As I write this piece, Snowmaggedon is causing chaos across the UK. Schools are closed, police are warning motorists to stay at home and bread is being sold for £50 a loaf on eBay.
Unfortunately I won’t be enjoying a snow day, as Subaru has dropped off a WRX STI Final Edition and it’s my job to drive it, weather be damned. This car can trace its roots back to the Impreza driven by Colin McRae in the 90s, and it’s what most of us picture when we think of this iconic line, rather than the safe, boring hatchback of today.
Because, sadly, the WRX STI has failed to keep up with the competition in recent years. Its lowly 300hp is matched by even the Volkswagen Golf R, while its technological bells and whistles all feel a bit old-hat. With Subaru chasing Volvo for ‘respectable dad’ car of choice, it’s time for the WRX STI to be quietly dropped.
Hence the Final Edition. Upgrades for the 150-strong runout model are mainly cosmetic – a fully-electronic diff aside – with no extra power from the 2.5-litre turbocharged flat-four engine. You get bigger wheels housing larger brakes; a new front bumper design; fancy LED headlights shine in the direction your wheels are pointing; a DAB radio (instead of the old CD multi-changer); a reversing camera; heated seats.
There’s no denying it still feels old, however. There are loads of harsh, shiny plastics in the cabin, while the clutch is heavy. The gear change feels strangely off-centre, while the instruments and infotainment system don’t compare to those in a modern hot hatch.
It’s not the easiest test-drive of my life: catching a glimpse of that huge spoiler in the rear-view mirror diverts your attention, and the blanket of snow isn’t helping.
But it still has a bit of razzle-dazzle: it’s unusual in 2018 to find a four-cylinder performance car that sounds noisier outside than in. Most hot hatches have awful, fake noise played through the speakers, made louder when you opt for a sporty or dynamic mode. There are no driving modes here. What you get is a saloon with an old-fashioned flat-four, a clever diff and suspension that defaults to rock hard. You’d have to be an enthusiast to drive one every day, but it’s not as uncomfortable as you might think. It manages to feel less fidgety than the Golf R, somehow, happy to be strung out when you want to play but also surprisingly docile in traffic. A dollop of torque available from low revs helps with that.
And when you do want to let it go, you’re in for a treat. The sound is wonderful and the driving experience is more rough and ready, more real life than the computer gamey feel of today’s hot hatches. It’s quick, too. Just because you can now buy mundane hatchbacks that’ll beat the Subaru to 62mph, doesn’t mean you won’t still feel butterflies when you put the pedal down.
That snow though… While you might assume a four-wheel-drive Subaru would shrug off a bit of the white stuff, the tyres fitted to this test car are more suited to sticky, summer tarmac than slush and ice. Clumsy footwork is punished by slips and slides; great fun for wannabe rally drivers, not so much when you just want to get to work.
At £33,995, there are better options than the WRX STI. But at least it’s different. Volkswagen Golf Rs are everywhere thanks to an abundance of cheap lease deals. Not only will you stand out with the Scoob, you’ll also have fun in a way that’s dying out in 2018. If that sounds like enough, then get in quick, because despite its flaws, this Final Edition will become a collectors’ edition before long.