If you want to go faster you on the track, you need to try to push yourself beyond the point of being a little afraid.

You have to hit the brakes a little later before entering a corner and you have to apply throttle a bit sooner before leaving it. But doing things like that can end up as a catastrophic and potentially costly failure (trust me, I’ve been there), but for whatever reason, the 2018 Subaru WRX STI that I was piloting around the Area 27 Motorsports Park in British Columbia, Canada, kept me planted on the road no matter how fast I tried to go.

Entering that corner a bit too fast and didn’t scrub off enough speed? Applying brakes late while turning didn’t send the car off into the greenery like it would in more skittish vehicles; the WRX STI just tucked its nose in a little more allowing you to complete the turn and end where you wanted to. Just after hitting the peak of the corner, if you start applying power even if the car’s weight is still moving around, the WRX STI sends the juice where it needs to and you’re off on your way. It took all my dumb ideas and made me look like a genius. Each bark from the car’s turbocharged boxer engine was another “Yes sir” like I was an oblivious boss in a room full of obedient cronies, as they all figured out how to be successful and I revel in their success.

It’s fun to go around a track quickly and even better and more confidence-inducing when it feels like it’s been an easy task. The WRX STI seems made for this, allowing drivers to go fast around new tracks without having to spend hundreds of hours studying it, not to mention meditating and keeping their emotions in check. In other sports cars, such impatience at corners isn’t often met with success, rather you get a bit scared and swear to never do such a thing again. The WRX STI won’t scare you on the track and is extremely capable on the street and in sloppy road conditions, too.

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Shrugging off Newcomers

It’s interesting to see the segment of super-fast, rally-bred compact sports cars expanding. In the past, it seemed like there were just offerings from Mitsubishi and Subaru, but now there’s additional competition from Volkswagen and Honda, not to mention that Mercedes-Benz and Audi also have similarly sized and powered vehicles.

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These newcomers aren’t just poseurs either, the new Ford Focus RS earned our 2017 Car of the Year award and impressed our editors with its all-wheel-drive performance and powerful 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine. And then there’s the understated Golf R with its all-wheel drive and turbocharged engine as well.

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Subaru’s response to all of that is a meme-worthy “not bad” but continues with its powertrain pretty much unchanged from previous years. A 2.5-liter turbocharged flat-four-cylinder engine sends 305 horsepower to all four wheels through a six-speed manual transmission and a trick center differential. It’s more powerful than the Volkswagen and lighter than the Focus RS, meaning it hits 60 miles per hour from a standstill in less than five seconds. With a center differential managing power between the front and rear and a limited slip differential at each axle ensuring the power is not wasted on a spinning wheel, the car is always working to put power where it’s most effective.

Old Powertrain with Advanced Tech

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Unlike the new WRX, there are no tweaks or changes to the transmission or clutch in the STI model. The whole thing feels a bit old-school now. It has a heavy, unforgiving clutch that is easy to stall when trying to creep the car around. The engine feels a bit lethargic at low revs, and then blasts off — a classic case of turbo lag that’s both infuriating and smile-inducing. There’s an ever-so-slight change to the car’s driver-controlled center differential, though. In the past, the vehicles used a combination of mechanical and electronic components. The mechanical differential was used for initial response, but now the system does away with the mechanical components and uses an electronically controlled setup for the whole operation.

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It does its magic routing power fore and aft, and there are various settings that drivers can control from within the cabin using a switch. It can be toggled between auto and manual modes, letting drivers select a setting that will more power to the front and rear depending on the driver’s preference. Those more experienced with sports cars and their behavior on track will be able to play with those settings as much as they want and there’s even a manual mode that will allow you to dial in more power to the rear end of the car.

Brakes and Grip

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At the front wheels, there are bigger brakes, six-piston Brembo done up in an eye-catching yellow that will make you forget all about the signature gold rims that used to be offered on these vehicles. The brake pads have also been beefed up, with more pad surface, and the brake rotors are also bigger and now drilled and vented for better performance. The fog lights have been discontinued and replaced by ducts that help cool the brakes.

Finally, the STI also gets the same suspension tweaks that the WRX gets, but not the same steering setup, which is important because the STI uses a more communicative hydraulically power-assisted setup compared to the WRX’s comparatively numb electric setup. The suspension gets new damping and spring rates at the front and rear and the rear sway bar is 1 mm thinner than before. They’re minor tweaks designed to help the car feel more at home on the street while maintaining the responsiveness.

The end result is incredible. In the U.S., the car comes standard with 19-inch wheels, with Yokohama ADVAN Sport V105 tires, while base models in Canada still use 18-inch wheels with Dunlop SP Sport Maxx RT rubber. The car is simply fantastic on the track. It doesn’t feel numb or disconnected despite its advanced all-wheel-drive setup. The grip is addictive, and the brakes are practically fade-proof. We spent two hours at the track, with a single cool down and maybe 10-minute cooling period every eight laps. The cars were still running strong at the end of the day, brushing off the intensity of the track sessions that could cause other cars to overheat and complain.

On the Road

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Outside of the track, the serene landscape of British Columbia led to more fantastic driving, although this time at legal speeds and with various imperfections in the road. Is the STI stiff? There’s no doubt about that, but it’s livable on the road, too. One aspect that deserves attention is how much Subaru cut down a lot of the outside noise. Sound deadening is a huge improvement over past models, further enhancing the daily-liveability of the car.

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The roads in southwest B.C. are a little dusty and slippery these days following heavy rainfall that caused a bit of flooding, yet the STI shrugged it all off. Low-traction warning lights never appeared no matter how hard we were pressing through these roads. What did you expect from a brand with so many World Rally Championship wins? Oh, and I guess the recent 24 Hours of Nurburgring wins should also factor into how successful this car was on the track, too.

Inside, the car receives a little bit of attention. There’s new high-gloss interior trim, and the gauges have been adjusted for better late-night visibility. Sporty Recaro performance seats are available up front, and there’s a new rear armrest in the back. The car also comes with red seatbelts now, which are typically a pricey extra in other cars. One complaint is the car’s infotainment system, which feels slow and outdated and doesn’t feature Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility.

The front end of the sedan is updated as well and there are new roof rack mounting points that Subaru fans usually go nuts for. Buyers can also opt to get a subtle trunk lid spoiler that makes the car look less obnoxious, although the bright yellow brakes still give the car’s intentions away.

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The Verdict: 2018 Subaru WRX STI Review

Starting at $36,955 USD ($39,495 CAD) the car is barely more affordable than the Focus RS but a few thousand dollars cheaper than the Golf R. The upcoming Honda Civic Type R promises to cost around the $35,000 mark and is front-wheel drive only. The Subaru lures buyers with its wins through the various motorsports it competes in, and while it used to just be associated with rallying, the car has also picked up a few wins in endurance series, too, while the Subaru BRZ represents the brand in Super GT racing as well. Subaru’s trophy case is full of eye-catching hardware, and the WRX STI is a huge part of that.

Buyers who get this car on the track will love it even more, but those who keep it on the street will love driving around in a car that represents the best of what the Subaru brand has to offer.

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