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2015 Subaru WRX STI: First Drive

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Is the 2015 Subaru WRX STI worth the $8k premium over the WRX? And does it remain one of the most capable performance cars on the market, short of exotic-car compromises (and price tags)?

Those questions seemed straightforward enough. But after spending most of a day with the new STI, first over back roads in California's Monterey Peninsula, and then out for hot laps on Laguna Seca, we found that the key questions were more complex than that—more like, how does the WRX STI fit into the performance-car market today?

I'd put the WRX through the paces of familiar test roads just a week before heading to drive the new STI, and found it an edgier, more capable car for 2015. After testing them both, we think that the difference between the WRX's $27k base price and the STI Limited's nearly $41k+ fully optioned price is vast in today's market, while the differences aren't as profound as they used to be. Subaru’s more affordable take on performance will be the one that the vast majority of buyers will be happier with—even if they’d thought about putting the extra money down for an STI.

ALSO SEE: 2015 Subaru WRX, STI Models Priced: WRX Gets Big Value Boost

Awesome new WRX is a tough opening act

And let's face it, times have changed since the introduction of the WRX in 2001 and the WRX STI in 2004. And with the all-new WRX going in a somewhat edgier direction—with more power and a stiffer suspension—it's an increasingly tough opening act to follow for the STI.

Especially when, in this case, what Subaru's rolling out in the STI, at first blush, looks very familiar on a spec sheet. Versus last year's STI, it's the exact same 2.5-liter turbocharged, horizontally opposed ('boxer') four-cylinder engine, making 305 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque. It's mated to an improved six-speed manual gearbox, with the same six forward ratios. And power is delivered via what's essentially the same all-wheel drive system, with a Driver Control Center Differential (DCCD) bringing a helical limited-slip front differential and Torsen limited-slip rear diff.

The four-piston front discs are the same size as those of the last-generation STI, while the rear discs are slightly smaller (12.4 inches vs. 12.6 inches). Front and rear track remain exactly the same as last year's STI, too.

Don't forget, the WRX got a new 268-hp direct-injection boxer four this year; it also now has a six-speed manual (or a performance-tuned CVT that can mimic an eight-speed automatic if you want), as well as a simpler version of Subaru's all-wheel drive system that we've found, is still a hoot to drive—and, probably, cheaper to fix if something breaks. The new WRX engine actually gets more peak turbo boost than the STI (15.9 versus 14.7 psi). And the WRX weighs about 120 pounds less than the STI in their respective base forms. Weight, by the way, is only up two pounds over the 2014 STI, despite more safety equipment, more interior features, and a bolstered structure, while at the top of the line, the STI Limited gains 27 pounds, due to its power driver's seat and Harman/Kardon audio.

Still a definite step up...

What does the STI have over the WRX? In addition to the performance-oriented all-wheel drive system, you get a bigger Brembo brakes, a larger (18-inch) standard wheel size, hydraulic-assist steering with a quicker ratio (13:1 versus 15:1), and a revised (inverted front strut) suspension that's tuned even a step stiffer.

You of course get a lot of other extras, like leather and Alcantara (faux-suede) seating, dual-zone climate control, an improved center console, and LED headlamps and turn-signal mirrors; and these altogether help erase some of the price differential.


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