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Old 04-14-2018, 10:40 PM   #1
mk5039
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DGM

Default 2018 STI vs the Competition - A review

After having read several reviews/opinions on Nasioc over the last 6-12 months I felt it was my duty to fellow Subie nerds to give a positive take on the STI, RS and R debate.

To give some background, I drove a 2011 WRX Hatchback for the last 7 years(purchased new), and when I decided to buy a new car I made it a point to drive the FA20 WRX, Golf R, Focus RS, and VA STI. I briefly considered going the route of a Mustang GT, used 370z, or used M3, but practicality and new car warranty won out. I wanted something that I could drive year round easily, decent sized trunk/hatch, reliable, all while being fun to drive in all conditions. Originally the Focus RS was my final choice, but on the way to the Ford dealership I had a change of heart and put my money down on a 2018 DGM Base STI instead. Below are my thoughts on all 3.

Summary

STI – The STI is everything I liked about my 2011 WRX amplified by 100. Fun to chuck into the corner with minimal fuss or roll. The STI has a solid and planted nature to the way it tracks the road, like it’s on rails. The engine provides a similar acceleration feel to that of my old car, pulls from 3500rpm on pretty fiercely. The one surprise I discovered, is the way it felt below 3500rpm. Anything above 2500 is useful for daily driving, a big change from my previous WRX. The STI has that analog feel that I really value over the latest and greatest automotive wizardry. The steering is nice and heavy, the drivetrain is jerky and demands a soft touch, and the engine needs to be revved out to get the most of it.

Golf R – Truth be told, I loved the Golf R. This thing feels like it was chiseled out of solid concrete. Out of all 3 cars this one carried a more expensive and solid feel, perhaps one actually worth the $40k price tag. The engine is responsive, the shifter is plenty reasonable, steering a little light for my tastes, but the overall package is that of an upscale hot hatch. Plenty fun on the backroads, and the most daily friendly package on the list.

Focus RS – Motorsport. This thing was crazy fun to drive. As soon as I hit the start button the whole thing shook to life, just a really cool feel. Razor sharp steering, responsive engine, and just an interesting feel to the back end. If I had planned to do any serious amount of track driving, this would have been the car for me. If there’s any downside I can find, it’s the razor sharp steering, overly lively suspension, and somewhat artificial feel to the back end wizardry. At the end of the test drive, I made a pretty sharp turn from a stop to cross traffic into the dealer lot, and it felt oddly rear driven. Not in an exciting way, but a “that didn’t feel normal” way.

Mechanicals/Chassis

STI – Yes, the EJ257 is old. Yes, it can blow ringlands if not cared for. The engine, while definitely played out, is plenty to have fun with on public roads. 2500rpm on is plenty to get to speed on public roads, and above 4000rpm is a great rush. Love the transmission, it’s nice and notchy, notoriously reliable and geared so you’re always in the meat of the power-band. A love it/hate it downside of the STI is the lurch in the drivetrain. Drive with anything but a smooth and precise technique, and this thing is going to buck and thrash every time you’re not giving it your full attention. I’ve been averaging 19mpg in mostly city/backroads driving, which while not great, is hardly any different than what most seem to be getting in the RS under similar conditions. Plenty of aftermarket support should one be so inclined to add power. Suspension is surprisingly compliant, stiff but not unforgiving. Thought I was going to be in for a painful daily drive with a stiff suspension and 19 inch wheels, but is totally DD friendly. Sharp turn in and heavy steering.

Golf R – Smooth. That’s the best way to describe the engine and transmission in the Golf R. The engine never seemed to protest, vibrations were at a minimum, and the transmission/clutch were some of the easiest I’ve ever used. This definitely felt the least powerful out of the STI/RS/R. By no means slow, and power was more accessible than the STI, but definitely not fast either. Excellent gas mileage compared to the other two. Power is easily(and non-warranty torpedoing) added with the JB4. Chassis is smooth and planted, turn in with the variable rack is quick enough, and the suspension is very compliant with the DCC system. Steering feels dead and underweighted in this company.

Focus RS – The best parts of the STI and the best parts of the R, with very few of the drawbacks. The Focus engine pulls from everywhere, AND still pulls towards the top of the range. Shifter is better than the Golf R, but not quite as engaging as the STI. Doesn’t feel like front wheel drive, which is a big plus given the starting point Ford had to work with. So-so gas mileage, but could be better than STI depending on driving habits. Engine recall issues did make me pause in my decision. I’m sure it is fixed with the new head gasket, but I don’t want to be the depreciation/long term reliability guinea pig. Some big power made with minor tweaks, remains to be seen how these hold up over the long haul. Chassis is lively and playful, with an adjustable feeling rear end. Lively nature can be a little tiresome for daily driving, too much nervousness in the steering. Steering itself is linear and well weighted.

Interior

STI – Drove both a 2015 and my 2018. Have to say the 2018 made some nice strides in being a nicer place to spend time. Materials seem to be a little nicer, I like the piano black trim. One BIG change from my 2011 WRX… SO quiet. The levels of noise in my old REX were near unbearable in comparison, not that the STI is the quietest car in the world either though. A huge downside for the STI – no CarPlay. Seriously Subaru? How hard would it be to replace the junky STARLINK system with an off-the-shelf CarPlay headunit? Interior space is a huge plus for the Subie, and the seats are way better than what I had in my GR.

Golf R – Really, really nice interior. The best of the 3, and a big reason to buy the Golf R. Everything looks really well designed, and the materials are without equal in this trio. The interior in the R makes it almost acceptable to buy a boy racer econobox for $40k. Passengers sitting in the golf won’t question your sanity or maturity the way they will in the STI or RS. Plenty of space in the back seat, but the hatch doesn’t seem that big with the rear seats up. LOVE the driving position, nice and low compared to the other two. Seats have good bolstering.

Focus RS – Eh, the least favorite part of this car for me. The materials look a little cheap in comparison to the other two. Not bad per se, just not a “plus” for the RS. Comes with CarPlay, which is nice, but the base model doesn’t even come with heated seats… Back seats are cramped, and the hatch doesn’t seem that big. Recaros are awesome, if a little high. Odd angle of the seats leaves a little to be desired, but hardly the problem some YouTube reviewers make it out to be. One big surprise, it felt like the quietest in this group. Tomb quiet was a refreshing change from the typical econobox highway speed thrum.

Inherent Qualities/Flaws/Quirks

STI – Part of the reason I bought the STI, is the Subaru factor. I love the brand, I love the STI wave, and I love the rugged go anywhere image. Native full-time AWD is a big plus if it rains/snows with any regularity where you live. Boxer rumble is fun, if a little unrefined. Lack of a hatch option is a big disappointment, but not enough to remove the STI as an option IMO. I haven’t yet regretted the lack of a 5th door, but I’m sure it’ll show up at some point. Excellent resale value, may be last of the analog STIs.

Golf R – Classless image: in its element at the track, pulling up to a valet stand, or taking the kids to soccer practice. Such a great all-arounder and daily driver. Had they offered a cloth seats version in the mid 30’s I would probably have pulled the trigger on the R. Love the Soundaktor, it offers a very 5 cylinderish thrum that sounds much more expensive than the STI or RS. AWD system a little primitive/simple in this company, doesn’t really feel as planted as the other two. When I’m done with the STI, I feel an MK8 R might be in my future. Although a big downside that I felt about the R, was nothing seemed all that notable. There’s very little that’s quirky or “special” about the golf other than its inherent “Golfness” available all the way up and down the product range.

Focus RS – RS heritage finally makes it to the US! Very cool car to own, limited quantity and unique presence. Innovative AWD trickery to give different feels in different settings. Pops and bangs are addictive, if a little tacky at times. Motorsport feel to the chassis, light on its feet. Although that dancing on its toes feeling is a big downside in daily driving. At times the RS almost felt overly nervous when just driving normally. Buying an RS with long term ownership in mind is a bit of a roll of the dice. MSRP seems high in comparison, although I was able to find a few killer deals($4k under msrp on RS2 cars) when I was searching for an RS.

Conclusion

This was a tough decision. Ultimately I think the three amigos are very similar, with a nearly identical blend of performance and utility. The STI is the most analog and old-school, while the Golf R is the best daily, and the Focus RS an innovative track weapon. I think the STI offers a good on-road driving experience, while also competently pulling daily duties. The 2020 STI will undoubtedly be more competent, and offer some additional creature comforts, but at what cost? Will it be muted in the way the Golf is, or artificial feeling like the Focus RS? The STI should be enjoyed for what it is and the heritage it was born from.

Sometimes simplicity and familiarity are the right formula, and I’m glad I bought my STI. Hopefully this will help those of you on the fence!
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Last edited by mk5039; 04-15-2018 at 06:56 AM.
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Old 04-15-2018, 07:03 AM   #2
GoldenEagle25
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This is perfect, thank you for doing this. I am going to be ordering my car in the next several months and these are the three I have been considering.
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Old 04-15-2018, 07:20 AM   #3
mk5039
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Originally Posted by GoldenEagle25 View Post
This is perfect, thank you for doing this. I am going to be ordering my car in the next several months and these are the three I have been considering.


No problem! You'll be happy with any of the 3. Are you leaning one way or another?
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Old 04-15-2018, 07:22 AM   #4
GoldenEagle25
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Originally Posted by mk5039 View Post
No problem! You'll be happy with any of the 3. Are you leaning one way or another?


I have decided on the STi because that has been my dream car for the last 8 years, so if I get anything else I feel like I will regret it. But that hasn’t stopped me from reading all the comparisons and waffling a bit.
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Old 04-15-2018, 09:00 PM   #5
R1Armadillo
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For me it's the styling of the Golf R that turns me off. I love everything else about that car! My friend's is amazing to drive in, I just don't care for the body.

The STi has been so much fun! I've been going the long way home pretty much everyday since owning her, just to drive!

Great write up and perspective!

Last edited by R1Armadillo; 04-16-2018 at 09:16 AM.
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Old 04-16-2018, 10:49 AM   #6
mxdude105
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Nice write up! If I had confidence in the Golf R both holding up and holding its value past 100k miles it would be a real contender for my next car.
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Old 04-16-2018, 12:01 PM   #7
ZenDragon
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Part of me wishes I at least considered and test drove Focus RS before I bought my STI, mainly for the exclusivity of it, and because I have always liked hatchbacks since my Mazdaspeed 3. The Golf wasn't even on my list at the time although I had previously driven one several years before I bought my STI, on a manufacturer sponsored track comparison that I was invited to through my auto-x group. That said, I have been pretty happy with my purchase in general. I agree about the transmission, it requires a lot of attention and technique to drive smoothly, especially in traffic. But out in the twisty back mountain roads it's like very damn near nothing I've ever driven. It's raw, responsive, and predictable. You can literally feel the road in your hands and feet, whereas I felt disconnected in the golf and although I have no doubt the RS handles amazingly, I've heard similar complaints in that regard. By no means does that make a slouch of the two, but I've never heard anybody say that about an STI.

Last edited by ZenDragon; 04-16-2018 at 01:48 PM.
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Old 04-16-2018, 12:43 PM   #8
mk5039
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Quote:
Originally Posted by R1Armadillo View Post
For me it's the styling of the Golf R that turns me off. I love everything else about that car! My friend's is amazing to drive in, I just don't care for the body.

The STi has been so much fun! I've been going the long way home pretty much everyday since owning her, just to drive!

Great write up and perspective!
Definitely agree with you there. The styling is very subdued, whereas the STI and RS have a good bit more presence. I hesitate to call the R styling a downside though, bc going unnoticed can be a plus depending on your location/job/image.

Funnily enough, I've gotten more comments on the new acid yellow Brembos than the wing/wheels/hood scoop on my '18.
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Old 04-16-2018, 12:46 PM   #9
KeyserSoze303
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ZenDragon View Post
Part of me wishes I at least considered and test drove Focus RS before I bought my STI, mainly for the exclusivity of it, and because I have always liked hatchbacks since my Mazdaspeed 3. The Golf wasn't even on my list at the time although I had previously driven one several years before I bought my STI, on a manufacturer sponsored track comparison that I was invited to through my auto-x group. That said, I have been pretty happy with my purchase in general. I agree about the transmission, it requires a lot of attention and technique to drive smoothly, especially in traffic. But out in the twisty back mountain roads it's like very damn near nothing I've every driven. It's raw, responsive, and predictable. You can literally feel the road in your hands and feet, whereas I felt disconnected in the golf and although I have no doubt the RS handles amazingly, I've heard similar complaints in that regard. By no means does that make a slouch of the two, but I've never heard anybody say that about an STI.
I found the STI easier to drive around town than the RS. The return spring in the Focus is cheesy. The Steeda upgrade is a must with these cars.
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Old 04-16-2018, 12:48 PM   #10
mk5039
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mxdude105 View Post
Nice write up! If I had confidence in the Golf R both holding up and holding its value past 100k miles it would be a real contender for my next car.
Thanks! Yeah German cars still can't seem to shake the poor long term reliability image, although it seems like the MK7 Rs have been rock solid so far. A nice selling point for the R is the new 6/72k bumper to bumper warranty.
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Old 04-16-2018, 12:51 PM   #11
mk5039
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DGM

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Quote:
Originally Posted by ZenDragon View Post
Part of me wishes I at least considered and test drove Focus RS before I bought my STI, mainly for the exclusivity of it, and because I have always liked hatchbacks since my Mazdaspeed 3. The Golf wasn't even on my list at the time although I had previously driven one several years before I bought my STI, on a manufacturer sponsored track comparison that I was invited to through my auto-x group. That said, I have been pretty happy with my purchase in general. I agree about the transmission, it requires a lot of attention and technique to drive smoothly, especially in traffic. But out in the twisty back mountain roads it's like very damn near nothing I've every driven. It's raw, responsive, and predictable. You can literally feel the road in your hands and feet, whereas I felt disconnected in the golf and although I have no doubt the RS handles amazingly, I've heard similar complaints in that regard. By no means does that make a slouch of the two, but I've never heard anybody say that about an STI.
You've hit the nail on the head my friend. The STI just has that raw and analog feel the other two lack. The steering/handling feel and transmission are my favorite parts of the STI.

I'd say the RS has a little feel, more than the R, but a good bit less than the STI. For an electric rack I was impressed.
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