By comparison, the power in the WRX comes on almost instantly. As soon as you tickle the right pedal and ease out the clutch, the WRX leaps off the line. Driving around in any gear, as long as you're not lugging the engine, the WRX just feels much stronger and more responsive. There's 226 lb-ft of torque at 2,800 rpm in the WRX, while the STi engine reaches its maximum of 290 lb-ft at a much higher 4,000rpm. Of course, at some point the STi will run away and hide from the WRX, just not in regular driving. That's the price you pay for the lower 8.2:1 compression ratio and higher 14.7 psi (vs 11.9 psi in the WRX) maximum boost pressure.
Both cars have a similar engine note that's more or less unique in the automotive landscape. The mechanical sound of a Subaru boxer engine is unlike anything else except perhaps a Porsche engine with a comparable layout. Neither of these cars is quiet at any time when they are on the move. At highway speeds, there is plenty of wind and mechanical noise and neither model could be described as refined.
Driving around in both cars, another readily apparent difference is the suspension compliance. Neither car could be described as soft, but the STi definitely veers toward harshness. Michigan roads will test any car's ability to keep its rubber on the pavement, a skill that is necessary in order to provide cornering grip. The WRX ride is firm but doesn't beat you up, while the STi seems much better suited to the pavement you might find in places that don't experience 50 degree temperature cycles from one day to the next. One huge advantage of either Impreza is the rear-biased all-wheel-drive system, which, unlike a Dodge Caliber SRT-4, never has any issues with torque steer under hard acceleration.
When the weather turns nasty, like it did when we had each of these cars, the rally heritage of the all-wheel-drive system shows its true colors. Turning into a snowy corner and goosing the throttle swivels the back end of the car around nicely past the desired direction before the drive torque balance shifts toward the front axle to pull you through the corner. It all works smoothly and seamlessly and is great fun.
So is the STi worth $10,000 than a regular WRX? As always, it depends. If you can't live with the hatchback styling and want to choose the sedan, you are limited to the WRX. If you can live with the looks of the hatch, the decision gets a little more complicated. If you reside somewhere with smooth pavement (that is not Michigan) or you regularly spend weekends at the track and don't mind the high strung nature of the high-boost turbo engine, the STi will fill the bill. On the other hand, if you're in the market for a daily driver, the WRX is actually a lot more fun to drive at speeds won't cost you your driving privileges. It leaps off the line and the torque band feels broad and useful instead of peaky like the STi. Both cars have good grip and their advanced all-wheel-drive systems allow them to be utilized under all kinds of weather conditions. From the driver's seat, each car is rowdy and raucous, but the WRX gets my vote as a daily rally machine.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid, Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.