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Subaru offers two versions of its famous rally-inspired, all-wheel-drive performance sedan. Judging the Subaru WRX versus the Subaru WRX STI is hard. The cars are similar on the surface but dramatically different in equipment and performance.

Subaru developed the WRX for the Japanese market in the early 1990s when the automaker needed a production vehicle for rally competition. Subaru began producing the WRX in 1992 and the higher-performance STI in 1994. The WRX name stands for World Rally eXperimental and STI for Subaru Tecnica International.

The WRX came to North America for the 2002 model year. The car was based on the Impreza platform but with more power and better handling. The more advanced STI version of the WRX followed in 2004. Today, both models are halo vehicles in the Subaru lineup. Which is better? Read on to find out. Or for what to compare in any two vehicles read our article on finding the perfect car for your needs.

About the Subaru WRX

The 2019 Subaru WRX is a four-door, compact sport sedan with seating for five passengers. The WRX comes with a 2.0-liter direct-injected and turbocharged four-cylinder engine rated at 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.

The standard WRX gearbox is a six-speed manual. Subaru’s Lineartronic continuously variable automatic transmission is available in some trims. The standard WRX returns up to 21 mpg in city driving and 27 mpg on the highway. Fuel economy drops to 18 mpg city and 24 mpg highway with the Lineartronic.

All WRX models include Subaru’s full-time symmetrical all-wheel-drive system. The WRX includes active torque vectoring, which applies a little braking to the inside front wheel in a corner. This helps give the WRX more responsive steering.

The Subaru WRX is available in three trim levels. The base WRX includes all the performance equipment and a basic cloth-seat interior. Premium and Limited trims upgrade to synthetic suede or real leather. Higher trims also include features like a better infotainment system and automatic headlights.

The WRX has proven itself on racetracks and rally roads for almost two decades and has been lauded for its residual value by both ALG and Edmunds. The 2019 Subaru WRX is assembled in Gunma, Japan.

About the Subaru WRX STI:

The 2019 Subaru WRX STI is built on the same chassis as the basic WRX but with a number of different mechanical parts. So, while the bodywork and seating capacity are the same, the STI offers much higher performance than the WRX.

The engine in the STI is a 2.5-liter direct-injected and turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 310 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque. The STI uses a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission with all-wheel-drive. The STI includes limited-slip differentials at the front and rear of the vehicle to ensure that wheels on both sides receive power. The STI also features a driver-controlled center differential that distributes engine torque between the front and rear wheels.

The STI has upgraded quick-ratio steering and sport-tuned performance suspension. STI brakes are six-piston front and dual-piston rear calipers around oversized cross-drilled rotors.

Two trim levels are available with WRX STI: base STI and Limited trim. As with the WRX, the differences are in interior trim and technology. The 2019 Subaru WRX STI holds the American Rally Association’s U.S. national championship, and is assembled in Gunma, Japan.

WRX vs WRX STI price comparison graph

Subaru WRX vs. Subaru WRX STI: What has Better Interior Quality, Space, and Comfort?

Because they are built on the same platform, both the Subaru WRX and the Subaru WRX STI have the same interior space and configuration. All WRX and STI models offer 12.0 cubic feet of trunk space, which is about average for a compact sedan.

The STI offers a few interior upgrades over the WRX, such as available Recaro sport seats. Some people find Recaro sport seats to be uncomfortably firm, so be sure to try both before making a buying decision. All WRX and STI models except the base WRX come with heated front seats. STI models use the synthetic Ultrasuede material, while the WRX can be outfitted with cloth, Ultrasuede, or leather.

The STI also features dual-zone climate control. But, overall, interior differences between the two cars are minimal.

Subaru WRX vs. Subaru WRX STI: What has Better Safety Equipment and Ratings?

All Subaru WRX and WRX STI models perform well in crash tests. Because they share the same platform, safety equipment is similar between the two. Both models include a full suite of standard safety features. The exceptions to this are the WRX Premium and Limited trims. Here, the Lineartronic transmission and EyeSight safety package are available. The following advanced features are included:

  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Pre-collision braking
  • Lane-departure warning
  • Sway warning

Automatic high beams and reverse automatic braking are available with the WRX Limited trim. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are optional with WRX Limited and standard on STI Limited. EyeSight advanced features are not available with the manual transmission STI.

The 2019 Subaru WRX received a Top Safety Pick+ designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). To earn this rating, the WRX must be ordered with the Lineartronic transmission and the EyeSight package.

If advanced safety features were the only consideration, the WRX Premium and Limited trims with the Lineartronic CVT would be the models to choose.

Subaru WRX vs. Subaru WRX STI: What has Better Technology?

The base Subaru WRX trim includes a 6.5-inch touchscreen technology interface. This unit supports both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, bringing navigation and streaming music to the car. The system also includes an AM/FM/HD/Satellite radio, CD player, and USB access. WRX Premium and Limited trims and the base STI upgrade to a 7.0-inch touchscreen with the same capabilities.

The 7.0-inch interface with onboard GPS navigation is optional on WRX Limited and standard on STI Limited trims. A nine-speaker Harman Kardon audio system with 440-Watt amplifier is optional on the WRX Limited and standard on the STI Limited.

Subaru’s StarLink interface is generally easy to use, and the systems all work well. If dashboard tech is the deciding factor for you, then head for the top of the trim list and buy a Limited.

Subaru WRX vs. Subaru WRX STI: Which is Better to Drive?

Driving experience is the big difference between the Subaru WRX and the WRX STI. Simply put, the STI has more of everything. It goes faster, corners flatter, and brakes harder. The STI also includes the driver-controlled center differential. The steering is quicker, and the close-ratio transmission provides better acceleration.

But before you dismiss the WRX, remember that the faster car is often less comfortable in the long run. This is especially true if you get the Recaro seats in the STI. Recaro seats have less padding, more bolstering, and can be uncomfortable on longer drives. Further, the WRX has more compliant suspension and will be smoother on bumpy roads.

Choosing the best driving experience between the WRX and the WRX STI will be a matter of personal taste. For everyday driving, we prefer the WRX. For track use, the STI is a better choice.

Subaru WRX vs. Subaru WRX STI: Which Car is Priced Better?

The extra performance in the 2019 Subaru WRX STI isn’t free. In fact, the STI starts about $10,000 more than the WRX.

The base WRX has a starting retail price of $27,195, which is well within the economy-car price range. For the performance and features you get, the WRX is very tempting. Moving up to the WRX Premium costs $29,495, and the WRX Limited starts at $31,795. Opting for the Lineartronic CVT adds $1,900 but includes the EyeSight system.

There’s a big price jump to the WRX STI, which starts at $36,595. The top STI Limited retails for $41,395, which is up in luxury car territory where 300 horsepower is typical. Both the WRX and the STI are covered by the same warranty, three years or 36,000 miles. Subaru protects its engines for five years or 60,000 miles. The manufacturer also covers wear items like wiper blades and brake pads for three years or 36,000 miles.

Subaru WRX vs. Subaru WRX STI: Which Car Should I Buy?

If you have to make a decision about the Subaru WRX and the Subaru WRX STI, it’s going to come down to price and performance. The STI is clearly the better performer, but it can cost over $14,000 more than the WRX.

The base WRX is an excellent performance car at a great price. If you need a few more comfort and convenience features, upgrading to Premium or even Limited trim won’t break your wallet. If we were spending our own money, we’d choose the WRX for everyday use.

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Subaru WRX vs. Subaru WRX STI: Which Car is Right For Me?
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Subaru WRX vs. Subaru WRX STI: Which Car is Right For Me?
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We pit the Subaru WRX vs the Subaru WRX STI, with a Pro comparing driving, tech, safety features, and pricing to clarify which is right for you.
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Jeff Zurschmeide has been covering the automotive industry for more than 15 years as a writer, editor, and photographer. His work has appeared in numerous newspapers, magazines, and websites, and he has written nine books on automotive topics. Because cars cost money, Jeff is also a keen student of personal finance. In fact, he went to graduate school for an MBA degree just to understand how the auto and finance industries work. Jeff makes his home in Tillamook, Oregon.

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