The Subaru WRX STI Is the Best Rally Special of All Time

a couple of cars parked in front of a sand dune
Subaru WRX STI: the Greatest Rally Specialillustrations by natalie foss
subaru wrx sti
The 2006–07 “Hawkeye” was the best-looking STI. Try to ignore those who called it “Pig Nose.”illustrations by natalie foss

I have a fixation. An addiction. A need for the sweet, bassy burble of a turbocharged Subaru EJ25 engine sporting unequal-length headers and an unrestricted exhaust. When I parted with my WRX STI, I was left with a void. When Subaru killed off the car, I was heartbroken.

This story originally appeared in Volume 22 of Road & Track.

Until the introduction of the fifth-­generation WRX for 2022, the STI defended its honor against all that challenged it. It survived almost two decades in America on its unchanged formula: a quick-­revving turbocharged 2.5-liter flat-four engine mated to a short-geared six-speed manual, limited-­slip differentials on both axles, and an adjustable center diff. For many enthusiasts, including myself, it’s perfection.


But the STI wasn’t alone.

In 2003, days before Subaru unveiled the 2004 STI for the U.S., Mitsubishi announced it’d bring its rally-­bred sport sedan, the Lancer Evolution, to America. Initially, the Evo came out on top—even though it had roughly 30 less horsepower than the STI. In Road & Track’s June 2003 test comparing the two cars, the Mitsubishi narrowly pulled off a win by the numbers. But for me, and then–senior editor Andrew Bornhop, it’s not only a numbers game.

The Evo “feels like it’s set up for Monte Carlo tarmac,” Bornhop wrote, while the STI “feels ready to tackle Kenya dirt. Which is why I prefer the Subaru. It has fantastic power, it looks more like a rally car, and it wins me over with bits such as its adjustable center diff, which makes the STI come alive on dirt, where rally cars belong.”

I dabbled in stage rally with a 30-year-old Subaru RX and an E36-generation BMW M3. And as someone who occasionally runs out of mechanical sympathy, I want my cars to be able to take similar kinds of abuse.

bob lutz
Bob Lutz “This low-slung sedan with all-wheel drive provided what the enthusiast craves on twisty roads. lt could embarrass the ‘noble brands’ from all countries.”portrait by marina de santis

My own 2017 STI got driven hard. Very hard. Over my 50,000 miles with it, I hit tracks, drove it cross-country and back, slid it on frozen lakes and snowy Catskill back roads, launched it on dry lake beds, and hustled it on pothole-laden city streets. It never complained.

subaru wrx sti very dirty
This was taken after a cross-country drive, a run through L.A. canyons, and spending time on a dry lakebed.Aaron Brown

Soon after I retired my STI in 2020, Subaru let the flame die out.

Both the STI and the Evo deserve celebration. Had Subaru and Mitsubishi not taken the risk, cars like the GR Corolla, the Golf R, and the Civic Type R would not be tearing up American roads. The Evo and the STI are as different as cats and dogs—one sharp-clawed, the other happiest when muddy. But they are kindred spirits, not mere rivals. Like Tommi Mäkinen and Colin McRae, the Evo and the STI pushed each other to be better.

For me, though, the STI still has my heart. Maybe it’s time to pick up a handsome 2006–07 “Hawkeye.” Or perhaps I’ll wait to see whether an electrified version ever arrives. No matter what, I won’t be satisfied unless its exhaust is bassy enough to rattle my rib cage.

premium access to road and track
premium access to road and track

A car-lover’s community for ultimate access & unrivaled experiences.JOIN NOW Hearst Owned

You Might Also Like