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2015 Subaru WRX STI: First Drive Page 4

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The other factor we can't ignore is that there's a lot of disappointment of the look of the WRX and STI. Enthusiasts expected a lot more visual differentiation from the Impreza—and products that were given a look more like that of the racy Subaru WRX concept Subaru had teased.

More competition this time around

The Volkswagen Golf R will start at or maybe just below the STI's bottom-line price of about $35k. Audi's S3 will land somewhere just above a loaded STI Limited. And the stunning Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG starts about ten grand more than a base STI. And there's the Ford Focus ST, which isn't as quick but is a lot cheaper and might be nearly as much fun.

Based on an early preview drive of the Golf R, we can already tell you that the VW, with the DSG gearbox, is going to be a far more refined and agreeable way to get around 300 horsepower kicking out all four wheels.

The compact-car performance landscape has just changed so much over the past several years. While the WRX remains a bargain, and we feel that Subaru has kept it in pace with the wants and needs of practical, value-minded performance buyers, it's increasingly difficult to say that the STI is a performance value, or a lust object beyond a narrowing cadre of enthusiasts.

Letting the market move on?

More than ten years ago, Subaru managed to bring the Gen-X end of the enthusiast market exactly the fast-and-furious car they craved, in the original WRX (or STI). But today, most of those enthusiasts have moved on, had kids, and are in their 40s, driving BMWs and Audis.

It's not that the WRX STI is an obsolete idea; it's that, given how great the current WRX is (and how Subaru's cleverly repositioned it and kept it relevant), the way the STI is priced and presented for the U.S. feels obsolete. Is it time for Subaru to change its formula and try to keep up with those tech-forward rivals—to consider things like continuous damping and active noise cancellation? A lap timer or race recorder?

If commute duty is part of it, there are plenty more enchanting options nowadays, especially considering the price. But if track time is a priority, the STI will put a grin on your face as well as it ever could.

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