Friday, May 13, 2016

Which WRX should I buy?

"Should I get the WRX or the WRX STI?"  Since I work at a dealership, I get asked this question on a weekly basis.  There's a myriad of other questions I usually ask to help determine what the potential owner is looking for, so I thought I'd help nail down some facts and clear up misunderstandings that most people have about these two cars.  In this article, I'll be using information based off of new WRX models (generally 2015-2017).  Lets dig in and take a closer look at these two turbocharged sedans!

The first thing to get out of the way are the obvious similarities.  Both of these cars have the same exterior and interior design.  The main differences are your creature features and the performance levels of the drivetrain on each.  The WRX STI is simply a WRX that has been tuned by Subaru Tecnica International (STI).  If you'd like to simply call it "the STI", be my guest... but I've already been there before.

Now that we've got that sorted out, there's the price gap between the WRX and WRX STI.  On the surface, there seems to be a $8,000 canyon carved between the starting prices for these two cars.  There have been debates and dyno tests and track times that have argued the pants off of this topic from a performance standpoint in just about every publication that compares the two.  Take a step back from the analytical discussions and you'll quickly see that price gap shrink if we compare apples to apples.

While most articles look at things purely from performance, there are still features on the starting point for both the WRX and WRX STI that separate them pricing-wise.  By that, I mean that the starting point for a WRX is much more stripped down when compared to a "base-model" WRX STI.  Where the WRX has cloth seats, 17 Inch alloy wheels, and a back-up camera, the WRX STI adds a boatload of other options to it's starting point.  Alcantara and Leather Trimmed upholstery, heated front seats, heated side mirrors, windshield wiper de-icers, LED low-beam headlights, fog lights, and 18 inch alloy wheels already make up a considerable difference in equipment.  Even the next step up for the WRX, the Premium trim level, isn't equipped quite as nicely (with the exception of a power moonroof that the WRX STI doesn't have until you jump to the Limited trim level).  So if we use the WRX Premium as a starting point to compare to, we can shave about $2,300 off that price difference, bringing us to $5,700 between the two.

Now that we've shrinked that gap, we can start looking at the differences in what makes these cars GO.  At the helm of the WRX is a brand-new FA20 Direct-Injected Subaru Boxer Engine with a Twin Scroll Turbocharger that develops 268hp and 258 torque.  It's mated to a 6-speed manual transmission (or optional Continuously Variable Transmission) that sends power through a AWD system defaulting to a 50:50 torque split under normal, no-slip driving conditions.  When slip on the front or rear axle is detected, it's locking center differential is able to send up to 80 percent of available torque to the axle that has the best traction. The center differential in the WRX uses a viscous coupling that operates without the aid of computer control and reacts to the mechanical differences in grip.

Move to the WRX STI and you'll find a bit more of a dinosaur under the hood.  It's still running a EJ25 Port fuel injected Subaru Boxer engine with a big single-scroll turbocharger that develops 305hp and 290 torque.  Subaru has been using this engine for over 10 years in the WRX STI.  It's mated to a 6-speed manual transmission (no option for an automatic) that sends power through a AWD system defaulting to a 41:59 torque split (rear drive bias).  The WRX STI also has a Driver Controlled Center Differential (DCCD) that allows the driver to manually make use of the split.  There are two center differentials in the WRX STI's AWD system. One is electronically controlled and grants the Subaru's computer fine control over the front-to-rear torque split. The other is a mechanical unit that is capable of reacting more quickly to traction conditions than its electronic counterpart. Drivers benefit, ideally, from the best of both the electronically proactive and mechanically reactive worlds here along with a Limited Slip Differential in the front and the rear.  Add in the WRX STI's throttle control unit (SI-Drive), Brembo brakes, sharper steering. and tuned inverted strut suspension system, and the price gap starts to make a little more sense.

For performance, you can get a WRX into the 300 Horsepower range for less money, but you'd be missing the rest that makes the WRX STI a complete track package between it's brakes, suspension, and AWD system.   And, while the WRX can get to 60 quicker since you don't have to go to 3rd gear to get there, the 6-Speed manual in the WRX STI is still the stronger of the two... especially if you're looking to make and hold more power.  It would take a hefty chunk of $5,700 (and then some) to bring a WRX up to the level of components at work under the hood and through the driveline of the WRX STI.

After understanding the differences in features, performance, and cost, it's back to the customer to decide which platform fits their needs best.  Cost aside, it's important to figure out what the owner wants to achieve.  If it's a sporty ride for a daily driver that can have some fun, the WRX is a great affordable option.  It has better gas mileage and a smoother ride, making it easier to live with on a everyday basis.  The harsher ride quality of the WRX STI can make choppy streets a bit annoying for the daily driver (and their passengers).  Both cars are quick within the speed limit, so there's not much foreseeable advantage for the WRX STI in that aspect around town.  In most cases, a WRX will provide plenty of fun and there are a wide range of features you can add to it to fit what you need day-to-day.  Sunroof, Leather, Navigation, EyeSight, there's a good range to choose from with this platform.  It's also easy to figure out which one you want if you don't know how to drive a manual transmission, as the WRX STI will take itself out of contention quickly.  The WRX is the only one of the two available with a CVT Automatic.

The WRX STI might be harder to live with when it comes to cost and the harsher ride around town, but many enthusiasts still gravitate towards it for the higher all-around performance level and the heritage this car carries with it.  If the owner ever intends to do any motorsports (autocross, rallycross, track days, etc), the WRX STI is the out-of-the-box racecar for the job.  The lower gas mileage, stiffer ride quality, and higher cost aren't enough to keep dedicated enthusiasts from pursuing Subaru's iconic rocketship.  If the owner is looking to modify their car later on down the road, there's more they can do with the WRX STI as a platform thanks to it's AWD system and stronger transmission.  While the 2.0 liter Boxer in the WRX has some aftermarket support, there are seemingly endless options for modifying and improving the ancient 2.5 liter Boxer in the WRX STI.  Even though those dyno tests showed similar numbers coming from under the hood between them, these cars start to separate themselves in terms of handling, braking, and driving feel when they are pushed to their limits.

Either way, WRXs and WRX STIs are both highly sought after and are usually scare on dealership lots (at least in my area).  So which one should you buy?  The one that fits your needs best!  Or, if after reading all of this you don't understand half of what has been said, you can probably just get an Impreza and call it a day. 

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