"Coolest family car ever." So said the random guy at the farmer's market when the five of us parked the 2018 Subaru WRX STI and piled out of the car. With a huge Tokyo Drift spoiler, luminescent black paint, neon green brakes, and a hood scoop that means business, the STI rumbles with energy.

The 2018 Subaru STI is the performance-tuned model of the already performance-oriented WRX, and is just a roll cage away from being ready for competitive rally racing. This is a compact four-door built for speed and air time, but is also capable of getting 22 mpg (10.7 l/100km) and taking the whole family along on and off the road. Which I did. Much to my kids' delight, I might add.

There's no doubt that the Subaru WRX and its STI sibling are fun cars. Anyone who says otherwise either hasn't driven one or has no idea what "fun" means. For 2018, Subaru made a few changes for the WRX and STI. At least, that's what the paperwork says. A few tweaks to the front end design are apparent, if you look closely, and driving the car shows that steering tuning is improved as well. Otherwise, this is the same awesome ride it's always been.

Powering the 2018 Subaru WRX STI is one of the best engines on the road today, a boxer-style (opposed piston) 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with a lot of air handling equipment on top and a robust 305 horsepower (227 kW) and 290 pound-feet (393 Nm) coming out the crank. A six-speed manual transmission with a short shift throw and a very positive clutch are standard equipment. So is all-wheel drive, of course.

Now consider this: the 2018 STI weighs about 3,500 pounds at the curb. That's a power to weight ratio of about 146 W/kg. For reference, that's equivalent to a V8-powered Dodge Challenger R/T and better than a V6-powered Ford Mustang or Chevrolet Camaro. But with AWD. And a competitively-tuned sport suspension.

The key is that all-wheel drive. For 2018, Subaru dropped the mechanical torque vectoring built into the Driver's Control Center Differential (DCCD) in favor of full electronic control of the limited-slip. This center differential control, exclusive to the STI model, gives the driver hands-on, manual control over the car's center differential in order to tune it to specific needs. A rear-bias for drifting, say, or a front-bias for J-turns. The DCCD, when not manually set, defaults to automatic settings decided by the electronics of the car, which tend towards safety (obviously). This amount of control for the driver only enhances the already-awesome AWD system inherent in the WRX and most Subaru models.

Another big change for 2018 is in the STI's braking. Brembo monoblock calipers are now standard with a six-piston caliper up front and two in the rear. The rotors are a larger diameter and have been cross-drilled for better heat release. New pads for the Brembos are now grippier thanks to more surface area. In everyday driving, this means that the 2018 Subaru STI stops faster. In performance driving, it means the driver has more control over the car's weight distribution dynamics in the turns. Nineteen-inch alloy wheels and 245/35 performance tires are standard on the STI.

Now before this seems like an overenthusiastic advertisement for Subaru, there are some caveats to our accolades for the 2018 WRX STI. Specifically that sport-tuned suspension and the decent, but not write-home-to-mamma fuel economy. As an everyday drive, the WRX STI is great on paper. It seats five, gets decent efficiency, and is compact and easy to park. In reality, it's a rough-riding, high-revving sports car with limited rear visibility thanks to a huge rear wing and a marginal backup camera screen. If you love sports cars, the WRX STI is awesome. If you just want to impress your friends once in a while but are otherwise hoping for a comfortable daily driver and the odd family trip to grandma's on the weekend, then this isn't the car for you.

When it comes down to it, the 2018 Subaru STI is a loud fun machine that, secondarily, has the ability to tote the family around and look cool doing it. The same can be said of the monstrous Dodge Challenger Hellcat. It's not a family car, per se, but it does destroy the number one excuse for not owning a sports car – namely that they aren't "practical" enough. Doubly so in the STI with its huge trunk and fairly good fuel economy ... as long as you don't put the foot down.

The interior of the 2018 STI hasn't changed much from previous year, with the exception of a few of the finer details. These include the size of the standard infotainment screen (now 5.9 inches), with an upgrade to a 7-inch screen available. Both are higher-definition with better output quality than their predecessors, but we do note that the rear backing camera has not been upgraded to match the screen and still returns a grainy image that's not always easy to see. Placement of the infotainment is also unfortunate for avid users, as it demands that eyes be removed from the road to operate it.

We are fans of the seating upgrades in the 2018 Subaru WRX this year, though. They mostly center on the rear seats, which are 60/40 split-fold by default. A center armrest with cupholders has been added as standard equipment in all WRX models, including the STI, which greatly enhances back seat usefulness for passengers. This seems like a small thing, but in a car that rides like the Subaru STI does, putting drinks in the door holder guarantees spillage. As for the front seats, we prefer the performance seats that come standard in the STI over the upgraded Recaro seating, which seem to needlessly punish kidneys and spine.

Another cool new gadget is the Vehicle Hold button. This replaces the Hill Holder/Hill Start Assist function and adds a sort of Launch Control to the car. It's not exactly launch control, in that it doesn't presume a fast takeoff (that's a given in the WRX STI), but it holds the vehicle at lights and such and keeps it from rolling or moving until the throttle is pressed. Which means faster starts by eliminating the movement from brake to throttle.

Cargo space in the 2018 Subaru WRX STI is good at 12 cubic feet (340 liters) in the trunk, with easy access thanks to a low lip and wide berth. That's on par or better than many compacts comparable to the WRX in size. Storage space within the passenger cabin itself is good, but not stellar. There is a semi-convenient shelf at the bottom of the console for a smartphone, with plug-ins nearby, but not much else. USB ports are at a premium in the STI model as well.

Summing this all up, the 2018 Subaru WRX STI is a seriously performance-minded little car with a price point that's relatively affordable. It is versatile enough to allow family outings and weekend excursions, but isn't the best option for everyday driving if comfort is a priority. As a rally machine, the 2018 STI is ready for fun off-the-shelf and will look cool doing anything you ask of it.

The 2018 WRX STI is now in showrooms in North America and priced starting at about $30,000. Our test model was priced at an estimated $39,455 with delivery.

Product Page: 2018 Subaru WRX STI

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