2019 Subaru STI S209 Review

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Stay tuned for the full Edmunds’ review of the 2019 Subaru STI S209. It’s in the works, so check back here for all the details and our expert analysis.

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2019 Subaru STI S209 First Drive

The Old Dog Learns Some New Tricks

What is it?

The 2019 Subaru STI S209 is a limited-production, high-performance, five-passenger compact sedan based on the last-generation Subaru Impreza. The S209 marks the first time an S model has been offered in the United States by Subaru. Production is limited to 209 units in one of two colors: 128 in World Rally Blue Pearl with gray wheels and 81 in Crystal White Pearl with gold wheels.

Even though it uses the same engine as the WRX STI, the S209 offers more power (341 horsepower, compared to 310 hp in the WRX STI) thanks to a host of engine modifications, which include a larger turbo generating most boost pressure, a retuned ECU and a new free-flowing exhaust. There have also been significant modifications to the suspension, chassis and bodywork in the name of not only outright grip but also road feel and steering response. The close-ratio six-speed manual transmission — no automatic is offered — has also received revisions in the form of a new shift mechanism intended to shorten shift time, otherwise known as a short shift kit.

Why does it matter?

To Subaru aficionados, the S models are legendary. The S209 is no exception, but it gains additional significance by being the first vehicle completely built by Subaru Technica International (STI) that's undergone U.S. homologation. That means Subaru has likely opened the door to more STI models in the coming years, although the carmaker remains tight-lipped as to which models could get the full STI treatment. Until then, the S209 is likely the last hurrah for the current and aging WRX STI platform that's been around since 2014.

What does it compete with?

The S209's historical rival, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, was killed off in 2016. Without a perfect foil, the WRX STI and the STI S209 find themselves in uncharted waters. Impressive though the specs might be, the S209 is still underpinned by the STI that was redesigned back in 2014. Since then nearly every sports car of this size, configuration or price has undergone substantial redesigns.

While the standard WRX STI has to deal with the likes of the Volkswagen Golf R and the Honda Civic Type R, the S209 might be priced closer to an Audi RS 3 or a BMW M2. Both of those competitors offer serious performance and refinement along with the latest infotainment technology — something the S209 lacks.

How does it drive?

Among people who build race cars for a living, there's a saying along the lines of, "A race car should be easier to drive than a road car. And if it isn't, you're doing something wrong." Well, STI does exactly that. Aside from developing sportier parts for various Subarus, it also designs and builds Subarus to compete in a variety of racing events around the world. Among those events, perhaps the most notable is the famed Nürburgring 24 Hours, which is known for the grueling demands the race puts on cars and drivers alike. And this year marked the sixth in a row that an STI-built Subaru has won its class.

What does that have to do with the S209? Well, a lot. For starters, some of the same engineers responsible for the ongoing development of that race car were involved in the chassis and suspension upgrades present in the S209. Parts such as a flexible front strut tower bar (stiffens under cornering forces and relaxes under straight-line forces such as acceleration and braking), subframe bracing, and front and rear draw-stiffeners are all features culled directly from their Nürburgring experiences. STI even redesigned various suspension bushings and mounts to allow for less delay between the moment you turn the steering wheel and the moment the car responds.

More common modifications such as stiffer springs and specially tuned Bilstein dampers were swapped in, along with special brake pads with a higher heat tolerance, making them less likely to fade while on a racetrack or a good mountain road. Even the tire supplier, Dunlop, designed a special tire (SP Sport Maxx GT600A) to fit over special 19-inch BBS wheels.

The result is astonishing. The somewhat primitive and wild WRX STI has been significantly refined and improved in nearly every performance metric. The ride is undeniably stiff, but the S209 somehow manages not to crash and bang over moderate bumps. During moderately aggressive driving, the body remains taut and flat while still providing ample feedback to the driver. The steering has excellent feel just off-center, and the weighting imparts confidence without being needlessly heavy. Steering response, something STI sought to improve from the start, is nearly instantaneous yet avoids feeling darty or nervous. All of those countless hours at the Nürburgring really did pay off.

Power is up as well, but its delivery doesn't shine in the same way the handling does. This car is still very much a WRX STI, and the aging 2.5-liter flat four-cylinder still lacks motivation below 3,000 rpm. The new, larger HKS turbo and expanse of engine tuning have made for a smoother swell of power across a larger rpm range. But if you get caught in a gear too high, you'll quickly find yourself scrambling to downshift.

Speaking of finding gears, the ratios in the gearbox are now selected via a short shift kit unique to the S209. While shift effort remains fairly light, engagement was still very notchy. The shift gate also proved a bit narrow, and multiple drivers — including ourselves — experienced mis-shifts. An owner might be able to adapt to the narrow spacing, but the patience it takes to find the correct gear almost negates the use of the short shift kit.

Subaru insisted we sample the S209 on a racetrack as well, and we came away convinced that, aside from the shifter, it's one of the best cars in which to learn a new track. The car is terrifically stable, allowing for corrections to be made midway through corners that would otherwise spin you around in another car. But there's still a good deal of nimbleness in the S209. The car moves when and where you want it to, and the all-wheel-drive system has been tweaked for better and more aggressive apportioning of power.

Returning to the mantra of race cars being easier to drive than road cars, if the standard WRX STI is a road car, the S209 is a race car. Color us deeply impressed.

What's the interior like?

If you have any familiarity with the WRX and WRX STI, and it's likely you do since this generation has been around since 2014, the S209 isn't particularly different. Standing out is the grippy faux suede-wrapped steering wheel and the strip of dark red trim that runs the width of the dashboard. There's a numbered build plate just aft of the shift lever as well as the S209 nomenclature just above the glovebox.

The S209 logo also appears on the Recaro sport seats (the driver gets eight-way power adjustability while the passenger stays fully manual) as well as on the doorsill. Both front and rear seats are covered in black and gray leather and faux suede upholstery with contrasting silver stitching. The front seats, though impressive-looking, don't offer quite the support, especially across the seat bottoms.

Dating the S209 is Subaru's last-generation 7-inch infotainment touchscreen. While no one interested in the S209 will likely care, the screen is a reminder of just how quickly technology can look out-of-date. Thankfully, both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included as are two fast-charging USB ports for front seat passengers.

Surprising was the lack of excessive road and exhaust noise inside the S209. Of course the specially developed Dunlop tires can get a bit loud on rougher surfaces, but the noise was far from overpowering. And for all its flashy hand-polished appearance, the exhaust didn't drone at sustained highway speeds.

How practical is it?

The S209 is still an Impreza despite its performance improvements and boy-racer body kit. There's seating for five, and thanks to the standard Impreza's tall greenhouse, all passengers have ample headroom and shoulder room. Not counting the rather large wing on the trunklid, visibility is quite good — especially out the front.

That large adjustable rear wing makes the trunk even heavier to open, but the space underneath looks remarkably similar to a standard WRX. There is a bright pink chassis brace (an official STI color) in the cargo area, but it is tucked up against the bottom of the parcel shelf and shouldn't get in the way of luggage, groceries, or a set of track wheels and tires.

What else should I know?

Subaru says the aero accoutrements are functional. From the increased cooling in the front of the car to the canards near the front tires to the actual working fender vents, all the styling offers real-world benefits. Even that rear wing makes a bit of actual downforce. It's only 42 pounds at 75 mph, but it's something.

And those paddles on the back of the steering wheel? They allow for water to be sprayed directly onto the intercooler to cool the air going into the engine on warmer days. We didn't notice a difference, but it's a nod to previous S models, and we like that little bit of manual control.

For a major automaker, the S209 is a very, very limited production run. At just 209 cars, most will undoubtedly be sold the moment they hit dealer lots.

Edmunds says

Bringing the 2019 Subaru STI S209 to the U.S. is a curious move by Subaru. While it is no doubt the best iteration of the long-running WRX STI, its limited production numbers, and likely high price, make it something only for the most die-hard Subaru enthusiasts. Still, it's a glimpse inside the racing brains of STI to see just how focused and how good a Subaru performance car can be.


Consumer reviews

There are no consumer reviews for the Used 2019 Subaru STI S209.


More about the 2019 Subaru STI S209

Used 2019 Subaru STI S209 Overview

The Used 2019 Subaru STI S209 is offered in the following submodels: STI S209 Sedan. Available styles include 4dr Sedan AWD (2.5L 4cyl Turbo 6M). The Used 2019 Subaru STI S209 comes with all wheel drive. Available transmissions include: 6-speed manual. The Used 2019 Subaru STI S209 comes with a 3 yr./ 36000 mi. basic warranty, a 3 yr./ 36000 mi. roadside warranty, and a 5 yr./ 60000 mi. powertrain warranty.

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Should I lease or buy a 2019 Subaru STI S209?

Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.

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