Overall rating: 4/5
Following what could be described as one of its most divisive models in recent memory Subaru is back with an all-new WRX STI that reverts to the more familiar saloon guise with a comically large rear wing and, on paper, the performance to match.
In the metal 4/5
No matter what angle you view the new Subaru WRX STI from you can't mistake its purpose. It oozes 'performance'. From the broad intake scoop on the bonnet to the vents behind the front wheel arches and that rear wing, Subaru clearly is keen to make a bold statement with this new car.
The shape of the new WRX is one of the most mature designs of all of the previous generations and even though the Impreza name plate has been dropped, with the full STI styling there is little else this car would be mistaken for. Its bodywork modifications aren't as over-the-top as it perhaps could have been, leaving aside the rear wing, which is now that bit bigger so it enables quite a clear rear view. From the outside, that rear view is a provocative one that features a quad-exhaust pipe setup incorporated into a rear diffuser.
Opening the driver's door and sitting into the Subaru's cabin is a slightly underwhelming experience. Some will appreciate the sports seats that are designed more in the way of comfort than race-inspired support. With the exception of some carbon fibre accents across the dashboard and along the centre console, the interior lacks any kind of special feeling. There are still swathes of hard black plastic where some simple Alcantara would have had a far more beneficial effect. However, drivers will appreciate the modestly-sized steering wheel and the presence of a 'proper' handbrake. Drilled metal pedals, STI-branded sill plates and a multifunction display on the centre console do all serve to drive home the performance factor in the WRX but it stops short of the kind of finish some of its European rivals offer.
Driving it 4/5
Aesthetics aside, pushing the start button and hearing that tuned boxer engine thrum into life doesn't falter in its ability to produce a grin. Despite ever increasing noise and emission regulations the Subaru engine sounds every bit as distinctive as ever and gentle prods of the throttle pedal give ample indication to the performance lurking under the bonnet.
At slow speeds the Subaru is remarkably docile thanks to a reasonably light clutch pedal and enough torque to enable it to happily pootle about in second, third or fourth gears. In ways it is more of a Jekyll & Hyde character than most hot hatches on the market - stab that pedal on the right and you will very quickly find yourself snatching gear after gear as three figure speeds rapidly approach. Haul on the 432mm ventilated discs (which are the same size on the rear) and the WRX pulls up to a stop in an impressively short space and without any significant theatrics.
Through bends and on open roads the Subaru's steering deserves to be complimented for the feedback it delivers. On more uneven surfaces however it is the suspension that seems to lack some finesse, particularly in the damping department. At higher speeds it can cause the car's ride to become quite busy and even during the short period of time spent driving the car on good, fast back roads, it quickly became evident that this would be one of the first areas many owners may decide to address with aftermarket options.
What you get for your money 3/5
In some markets Subaru has made the WRX STI a surprisingly well-priced car, although its emissions of 242g/km burdens it with the highest possible annual road tax bill in Ireland and high VRT, which is likely to mean that the car will remain a special order only within the Republic. For those willing to swallow the sizeable annual bill, the car does deliver impressive levels of performance combined with a well-balanced chassis, although the equipment levels remain somewhat sparse when compared to what else can be purchased for similar amounts of money.
Subaru's latest WRX STI has the makings of being the greatest generation to date and with its more mature styling is likely to appeal to a wider audience than before. Devout Subaru fans won't be put off by the skimpy interior packaging either and if Subaru can pull off a similarly competitive pricing structure for Ireland as it has for other markets, that road tax pill could become that bit easier to swallow.