FEATURE STORIES

First impressions: 2014 Subaru WRX and WRX STI

First impressions: 2014 Subaru WRX and WRX STI image

Text: Vince Pornelos / Photos: Jet Rabe | posted April 25, 2014 17:03

The seven stars have aligned

Impreza.

That's one word says a whole lot. It tells of a history of power and performance through several generations. It speaks of a unique finesse and a control of the road that is hard to match, even by more expensive cars. It brings back memories of watching Colin McRae win the driver's title at the World Rally Championship in 1995 and then Petter Solberg in 2001 and 2003, along with three other constructors' titles for the Subaru World Rally Team. All those things and more, all in one name.

So long Impreza badge

This time it's different. Subaru may have dropped the 'Impreza' badge, opting only to retain the WRX and STI badges, but the cars we have so loved are still there, and they drive better than ever.

Hello WRX

Hello WRX

In the Impreza lineage, the lineup has always been stratified with the naturally-aspirated Impreza as the base, followed by the more serious, turbocharged and intercooled Impreza WRX and then the even more powerful Impreza WRX STI.

The same applies to this new model albeit Subaru prefers to just call it just WRX and not Impreza WRX; ironic, since it really impresses.

The 2014 WRX is still the thoroughbred version of the Impreza line. As you can see, the WRX has taken some time at the automotive gym, as Subaru's designers sought to give the WRX a body worthy of its powerful turbo engine. The front end, the new headlights, the fenders, the body kit and rear have all received different touches to give the WRX a muscular look; though all you really need to look at is the large hood scoop to know that this is something special. The car is also slightly wider, taller, longer and has a longer wheelbase than the standard Impreza.

Apart from the obvious exterior alterations over the NA version, the WRX gets an upgraded features like the display and other bits from the XV, Forester and Impreza, updated engineering such as the Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system with SI-Drive, Variable Torque Distribution and a Lineartronic CVT. Yes, we know what you're thinking: a CVT in a performance car? Well, we were skeptical too... until we drove it.

The best part, however, has to be the new 2.0 liter turbocharged and intercooled boxer engine. If the old Impreza WRX had 230 PS at your right foot's disposal, this new direct injection flat four makes 268 PS and 350 Newton-meters of torque.

As it stands, Subaru says the 2014 WRX CVT can do 100 km/h in just 6.3 seconds from a standing start. Top speed? 240 km/h.

Should be plenty of fun.

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Hello WRX STI

Hello WRX STI

If the WRX looked impressive, the WRX STI is even more so.

Visually upon first inspection very little differentiates the WRX and the WRX STI, until you look more closely. Inside the wheels are larger stoppers and calipers from Brembo. On the front grille and rear trunklid are the signature STI badges. Lastly, there are the larger 18 inch wheels over the WRX's 17 inchers. What's unusual is that MotorImage opted to bring in the STI without the tall wing; a hallmark of the nameplate.

Mechanically, the 2014 WRX STI shares many components with the previous model such as the 6-speed manual gearbox, the Driver's Control Center Differential (DCCD), Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive and the 300 PS 2.5-liter turbo intercooler flat four engine.

One key difference between the 2.0L WRX and the 2.5L WRX STI is the front suspension, as the STI gets inverted MacPherson struts. Performance, of course, is also much improved: the 2014 WRX STI accelerates from 0-100 km/h in just 5.2 seconds and can hit 255 kilometers per hour.

With these two cars, this is bound to be an interesting day.

WRX and Legacy

Subarus on track

To welcome the two halo models of the Subaru brand, MotorImage, the regional distributor (and manufacturer too) of Subaru chose to hold the regional launch of the WRX and WRX STI at the Clark International Speedway in the Philippines; one of the very rare occasions that a brand chose to do so in the country.

As such, MI invited members of the motoring press from Taiwan, Southern China, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, among others, to join the Philippine press as they unveiled their two thoroughbreds at the racetrack. Given the international nature of the launch, security was understandably (and visibly) high, but it was all smiles as Subaru had prepared a high octane day at Clark.

Off-Road course

The racetrack was subdivided into four distinct sections: a handling course, a freestyle course, a high speed slalom and an off-road course.

The handling course was set at the east portion of the circuit and had all of Subaru's models such as the XV, Forester, Legacy, BRZ and both the WRX and WRX STI (past and present). The freestyle course on the portion of the west circuit was likewise interesting as it involved a pair of BRZs and Foresters.

The high speed slalom featured renowned stunt driver Russ Swift demonstrated the difference between the previous and the new WRX STI. Lastly, the off-road course was set up to demonstrate the stability and traction capabilities of the Forester and XV on a mobile set of ramps and girders.

Admittedly, however, we were really just interested in trying out the two new superstars of Subaru: the 2014 WRX and WRX STI.

2014 Subaru WRX on track

Driving the WRX

Hopping aboard the WRX, it's clear that while the 2014 WRX may share the same overall cabin layout as the standard Impreza, this one is far more special. Subaru applied many different touches to the WRX to differentiate it, so it's unmistakably a more premium, more performance focused model.

Firing up the engine elicits the growl and murmur that we have become accustomed to in the WRX. Unlike the previous Impreza WRX we drove back in 2008, the new model has a smaller engine at 2.0 liters (previous: 2.5L), but has a bit more power at 268 PS (previous: 230 PS). It also has a Lineartronic CVT as opposed to the 5-speed manual gearbox from the one before. Subaru had a manual version of the new WRX on hand, but they aren't offering it for sale.

Starting off, the WRX's engine does have a bit of lag like before, but once that turbo kicks in the tachometer's needle just goes up the gauge with plenty of gusto. At the braking point for turn one, the WRX digs deep as the calipers and rotors work overtime to scrub off the speed that the boxer turbo can easily accumulate, but once you turn in, the stability and driving confidence offered by the Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system makes you wish every car had it. That goes double if you like to trail brake into the corners, as it leaves many and more expensive cars wanting.

Detractors of the CVT may be surprisingly impressed as it performs very well. In normal gearboxes (automatic and manual) there is a gap during shifts wherein the car actually doesn't have drive going through the wheels; that's fine a public road to and from work, but on a challenging mountain pass or racetrack, you don't want that. CVTs and dual-clutch transmissions eliminate that lag, ensuring that the engine is driving the wheels at all times, like in this new WRX.

Mid corner all you have to do is hold or modulate partial throttle pressure and the Subaru WRX's advanced electronics will pull you through the turn. The instructors said that we could just leave the transmission in D, but we just had to try out the paddle shifters. They didn't disappoint, as the paddles allowed the driver to choose which ratio to engage upon corner entry and maximize the powerband upon corner exit.

2014 Subaru WRX STI in action

Driving the STI

Now it's time for the big one: the 2014 WRX STI. After buckling up, we fire up that larger 2.5 liter turbo boxer. The STI's engine may be a carryover from the previous gen but, 300 PS is still nothing to scoff at.

Off the line, all four tires let out that familiar squeal at launch, rocketing this edgy, powerful sport sedan forward on the main straight. Braking for turn one can even be held a little later given the more powerful Brembo brakes that scrub off speed like there's no tomorrow. The pedals are perfect too, given their optimal positioning for heel-and-toe action.

One thing to keep in mind is that the STI is better when driven with the slow-in, fast-out technique, given that this is a serious all-wheel drive performance machine with serious horsepower. Come in too hot and the STI will exhibit understeer, so experiment with what driving style works for you.

old versus new

What has really changed over the previous generation is the way the body and suspension manage weight and stability. Russ Swift, Subaru's stunt driving hotshoe demonstrated the difference between the old and new models on the slalom course, noting how the 2014 WRX STI doesn't leer or understeer as much as the old car, even with 4 people inside.

Out of the corners what is truly enjoyable is the short throw shifter, connecting your right hand to 6 gears, 4 wheels and, ultimately, the road.

WRX STI versus WRX

So, 268 or 300?

Four years ago, people asked about which would be my choice: the 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer EX Ralliart or 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X MR. My answer was the 230 PS Ralliart, given that it offers a better balance of usable performance over the 295 PS Evo.

Today, with the new 2014 Subaru WRX and 2014 Subaru WRX STI, I still maintain the similar logic: the WRX would be my choice over the WRX STI. It's even better now that the WRX's performance differential isn't as big as before when compared against the STI, and the Lineartronic CVT was truly impressive not to mention more usable everyday. Feel free to disagree in the comments below.

Like the dream of a Pacquiao-Mayweather fight, the only sad part is that Mitsubishi has chosen to discontinue the production of the Lancer Evolution, thereby making the prospect of having two new generations of rally-bred Japanese nameplates go at it on a racetrack a distant possibility.

For now, we'll just have to be content with enjoying the new heights of Japanese super sedan performance as exhibited by both the 2014 Subaru WRX and 2014 WRX STI.

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2014 Subaru WRX 2.0L CVT – PhP 1,888,000

2014 Subaru WRX STI 2.5L 6MT – PhP 2,498,000

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