• It's modern, yet retains an analogue driving experience
    • Stacks of mechanical grip and turbo fun
    • It has four doors and a big boot
    • Seats are under bolstered and lack thigh support
    • The head unit is horrid
    • Subaru stopped making them
    5 Star

    About the Subaru WRX

    Joshua S purchased this Subaru WRX used for $37,000 (including all on-road costs) in 2018. Joshua S would buy this car again because: “Growing up in the Gran Turismo generation, the WRX STI was my childhood poster car. Four years of ownership has so far lived up to that expectation. The VA chassis is very much a modern car with all the features and creature comforts you’d expect, yet it retains a raw, analogue and involving driving experience expected from a WRX STI.

    In today’s world as cars lose their third pedal and become more electrified, it feels special to own a car with a 6-speed manual gearbox, the old-school turbo shove as you hit boost, the signature Subaru exhaust rumble and tonnes of mechanical grip through an incredibly refined AWD system. It’s ticked all the boxes to be the affordable dream car for me to hold onto in the long-term. “

    How reliable has your car been? Tell us about any issues.

    So far, the EJ257 hasn’t blown up and I haven’t been plagued with the head gasket nightmares that seems to plague Subaru facebook groups and car memes pages. That said, my car has only 72,000km at the time of writing.

    Now that’s out of the way, aside from routine maintenance and consumables the only reliability issue I’ve had was a boost creep issue that came about from the previous owner’s tune. It would manifest with the occasional boost cut under full throttle in third gear. Bit unnerving, but this was rectified via a retune from a reputable Subaru tuner.

    Wear and tear has been pretty good over the years. There’s the occasional trim rattle and the leather has been slightly worn around the bolsters, though this is largely consistent with other cars with this age/mileage.

    What do you think of the ownership experience with your car?

    It’s been a lot of fun. Once I was off my Ps I was keen to treat myself to my first turbo car that wasn’t P plate legal and after months of seeing plenty of abused examples, I settled on this one with 46,000km and a thorough service history.

    The previous owner had lightly modified it with an Invidia Q300 turbo-back exhaust (and a tune to suit, of course). What caught me by surprise was he’d somehow sourced a set of six-piston front and two-piston rear Brembos from a GD WRX STi Spec C Type Ra-R and the Enkei wheels from a JDM Legacy tS. Pretty cool for the Subaru train spotters out there.

    In my ownership, it began as a daily but was granted the weekend car status since mid-2020. I had the paint corrected and ceramic coated, and I then pretty much threw the Subaru and STi parts catalogue at it. This included a lip kit, dual console box, locking nuts, flexible tower bar and the list goes on.

    There’s at least 40 different STI logos somewhere on the car. I’ve also added an intake and catch can when getting the retune done.

    In the daily category, I’ve found it to be well appointed and reasonably practical, being able to transport four adults in relative comfort. The boot is decently large and fits more things than most hatchbacks. I daresay it can pass a family car. More on the weekend category in the other sections.

    It’s a car that gets plenty of looks (probably due to the obnoxious exhaust) and the occasional thumbs up from passers by and from other cars. The Subaru community are a helpful bunch and it’s a fun car to bring out to meets and cars and coffee events.

    I’ve been taking it to an independent performance car specialist for maintenance and have found maintenance costs for consumables to be pretty on par with expectations for this sort of vehicle. I haven’t had many surprises in my ownership apart from figuring out how to source replacement rotors for the Brembos.

    There’s plenty of aftermarket support for both performance and visual modifications if you’re keen for that too.

    Are you happy with the price and features of your car?

    Given the COVID tax for JDM vehicles and now the ‘scarcity’ tax now the STI has been discontinued, I almost feel like the price I paid was a steal.

    Being the STI Premium, it has creature comforts like heated leather seats, sunroof, a Harmon Kardon sound system and plenty of airbags and passive safety equipment. It also has LED headlights, but weirdly with halogen high-beam bulbs (that almost do nothing) that can’t be replaced because the whole unit is sealed.

    I find the seats to be under-bolstered and lacking in thigh support for this type of vehicle. The Recaros from the facelift Spec R are nicer, but I do wish the STI came with something similar to the Recaro Sportster CS seats found in other competitors.

    What do you think of the performance and economy of your car?

    The EJ257 engine with the VF48 turbo is a bit of an old-school unit, which begins laggy and then starts pilling on boost from around 2500rpm. With the current tune, it has around 200kW at the wheels and the SI drive has been tweaked with three separate tunes (fuel economy, sport and a power tune).

    It has plenty of torque to give that ‘pin you to the back of the seat’ feeling and keeping the revs in that 3500rpm – 6000rpm boosty sweet spot in spirited drives is such a rush.

    I wouldn’t call it scary fast, but particularly on twisty roads I’d prefer to invest in an improved driver mod instead of more power. The short ratio six-speed manual feels solid and the shifter is relatively short.

    Fuel economy has been surprisingly decent depending on how much fun I’m having. In it’s daily duties with a combined urban/highway route I’m seeing around 10-11 litres per 100 km. I’ve somehow seen it decrease down to the high 7s and low 8s over longer highway stints, but go north of 13 litres per 100km when having spirited drives.

    What do you think of the technology in your car?

    It kinda has everything I need, except it has the worst head unit.

    The MY15 WRX was during Subaru’s pre-Starlink days and the head unit is an aftermarket looking double-din that’s been shared with other early 2010 spec Subarus and Toyotas. It is a touch screen that has Bluetooth, USB audio (that only recognises iPhones) and a GPS, though the UI is shocking.

    Inputting commands requires you to push the touchscreen at least five times and the GPS text is barely readable unless you pin your eyes to the screen.

    I’d genuinely worry if owners use the GPS or make calls while on the move. The head unit belongs in the bin. Weirdly, the reverse camera only plumbs through to the tiny MFD screen and not the head unit, even though it goes straight to the head unit in Foresters and in other variants.

    The Starlink units in later model years are a lot more user-friendly, though many aftermarket units are even better.

    The MFD screen has some useful inputs and a digital boost gauge. The Harmon Kardon sound system sounds sweet and is very bassy. From MY16 onwards the WRX STI gains a side view camera, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert, though mine misses out being an MY15.

    The side view camera would’ve been nice to alleviate my insecurities about rashing the wheels.

    What do you think of the ride comfort and handling of your car?

    The ride is firm but not overly harsh for this type of vehicle. Most (if not all) bumps are felt through the cabin, but it isn’t back-breakingly jarring or harsh. I’ve done plenty of road trips and have found it a nice place to be for longer stints. It’s definitely daily-able.

    I previously owned an FN2 Civic Type R and have found the ride a lot more compliant in the STI.

    The handling is excellent. I’ve generally kept the DCCD in its “AUTO -” setting, which let’s the car keep to its own devices, but preferences a lower lock on the centre differential, making the torque split seem more rear biased. In this setting it’s really playful especially for something this size.

    A rear-biased AWD system in a compact car will always be cool, in my opinion. The quick ratio steering rack feels on the heavier end, but is direct and communicative.

    Though I have noticed the occasional rack rattle over mid-corner bumps at speed. It corners flat and there is very little body roll even with stock suspension. I don’t feel a strong incentive to upgrade to coil overs to ‘improve handling’. it’s pretty well sorted on the road as it is.

    The chassis, suspension, steering and AWD work well together to give a mechanical feeling and confidence inspiring drive. It’s handling is very neutral and predictable in both wet and dry conditions.

    Overall Rating

    Ride & Handling8.6
    Price & Features9
    Performance & Economy8.5
    Ownership Experience9