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January 6, 2020

The 2020 Subaru WRX STI is the Last of Its Kind

Raise your glass and toast to the Subaru WRX STI—an iconic model that’ll be the subject of a very long goodbye this year. Saddled with pressure to improve its fuel economy, and perhaps make its performance more attainable to the ordinary man, this car is representative of a dying breed of factory-tuned compacts made for those with a razor-sharp mindset: to go fast, and do it brutally.

Despite being already the fourth-generation WRX STI, the current model “VA” still finds its roots to the first-generation model launched in 1992. Then, it was bred to take on the world rally stage; with name meaning “World Rally eXperimental,” it had a beefed-up motor and a drivetrain that could take on all sorts of punishing terrain. Having the same EJ series engine—a 305 horsepower 2.5-liter flat-4 contributes to its old school charm from the permeating boxer rumble to the power delivery that can rearrange internal organs.

However, because it exists in a society that values political correctness, Subaru’s tried (and sadly, largely failed) to give it a degree of civility. The Subaru Intelligent Drive or SI-Drive, a driving-mode selector choke holds the engine to submission for the sake of better fuel economy and drivability. What it really does is simply cut off its balls without curing its lust, and in this case, an almost insatiable appetite for premium 98 octane fuel. A word of advice then: simply leave it in Sport mode.

Another old-school tech found in the WRX STI is its 6-speed manual. At a time when dual clutches have become a performance car’s best friend, Subaru maintains that the best setup is one with an H-pattern sticking out between the front seats and three pedals in the driver’s footwell. It makes each drive feel like a work out, but for those willing to make every day a leg day, it’s rewarding with precise engagement and positive feel. Even better, it punishes half-assed shifting, so the best way to tame the beast is to stay committed.

Finally, there’s the ride—it’s stiff as Henry Cavill. Unfortunately, no amount of coin tossing will help here as every rut and pothole feels amplified—like how, even at modest speeds, passengers will complain about losing their lunch. With four doors, space for five, and a well-sized trunk, the WRX STI does seem like a good daily commuter; only it’s not. Like its illustrious predecessors, it’s built more like a rally car, or by today’s STI standards, a circuit endurance homologation special, so it’s best to treat it like one.

True enough, the WRX STI’s luxury trimmings are there more likely to satisfy those who’re wondering why a compact car would cost P 2.748-million or about P 690,000 more than the regular WRX. But strip away the powered driver’s seat, the leather and Alcantara upholstery, sunroof, complete safety equipment, and even the newfangled front camera, and at its heart, it’s Vin Diesel wearing a tux. It’s unpolished a bit crass, and more comfortable appearing in gansta rap videos than walking down the red carpet. But when it counts, it kicks ass; so thank the marketing gods for bringing back the rear wing this year.

Slap the shifter into first, floor the accelerator, and all complaints about its fidgety ride and yesteryear interior go out the door. Using an updated all-wheel drive system, Subaru’s removed the mechanical center differential for a fully electronic one. With that, responses are faster and more fluid than before. A caveat is that it still works the body hard. The experience is akin to having a racecar for the road—strong power, copious amounts of grip, and at the limit, dances with the same finesse as someone with two left club feet. The WRX STI is no dancer, it’s a hitman that prefers to bludgeon than cut—and for that, it’s extremely fun. Chassis aside, the brakes too have been improved. The six-pot front, two-pot rear Brembos need some prodding, but when they do, they make a great vice grip impression.

Subaru’s stubbornness to stick to a 28-year old formula is perhaps one of the reasons why it’s managed to outlive all its other competitors. In the larger context, the tricks are getting mighty stale, and that’s why it’s the right time to give the world a WRX STI built for the new decade. For what it’s worth though, the current one keeps the torch alive for hardcore enthusiasts—those who want some bloody red meat with their sushi; those who want a factory-tuned compact that doesn’t give a fuck to civility. It’s for this single reason why it’s now managed to transcend simply being an icon; it’s now a legend.

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