2020 Subaru WRX STI – Bottom Line Review

2020 Subaru WRX STI: Stance remains drooping nose tall beltline last generation compact Impreza notchback. Lower fascia corner cooling ducts have been revised.

UNOFFICIAL IN THE STATES: Officially sanctioned public road rallies are uncommon on these shores. American tort laws and road regulations aren’t favorable to public spectating at rally stages where only a few barrier-free feet separate fans from the cars. Current Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile World Rally Car rules limit car weight to 2600 pounds [including all wheel drive), engine displacement to 1600 cubic centimenters and turbocharger pressure to 36 psi. It’s hardly akin to the burly atmospheric V-8 powered stock race cars that American motorsport fans warm up to.

SEVEN INTENSELY BRIGHT STARS: FIA World Rally Car sanctioned events take place on all the other five driveable continents. Traditionally, the most intense motorsport fan following is in Europe, likely as a result of its origins there, the rugged terrain, and the historically intense nationalistic manufacturer competition. By the early 2000s Japanese automakers Subaru and Mitsubishi, with their respective all-wheel drive homologation specials Impreza WRX STI and Lancer Evolution VIII though X, had sole possession of Group N4 showroom class WRC force. By 2003 street versions of both were being sold in American showrooms.

PLEIADES POWER: Revised FIA rules established in 2013 effectively ended the succeeding Group R4 class of homologated turbocharged 2000+ cc all-wheel drive showroom specials. That explains why the street Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X, is one and done. As a continual tribute to nearly two decades of WRC Group N dominance, and in anticipation of a potential encore Olympus Rally,  the Seven Star brand still offers a 2020 Subaru WRX Subaru Tecnica International.

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WHAT: 2020 Subaru WRX STI 3rd Generation high performance all-wheel drive 2+3 compact in the brand’s homologated World Rally eXperimental Subaru Tecnica International line, It is the final dressing on the VA platform introduced in 2015, when the WRX model broke off from the Imprezza line.

2020 Subaru WRX STI: large NACA hood duct jams cool air into huge air-to-air intercooler. IHI VF-48 twin scroll turbocharger makes 16.2 psi boost on 91 octane unleaded

Powertrain: 2.5L DOHC 16V DI intercooled turbocharged gas Horizontally opposed-4 = 310 hp/ 290 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm + 6-speed manual helical transaxle + e- variable locking center differential all-wheel drive

    • Variable attenuation high flow exhaust
    • 3 performance modes: Intelligent, Sport, Sport Sharp
    • Front helical gear, rear Torsen limited slip differentials
    • 6 center differential lock settings


STAND OUT: Subtly aggressive front lower valances, rear diffusers, bulging fender cooling ducts and side spats warn of a maladjusted compact economy street car (Impreza GJ), consisting of a steeply sloped hood, low beltline with tall glass rising to a relatively tall trunk deck. For the extra funds spent, the WRX STI relies on a keen eye detecting front grille and rear deck “STI” badging, bronze Brembo brake calipers and he unique high flying trunk lid spoiler to earn distinctiveness from less costly standard WRX models. More timid Limited trim purchasers can opt for a trunk lid spoiler deletion.

2020 Subaru WRX STI: All trim is darkened, there’s a lower rear diffuser and STI exhaust is lower backpressure 3.0″ tubular stainless steel exiting quad pipes.

ALSO: Contrasting graphite side skirts, mesh front corner pseudo inlets and lower front valance w/ mesh; Longer roof spoiler convey greater length; Slimmer wheel arches, lower to mid rising door creases and thinner, wider wrap around lamp housings convey a slimmer silhouette; Boomerang taillamp housings meet rise to match Hofmeister kink thinning the C-pillar; Black contrast roof exhibits float; Beveled liftgate bottom renders a widening, Contrast graphite trapezoid center lower valance spreads wings;

  • New for 2020: re-designed lower fascia engine cooling ducts
2020 Subaru WRX STI: Only remaining factory high performance World Rally Car available to hearty Americans.

WHY: Tecnica -lly tribute to the last of the reigning (and only) homologated FIA Group N World Rally Cars available to hearty American adherents.

WHEN: On-Sale (in the U.S.) since winter 2019-2020

WHERE: Subaru new vehicle dealers

WHERE MADE: Ota, Gunma Prefecture, Japan

HOW ROADWORTHY: The Subaru WRX STI is heavy duty performance compact alright. Yet curiously it prefers coaxing to ham-fisted operation. Heart pounding acceleration comes from deliberateness and demands concentration. Brake and accelerator pedals are placed slightly right for heel to toe convenience. A heavy duty clutch exhibits heavy resistance. Clutch pedal return travel prior to re-engagement metes out some jerkiness. The WRX STI’s short throw shifter is supposed to reduce rowing effort yet the action is notchy enough to mistake 6th for 4th or worse yet 4th for 2nd. That is critical because plenty of two gear downshifting is required to keep the wastegate open for full powerplant boil.

Gearing is considerably short in the first two cogs to cover for turbo lag. By the time boost is boiling in third gear, it’s already time for an upshift to fourth to really pull ahead of more pedestrian traffic, else run up against a torque plateau. The stock exhaust tone, appropriate to the class, authentically announces the flat-4 piston gruff harmonics, rising to a shriek at wide open throttle. Getting the most of a WRX STI is more work than a Golf R but the result is more tame than the Mitsubishi Evo X ever was.

2020 Subaru WRX STI: Si Drive center differential compensation

What comes with all STIs and cannot be had on the tamer 2.0T WRX is a trick driver adjustable center electromagnetic clutch controlled differential. Three levels of Auto differential control take the thinking out of the equation, using conditions and input sensors to vary differential lock slippage from a nominal (full open) 40:60% to a maximum 50:50% torque split at 100% differential lock. For true competitive driving  manually selecting more positive lock is only intended for genuine slippery conditions. Dial less lock for dry pavement for rotating in and out of a turn. Understeer is excised by a rear axle Torsen limited slip differential.

HOW LIMBER: Brembo multi-piston fixed brake calipers at four wheels and specific Bilstein sport dampers cost the extra STI coin. The track worthy oversized cross-drilled rotors squeak a little when cold on the street. Yet the pads on a warmed up rotor throw an anchor down. Rapid compressing shocks can only deflect so much torsional energy from stiff springing and larger diameter sway bars. The latter only allow so much body roll to hint a dramatic change in direction or elevation. Consequently the ride but nothing that should loosen dental fillings. Sticking with tried and true the WRX STI still boasts of hydraulic assisted rack and pinion steering, the kind which is meaty and communicative, including most road crevices.

During Roadblazing.com’s midwestern Winter evaluation, the 2020 WRX STI had its summer rubber swapped for dedicated winters. On solid sheets of ice, which caused editors to slip in their boots, the Subie STI, with Symmetrical AWD left in auto mode, made a Polar Bear’s charge uphill.

2020 Subaru WRX STI: Bilstein Sport dampers deliver taught body control w/o excessive harshness. Cross-drilled brake rotors fend off heat as 6-piston front Brembo binders clamp down. Tester was fitted with Michelin Alpin performance winter rubber.

HOW FAR: 19 combined miles per gallon; 350 mile range

HOW BIG/ LITTLE: Based on the previous generation Impreza sedan, which was acceptably roomy for a compact sedan…12 years ago; Despite lacking an optional moonroof, headroom and rear legroom take a back seat to the competitive Honda Civic Type-R.

2020 Subaru WRX STI: Previous generation Impreza cabin space and comfort

HOW USEFUL: Slight incline folding 60/40% split 2nd Row seatbacks; Deep aperture trunk loading, wide 2nd Row pass-through; Door mount wing mirrors; Tow Rating: Not Rated. -1 Tall trunk load liftover, Only 12 cubic feet trunk capacity.


2020 Subaru WRX STI: High load liftover but deep trunk provides stingy 12.0 cubic feet space

HOW SAFE: 8 airbags; IIHS Top Safety Pick; Rear camera w/ predictive grid; Auto, steering adaptive LED headlamps; Auto high beam headlamps.

  • +1 Low cowl, door mount wing mirrors enhance forward view; Narrow B pillars; Tall sized sedan backlight;

Partial Autonomous Driving:

    • -1 Blind spot & lane change assist, lane change assist only on Limited trim

HOW PEOPLE FRIENDLY:  A cabin which was dated back at its inception in the late 2000’s persists with an econo-box plainness. As the light fades instrumentation is Ginza district red by night. But in daylight it’s coarse plastic panels, large gaps between them, austere knobs and switches, industrial power window motor whirring and thin body insulation to the ears. What would a Subaru be without idiosyncracy like the hanging chad MFD and steering heat switches between the horizontal and vertical spokes? That WRX STI gets its cabin full of exhaust and tire noise the good old-fashioned way…by minimized insulation.

2020 Subaru WRX STI: Aluminum pedal covers await driver upon entry.

Ultrasuede 8-way power adjust driver’s, 4-way front passenger Recaro seats, w/ manual knee extenders, 2-setting driver’s memory; Comfort keyless entry & push-button ignition; 4 power windows, front w/ full up & down express; Auto climate control; Leather tilt/ telescoping D-shape steering wheel; Aluminum pedal covers.

+1: The kind of hugging Recaro seats those of average fitness can fit into

2020 Subaru WRX STI: Ultrasued Recaro front sport seats trimmed in red leather are the comfortable type

Cool Gizmo(s): Center differential with variable lock adjustment

Details Done Right: Contrasting red & dark leather seat bolsters; Contrast red stitched dash top multi-function display soft hood & center console soft knee padding; Piano black accents; Flush door and center console toggle switchgear; Berber floor mats.

Nearly Non-Descript: -1 Hard door pocket linings; Coarse plastic rocker panel covers; Hard plastic center console casing; Thin trunk carpet.

HOW “APP” -LICABLE: 7.0″ Starlink touch LCD infotainment screen; Rotary audio volume dial, selection, defroster & Home screen switches ; Bluetooth, hands-free communications; SMS messaging; Magellan app voice command/ guidance 3-D HDD GPS navigation; 6-speaker, 160 watt streaming audio Android Auto + Apple CarPlay; Starlink Apps; USB x 2, 12V x 1.

2020 Subaru WRX STI: Android Auto navigation & Pandora music
  • +1 Deep lower front center stack wireless device storage;
  • -1 No 2nd Row electronics power source; -1 Limited text message response list

Applications by Starlink (mobile device powered): ♦ Chimani, landmark travel info; ♦ Ebird ornithological identifier ; ♦ Eve Connect remote home security & climate monitor;

Other Apps: Magellan Navigation, iHeart Radio, ChargeFinder; Weather; Yelp, Calendar, Glympse, News

    • -1: Pass Magellan app based Navigation and Go straight to Android Auto / Apple CarPlay maps. Magellan is glacial to initiate and in response to inputs.

By Subscription: SiriusXM (90 days included);   Travellink (1 year trial included)


HOW MUCH: $41,045 = as tested 2020 Subaru WRX STI.

WHAT’S MISSING: More soft surfaces, less mono-dark industrial materials, more 21st century infotainment & instrument displays such as Outback’s available Starlink 11.7″ portrait media display.

ANY COMPETITION: Honda Civic Type-R: +1 Cabin space, modern racy instruments; Mini John Cooper Works Clubman: +1 Steering feel, cabin materials; Volkswagen Golf R: +1 Solid German build, digital cockpit, forgiving ride compliance;

BOTTOM LINE: Hang on for one of the wilder rides available today.

Contributing Editor: D. Kallioras


An automotive enthusiast since an orange toy VW Beetle ended up in his playpen and following him everywhere, George Straton has been chief editor at ChicagoNow.com/Drive-He-Said automotive lifestyle blog since 2010. In 2017 George established Roadblazing.com, dedicated to accurate automotive reviews, news and road trip stories. George is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association and the Phoenix Automotive Press Association. George also happens to be an attorney and Loyola University of Chicago Ramblers fan. Present ride: 2022 Mazda 3 Turbo AWD Hatchback.

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