2020 Subaru WRX STI Review

Dec 6, 2020

You know that sound of running a vacuum and it sucking up a load of dirt, gravel and maybe some road salt in winter. Now imagine that sound rattling around in each wheel well of your car.

That’s the first impression of Subaru’s new WRX STI, the raciest of Subies. The lasting impression is of its racer like speed and handling.

READ: 2020 Toyota GR Supra Premium Review

WRX is a mixed bag to be sure and this from a guy who has owned two Subarus and still owns one. So there’s no vendetta against the latest WRX, which as usual is based on Subie’s much milder Impreza compact sedan.

My son owned a WRX a few years ago and I’d like to say the latest is much quieter, but it’s not. Truth is, this is a street-legal rally car that would excel off-road, in a rally. Its purpose on asphalt and cement roads is less clear.

Like all Subies the WRX has all-wheel-drive, so that’s a plus in our winter-heavy climate, but there’s a punishing ride that limits sales mostly to the youngster with extra dough who likes to show off with a big wing on the back of his sedan while racing away from stoplights.

Don’t get me wrong, all that horsepower, 310 to be exact, is a literal blast from the 2.5-liter flat-4 turbo. And I love shifting a 6-speed manual transmission too. This one is blissful with short throws. Few cars even offer a manual these days, so kudos to Subaru for that.

The WRX's 2.5-liter flat-4 turbo engine produces 310 horsepower and along with the manual transmission, makes it a blast to drive.
Credit Mark Savage

Put the two together with SI Drive, Subaru’s advanced engine management system with driver-selectable modes and you’re launching a rocket at every stoplight, if you want.

What’s SI Drive do? Subaru’s high-tech system to adjust the limited-slip differential, throttle and steering from its already stiff and racy normal setting up to super stiff and racy with more instantaneous throttle response. Each seems to stiffen the heavy steering, which means you’d better be dedicated to a regular upper body workout regime.

Indeed Sport Sharp mode seems to pump the high-octane (91 preferred) petrol right into the engine’s cylinders at super speed. The car leaps forward like an unlimited fuel dragster. It’s a hoot!

Will you need three drive choices? Maybe, if you street or rally race your WRX, but even on the Intelligent setting you’ll need some aspirin to calm your tailbone after a city drive.

Still, put bluntly this is rally race ready at a reasonable price.

The base WRX lists at $28,395 with a 268-horse 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder, and to get the added horsepower of the tested WRX STI that moves to $37.895, including delivery. A Limited version of the STI version lists at $42,595 and includes everything but a flux capacitor.

I would have expected the performance to more quickly drain the tester’s gas tank. I spent a little more time on the highway, and its entry ramps, than I did in city driving, and still got good fuel mileage (for a race car) at 22.6 mpg. The EPA rates this at 16 mpg city and 22 highway.

The EPA rates the WRX at 16 mpg city and 22 highway but in a test leaning a little heavier on the highway, the WRX got 22.6 mpg.
Credit Mark Savage

Again, power and handling are aces, while ride is severe, but the car corners like it’s a well-tuned slot car on summer (Michelin Pilot Sport Cup2 ZR19) performance tires. Couple that with the AWD and the grip here is hard to believe. In winter you’ll want another set of tires though, or you’ll want to park your WRX awaiting the spring thaw.

Another plus is braking power. Subaru uses large Brembo discs front and rear. These are STI branded though with silver calipers, not red. Stopping power is impressive.

As alluded to earlier, noise is a major concern in WRX, for two reasons. One the wheel wells seem to attract loose gravel, dirt and so forth like a magnet snags metal filings. You hear all that.

Likewise, there seems to be little sound deadening under the car as road noise is substantial, especially on the highway and especially on cement streets. Blacktop, not so bad.

In a racy car I’d expect some engine noise to let me know I’ve got the power to impress. But really there’s only a bit of that here, the overwhelming rumble is road noise that drowns out much of the radio and any conversation you may be having with a significant other or motorhead friend.

Due to the lean nature of the WRX there is little sound deadening under the car and road noise is substantial, making conversations or listening to music tough.
Credit Mark Savage

Otherwise the interior is appealing and comfortable with black velour seats trimmed in red leather, plus there’s red stitching on the flat-bottomed leather-wrapped steering wheel and door armrests. This looks youthful and fun, while also being comfy. That’s because there are Recaro seats here, known for their support that makes them a prime racer’s choice among seats. The driver’s seat is powered too, while the passenger seat is manual to save a bit of weight.

It was easy to find a good driving position and with the flat-bottom wheel it allowed for good knee clearance when exiting the car. Of course the steering wheel is a manual tilt/telescope number.

Unlike some racy sedans and coupes the Impreza-based WRX offers good head and legroom front and rear so that four adults would fit comfortably, plus the trunk is large enough to carry their gear.

I like the dash layout and its small info screen atop the dash with a modest-sized infotainment screen in the center stack. The top screen offers time and temperature and is easily read while at speed. The bottom screen is a touchscreen and while a tad small it functions well and is easy to adjust.

Also Subaru includes big climate control dials so they too are easy to use and understand while driving. Heated seat buttons are a bit hidden on the back edge of the console, near the center armrest. I didn’t notice them for several days. Sadly though there is no heated steering wheel. I’d want one for winter driving!

The WRX starts at $37,895 and with add-ons can get up to $43,959, which is on the lower end of the current market for the performance.
Credit Mark Savage

Sight lines are good as in all Subarus with clear side vision and good rear vision, except for the giant wing on the trunk lid. I kept feeling that someone was tailgating me and while it looks racy as all get out, it’s not really needed. Seems a nod to the cool dude young guns who need to pimp their manhood. I’d say add a small black trunk spoiler and be done with it.

Pricing was already touched on, but know that this was not only one of the racier and pricier versions of WRX, but added what is called the Series White Package that both adds to its racy looks and to performance. Cost is $5,700.

On the package’s looks side are snazzy bronze 19-inch forged aluminum alloy wheels from BBS, silver brake calipers a shark fin antenna, black badging and red grille accent.

But the high-performance ZR19 summer tires also are part of the package, along with the Recaro seats. But this pack also adds Brembo disc brakes, and an STI tuned suspension with Bilstein shock dampers. If you’re serious about weekend rallycross all that makes sense to add.

Bottom line here was $43,959 and that’s still at the low end for such high-end performance.
Other makes to consider for the somewhat budget-minded racy set, include Honda’s Civic Si and R-type or Volkswagen’s Golf GTI. They feel more refined, but in my mind, the Subaru is the best looking, and with its big wing will certainly garner more looks. And isn’t getting noticed mostly the point?

Overview: 2020 Subaru WRX STI

Hits: Power, handling, AWD, excellent brakes and manual transmission create spirited drive. Good sight lines, flat-bottom steering wheel, big climate knobs, comfy supportive heated Recaro seats, seats four easily and good-sized trunk.

Misses: Fair amount of road noise especially at higher speeds and at low speeds wheel well noise is excessive. Big wing unnecessary, no heated wheel, no sunroof, heavy steering effort, smallish touchscreen, no blind-spot warning.

Made In: Ota, Gunma, Japan

Engine: 2.5-liter turbo flat-4, 310 hp

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Weight: 3,450 lbs.

Wheelbase: 104.3 in.

Length: 180.9 in.

Cargo: 12.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 16/22, 22.6 (tested)

Base Price: $37,895 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $35,943

Major Options: Series White Package (bronze finish 19-inch forged BBS aluminum alloy wheels, STi tuned suspension w/Bilstein dampers, high-perf R19 summer tires, Recaro front seats w/8-way power driver’s seat, Brembo disc brakes, dual power mirrors, power assist quick ratio steering, black finish badging, mirrors and shark fin antenna, cherry blossom red grille accent, silver brake calipers), $5,700

Body side molding, $268

Bumper applique, $96

Test Vehicle: $43,959

Sources: Subaru, Kelley Blue Book

Editor's note: Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.