Subaru WRX STI 'Final Edition' – it's time to say goodbye 

Subaru WRX STI Final Edition review 2018 2019
Is the WRX STI a triumphant valedictory flourish at the end of a legendary bloodline, or an unwanted comeback tour?

Subaru is a very different brand to the one it was in 1997 when, awestruck, I watched Colin McRae win Rally Australia with all four wheels off the ground. His approach to the Bunnings Jumps (almost entirely airborne) was the most majestic thing my young eyes had witnessed and I immediately began pestering my parents to replace their 318i with a Prodrive GC, as it was obviously the better car.

My parents would coincidentally buy an Impreza the following year, albeit a naturally aspirated automatic estate. It stayed in the family for the best part of two decades like a big, loyal, mechanical pet – it took me to primary school, it dropped me off at college, and I drove it to my first job. I was truly sad when my parents traded it in (for a Mitsubishi, of all things) and credit that machine’s no-nonsense dependability for my high expectations of cars today.

Colin McRae at Rally Australia the following year Credit: Reuters /STR

The 1997 Rally Australia took place twenty years and six months ago. To me, Subaru will always be about those rally cars and consequent ASBO-spec saloons going sideways in empty car parks, though truthfully its bread-and-butter models have always been slow, invincible all-wheel-drive utility wagons like the one my mum and dad had. In fact, Subaru would rather not talk about what it got up to in the Nineties, and would prefer it if you focused on its current range of more wholesome products, with their understated design, family-focused interiors and proprietary ‘EyeSight’ safety systems.

But this raver-turned homemaker wants that one last blowout before committing to a lifetime of school runs and wet labradors. Subaru knows it’s not as wild as it once was – the hangovers just aren't worth it – but there’s just enough energy to bid farewell to the scene before hanging up the glow sticks for good.

A throwback in so many ways

And this is it. The WRX STI Final Edition. Subaru’s swansong; the parting of Pleiades. It’s been years since ‘WRX’ was irrevocably separated from ‘Impreza’, the former becoming a standalone car and the latter morphing into a slow, boring hatchback. I remember the jolt of shock I felt when I received that news, as if I’d accidentally seen my childhood pony being euthanised. It’s for the best, they say. She was old.

So it’s with some sadness that I drive this Final Edition. Not because it represents the end of an era, but because it already stands as a mere memorial to something I once loved. The WRX is not an Impreza – sure, it has a horizontally-opposed engine driving all four wheels, gold alloys and a spoiler that turns heads like a magnet through iron filings. But it’s still just a tribute, a three-box mausoleum bearing the hallowed name.

Compounding my heartache is the fact that it’s not very good. It’s profoundly uncomfortable, the interior looks like an early-Noughties stereo, the steering is direct to the point of bluntness and the whole powertrain – indeed, every input – demands the driver’s constant attention. It’s unforgiving and petulant, expecting faultless precision from you while offering no help in return. And it really doesn’t ride well.

Double-yellows feel like kerb stones in the WRX; I dread to think what rumble strips might be like

I’ve driven all sorts of exotic cars around my patch of south London and I can’t remember any of them giving me such an energetic pounding. Smooth-ish roads offer no respite, and even at relatively low speeds the WRX affects the ride of a much more serious machine. This is insincere, fetishistic nastiness, the faux fury of a middle manager who’s watched too much of The Apprentice, or a rural pub chef swearing at a waitress because he saw Gordon Ramsey do it once. Unpleasant but in a derivative, inauthentic way.

It doesn’t have to be like this. We know that a road car can be dynamically brilliant without inflicting pain on its occupants. We’ve driven the Ford Focus RS, the Renault Megane RS, a handful of souped-up Volkswagen Golfs, the Seat Leon Cupra R, and all the other £30,000ish performance models. I drove a Honda Civic Type R from London to the Isle of Man to Belfast and then back via Scotland, and I complained about it being a bit rumbly; I can’t imagine how grim that journey would be in the Subaru.

The interior is pretty pants, too. It hasn't been designed or built to the standards you'd expect from such an expensive car, and the omission of a sat nav makes it feel like Subaru is cosplaying the early Noughties. The switchgear feels like that of an Argos CD-RW stereo from 2002 (I was surprised nobody had left an Eminem album in the glovebox) and to be honest, the whole ethos of the car is a throwback to that era too. In the WRX’s cabin exists this very specific alternate reality, some parallel universe in which the Iraq war never happened and MiniDiscs became popular. It’s a weird product.

"Hey! Let's go for a drive in my Subaru and listen to Nelly."

At this point in a car review it is traditional to find some dynamic attribute that mitigates my criticisms, and to explain theatrically that the car’s more challenging attributes are somehow reflective of its authenticity. And to be completely fair, the WRX STI is extremely entertaining on a slightly slippery B-road in the early hours of a Sunday morning, where it feels raw and organic and frankly unique in a world of sport-mode homogeneity.

It’s a more engrossing machine than any of the models I mentioned above, and feels capable of a deeper relationship with its driver. But these abilities are somewhat diminished by the fact it turns everyday driving into a colossal chore.

And that’s before you consider the sheer cost of the thing. An on-the-road price of £33,995 obviously puts the WRX STi Final Edition in the same financial ballpark as several faster, more comfortable cars. But its 2.5-litre boxer engine is also much more expensive to run than any of its rivals, especially if you drive it quickly - a sub-20mpg figure is not uncommon after a spirited drive. Then there’s the CO2 output of 252g/km, which puts it in the highest BIK rate for company car drivers, and the slightly-below-par 10,000-mile service intervals no doubt have higher-than-average associated costs.

It can be difficult to come to terms with the death of a car. There's so much about the WRX STI 'Final Edition' that I love – the engine, the poise, the noise, the grip – but so much more that makes me hate it. The 'Final Edition' in this case makes perfect sense; I'm a life-long Subaru fan and even I don't want this car. 

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