WRX STi, Subaru’s dirt merchant

In the seconds leading up to the debut of the 2015 Subaru WRX STi, a telltale turbocharged snarl from behind the automaker’s stand, followed by a whiff of 93 octane, had already announced it.

The introduction of the STi on 14 January came not two months after the WRX, itself based on Subaru’s Impreza sedan, was revealed in Los Angeles. That car strayed significantly from a striking WRX concept unveiled in March at the 2013 New York auto show, so the high-performance, rally-ready STi’s patrimony was never really in doubt.

The 305 horsepower mustered by the STi’s horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine represents a healthy upgrade from the 268hp output of the lower-order WRX. Unlike that model, which is available with a continuously variable automatic transmission, the STi takes a page from the Ford Focus ST and Fiesta ST, arriving exclusively with a six-speed manual ‘box. The inclusion of all-wheel drive is not even a point of discussion.

Styling changes from WRX to STi are modest, limited to minor adjustments to the fascia and exterior trim pieces, plus the fitting of a prodigious rear wing. Attractive red and black leather seats with Alcantara inserts brighten the otherwise workmanlike interior. A nod to the STi brand is a badge-matching, cerise-tinted gearshift knob. Gold BBS wheels, to mimic those fitted to the retired Impreza WRX 22B – a model that paid homage to the brand’s association with competitive rally racing – will be available. A “Launch Edition” model, limited to the first 1,000 units, will come standard with the gold wheels.

“When you say ‘STi’, that’s the image that comes to mind,” said Subaru of America president Tom Doll. He described the 22B as a “WRC race car for the street”, one deserving of a special place in the WRX pantheon.

For a brand that has spent a great deal of effort to distinguish the WRX from the Impreza – the 2015 WRX drops the ‘Impreza’ badge entirely – it is certainly investing equity in the STi acronym.

“Here is a car capable of living up to its cherry-red badge,” Doll said. “It will drive like nothing else – I promise you.”