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STi in my eye: You don’t buy a 2015 Subaru WRX STi for its head unit

Sections: Infotainment

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2015 Subaru WRX STi Photo Shoot 021

The head unit in the 2015 Subaru WRX STi lacks some of the gee-whiz details and capabilities of other cars we test — but then, none of those other cars have quite the driving experience the Subaru WRX STi has. If this is a case of putting your money where you place your priorities, Subaru clearly prioritizes powertrain awesomeness over its infotainment unit. We’re car tech guys, but we’re straight-up car guys first and foremost, so that prioritization of funds is A-OK with us. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

We’re car techies here — oh, didn’t our name tip you off? — and as such, we play with the stereos and infotainment units quite a lot in cars we test. Suffice it to say one should not buy a 2015 Subaru WRX STi for that aspect of its feature list. Hint: You buy it for its insane powertrain.

A Subaru head unit has never wowed me. Put up a decent fight against my volume-cranking ways, yes — but flat-out wowed me, no. The STARLINK unit in the BRZ we tested recently was the best of the bunch, possibly, with its fancy touchscreen and middle-of-the-pack voice recognition, but still fell short of competition such as Chevrolet’s MyLink or Nissan’s NissanConnect in terms of its ease of use.

Unlike the BRZ, the 2015 Subaru WRX STi we tested did not have the touchscreen of Subaru’s STARLINK interface — and in my experience, the old-school head unit seemed to lack a lot of the voice functionality. I hit the voice control button and tried several different commands to bring up different audio sources or switch folders on the USB test stick I carry with me from car to car, but nothing seemed to work. I resorted to using the buttons on the head unit itself, which were at least tactile and easy to handle while driving.

The frustrating part is when you’re having to flip through folder after folder of music on that USB test stick just to get to the one folder you want to listen to. Why can’t I just push the voice command button, say, “play album [album name]” and be done with it?

Handsfree phone setup was the same way. I had to get the car to walk me through that process by first saying “help.” To its credit, much like the BRZ, the 2015 Subaru WRX STi does a good job telling you its possible voice command prompts after you say “help.”

After connecting my phone with the car’s Bluetooth handsfree system, I found it did not sync with my contacts list, as calling up the contacts listed only my name and number. I could voice dial if I knew the number I was trying to call, but trying to remember a seldom-used phone number while driving is, let’s just say, frustrating. In fact, it resulted in my pulling the phone out of my shirt pocket and finding that seldom-used number in my contacts there, which probably wasn’t the safest thing to do. I could have added phone numbers to the car’s own contacts list, but who wants to do that in a press car that will be handed off to some other journalist in a few days? If I owned the 2015 Subaru WRX STi, programming in the numbers of frequently called persons is something that would probably take me the better part of a year to do, adding a number every time I needed to call one that I hadn’t previously added to the car’s memory bank. I’d much rather it sync with my phone’s contacts list like the Lexus Enform system or any number of others.

As far as sound quality goes, the 2015 Subaru WRX STi wasn’t too shabby. In fact, it was way ahead of the Forester we tested last year. Its speakers remained crisp and distortion-free until I neared the limits of the volume setting, where high- and low-frequency distortion crept in on the rock tracks I was listening to. An adjustable equalizer meant I could customize the sound profile to my liking, unlike some cars I test that limit the listener to either a range of preset EQ settings or no custom EQ settings at all. Most important for the sound quality: This generation of the WRX seemed to have a quieter exhaust note than the WRX Special Edition we tested last year. That resulted in the speakers not having to fight with the rorty exhaust all the time. There was still a fair amount of road noise and a little exhaust note creeping in when I had to give it some gas to climb a hill or what-have-you, but the 2015 Subaru WRX STi seemed more civilized than I remembered the Special Edition being.

2015 Subaru WRX STi Photo Shoot 022

The screen atop the center stack in the 2015 Subaru WRX STi can display a number of cool things, including this boost gauge. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

The head unit had the usual AM/FM/XM/CD/USB/AUX capabilities, of course, and all worked as expected. The info from each could be displayed in a screen atop the center stack — not a touchscreen — where one could also pull up fuel economy stats, distance to empty, a graphic display of how power is being delivered to each wheel, and much to our Frank Cruz’s delight, a boost gauge. The boost gauge was pretty cool, I’ll admit — and it showed a max boost of 17.9 PSI. It also gave a good sense of when the turbo really spooled up. Most of the time, when easing around town or commuting on the 45 MPH state highway between my home and work, the gauge actually showed negative pressure. Only when I got to let the car romp for a bit did the gauge get into the boost for more than a few seconds at a time. If one planned to track the 2015 Subaru WRX STi, this could be a useful gauge to show you whether you’re in the meat of the car’s powerband.

At any rate, you don’t buy the 2015 Subaru WRX STi for its top-shelf audio and infotainment capabilities, although they’re not a bad effort. Anyone who tells you he or she bought this car for that reason should be looked at askance. Clearly, Subaru’s priorities are in the right place: in the drivetrain, where this car shines. If you want a WRX STi that goes fast and has a superior infotainment experience, we’re sure any number of aftermarket manufacturers will gladly sell you the components to make that dream a reality.

As for me, I found myself turning off the radio and rolling down the windows a lot just to enjoy the sound of the boxer four-cylinder engine and the jet-like whoosh of the turbo. Now that is an aural experience most cars in this price range don’t replicate!

Disclosure: Subaru provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.

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