While not officially called an Impreza, the WRX STI that was sold between 2008 and 2013 was a clear descendant of the rally-bred saloon that had so dominated the performance car scene in the 1990s.
As such you’d be right to have high expectations when it comes to the performance on offer, not only in terms of outright power but also in the car’s ability to cover ground at a pace that some supercars would struggle to match. Sure enough, with a 296bhp 2.5-litre flat-four ‘boxer’ engine and Subaru’s all-wheel-drive system the WRX STI is like a low flying jet, albeit with a slightly different approach to going fast than a conventional hot hatch.
We’ll come to why that is in a minute, because as with any hot hatch it’s first worth ticking off a few practicalities. After all, it is the ability to combine pace with a decent amount of space that forms one of the defining attributes of a hot hatch. On that front the WRX STI can be found in hatchback and, from 2011, saloon forms, both of which do indeed offer a reasonable amount of space for four people (or five at a push), helped by a wheelbase that is longer than its predecessor’s. The interior is much improved over Imprezas of old too, albeit still a world away from the tactile delights of an equivalently priced Volkswagen Golf GTI.
The other thing that is core to any hot hatch’s appeal is that it is affordable, which brings us neatly to the WRX STI’s well-deserved entry into our half price hot hatch hall of fame. Because, yes, you most certainly can now find examples of this engineering marvel for 50 per cent of what it would originally have cost (around £27,000-£33,000 depending on the year).
Needless to say, launching just one version of the WRX STI would have been far too simple for Subaru, so the first thing you must do as a potential purchaser is decide what model takes your fancy. If budgets are limited you’ll be looking at an early car which comes with softer suspension than models built from 2011 onwards. As a result it’s not quite as satisfying to drive, with more body lean than you’d expect.
Later cars and special editions such as the Prodrive-modified 330S feel significantly more tied down, but in either instance it would be wrong to assume that taking a softer approach than other hot hatches is necessarily a bad thing. After all, with the UK’s roads blighted by scruffy surfaces, poor repairs and potholes aplenty there is a lot to be said for having a car that can take it all in its stride, allowing you to exploit the four-wheel-drive system’s ability to find grip absolutely everywhere. Admittedly it would still be nice if the steering wasn’t quite so light, but again this was improved throughout the car’s life.
You could moan about the engine too, but only insofar as it being a touch too quiet for a car of this type (Subaru’s focus on refinement perhaps went too far), not to mention very fond of super unleaded. Otherwise, the 296bhp and 300lb ft of torque do a mighty job of punting you down the road at an exhillerating rate. From behind the wheel you have a couple of options for changing how the car behaves too, either by manually adjusting the torque bias of the centre differential to send more drive to the front or rear axle, or by sharpening the throttle response via Subaru’s Intelligent Drive dial.
Before you do anything, source some insurance quotes, because getting cover for the WRX STI is generally not cheap, particularly if the car has been modified in any way (and many have). High CO2 emissions from the 2.5-litre engine make for expensive road tax too; you’ll need to budget for paying a frightening £540 per year, which for reference is only £15 cheaper than it costs to tax a V12 Lamborghini Murcielago.
As always with a hot hatch, you’ll want to avoid examples that have been thrashed, crashed or poorly maintained, so a vehicle history check and a full and detailed service record are essential. That’s especially so as some owners have encountered engine problems resulting from a failure in the part of the piston where the piston rings sit. If an engine is misfiring or there’s smoke coming from the exhaust there’s a good chance it’s a result of this ‘ringland’ issue, which can be very expensive to remedy.
Other than that, Subaru’s reputation for building reliable cars is well justified, so it’s more a case of checking for wear and tear across all areas, not least the suspension, clutch, brakes, tyres and interior.
Find a good WRX STI though and you’ll have what is a slightly different and arguably underrated take on the hot hatch formula.
Subaru Impreza WRX STI
Power: 296bhp @ 6000rpm/300lb ft @ 4000rpm
Acceleration: 0-60mph in 4.8 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
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