Every generation of Subaru WRX deserves individual limelight, as does each era’s most-potent STI variations. There’s certainly enough rich diversity in Fuji’s most iconic rally-bred heritage to warrant considerable dissection, particularly if you’re tyre-kicking particulars on the used market.
The generation-three WRX STI appeals on a number of fronts. It followed on from the gen-one originator (from 1998 in Oz) through to the more advanced and tougher-engineered gen two as a sort of nicer, more-livable era that still maintained a manic bent.
But it’s notable for a few reasons. Lobbing in 2008, it was the first STI offered as a hatchback and, eventually, both hatch and sedan guises. And both offered pump-guard widebody and bewinged excess that stole many petrolhead hearts. Its ‘EJ257’ 2.5-litre turbo boxer engine sailed north of Japan’s so-called gentlemen’s agreement 206kW power cap. Oh, and you could have an automatic transmission, from 2010 (MY11), if you really wanted one (and, really, you don’t).
The WRX STI adopted the 2.5 engine (up from 2.0) in the late-2005 ‘hawkeye’ facelift of the gen-two sedan, in an already healthy 206kW/392Nm tune. When gen three arrived, outputs spiked to 221kW and 407Nm. Unless you opted for the eventual five-speed slushbox offering, that dropped torque to 350Nm.
The rally-bred hardware and electronic trick bag, becoming increasingly smarter in evolution, was fulsome. The STI featured a six-speed manual backed by a driver-controllable centre differential called DCCD – to adjust fore/aft torque to taste – and a sophisticated Vehicle Dynamics Control. Its new SI-Drive system brought newfound dynamic brainpower, and from its bespoke suspension and quick-ratio steering to big Brembo brakes, it was specified in the right places for serious quick business. Be it on road or on gravel.
At a tenner under $60k when it arrived, the gen three was also pricier than its forebear. But there was more. You could also sump up and extra five grand for the harder-core STI Spec R, bringing a smattering of extra niceties such as BBS alloy wheels, leather/Alcantara-trimmed Recaros, and electric sunroof and touchscreen sat-nav.
Its 5.2-second claimed 0-100km/h best, two-tenths up on its forebear, is a handy measure by today’s standards. Let alone the benchmarks around 14 years ago. At the time it was six-tenths quicker than the regular WRX (5.8sec). The automatic STI, for its part, was a more flaccid 6.0sec proposition.
But for all the pace on offer and all the dynamic trickery under the wide-bodied skin, the gen-three’s softer edges, more pleasant daily-palatable manner did lack some of the rawer engagement and character of the older gen-two machinery. Still, there plenty of the right stuff on offer despite the STI’s newfound maturity.
The sedan version, initially as Spec R only, would return in MY11 and STI’s dual-body style, two-transmission line-up was broader than ever. On a strict diet of 98RON fuel, it’s not cheap to run these days. But the same goes for any properly quick option you might consider as an alternative.
Gen three was put to pasture in 2014, and with it the Impreza nameplate detached from the go-fast WRX stables. For its gen four, its maker decided to simply call the successor the Subaru WRX.
Fast-forward to 2022, and Subaru is set to retire the STI variation altogether.