Review: I'm glad the WRX STI exists, but I wouldn't buy one.
Since my early teen years, the WRX STI has long since been the object of my deepest car dreams. What began as an affinity for the 2002 bugeye WRX only became amplified at the announcement of the full-blown STi blobeye variant of the WRX in 2004.
With a giant wing, gold wheels, all-wheel drive, blue alcantara seats, a breadbox hood scoop, and 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque on tap, all at a relatively affordable price, the WRX STI was bold, brash, and awesome. The recipe was sound and could knock off competitors more than twice its price. I wanted one.
Since 2008, I’ve owned 20 cars. It’s a disease, as I’m sure many are afflicted with reading this blog. Every car brought its own set of experiences, troubles, frustrations, and joys, and were stepping stones to the eventuality of attaining my halo car -- the STI.
STIs are a unique car on the used market. Several years old, with 40 - 50,000 miles, their prices are near new levels. Compounding the issue of buying new vs. used is the lingering fear in the back of your mind of how long it would last until it blows up. Was it tuned, hooned, or abused? Steer clear.
These STIs, while fun, are delicate machines. Ringland issues are pervasive and are likely to happen, even to well-maintained machines. In conversations with master Subaru technicians, they expected that at least half of the STIs sold eventually need a motor rebuild or replacement, due to ringland issues. However, there are ways to *hopefully* prevent this:
Change the oil after the first 1,000 miles and then every 3,000 miles after that with the highest quality oil you can find.
Do not run the motor over 3,000 rpm until fully warmed up.
Change the timing belt and water pump at or before 90,000 miles.
Doing these things, I was told, will be your best shot at not blowing the engine. So, due to the lack of depreciation and the risk of engine failure, buying a new STI over a used one often makes the most sense. However, buying new firmly lands you in the near, or over, the $40,000 range...and you can buy a lot of cars near the $40,000 mark.
These concerns aside, I convinced myself I could live with the stress of maintaining such a needy motor and went on the hunt for my long-awaited halo car.
Finally, after months of looking for the right one at the right price, I found one local to me in Salt Lake. It was the famous world-rally blue, had giant, lime green Brembo brakes, Recaro seats, and the wing delete. It was everything I had been looking for. After some short negotiation, I and was able to pick it up for less than invoice pricing - a relatively rare deal in STI land. I was excited, nervous, and in a state of disbelief. I had just purchased my dream car.
And then living with it happened. I started to notice things over the next 1,000 miles that you can only be aware of when you drive a car for more than 20 minutes. The STI was big. Like, only 2 inches shorter than my 100 series Land Cruiser big. It was heavy. You sit up high, like in a truck. The interior - and I know I’ll get hate for this - felt like I was driving my father-in-law’s 2006 Honda Accord, albeit with a decent manual transmission and a giant turbo strapped on.
The power was also something I just couldn’t give my love to. While I am one with a fondness for the unequal length header rumble, the power is delivered so non-linearly, and the gearing is so short, that it made driving around town uneventful, clunky, and cumbersome.
When run flat-out, it was awesome. The thrill of the turbo going full boost for the last 3-4k rpm is intoxicating. The car was made for attacking the track. Otherwise, it just wasn’t my brand of fun -- especially for the price. $40,000 is a lot of money to spend on a car, and I honestly had as much fun, or more, in my old Acura Integra GS-R. Was paying $40,000 for the STI equating to that much more fun than my other, cheaper cars of old? No. It wasn’t that much more fun, nor was it nice enough inside, or out, to justify the cost.
So, after only a few months with my “hero,” I said goodbye. And I haven’t missed it a day since.
While I am grateful for what the STI represents, and what it hearkens back to, I am of the belief that while it is an amazingly capable car, the STI is not worth your hard-earned money and the stress it brings.
The manual transmission, old-school turbo, and hydraulic steering are all wonderful - but the STI is simply outgunned when it comes to being an everyday driver. If you can find an example from 2015 or earlier, that has been meticulously maintained, go for it. Have a blast. Otherwise, it’s time to move on.
I’ve driven older STIs and owned a 2011 WRX hatch, and the new ones aren’t the same. I even test drove several regular WRXs and found their character to be much different than the WRXs of yesteryear, and not in a good way. In short, the WRX and STI need an overhaul (without getting any bigger. Please don’t get any bigger). Fingers crossed for the next generation.
Since the STI, and upon the persuasions of listening to Todd on the podcast, I bought a BRZ, and couldn’t be happier. It’s a fantastic car, and woefully underrated and appreciated -- and much more fun than its burly older brother, the STI.
Until next time, enjoy the drive!
Jason Bell is a lifelong car enthusiast who loves sharing his passions as a teacher, writer, speaker, and social media manager. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or @thejasonbell on Instagram. The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.