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Subaru WRX STI 2023: what to expect from the next-gen rally rocket

 

There will be another generation of Subaru WRX STI, and we can expect a pretty exciting package, but what exactly is Subaru likely to change for its high-performance halo car?


Subaru has confirmed there will be a 2023 WRX STI, but precisely what form it will take is still unknown. An official release date is not confirmed either, but the performance-oriented model should debut towards the latter half 2022. 

Traditionally, the STI has been Subaru’s premium performance model. The bewinged Subaru started life as an homologation special and has repeatedly been dubbed a rally-car-for-the-road, with its competition-bred aerodynamics, powertrains and trick differentials. 

Subaru Impreza WRX STI 2005
The Subaru WRX STI, this isn’t the last one but probably the model that comes to mind when you think of the name.

The fourth-generation STI will maintain its status quo as a more hardcore version of the WRX with more grunt, a sharper chassis and a more visceral driving experience. 

However, the 2022 WRX sits on Subaru’s latest global architecture that underpins Subaru’s cushy Impreza, Forester and Outback, so just how hardcore will the next-gen STI be?

What hints does the new WRX give us? 

You can read our full breakdown of the 2022 WRX here, but there are some specific pointers to the STI’s personality.

Subaru WRX 2022
The new Subaru WRX is physically larger than its predecessor.

For a start, the new WRX is a bigger car, measuring 75mm longer (at 4,669mm) and 31mm wider (at 1,826mm). But it’s also said to be 25 percent stiffer torsionally, with rigidity increased by 75 percent at the suspension mounting points compared to the previous WRX. 

A stiffer body does wonders for handling precision, and wider tracks should improve stability. Importantly, the extra rigidity should give Subaru engineers a broader envelope of operation, allowing the STI to be more precise than the WRX without sacrificing too much in the way of compliance. 

What about the suspension?

Speaking of comfort, the WRX STI is typically not associated with that descriptor. It’s a car that’s designed to devour technical tarmac without cosseting your lower back. There’s no doubt the new STI will feature stiffer springs, dampers and anti-roll bars than the regular 2022 WRX.

Subaru WRX 2022-3
Subaru has played up the rally heritage of the new WRX in the marketing campaign.

However, the appearance of adaptive dampers on the up-spec US-market WRX GT – a first for the model – hints at a broader dynamic repertoire for the hot Subie. It’s possible that these electronically controlled dampers could finally be the hardware that Subaru needs to give the WRX STI the bandwidth to compete with the Volkswagen Golf R.

Given the WRX STI’s motorsport heritage, Subaru may also decide to offer a hardcore ‘Spec R’ version with fixed-rate dampers, less weight and a focus on outright grip for the track junkies among us. 

How about the engine?

The 2022 WRX has undergone a major change by switching to a new 2.4-litre ‘FA24’ boxer engine, the same found in the new BRZ

Subaru WRX 2022 FA24
Under the bonnet of the 2022 WRX is a new powertrain for the nameplate.

Historically, the engine has been one of the major differences between regular WRX and raucous STI. The current WRX STI EJ25 Final Edition is the swansong for the third-gen car and hints at the STI’s most exceptional quality: its ‘EJ25‘ engine.

The mighty ‘EJ’ is known for its peaky and exciting power delivery – the current STI developing 221kW at 6,000rpm and 405Nm at a steep 4,000rpm. In contrast, the new WRX’s FA24 turbo offers its 350Nm of torque from 2,000-5,200rpm and 202kW of power at 5,600rpm.

Of course, the WRX’s flatter torque curve will be more friendly on a daily basis, but that’s not really the STI’s bag, at least historically. Objectively, the EJ25 may be old and unrefined, but some would argue that perfection is the enemy of excitement. 

Subaru WRX STI EJ25 Final Edition 2021 front
This is the 2021 WRX STI EJ25 Final Edition – is this really the end of the road for the famed boxer ‘four?

Subaru has not confirmed whether the EJ-series engine will live on in the next generation of WRX STI. It may very well do, but with tightening emissions regulations the world over and a ‘Final Edition’ model naming the engine itself, the mighty EJ’s future is uncertain.

Instead, the next-gen STI will likely use the WRX’s 2.4-litre port and direct-injected engine in a higher state of tune, potentially with 250-300kW and around 450Nm. Given its power, pricing and AWD system, the WRX STI will undoubtedly be benchmarked against the Volkswagen Golf R.

Subaru has its work cut out lowering the STI’s 0-100km/h sprint time from 5.2 seconds closer to the 235kW Golf R’s 4.3-second claim, however – especially if it’s manual only.

Subaru WRX STI 2018 front
The new STI will have its work cut out to beat the Golf R to 100km/h.

What about the transmission?

Much of the Golf R’s straight line pace comes from its slick seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, whereas the WRX STI’s close ratio six-speed manual is notoriously difficult to launch because you need to be so brutal with it to achieve fast times. 

Whether Subaru will offer an automatic transmission remains to be seen, though it seems unlikely an auto could capture the essence of the WRX STI – especially when it’s a CVT.

One of the WRX STI hallmarks is the active driver-controlled centre differential (DCCD) – technology so good that it was banned from WRC cars in 2010 – which will hopefully make an appearance in the fourth-generation car. 

Subaru WRX STI 2018 Brakes
It’s very likely Subaru will fit the WRX STI with forged alloy wheels and bigger brakes.

The active centre diff is typically complemented by front and rear limited-slip differentials which enhance traction compared to the regular WRX’s open differentials. We also expect Subaru to fit a set of bigger brakes, and 18-inch forged alloy wheels.

What trim levels might Subaru offer?

It’s almost certain that Subaru will offer a series of special editions throughout the life of the WRX and STI, as it has done many times before. As for the core trim levels, Subaru currently offers the WRX STI in base, Premium and Spec R variants. We expect this hierarchy to continue in the fourth-gen car.

Reflecting the popularity of the Volkswagen Golf R, Subaru might choose to morph the STI Premium into a variant like the US-market WRX GT, mixing banzai performance with more creature comforts and a sophisticated adaptive damper tune. 

Subaru WRX 2022 interior
Inside, while not luxury, the latest WRX certainly has a lot more features than before.

Inside, the new WRX has moved upmarket, and we expect the STI to simply embellish the hardpoints, while also featuring an 11.6-inch touchscreen. It’s almost a guarantee that the WRX STI will be offered with more aggressive bucket seats to suit track use.

Subaru has already foreshadowed the WRX STI’s design

In 2017 Subaru unveiled the Viziv concept, the details of which morphed almost entirely intact onto the latest WRX. While it may be true that the new car isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it’s also true that very few people have seen it in the flesh. 

Twelve months after the initial Viziv, the 2018 Viziv Performance STI concept was unveiled, dripping with clues about kind of sporty tracksuit the fourth-gen WRX STI might wear. 

Subaru Viziv Concept 2018
The Viziv Performance STI concept heavily hints to the WRX STI’s future.

Enthusiasts should be satisfied by the inclusion of a typically absurd rear wing and aggressive front valance. There’s also likely to be less cladding on the car, with black plastic spats only found around the generously bulging wheelarches. Hopefully the new WRX STI takes these cues.

When will the new WRX STI arrive?

As for an Australian release date, public relations & corporate communications manager at Subaru, Chloe Fraser,said “we don’t have any confirmed timeline from the factory at this stage, but [the new STI] appears to be at least 12 to 18 months away.” 

That gives the WRX STI an arrival estimate of the latter part of 2022, with concrete details on Subaru’s halo performance model likely to surface shortly before the physical launch.

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