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Twenty years ago, the Subaru WRX STI was one of the best-value sports cars on the market. It offered a unique combination of power and handling both on and off-road thanks to its rally roots. Buyers also had bragging rights that the competition version of the car was a top contender in the World Rally Championship, even winning the driver’s title in the hands of Petter Solberg in 2003. But, times have changed, and Subaru no longer even competes in the WRC. It would be unfair to say that the car isn’t as good as it was, instead it’s more that other rivals have overtaken it in many aspects.
From its pricing to its performance capabilities, there are a lot of areas where the current model WRX STI is left lagging behind its competition. Buyers who want all-out power can find it elsewhere, and those looking for better value aren’t short of alternative options either. Make no mistake: the WRX STI is still a decent choice, but these ten cars from across the sports car spectrum all beat it hands down in at least one key aspect.
10 VW Golf GTI
When it comes to making everyday driving fun, few cars do it as well as the Golf GTI. The latest Mk8 Golf is more refined than ever, yet it comes with more power and sharper handling both at speed and while cruising. It’s cheap, too, as a base-spec WRX STI starts at roughly $38,000, whereas a base-spec GTI costs only $30,500.
Its useful hatchback design means it’s just as practical as the Subaru, and it’s considerably more economical so running costs shouldn’t be an issue. The only letdown with the GTI is its underwhelming interior, but then Subaru isn’t exactly famed for its plush cabins, either.
9 BMW M2 Competition
BMW stopped production of the M2 in preparation for a new generation to launch later this year, but there are still plenty of nearly-new examples hanging around dealership lots. With an original MSRP of $58,900, it’s a pricier option than a WRX STI, but buying used, M2s can be found for under $50k.
That makes it only a little more expensive than a top-spec WRX STI, which starts at $43,000 without extra options added. The BMW is in a different league when it comes to driving capabilities, as it’s widely regarded as one of the best driver’s cars of its generation, with veteran auto journalist Chris Harris so impressed with the car that he bought two of them.
8 Mazda MX-5 Miata
One of the key appeals of the WRX STI used to be its relative value for money, but that’s no longer the case. It’s now positioned squarely in the middle of the “affordable performance car” segment, and as a result, its shortcomings can’t be forgiven so easily.
One of the few sports cars that can still be considered a genuine bargain is the Mazda Miata, which starts at just $26,500. It’s certainly not as practical as a WRX STI nor is it as fast, but its handling remains among the best in its class. Not to mention, it’ll save its buyer around $15k over buying the Subaru.
7 Subaru BRZ
Anyone who remains loyal to the Subaru badge shouldn’t despair, as there are two better options than a WRX STI on offer from Subaru anyway. One of those is the BRZ, the collaborative sports car developed with Toyota that’s just been relaunched for a second generation.
The new generation is quicker than before, and Subaru claims that it’s sharper to drive thanks to a new chassis setup. It might not come with the same all-terrain capability that a WRX STI offers, but it’ll be more nimble, and it’s cheaper too, with a starting price of around $28,000.
6 Nissan Z
The long-awaited replacement for the 370Z has finally arrived in the form of the Z, a 400 hp V6-powered sports coupe set to hit dealerships in 2023. It comes with a manual gearbox and RWD, so really it ticks all the right boxes for a proper enthusiasts’ car.
Exact pricing hasn’t been released, but it’s expected to be around $40k, putting it roughly on par with the WRX STI. It might not be as practical to daily drive as a WRX STI, but it’s significantly more powerful, with an extra 90 hp and 60 lb-ft of torque compared to the Subaru.
5 Kia Stinger
For anyone that just has to have a four-door sedan, Kia provides a compelling alternative to the WRX STI with their 2022 Stinger. It’s marginally more powerful than the Subaru, even more spacious, and it feels significantly more upmarket to sit inside.
There are two engine options available, but the more powerful V6 is the better choice. In GT1 spec, the Stinger costs around $44,000, making it a fraction more expensive than the Subaru, but it’s well worth the extra cash.
4 Toyota GR Supra
The new Supra attracted a lot of anger from purists about the fact that it was co-developed with BMW, and it’s mostly a Z4 underneath, but the simple fact is that it’s an excellent value sports car that Toyota is (rightly) very proud of. With a starting price of around $43,500, it’s around the same price as a well-optioned WRX STI, but it comes with a significant set of advantages.
Its cabin and ride are top-class, a far cry from the comparatively primitive setup that comes with the WRX STI. It’s also unsurprisingly a hoot to drive, with plenty of power on tap and room to upgrade thanks to an already-flourishing aftermarket.
3 Ford Mustang
Buying a Mustang won’t win anyone any points for originality, but it’s hard to argue with it in terms of value for money. It starts at just $28,500, but most buyers will want to go for the GT spec which pushes the asking price up to $38,500, right up there with a base-spec WRX STI.
The best part about the Mustang is how many trim options there are available, from the budget-friendly base-spec right up to the unhinged $78,000 Shelby GT500. It’s one of the easiest cars to maintain, running costs are reasonable, and it’s still great fun to drive.
2 Toyota GR Yaris
Subaru’s world-class rallying days are over, and today it’s Toyota, Hyundai, and Ford that are battling it out for dominance in the WRC. Out of those three, only one has made a production version of their competition rally car. The GR Yaris is essentially the 2021 WRC car given some tweaks to make it more comfortable and sent straight out to dealerships.
It’s about as close to a modern-day rally car for the road as it’s possible to buy. In other words, it’s exactly what the Impreza WRX STI used to be twenty years ago. The catch, of course, is that the car isn’t available in the US, but for anyone in Europe, Asia, or Australia, it’s by far the best road-legal rally car on sale right now.
1 Subaru WRX
The WRX STI might not be the bargain it once was, but it’s worth remembering that it’s not the only four-door sports compact that Subaru sells. The WRX has been spun off into a separate model of its own, and with a starting price of $30,000, it’s a lot more competitive than its bigger brother.
The WRX only gets 270 hp as opposed to the WRX STI’s 310 hp, but most drivers will be happy to forgo the extra power for a lower purchase price. Other than that, it has many of the same strengths as the WRX STI, including its off-road capabilities, spacious interior, and entertaining driving dynamics. The biggest difference, of course, is that it offers all those things for considerably less money, and that alone makes it the better choice of the two.
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