A year with the 2017 Subaru WRX STI

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So I’d previously written a bit about both my (current) “VA” WRX STI and previous “GV” WRX. I’m starting fresh with the car content on the new blog. I’ve put a year and a couple months onto my 2017 WRX STI and I’d like to share some thoughts about the whole package and ownership after spending some time with it.

I continue to really like the car. It’s fun to drive and in most ways the best STI they’ve released in North America. Body roll is the best we’ve had in car released here and we finally get the JDM steering rack instead of the really lazy ones they gave us in STIs before 2015. The STI retains its hydraulic steering unlike the WRX’s electric rack. It’s a much better experience, though I do feel I could do with a bit more steering feel. The overall heft with a stiff suspension setup make the steering a tad too numb. The VA’s interior is nice, a huge leap forward for Subarus. This stems from the fact that what we call the WRX is derived from the “WRX S4” in Japan. The WRX didn’t exit in Japan for the previous chassis, they only had the WRX STI. The WRX was relaunched as the S4, more of a 3-series competitor than a little rally bruiser. It’s a lot more comfortable and thus nicer to be in. Our WRX is still being sold as a little bruiser of a sports sedan but both it and the WRX STI benefit from this much improved interior. It’s a genuinely nice place to be.

Fuel economy is horrible. This is a given for the old port injected EJ257. I think people hate the engine more than it deserves. It’s pretty old, dating back to 2004 with its only meaningful changes coming in 2008. 2015 saw minor changes and 2017 had some retuning. It’s old. It’s inefficient. But it has a lot of character and tuners know it inside and out. Tons of parts and expertice out there. I don’t dislike it. What I do dislike is that power has remained flat over (as of today) 14 years with a few more to come. When the STI was launched it was an M3 fighter, the M3 has moved on and the STI is left duking it out regular sports sedans. I’d love to see the STI move up market a little bit and deliver 400HP out of a similarly interesting power plant instead of just a boosted FA20 at 350HP or similar. Come on 2020!

My only real complaints are the size of the car. Weight hasn’t grown massively since 2004 (though GD and onward are just much heavier than GCs, especially Rs and RAs). They’re just on the edge of too heavy. But the car is much too long. BMW made the M2 to appease those who want a sports sedan but don’t want a vehicle that is 190” long. Subaru needs to do the same. The VA WRX / STI is just too big. Rev hang is improved in 2017, but it’s still not great. That and driveline slop make the car comfortable but a bit too GT-ish and not very raw. I can understand that for Japan’s WRX S4 but the STI should walk that line between harsh and comfortable a little further on the harsh side. The other complaint is the sound tube is annoying. It is kinda cool at first but you do hear drone on the highway (since the car is revving at like 4k at highway speeds). It’s not needed. I get that the car is a lot quieter than GV and GD, but piping noise into the cabin isn’t really the answer. (Having said that, it’s not stupid and awful like everyone elses electronic sound generators) The sound pipe doesn’t sound nearly as good as the noises that floated into the cabin in the GV.

Handling is good. The car has very little body roll and the chassis is pretty stiff. The suspension walks the line between comfort and performance quite well and is honestly pretty comfortable for long treks. It’s a big car and doesn’t feel nimble but it doesn’t feel too fat either. Understeer is present but isn’t quite as bad as previous STIs. Most cars will ship from the factory with a little understeer as its more predictable and safer for the average driver.

You can definitely improve the handling with only minor effort. A 22mm fixed rear sway bar goes a long way. I would not recommend going thicker in the front, the OEM 24mm front (compared to OEM 20mm rear) is already pretty stiff. Going to the fixed 22mm in the rear and getting a good alignment gives you just a bit of rotation under power in corners which really works to neutralize the handling of the car. A stiffer front may create more understeer as the outside wheel loses contact with the road. The car also doesn’t really suffer from a great deal of body roll (as previous STI did) and further stiffening will probably numb the experience further. I like the Cusco rear 22mm sway (6A1 311 B22) but any decently made one should really work equally. Strut braces don’t have the kind of improvement they did on older cars but they’re still some improvement. I like the Cusco cross type rear (6A1 541 AX), it bolts to both the strut towers and the chassis. Keeps the rear geometry very parallel and it’s noticable in high speed corners. From the factory the chassis is fairly stiff already so these unlike older cars these aren’t major improvements. The acutal OEM shocks are pretty good, especially the front. You’d want to be pretty picky in replacing them, no cheap improvements to be had here.

As mentioned above, one deficiency I haven’t found a solution to in the car is the play in the drivetrain. The car definitely has a bit of rubber band effect under heavy acceleration and deceleration. The rear diff has quite a bit of play as it is secured to the subframe by pretty soft bushings. You can replace them with stiffer bushings or even anchor the rear diff to the chassis with metal carriers. The problem is its a sliding scale of noise vibration and harshness against positive driveline engagement. I haven’t found a perfect solution to this but do wish Subaru had done a little better from the factory. I get that the new car is a lot more comfortable than any STI that came before it, but they shouldn’t have gone quite so soft here.

2018 deliveries started a few months ago. Subaru made some changes to the front bumper and lights which I think look great despite some initial reservations. Big changes for the mid model refresh include 6 piston brakes in the front (an STI Performance upgrade available in Japan previously), 19” wheels and a new center diff. More brakes are always better, though they do mean 17” winter/track wheels/tires are not an option. The car now comes with 19” BBS wheels that look fantastic, they really do. I’m not sure I like the move to 19s as oversizing wheels has lead to a lot of unsprung weight creep in cars and number handling. But the VA is a big car and they do look great. The one thing I’m unsure about is the new center diff. The 2017 center diff is the same design they’ve used since Type-R and Type-RA GC STIs, albeit with tweaks and improvements a long the way. 2018 dumps the mechanical center diff and just leaves the electronic diff. This should improve fuel economy and may improve handling. I’m not sure what the torque/rotation split looks like now, nor have I spent the right time in one of these new cars to know how it feels. I hope to do so sooner or later. They’ve also added more sound proofing and thicker glass to the 2018 cars, with the other changes resulting in an extra 100lbs of weight. I have mixed feelings about this given the car was already sorta right on the line of being overweight and you could just improve in cabin noise by getting rid of the dumb sound tube…

Still a lot of unknowns, what direction will Subaru go in for the VA successor. Will it continue to grow larger and more GT-ish? Will we get the engine and power it needs to stay competitive? 20202021 should be interesting either way.