The ultimate Subaru Impreza, the WRX STI is the apt intro into the world of supercars. It teaches the budding high performance driver to be precise and to be quick at that. But lately, Subaru has moved closer to the refinement side of high performance, the better to preach to the unconverted. Sacrilege, say the loyal, puritanical fans!
Definitely not to add insult to injury, the marketing savvy PR say "that there was a clamor to make such a practical hatch, already a comfortable tourer, into a home to work daily commuter" sounds valid and legitimate. Hence the hatchback now boasts of a once inconceivable variant: a 5-speed automatic. As if the loyal fans needed to have another bone to pick when they have settled down and consoled themselves in styling that no one would dare call beautiful, but at least unique to be polite. They still haven't gotten over the loss of frameless door windows and "classic" windshield-to-cowl angle.
Make no mistake
The STI's reputation is solid: 300 brake, 300 foot-lbs of torque, the burst of turbocharged air. The Mercedes like cushioned high speed ride thanks to the tuning of its fully independent long wheel travel suspension, lessons well learned from winning the World Rallye Championship several times. Credit the WRC wins for Subaru's Porsche like steering, cornering and braking. Its unique and proprietary Subaru all wheel drive, the DCCD [Driver's Control Center Differential], the VDC [Vehicle Dynamics Control], the SI-drive, even, the warning beep for the red line rpm up shift, the big heat exchanger, etc., etc. All with the bullet proof reliability of a Toyota.
Try being impartial about the styling, as an STI sitting still, it is still a delight for those with an eye for engineering detail. The fans lament for the loss of frameless door windows, is compensated by more body-in-white torsional stiffness to allow more metal extrusion to increase space for legs and heads. The pink back-lit icons, the easy to set consumption meter, the suede and calfskin sports seats, the non slip surfaces for bottle bottoms in the cup holders, the absolutely perfect-the -first-time 'round seating position, the quad chrome tubes, heat exit vents on the fender flares, the rear hatch wing; are not just functional, but also a detail engineer/craftsman's' tactile and proud handiwork.
Driving this Impreza STI 10/10ths on the track, we dare say it has regained the crispness of the old 2007 STI. Compared to the regular Impreza, the STI's ride is still Mercedes supple, but more like the sports tuned AMG Mercedes. Put it down to the refusal of the springs and dampers to let go of the Dunlop Sport SP600 adhesive contact with the pavement. The Dunlops were surprisingly quiet considering the seeming circuit bias of the tread and compound.
Winding and bumpy
This suspension/tire combination makes the STI perfect for the bumpier race tracks that we have here in the tropics. Its also far more appropriate with the kind of highway pavement we have. Those racing style seats are the best for the back, bums and the lats for long journeys where the cornering speeds are extremely high. It's not as raw as the EVO X, so vulgar hardly applies. Recall that that both Japanese pocket rockets have goaded the German and Italian super cars to strive to make their cars faster so that their richer customers will no longer be embarrassed by either Asian econobox or econohatch.
One less gear
The STI hatchback automatic may concede one cog less to the 6-speed manual only 4-door sedan STI, but not having heavily sprung competition like clutch to deal with will always be a welcome blessing. Specially when surprise traffic builds up at the Skyway "A" toll plaza when some inexpert ambulance chaser tries to exit the barriers in drift mode. I too won't mind a 0.8 second delay in the 0-100 times or a 5km/h shortage from the 250km/h top speed of the manual. Perhaps the ratios, compared to the manual, are less frantic at the 100km/h cruise as highway consumption improves by 1.0 km/liter. Of course this goes to pot when you decide to live a little and enjoy the explosive acceleration in all rpm ranges.
As for the steering, it is easy to dismiss it as mute and life less when tooling around the village, but give it is due, drive it hard and fast and it will "talk" to your hands and bum like an aristocrat, like a supercar. Typical of performance cars, the huge brakes need some warming up before you can get instant bite when cut and thrust driving.
Refer to another
There was a time when a Motor Image sales executive would parry a showroom shopper's anxiety about surviving the heavily sprung clutch for the home-work commute when perusing an STI by pointing to the more "executive" looking Legacy Turbo automatic. But now he/she has no excuse. Besides, many Skwyay-ACTEx commute executives and entrepreneurs precisely do not want an executive looking, executive's car.
Graduate to raise the stakes
Still pilloried by fans for gentrifying the ex-WRC champions, it cannot be denied that when one maximizes his STI, one is considered a graduate from the 250km/h world. They are ready for the next supercar. It will have to be the next big step up; a tuned RUF Porsche, a Ferrari, Lamborghini Reventon or a Pagani Zonda Huayra. Anything less will make you turn 180 degrees, back into the seat of the Subaru Impreza STI. The STI can make you callous. Or avaricious to expect more to make it worth your changing up.
But which one? Six speed manual 4-door sedan or 5-speed auto 5-door hatchback? I'm Asian and I like 4-door sedans. I enjoy practicing the perfect power flow, perfect clutch in/out timing and gear slotting of the 6-speed. Thats what makes track days and empty winding highways a blissful, always replayed memory. But, I also like restraining myself. Because all that harmony of torque converter and turboed air into the flat four and that hearty exhaust note is only a step of the gas pedal away. I won't forget to press the S# program of the SI button so that I won't even bother with the paddles.