbs
Fuel Capacity 15.9 Gal 13.9
0-60 MPH 4.6 seconds 4.7 seconds
Top Speed 155 mph 165 mph

Read our full review on the Ford Focus RS

Is The Subaru WRX STI Better Than The Volkswagen Golf R?

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The Mk.8 Golf R is a huge step forward for the Golf name. The exterior design of the MK.8 is, for the most part, as familiar as it can get. Then again, VW is as bad as mini when it comes to updated looks, so there’s that. The interior, however, has evolved drastically as this is the most technologically advanced Golf ever made. The digital instrument cluster paired with the infotainment display has an almost-Mercedes vibe to it, the steering wheel has the slightest flat spot at the bottom, and the cabin is definitely driver centric first and foremost. However, it should be noted that this is a Volkswagen, so you get that weird VW plastic and leather material. I can’t explain it, but if you’ve ever been in a VW, you know what I mean.

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Under the hood sits a revised 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that’s good for 315 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. All that power is routed through a six-speed manual transmission to all four wheels. Like the Focus RS, the Golf R does offer a Drift Mode, however, we’ve yet to see it in action. The sprint to 60 mph takes 4.7 seconds, putting the R on par with the Focus RS, but one-tenth behind the WRX STI, and top speed sits equal with the STI at 155 mph. Pricing for the Golf R Mk.8 has been revealed yet, but it starts at over $50,000 in the U.K. at current exchange rates and is expected to command around $45,000 on the U.S. Market.

Subaru WRX STI vs Volkswagen Golf R
Subaru WRX STI Volkswagen Golf R
Engine 2.5-Liter Flat-Four 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
Fuel Premium Premium
Horsepower 310 HP 315 HP
Torque 290 LB-FT 310 LB-FT
Transmission 6MT 6-speed manual
Drive AWD AWD
Fuel Economy 16/22/18 21/29/24
Curb Weight 3450 LBS 3269 lbs
Fuel Capacity 15.9 Gal 14.5 gal
0-60 MPH 4.6 seconds 4.7 seconds
Top Speed 155 mph 155 mph

Read our full review on the Volkswagen Golf R

Final Thoughts

2021 Subaru WRX STI - Driven Exterior
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In the end, the Subaru WRX STI is an amazing machine that never disappoints when you really want it to perform. Sure, it has its issues in terms of being a little old, but it’s been on the market for a while, and a new model is eventually coming. However, it is hard to imagine how Subaru will manage to make the next-gen model any better. Driving the WRX STI is a blast, but you really have to get used to its nature. The six-speed transmission, for example, is so precise that it’s hard not to get pushed into the seat with each shift. It might sound like a bad thing at first, but once you experience it, you’ll think to yourself “oh yeah” every single time you accelerate from a stop or drop a gear on the highway.

Philippe Daix
Philippe Daix
Obsessive and Compulsive Automotive Expert - phil@topspeed.com
Always on the lookout for the latest automotive news, Philippe Daix is our most senior editor and founder of TopSpeed.com. He likes to see himself as a consumer advocate with a mission to educate motorheads of all ages.  Read full bio
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