THE WRX STI – note the omission of the Impreza moniker – fought it out against rivals at CAR’s Performance Shootout at Zwartkops Raceway in the January 2011 issue. While we were hugely impressed with its ability to serve up an addictive drive thanks to bags of grip and a rev-hungry engine, we did wonder if it would be too demanding as a daily driver.
To find out if our initial assessment was correct, we brought it to sea level where we flung it around Killarney and put it through our usual road-test routine.
But first some history … There was a huge outcry after Subaru released the previous STI in hatch form only, especially from previous and current Impreza diehards. Subaru soon realised its mistake and now offers the STI locally in a four-door configuration with the obligatory ironing-board wing affixed to the bootlid (the STI hatch is still available in some countries, such as the UK, but not in South Africa).
Don’t be misled, however – Subaru hasn’t simply added a boot and wing to this new model. The changes run much deeper.
As it’s essentially a fairly hardcore sportscar, the suspension has been considerably modified to address the criticism of the previous model being too soft. Changes include stiffer spring rates, anti-roll bars with an increased diameter and a decrease in unsprung mass of around 1,2 kg at each corner. Meanwhile, the track width was widened by 35 mm at the front and 40 mm at the rear. Viewed from behind, the STI now has a more macho look thanks to this wider footprint.
How do all these changes translate into its behaviour on the road compared with the STI hatch? The re-engineering is immediately noticeable, with higher grip levels in and through corners. This means you have to almost over-commit to a corner to get the most from this car. Carry what you believe is too much speed into a bend, feel the car settling and soon you find a rhythm.
As before, the Driver Control Centre Differential (DCCD) allows you to set the torque bias to the rear, but only to a maximum of 65 per cent, while Si-Drive control allows a choice between Sport as a standard setting, Sport Sharp which adapts the throttle sensitivity and Intelligent for a less aggressive throttle response and improved fuel economy.
Even though grip levels are high and the suspension instils confidence in the car’s cornering ability, the STI is easily caught out by small imperfections. And because the suspension is firmer than that of the previous model, these imperfections are carried through to the cabin.
Another characteristic that is heard (and felt) in the cockpit is the annoying drone from the optional sports exhaust. The STI’s standard exhaust note is one you can immediately recognise, but the sports exhaust takes this sound to a ear-bleeding level.
Enthusiasts will, to an extent, forget all this when they have a smooth piece of tarmac in front of them. As with previous STIs, the gearchange is characterised by a strong, mechanical shift action. The steering is light and precise, but completely lacks feedback, something you really hanker for in a car of this type. On the other hand, the brakes are a joy to use. Not only does the pedal offer strong resistance, but the harder you press it, the better the feedback is. If only Subaru’s engineers could inject the same feel into the steering …
On our test strip, we were able to complete the run from rest to 100 km/h in 5,8 seconds. Getting an STI, or almost any allwheel- drive vehicle, cleanly off the line is a bit of a challenge. With the correct number of revs (around 6 000 r/min), however, the STI pulled away from a standing start with almost no wheelspin.
Together with the steering, the cabin remains a big negative at this price level. The perceived quality is low (although it feels solidly constructed) due to the use of hard, shiny plastics. Having said that, the soft but supportive bucket seats are both comfortable and keep occupants in place like few others.
The driving position is sound, although the steering wheel doesn’t allow enough rake or reach adjustment to cater for every shape of driver, especially taller ones.
The STI is undoubtedly still an enthusiast’s car. Even so, we feel the suspension can be tuned to offer a more comfortable ride while retaining the same level of grip. A number of other cars manage this balance better and, apart from the comfortable Recaro seats, the interior remains a tremendous letdown. However, dig deep into the core abilities of this car and play with the centre-differential settings, and what you’ll discover is a machine that never fails to surprise and inspire its driver.