2018 Subaru WRX STI Spec R review

Maybe Subaru is hoping we won’t notice. Or maybe it’s scrounging around the back of the couch for a dollar or two.

Either way, the WRX STI won’t join the fifth-generation Impreza platform for at least another couple years. To keep the latter’s fangs sharp for now as its rivals evolve, the STI scores a facelift, larger wheels, bigger brakes, and had its mechanicals fine tuned.

At the same time, Subaru’s reshuffled its STI range, adding a Spec R to the existing base and Premium guises. It comes with Recaros and a rally-sized rear spoiler on top of the Premium’s sunroof, surround-view traffic cameras, and heated seats.

2018 Subaru WRX STI Spec R exterior.jpgPull new red seatbelts over your chest and you can sense the pews, while claimed to give “greater contact”, feel flat, under-bolstered, and a touch too big. Especially if you’re attacking roads as viciously as the WRX STI encourages. Look at it.

Riding on new, larger, 19-inch wheels that cage bright yellow six-piston Brembo front calipers, the new car will ping instantly on police radars. The upside is instant street cred, as the car never fails to generate a smirk, comment, or knowing glance.

At its core breathes the same old 2.5-litre boxer four mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. Only the Driver Controlled Centre Differential has been tweaked. Subaru’s ditched the mechanical locking system within the centre LSD so it now relies on an electronically-controlled clutch.

2018 Subaru WRX STI Spec R engine.jpgThis helps the centre differential react quicker, Subaru says. However, it’s hard to feel a difference when unleashing the STI because it was already such an effective gadget.

Subaru’s rejigged the suspension to suit the larger diameter wheels, while superb chassis balance, excellent rear grip, and dialled-in damper tuning help it fire across patchy roads with the stability of a cruise missile. Playing with the centre differential affects handling in real time.

Full lock dulls out the front-end’s point, but the system works best when left to its own devices, distributing grunt to either end’s LSD as it sees fit. Huge new Brembos clamp drilled rotors with new pads. It takes a while to adjust to their power, however, they add feel at the end of the pedal travel, exactly where the old car’s four-pot fronts felt a bit numb.

2018 Subaru WRX STI Spec R wheel.jpgIt’s only a shame they couldn’t fix our main gripes with the ageing Rex. Worrying steering kickback issues remain, and the hydraulic system can feel both too light at high speed or too heavy when parking. Elsewhere, the ride’s still firm and we suspect sorely outclassed by the competition.

Power delivery is old-school, to put it politely. Below 3000rpm there’s nothing, then, 500rpm later, it’s like a bullet train’s crashed into you from behind. We also wish the exhaust was a bit more vocal near its 6700rpm redline, rather than booming at low revs.

Perhaps what’s saddest about the 2018 WRX STI is it’s losing touch with what it is, a raw, rally-bred animal at its core that rewards effort. Few things can cover ground with the same sure-footedness as the STI.

2018 Subaru WRX STI Spec R rear.jpgHowever, while the new mechanical upgrades highlight its talents, when we prayed for more refinement we hoped Subaru would deliver a soothing ride and sturdier steering, not electrically-adjustable seats or swivelling headlights.

Meanwhile, moving that iconic rear wing to the options list (for $300) and deleting fog lights from the car’s front bumper is verging on sacrilege. The 2.5-litre engine’s sledgehammer power delivery, too, is hard to stomach when Japan has a rev-happy 2.0-litre unit with an 8000rpm redline.

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Surely, that should be on the shopping list come update time. Of course, we should be grateful. Unlike Mitsubishi, this is evidence Subaru won’t let its legend die. Let’s just hope that by pushing out its renewal by a few years, it’s taking the time to get it right.

3.5 stars out of 5
Likes: Grip; directional stability; visibility
Dislikes: Ride; refinement; steering kickback; turbo lag 

2018 Subaru WRX STI Spec R specs:
Engine: 2457cc boxer-4cyl, DOHC, 16v, turbo
Power: 221kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 407Nm @ 4000rpm
Weight: 1572kg
0-100km/h: 5.2sec (claimed)
Price: $57,690

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