There was a time when the gold-rimmed and tail-spoiler-adorned Subaru WRX STi was the final word in compact, forced-induction and all-wheel-drive road machines... then the Mercedes-AMG A45 (and other hyper hatchbacks) came along. Well, fear not, the Scooby is about to make an almighty comeback.
Born as a product of Subaru’s participation in the world rally championship through the Nineties and Noughties, which yielded multiple championships for the Fuji Heavy Industries brand, the (formerly Impreza-branded) WRX STi a became household name by virtue of its rorty turbocharged 2.0-litre flat-four (boxer) motor, symmetrical all-wheel drive, audacious boy-racer body kits and, invariably, the brand's inimitable Rally Blue paintwork.
Subaru offered the limited edition, SA-developed WRX STi Diamond Edition on the local market in 2018.
The 2.0-litre EJ20 boxer engine, which debuted in 1989 and evolved over the next 30 years through, inter alia, the brand’s involvement in motorsport, powered several iterations of the WRX STi. Although the current model uses a 2.5-litre EJ257 motor, the iconic 2.0-litre unit was offered in the Japanese market until recently, when Subaru gave its revered EJ20 a respectful send-off with the EJ20 Final Edition.
Of course, to call the current model “current” is a bit of misnomer, because whereas the WRX STi (and its WRX little brother) used to be based on the Impreza, the pair remain underpinned by the 4th-generation 4-door model (VA), while the 2.0-litre Impreza (in which guise it is offered in our market) is based on the 5th-generation model, based on the Subaru Global Platform (SGP), as is the XV.
The look of the next-generation WRX STi will take its inspiration from the Subaru Viziv Performance STI Concept.
Ever since the emergence of models such as the Audi RS3, Mercedes-AMG A45, Ford Focus RS and Volkswagen Golf R, the hot-pink-badged WRX STi has undoubtedly lost some of its mystique; Subaru has toned down its performance sedan and introduced new technologies to broaden its yuppie appeal, but an enthusiastic cult-following does not guarantee strong sales – especially if your product has a premium price tag, but your brand does not quite have the cachet (or marketing budget) of German marques.
Undeterred, Subaru is about to foist its WRX STi into the third decade of the century, with various Japanese reports confirming that a new model is being prepared for a global launch in 2021. The EJ series motor is no longer the solution; the WRX STi’s 221 kW/407 Nm from its turbocharged 2.5-litre engine pales in comparison with the benchmark 2nd-generation Mercedes-AMG A45’s 310 kW and 500 Nm, for example.
Subaru may have left the World Rally Championship at the end of 2008, but the brand has not forgotten the WRX STi's roots.
Just under 300 kW
The basis of the upcoming car’s powerplant will be the 2.4-litre flat-four (boxer) turbocharged FA24F engine that powers the Subaru Ascent SUV in the North American market. In standard guise, it produces merely 194 kW and 376 Nm, but citing sources close to Subaru, Forbes reports the motor will be upgraded to produce 298 kW and 489 Nm thanks to the introduction of a reinforced crankshaft and pistons, fine-tuned valve timing, revised intake ports and higher boost pressure.
It may seem a while ago, but Subaru previewed the next-generation WRX STi at the 2018 Tokyo Show when it showcased the Viziv Performance STi Concept. Although very much a concept car, it was festooned with a carbon-fibre bonnet scoop, a muscular body kit with winglets and pink pin-striping and, of course, flared wheel arches, a huge rally-style diffuser, 4 exhaust tips and an elaborate boot spoiler.
Subaru will crank up the performance of its new 2.4-litre boxer engine and probably add hybridisation for good measure.
Reports out of Japan suggest the new WRX STi will measure 4 650 mm in length, 1 800 mm in width and 1 470 mm in height, and ride on a 2 675 mm wheelbase. That’s substantially lower, but the same width and slightly longer than the Impreza. Interestingly, the car will weigh about 1 550 kg, which will make it 22 kg lighter than the current WRX STi. Could it be a sub-5.0 sec 0-100 kph car?
It goes without saying that Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel-drive system will be integral to the package and it’s likely the newcomer will again be offered with a 6-speed manual ‘box, but, then again, the sports sedan may well switch to a Lineartronic CVT automatic transmission; here's why...
In order to keep the WRX STI on the right side of tightening emissions standards (the current car is no longer offered in Europe due to high emissions), the upcoming model will probably feature a version of Subaru’s e-Boxer hybrid technology, in which an electric motor is mounted to the CVT transmission, while its lithium-ion battery pack and other components are mounted above the rear axle.
Whether that technology, for which the aforementioned SGP was specifically designed, will be utilised for reducing fuel consumption only – the motor produces a mere 10 kW/65 Nm and has a 13.5-kWh battery in other Subarus – remains to be seen, however. We hope to see a production version of the WRX STI early in 2021, with deliveries beginning around the latter half of that year...