Subaru WRX STI review: Final Edition driven (sob)

“The overall feel is of a slightly neutered motorsport car, not of a sensible family car that’s had its power upped and suspension stiffened. It feels proper”

Subaru WRX STI Final Edition 2

Another special edition Subaru?
Yes, but you won’t have to worry about them too much longer. As the name suggests, this is the last one: the end of the Subaru WRX STI in the UK and, indeed, Europe. With it, nearly 25 years of sports saloon heritage comes to a close.

While it may not be called ‘Impreza’ any more, this car traces its roots right back to the 1994 Subaru Impreza Turbo, which is no less than a performance car icon. A special edition really has to be special to sign off two-and-a-bit decades of history, then…

Yet this WRX STI waves goodbye to the fast Impreza family with no more power than standard. Its 2.5-litre flat-four turbo engine produces 296bhp and 407Nm, good for a 5.2sec 0-100kph time and a 254kph top speed. Performance is identical to a standard WRX STI, which given this car’s propensity for tuning, seems odd.

Subaru WRX STI Final Edition 5

So what is new?
Lots of subtle bits. The wheels are an inch bigger than standard – now 19 inches – in order to house bulkier Brembo brakes that come with highlighter-yellow calipers.

The differential is now electronically controlled for more precision, the headlights are LED and move with the steering, while there’s heated seats, DAB radio and a reversing camera. Subaru catching up with technology from, um, quite a few years ago.

Which rather helps confirm suspicions that this is a car that’s barely moved on since Subaru pulled out of world rallying in 2008. Its power output hasn’t changed since then, after all. In a world where hot hatches now produce 400bhp, perhaps the end has been nigh for the STI for some time.

Subaru WRX STI Final Edition 14

Does it feel ancient?
It’s a bit of a culture shock after driving some contemporary sports saloons. I climbed into it after a Kia Stinger and it felt dated, the dashboard strewn with buttons and the steering absurdly heavy. All of its controls have a bit of heft to them, and it’s easy to feel clumsy in your first few miles in the STI, slurring revs as you change gear.

It asks of some care from its driver: smooth and precise inputs and an understanding that it’s a serious tool. The suspension is very firm and the steering overly eager, and it can all feel like hard work if you’re not in the mood.

But as the STI leaves us, so does another car that’s unashamedly analogue in its nature and brutal in its attitude. If you like a comfy fast German hatch that’s refined 95 per cent of the time then turns on contrived anger with some button presses, you might not care. But I love a car that never lets you forget that it’s special, even if that means being beaten up by the suspension in town. We need cars this focused.

Subaru WRX STI Final Edition 15

What’s it like when you are in the mood?
It’s bombastically fast. Subaru has sold special edition STIs with 335bhp in the past, and I presumed this car had at least the same output until I saw the spec sheet. Like its 1990s forebears, there’s lag below 2,500rpm, but the gearing of the six-speed manual is nice and short, and keeps you in the thick of the torque unless you’re particularly lazy with gear changes.

The transmission is clearly focused on punchy performance, not parsimonious emissions. It’s part of the reason the car’s leaving this world, no doubt, put it’s also a good reason for why it’s so addictive to drive. Mind, we got nearly 28mpg when Subaru claims 25.9mpg.

Subaru WRX STI Final Edition 1

Great car for winter too, right?
Our time with the STI has been during the UK’s once-yearly snowfall, cueing lots of onlookers to quip “perfect for this weather!” every time I climbed out at a petrol station or car park. Yet the Yokohama tyres wrapped around those new 19s are very much made for dry, warm tarmac. On a track.

So the Final Edition didn’t feel quite as invincible in the ice and slush as Colin McRae Rally fantasies might have you believe, but with some warmth in the tyres and on the ground, the car started to reveal its tenacious grip. On a properly warm tarmac it’d be an outrageously quick car point-to-point.

Mind, a bit of slipperiness does lower its limits and allow you to explore its balance a bit easier. There’s more than enough power for it to slide without being boisterously thrown into a corner, but it’s not a snappy, scary car. And the brakes are utterly fantastic. The overall feel is of a slightly neutered motorsport car, not of a sensible family car that’s had its power upped and suspension stiffened. It feels proper.

Subaru WRX STI Final Edition 6

You like it, then…
I’ll admit it feels outdated these days. A similarly powered hot hatch – a Honda Civic Type R, for instance – will be cheaper and easier to finance, service and fuel up; the original Impreza Turbo’s ‘practical performance’ act has long since been replicated elsewhere, in five-door cars that are more practical yet.

The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution was the WRX STI’s fiercest foe for a long time, but the pair arguably became allies as hot hatches took over. The Evo’s demise a couple of years ago probably teed up its rival’s end too (though a new Subaru sports saloon may be sold away from Europe).

If you’re wiping away the tears like me, then just 150 of these Final Editions are coming to the UK, priced at a fiver under £34,000 (RM186,000). Perhaps that’s a lot for a Japanese saloon car whose radio has only just upgraded to DAB. For something this special, though, it feels like a bargain.

- Stephen Dobie

Subaru WRX STI Final Edition 8

Author: TopGear
TopGear is the world’s best-selling motoring magazine. The Malaysian edition holds similar status, as acknowledged by the industry.