Road-rally rocket refined
Los Angeles Times
2008 Subaru Impreza WRX STIBase price: $35,640
Price, as tested: $39,440
Powertrain: Turbocharged, intercooled 2.5-liter, DOHC flat-four with variable-valve timing; six-speed manual transmission; all-wheel drive with driver-adjustable limited-slip center differential.
Horsepower: 305 at 6,000 rpm
Torque: 290 pound-feet, 4,000 rpm
Curb weight: 3,360 pounds*
0-60 mph: 5.1 seconds*
Wheelbase: 103.3 inches
Overall length: 173.8 inches
EPA fuel economy: 17 miles per gallon city, 23 mpg highway
Safety: Basic Impreza rates 5 stars in government frontal crash tests and front-seat side impact; 4 stars for rear-seat side impact and rollover (safercar.gov). Top ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (iihs.org).
*Source: Car and Driver magazine
The car you see on this page is subtle. No, seriously, ignoring the blown-out front fender deltoids, sport tires, roof-extending rear wing the size of a snowboard and Talmudic specificity of the name — Subaru Impreza WRX STI — there is a lot of nuance here. It's nuance fired out of a howitzer point-blank into your face, but you could still easily miss it. Yes, that's what impresses me after a rib-bruising half-hour with this 305-hp, all-wheel-drive samurai driver's-license-killer: its deep allusiveness and indirection. It's practically Pynchon-like.
The Impreza line was redesigned for 2008, and I think we can all agree that is a good thing. The sheetmetal has been vastly improved. The ogre spell has been broken.
The 2008 Impreza comes in two profiles, sedan and five-door hatch, and three trim levels: the base Impreza, with a nonturbocharged, 170-hp 2.5-liter flat-four and all-wheel drive; the Impreza WRX, with a turbocharged version of same pumping out 224 hp; and "le grand fromage," the WRX STI — nearly $40,000 with full kit.
It has a set-to-kill version of the flat-four crammed under its mono-nostril hood, along with as much turbo and intercooler, hoses and tubing as could fit. It has more plumbing than a men's room at Dodger Stadium.
The STI is a car utterly obsessed upon by a generation of young car dementos and players of Gran Turismo. Basically a de-tuned and street-able version of the company's World Rally Championship competition car, the STI is a car culture unto itself. And among the faithful, the 2008 STI (in hatch shape only) cannot but be greeted with hosannas. With its steroidal fender bulges shrouding (optional) BBS sport wheels and brake ducting big enough to devour a condor, the STI wallows in extra-legal disrepute like a pig in mud and goes like the very stink upon said pigs' back.
And yet, the STI is quite a bit more subtle and refined than the previous generation. The wheelbase is longer, the chassis couplings more substantial, and the company has refined some of the rawness out of a car dearly loved for rawness. It certainly doesn't beat you up quite like the previous model did, but you're still plenty tenderized.
I drove the WRX (non-STI) a couple of months ago, and my biggest complaint was excess body roll. In quick, corner-to-corner transitions, the car had ungainly suspension rebound and tended to get all out of sorts. "Deranged" was the word I used in a review (and the word Subaru brass took exception to). But with the greatest respect, Subaru-san, bugger off.
The STI, however, has the suspension snubbed down tighter. This chassis tune makes me much happier. The roll transition is more controlled, and the car remained poised. It corners insanely well, though like most all-wheel-drive cars, it tends to understeer and you have to set up for corners with care.
The brakes have major authority. The sport seats are terrific, and the pedal position perfect for heel-and-toe driving. As a canyon-killer, the STI is one of the few cars in this price range that can induce passenger-car-sickness like a Ferrari.
Oddly, though, in the straight-ahead of day-to-day driving, the car feels slower than my memory of the old STI, even though it weighs the same (3,360 pounds) and has 12 more horses.
So much subtlety, so little time: The STI's signature is its multifarious suite of electronic interventions, the controls for which are clustered in the center console.
First, there's the throttle-mapping control — called SI-Drive — which allows drivers to choose "sport," "sharp" or "intelligent." This has to do with the way the car answers to the whip. "Intelligent" mode gives the car a lazy, fuel-saving character, while "sharp" gives the car the zingy, frenetic character the lads would expect.
The traction and stability control also has three modes: on, off and sport, which lowers the computer's intervention level. And finally, the Driver Controlled Center Differential allows drivers with extraordinarily calibrated keisters to dial in the precise degree of torque split between the front and rear axle, anywhere from full rear bias (59 percent) to a 50-50 fore-aft split, with or without the computer helping out.
This is the sort of unusable overcapacity fetishized in high-end audio systems and fancy cellphones. To muck about with all these variables in daily driving is like taking your mixed-gas scuba rig to the bottom of a bathtub or straightening a picture on the wall with a surveyor's transit. I just left the thing on auto mode and, lo, it went like good gobs of silly. Oh dear. Have I been too subtle?
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