Despite my best efforts to convince myself otherwise, I think I'm finally getting too old for this car. I remember the days when I would go ga-ga over the winged Subaru WRX STI sedan, my inner boy racer caring only about its turbo thrills and not taking into account things like price, packaging or interior quality/comfort. Even now, as someone who generally appreciates offbeat color choices, I'm having a hard time getting behind the Tangerine Orange paint of this Special Edition tester, a unique version of the STI sedan limited to just 100 cars. (West Coast Editor Michael Harley recently spent time in the Special Edition WRX sedan, which will see a production run of 200 units.)
To give it The Full Halloween, this limited-edition Subie comes with black accents on its mirrors and fender badges, not to mention black alloy wheels and special graphics on the rocker panels. Special Edition cars also come standard with foglights, and there are orange accents found throughout the interior. All in, this flashier Subaru will set you back $34,795 plus $700 for destination, or $500 more than the standard version.
No, $35,000 isn't chump change, and many will argue that there are far better vehicles to be had at that exact same price point. And while my aging brain is beginning to think more toward that side of the rational thought spectrum, there's still a lot about this car that makes my more youthful self endlessly happy.
God bless the sweet, sweet turbo thrust of the boxer four. No power upgrades have been given to the Special Edition STI, the 2.5-liter flat-four producing the same 305 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque it always did. And while there's noticeable turbo lag down low in the rev range, once you get close to the 4,000-rpm full-torque point, this thing just pulls.
Thing is, despite it having 40 more horsepower and 46 more torques than the standard Impreza WRX, the STI doesn't feel noticeably quicker, and some independent testing has actually suggested the less-powerful standard Rex will hit 60 miles per hour sooner. The WRX uses a five-speed manual transmission with taller gearing than the STI's six-speed unit, so you can hold onto each gear for much longer. You could drive a WRX in second and third all day long, but in the STI, there's more cog swapping to be done.
Working the manual shifter in the STI continues to be a joy, however, with short, notchy actions between the gears, and good throttle and clutch pedal feel that allow for solid gear engagement each and every time.
Where the STI shows its improvements over its less-powerful sibling is in the corners, when its stiffer suspension and driver-controllable center differential settings all work together to give you exactly the sort of driving dynamics you're looking for. During everyday scenarios, the suspension is decidedly harsh, but I'd much prefer to spend five hours behind the wheel of this Subie than a similar Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.
A lot of that last comparison with the Evo has to do with the Subaru's better interior refinement, but even then, that isn't saying much. Driving this STI reminded me just how cheap the cabin of the previous-generation Impreza really was, with hard plastics found throughout, very little in the way of emotive styling and a generally drab appearance, even with these bright orange accents. There's a ton of wind noise that makes its way into the cabin, and so many parts of the interior just feel cheap - too cheap for a car with a price tag so high.
As for creature comforts, well, there aren't really any. The Special Edition cars don't come with Subaru's frankly horrible old-style navigation interface, using the normal radio display instead, and while there's Bluetooth functionality to be had, it's hardly intuitive.
There are good points, though. I love the sport seats fitted in the WRX and STI - they're comfortable and supportive, and generally speaking, there's a good deal of passenger volume inside this compact sedan. Rear passengers weren't exactly impressed with the fit and finish of the cabin, either, but at least nobody complained about headroom or legroom.
The STI's biggest downfall continues to be its price - it simply just isn't refined enough to warrant a $35k MSRP anymore, even with the excellent Symmetrical all-wheel drive fitted to each and every Subaru (except the BRZ, of course). That's especially true when you consider that the normal WRX is actually a much better overall value at a lower price point. Still, this sort of coin will buy you a fully loaded Ford Focus ST with change to spare, and despite the Blue Oval bruiser only having front-wheel drive, I'd take its more livable interior and more refined driving dynamics each and every day over the added benefit of AWD.
Mad little turbo cars like this will always put a smile on my face - my love for the hot hatchback has been well-versed here on the pages of Autoblog. But cars like this Subaru increasingly need to validate their price tag beyond just their performance capabilities, and entertaining as it is, the STI simply doesn't.