Subaru WRX STI TYPE UK (2013 - 2020) used car review

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By Jonathan Crouch

Introduction

What's the most exciting car with a roof that you can buy for sensible money? Some would say that you're looking at it right here. The Subaru WRX STi has long been an enthusiast rally replica plaything but it can be a dangerous used purchase unless you consider one of the later versions - and that's exactly what we're looking at here in the form of the fourth generation WRX STi Type UK model saloon that was available here between 2013 and 2020. Here, you get a recipe that'll be familiar to WRX regulars, with a 2.5-litre turbocharged flat-four sending 300PS to each corner. More modern rivals from this era claim more sophistication, but none of the thrills they deliver are quite the same as those you'll get at the wheel of this Subaru.

Models

4dr Saloon (2.5 Boxer)

History

Nostalgia. There's a place for it - right? Especially when it comes to cars. And when it comes to fast, affordable excitement, there aren't many that spark it as much as the Subaru WRX STi.

Later versions of this model weren't called 'Imprezas', but it's with predecessors that were so-badged that this model's origins lie, cars that back in the Nineties dominated the World Rally Championship in the hands of legends like Richard Burns and Colin McRae. Subaru had to make road-going versions in order to compete at this level and found there was a ready market for them from those in search of supercar performance with an affordable price tag.

The first Impreza WRX model was launched in 1994 and grey import versions flooded into the UK in growing numbers until the Fuji Heavy Industries brand finally decided to officially import it with here with the launch of the second generation version at the turn of the century. By now though, there was strong competition, primarily from ever-more potent versions of Mitsubishi's Lancer Evo. Subaru had to respond and did so in 2002 with the more serious STi version of this car that enthusiasts have loved ever since.

It was powered originally, as in later forms, by a 2.5-litre turbocharged flat four - but a rather different one back then. Only with the third generation STi model of 2007 was power boosted to a more potent 300PS output. In that MK3 version's lifetime, the 'Impreza' badge was dispensed with to distance the car from humbler models and an uprated 330PS power unit was also offered. Subaru eventually decided though, that the fourth generation design didn't need it and finally re-launched the car here in 2013 in 'Type UK' form as a more extreme, more involving and more affordable option to super-hot hatches like Volkswagen Golf R and Audi's S3. This WRX STi Type UK model sold in ever-dwindling numbers until the end of the decade - and wasn't replaced.

What You Get

You'd know this was a Subaru WRX at a glance. Certainly almost everything else you expect this car to visually deliver is present and correct. Tick off deep front spoiler, huge gaping bonnet scoop, ground-hugging side skirts and enormous rear wing. It might not be pretty but it definitely has presence, especially when painted in this car's most iconic WR Blue Pearl colour scheme and fitted with the gold wheels so beloved by the STi faithful.

Up front, the trademark hexagonal grille was for this Type UK model painted gloss black and flanked by smarter 'hawk eye'-style LED headlamps. Lower placed front fog lights aim to emphasise the car's wide, low stance.

It's easier to get in, thanks to wide door openings and low side sills. Once you do, you'll need to manage your expectations, for no attempt was really made here to match the slush-moulded sophistication you'd find in a rival Golf R or Audi S3 from this era. This is a cabin for driving, not one for relaxing in. Owners of the previous generation model will understand that and people of that sort are likely to be very happy with the improvements Subaru was minded to make with this car in its last Type UK guise.

You'll love the superbly supportive sculpted 'STi'-embossed front sports seats that, beautifully trimmed in leather and alcantara, position you perfectly in front of the small-diameter flat-bottomed leather-stitched sports steering wheel. Through it, you glimpse a dual-dial display that's bathed in evocative red lighting and headlined by a 3.5-inch LCD screen flanked by white-needled gauges that are finished with smart aluminium rings.

And out back? Well there's a larger boot than you might expect, 40-litres bigger than the previous generation model, being 460-litres in size. Plus it's extendable with a split-folding fold-forward rear bench if you find you really can't resist the latest flat pack furniture offer. You will, after all, need a few practical points to help in justifying this car to others who simply won't understand it.

What You Pay

Prices start at around £12,100 for one of the earlier '13-plate WRX STi Type UK models, with values rising to £29.750 for one of the very last-registered '20-plate cars. A more typical '15-plate model values in the £14,500-£16,000 bracket.

What to Look For

You've always had to shop carefully for a WRX STi and this Type UK variant is no exception. North America has seen a number of law suits for failures of the 2.5-litre boxer engine and ever since, Subaru has been trying to prove that this powerplant doesn't have an inherent design flaw that might cause this. Anyway, the most common issues on European-spec versions of this car relate to engine internals, turbo failure, oil leaks and misfires. As you'd expect, engine failures are most likely to happen when the powerplant has been tuned or modified. Well known weak points here include rods, rod bearings and pistons.

As for turbo problems, well they're more likely to affect older WRX models - probably those produced before the time of this Type UK version. Oil leaks, on the other hand, are a more general problem and tend to occur around the valve cover gaskets, the oil pan gasket and the main seals. As for misfires, well if you notice one on your test drive, then it's probably symptomatic of a problem with the engine. That may not necessarily herald a complete powerplant failure - turbo engines like this kind tend to burn through spark plugs and ignition coils rather quickly which can obviously be easily sorted. Misfires can also occur due to issues with the fuel injectors and carbon build-up. Carbon build-up isn't usually an issue until nearly 100,000 miles.

Overall, this WRX isn't especially reliable but when you consider how it's often driven and used, that's to be expected. With a rally-style high performance model of this kind, things like spark plugs and ignition coils will wear down faster as will suspension elements and turbo parts. It all goes with the territory.

Replacement Parts

(approx based on a 2015 WRX STi Type UK - Ex Vat) An oil filter is in the £10 bracket. An air filter is in the £32-£40 bracket. A cabin filter is around £40. A battery specific to this model is around £162. A timing belt is around £36. Spark plugs are around £43-£52. For a competition clutch, you're looking at anything from £500-£800. We'd go to a specialist parts supplier for all items for this car - somewhere like scoobyparts.com

On the Road

So. What's it like? Was Subaru merely reprising the old Impreza legend here? First impressions certainly make it seem that way. True, unlike older WRX models, the interior of this last Type UK model no longer felt as if it had been sourced from parts available in Christmas crackers, but the focused rally-bred sense of purpose is as strong as ever. Firing the distinctive Boxer engine delivers a further throw-back, its characteristic flat-four throb certain to twang the heart strings of WRX devotees across the land. In other words, any fears that this car might have become slick and, well, different in its old age are very firmly groundless.

For a start, it's very, very quick. The 2.5-litre turbo engine's 300PS of power and 407Nm of torque will do that for you. It doesn't initially feel that way when first you put your foot down, but that's because this car delivers turbo lag at a level you might have mentally consigned to cars of the Nineties. Subaru reckoned this tweaked Euro6-compliant engine had been improved in this respect but when we first tested this car, we certainly weren't feeling it. Get beyond three and a half thousand revs though and the thing starts to really fly, 62mph flashing by in 5.2s as the horizon spools towards you as if on fast-forward. It's just as well that the Brembo brakes are mighty.

On a straight road, it'd keep going all the way to 159mph, but you won't want to drive this STi on a straight road. No, as every rally-derived machine should be, it's at its best on the twisty stuff, preferably in the wet, preferably on a slippery surface. There's certainly a lot to be said for a car that can make 60mph on a country lane feel ridiculously exciting. We know that if we drove the same route in an Audi S3, we'd probably be wondering what we were going to have for dinner when we got home. In this Subaru, you're always absolutely hardwired into the experience of keeping the thing on the island.

Overall

The German brands think they've plagiarised the formula that for so long has made this car so special. True enough, if you're in search of something relatively affordable with 300PS, turbo power and four wheel drive from this era, there'll be easier, more accessible options for you than the one Subaru provides here. Don't expect them to give you a unique experience though. Don't expect a car than in standard production form was at launch capable of shattering the Isle of Man TT road course record. Don't expect a Subaru WRX STi.

Get beyond the surface irritations and for the real enthusiast, there's an addiction here that's hard to resist. The rush of the turbo when it comes on song. The way the wheel writhes in your hands as you stamp on the brake pedal and throw the car into a bend. The astonishing traction that pins you to the road surface like an unseen hand. For the WRX faithful, it'll all be quite magical. If you're among their number and think the best and fastest modern hot hatches are just that bit too civilised and boring, well, you know what to do.

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