Once upon a time there was a motorsport category called the World Rally Championship. Such was the clout it had, the drivers were household names and car makers couldn’t throw enough coin at it. One of those makers was Subaru and with their dedication to an all wheel drive platform inside a smallish chassis, combined with Scandinavian drivers of such talent they frightened Formula 1 drivers, they forged a legend. The flash of blue and yellow as the Impreza rally car powered through dirt or snow or tarmac stages on the way to a chequered flag cemented the car into motorsport lore. Subaru’s hardcore motorsport division, STi (Subaru Tecnica International) joined the party and added their name to a road going version of the WRX, itself a relation of the rally car, by amping up both power and visual appeal. The 2015 model launched in early 2014, bringing with it both apprehension and anticipation: apprehension for the question of will it be any better and anticipation because of what it promises to bring. A Wheel Thing has had the pleasure of its company in Premium specification.
In place of the (updated) 2.0L boxer in the standard WRX is a 2.5L flat four. Max power climbs to 221 kW at 6000 revs but, more importantly, torque increases to a V8 rivalling 407 Nm @ 4000 revs. By being flatter it sits lower in the engine bay and helps with the centre of gravity. From here things get a bit techy. The Australian STi comes with a six speed manual gearbox only, one that’s provided by Aisen and rebuilt by STi. Power is sent through to all four paws but has, in the process, to pass through a centre differential, with the mirror acronym of DCCD. In human speak, it stands for Driver Control Centre Differention, a two mode (auto or manual) switchable system that splits torque on demand and allows the driver to control the level automatically sent or have more control (six levels) in manual mode.
Atop the red crackle painted engine is the intercooler intake, said to be larger than the previous model plus revamped electronics, helping the reponse time of the engine’s management system. Fuel is 98RON only and economy is claimed to be 10.4L/100km in a combined cycle, from the 60L tank and in a car weighing around 1500 kg dry. Zero to licence loosing takes a mere five seconds.
At the front there’s not much in the way of changes from the WRX; there’s the black chrome headlight inserts and the STi badge on the black diamond grille. It’s the rear that catches the eye, especially of the high schoolers unaccustomed to seeing something so rarely seen nowadays. It’s the wing, of course, sitting loud and proud atop the bootlid. From inside it’s noticeably style to give almost completely unobstructed rear vision, from outside it draws the eye to the pert rear like seagulls circle discarded chips. Subaru, however, have offered buyers the choice of being discrete, with the small lip style spoiler being made available. In profile the long snout and car rearward design updates the previous model mildly, with the guards, like the standard WRX, pumped slightly and with the front guards getting the plastic vents and STi badge insert. Just under the rear window pillar are crease lines that wouldn’t look out of place on one of the STi’s major rivals from days past, Mitsubishi’s Evo9. At the rear are four chromed tipped exhausts, either side of the black plastic valance and from which the 2.5L boxer four emits the characteristic Subaru burble. On top, being the Premium, is a sunroof yet, again surprisingly, parking sensors, as standard, are nowhere to be seen. Naturally, there’s central locking and push button start, with the locking system avaiable on the door handle by a simple touch.
On the Inside.
From the electrically operated driver’s seat, there’s not much different, looking straight ahead, from the WRX. The tiller gets the STi badge instead of WRX and pedals in the footwell are the same chrome/rubber dotted setup. It’s when you look right and left you’ll note the red alcantara inserts in the leather appointed seats and stitched leather inserts on the doors and, in between the seats, a jog dial for the three mode SI Drive system in place of the WRX’s steering wheel mounted buttons. Ahead of the driver are the same information filled view screens as found in the WRX plus the hot red backlighting on the dials and tiller. Being the Premium spec the STi was given the Harman Kardon audio and touchscreen/satnav system. Position wise, it felt as if the driver’s seat cushion extended a little too far forward under the thighs for true comfort; fine when passengering an auto but a touch difficult to deal with in full manual mode. Otherwise, they’re snug and comfortable. Safety is covered with seven airbags, including full length curtain and knee ‘bags.
On The Go.
The WRX STi is an enthusiast’s car. That, immediately, sets the tone for the way it drives. It’s a surprisingly light (compared to the expectation) clutch pedal but it is a sometimes difficult juggling act, balancing the pickup point versus the engine revs. More than once the car was stalled, as the revs fell away once the clutch took a bite. The tricky centre diff also made its presence felt in the process, plus there was a noticeable groan from the front in car park manouvering. The ultra taut suspension (increased by 39/62% front and rear) makes for a flat ride and shakes hands well with the 245/40/18 Dunlop SportMaxx rubber but is also almost intolerable on Sydney’s largely nonflat roads. Coarse chip bitumen transfers plenty of road noise and at anything above 5 km/h a ten cent piece may as well be a speed bump. Steering feels a touch heavier than expected initially but softens and quickens up in speed either side of centre, with response at speed predictable and usable. A nifty feature is a kind of hill start control; if you’re on a slope, for example, at a set of traffic lights, the brakes will hold the car for a couple of seconds before disengaging, stopping the vehicle from rolling back.
Subaru’s torque figues for the WRX quote revs from 2400 to 5200, however, for the STi, quotes only a figure of 4000 revs. There’s a definite and noticeable surge from around 2500-3000 rpm and it’s within the range of 2500-4000 that the short throw gear lever and clutch become a truly synchronous unit, with revs barely falling off as the next gear is engaged with a hardly noticeable pickup point from the clutch. Acceleration, when the go pedal is given its orders, is exhilerating rolling acceleration, when the turbo is spooled up, is electric. Off boost, it’s another story. Overall, it’s MOSTLY user friendly but only, really, when the car is under way. At lower speeds it jerks and judders and is quite unhappy in top gear, neccessitating a drop down to fourth.
The DCCD in auto mode allows the driver to select simply more torque front or rear by flicking a switch on the centre console. A rocker switch changes that to manual control and, on the dash, the three settings change to a half dozen steps, all the way through to a fully locked diff. The STi also has a system called Torque Vectoring, effectively a way of subtly braking the wheel on the inside of a turn to give a sharper turn in response. Combined with the Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI Drive) system, which changes the computer’s configuration for the engine (with a subtly noticeable feeling of more go in SportSharp at the cost of economy using the Intelligent mode), it’s a rocket waiting to launch once the turbo is on boost. Through the gear acceleration is rapid, to say the least, and startling for anyone not accustomed to turbo cars in the modern era.
With the go side sorted, some stopping is required; fabled brake company Brembo throws their hat into the ring, with black painted and STi labelled four piston callipers at the front, twins at the rear visible through the gunmetal coloured tuning fork style 18 inch alloys. Their bite is progressive and grab without jerkiness, plus haul the car down from speed, without issue, time after time. The ABS is also configured to be a four channel system, ensuring each corner brakes for itself.
Fuel economy….well, the figure quoted earlier is the combined cycle; around town it’s closer to 14.0L and that’s borne out by the figures seen. With not far off 450 kilometres covered, the fuel gauge is nudging redline.
The WRX STi is an enthusiast’s car. In that sentence alone, those few words speak volumes. It’s a car that has enough… well, quirks is the wrong word, but it’s as close as I can find to describe it that a driver has to be aware of them. It’s a hard, hard ride, a low speed unfriendly clutch and a touch thirsty for the real world. The upside is that, as an enthusiast’s car, a properly trained driver can extract from the STi what the STi offers; a hard edged, compact sized car with bundles of grip, sensational get up and go with the confidence of being able to throw it into turns and stop when required. In Premium spec and using Subaru’s online suburb driveaway price calculator, it’s a not inconsiderable $60685…that’s a fair few sheckels to outlay and over $12K more than the WRX Premium. The STi is for real, four wheel enthusiasts. But if you are, then it’s not a bad thing.
See http://www.subaru.com.au/wrx-sti/overview/specs for details.
For A Wheel Thing TV: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZmQxGpkXgQ&feature=youtube_gdata