Test Drive: 2017 Subaru WRX STI

It wasn’t so long ago that the Subaru WRX STI won the performance compact argument almost by default.

Those who love it don’t need to be told they want it.

But the Volkswagen Golf R has returned and the Ford Focus RS has debuted here in Canada within the last two years, plus the Honda Civic Type R is due to land in 2017. Suddenly, the WRX STI has an awful lot of competition to contend with.

That said, there are still plenty of things about the 2017 WRX STI that might draw buyers in, while other factors might push them to give its contenders a closer look.

Reasons to consider the WRX STI

Drivers who will be drawn to the WRX STI have certain traits, and if you’re one of them then you probably already know it. If you’re on the fence, here are some signs that you should head to the showroom.

You appreciate driving purity

The WRX STI is blissfully shy on the modern systems that sometimes take away from the driving experience for those who enjoy it in its purest form. The hydraulic steering produces real-world feedback that the electric systems of its newer competition don’t replicate. And though the engine is a little less raucous than some, its sound is not artificially pumped into the cabin as is the case with, for example, the Golf R. The WRX STI’s transmission makes you work for it more than most, which pays off when it’s taken back to its rallying roots. There’s not much about this car that isn’t real, and that’s worth celebrating.

You appreciate its particular flavour of dynamics

There are some aspects of the WRX STI that haven’t changed in quite some time – the 2.5L four-cylinder Boxer engine that hasn’t been fundamentally updated in more than a decade comes to mind – but part of that can be chalked up to not wanting to mess with a good thing. The engine’s low centre of gravity helps to put most of the car’s weight close to the ground, and that combined with stellar chassis rigidity gives the WRX STI a driving dynamic its segment rivals haven’t quite yet matched.

Comparison: 2016 Ford Focus RS vs 2017 Subaru WRX STi

You enjoy a roomy interior

Though its seats aren’t class-leading comfortable, the WRX STI’s interior feels more open and airy than those of its competition despite being similar in size. And it’s more crowd-friendly in other ways, too: the back-seat LATCH connectors are easier to access than in most vehicles to make car seat installation a snap, and the trunk is accessible and spacious.

You don’t have the patience to wait and see how a new one might size up

A new WRX may well be on the way within the next year or two given that its platform-mate Impreza has just had an overhaul, which might change the game in terms of how it faces off against its newer challengers. But if the time for an upgrade is now and you know what you want, have at it.

Reasons to look elsewhere

If any of these statements speaks to you, you’ll benefit from doing some cross-shopping.

Raw power numbers matter to you

When the WRX STI’s powertrain was fresh as a daisy, its power numbers stood out. Not so these days. Its 305 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque are outright bested by the Ford Focus RS (350 hp; 350 lb-ft at 2,000 rpm), and while the Volkswagen Golf R’s figures are closer (292 hp; 280 lb-ft at 1,800 rpm), that earlier torque feels much peppier and the Golf makes up ground in weight (1,489 kg vs the WRX STI’s 1,567 kg). When it lands, the Honda Civic Type R is expected to be in the same power-output ballpark. The Subaru’s aging powertrain hits back in fuel economy, too: the Boxer uses an NRCan-estimated 12.2 L/ 100 km combined while a Focus RS rates at 10.4 and a Golf R with six-speed manual at 9.4.

Infotainment matters to you

Subaru made some improvements to the WRX STI’s infotainment system for the 2017 model year to integrate Siri Eyes Free and MirrorLink functionality, but that’s not quite enough to make up for annoyances such as slow responsiveness, distractingly small text, and overly aggressive volume modulation. In an age where features such as Wi-Fi hotspots and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto integration are directly influencing buyer decisions – especially within the demographic the WRX STI targets – this needs a hard look.

Having a hatchback matters to you

It’s not that the WRX STI’s storage space isn’t functional – it is, and surprisingly so. But we Canadians sure do love our hatchbacks, and until recently this car didn’t have enough direct competition for the lack of five-door in its recent line-up to be of significant concern. With so many more having appeared as of late, it may be time for the STI hatch to make a comeback.

Is it for you?

Plenty of Canadians are taking home WRX STIs – sales are trending upward this year over last, in fact. Those who love it don’t need to be told they want it, and this group won’t be disappointed.

But if it’s a balance of spirited performance and ease of daily driving you’re looking for, or if you tend to interact a great deal with infotainment systems, you’d be well-served to expand your shopping list.

2017 Subaru WRX STI Sport
Engine Displacement: 2.5L
Engine Cylinders: 4
Peak Horsepower: 305 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Peak Torque: 290 rpm @ 4,000 rpm
Fuel Economy: 12.2 L/100 km
Cargo Space: 340L
2017 Subaru WRX STI Sport
Base Price $40,795
Optional Equipment None
A/C Tax None
Destination Fee $1,650
Price as Tested $42,445
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 6.9
7 Styling
7 Powertrain
7 Quality
7 Comfort
8 Practicality
7 Drivability
6 Usability/Ergonomics
6 Fuel Economy
7 Features
7 Value