Hey Readers, I’ll let you in on a little secret. When it comes to motorsports, I’m a snob. Sure, I may watch the British Touring Car Championships, DTM racing and the occasional Formula 1 or LeMans race. But there has only been one form of motorsports that I’ve consistently kept up with. The World Rally Championship.
Nothing thrills me more on screen than watching these production-looking cars hurtling down a narrow icy path in the middle of nowhere in Scandinavia at death defying speeds. The frozen wonderland of many WRC races is a pleasant contrast to the controlled road circuits of many other motorsport races.
I always find it astounding that WRC drivers have to be able to work with a co-driver, drive consistently well on paved, rutted, rocky, icy roads, and yet also be able to fix mechanical issues often without a pit crew’s assistance.
Why am I bringing this up? Because one of the much-haloed World Rally cars is, of course, none other than the Subaru Impreza WRX.
WRX stands for “World Rally eXperimental” although others have also suggested that it’s a throwback to World Rally Cross.
Whatever the case, those three letters have caused grown men and teenage boys alike to drop their Playstation controllers and come running up to their windows.
To be honest, in standard trim, the latest non-WRX Impreza is a bit of a snoozer. Sure it’s a nice compact car that is a comfortable and practical, with the added safety and security of all-wheel-drive for Canadian winters.
However in the quest to gain more sales, Subaru has made the Impreza more conservative looking, and some say a little more mainstream looking. While pundits may lament, sales numbers are telling and Subaru Canada has been reporting record sales month over month.
Luckily for its fan boys though, in WRX trim and especially in STI fare, the Subaru engineers have still managed to sprinkle a whole lot of magic to make the car ride, handle, and feel significantly different from its more pedestrian base Impreza platform.
The Go-Fast Bits
The WRX STI is a whole different beast from even the standard WRX. A quick look under the car will show you where all of the engineering dollars have been spent.
Not on making the interior more luxurious, per se, but on the go-fast bits.
The throwback to the WRX STI’s rally heritage is still ever apparent with its large (but functional) rear wing and light weight forged 18” BBS wheels.
The STI retains its EJ25 turbocharged 2.5L boxer-four engine with its signature engine and exhaust burble due to the unequal length headers.
The 305 hp mill is hooked up to a short throw six-speed shifter that has been improved with triple-cone synchronizers on first and second gear, and double-coned on third gear.
What all of this engineering jargon means is that the 2015 STI is quieter, smoother, and shifts easier than ever before.
I did find the clutch a little tricky with a slightly difficult bite point. Make no mistake that this is a driver’s car that makes you work for fun. Want an automatic? Sorry that’s not available on the STI. You really have to want this car and be willing to row the gears in order to be properly rewarded.
Intake noise is pumped into the cabin via what Subaru calls the “Sound Generator”, which is linked to throttle position. Want more roar? Step on the throttle more.
Where the WRX STI truly excels is on the twisty bits. In an era where automakers such as Infiniti are reserving the hydraulic steering rack for their base Q50 models with higher end models receiving the supposedly superior electric power steering, it’s nice to see a manufacturer do the exactly opposite.
The WRX has a pretty decently sorted power steering system but the WRX STI has a deliciously weighted hydraulic rig with an even quicker ratio. There is loads of road feel and precision. You only have to look and point where you want to go and the car follows with puppy dog eagerness.
The STI high-performance sport-tuned suspension features race car-like inverted-strut front suspension with forged aluminium alloy lower A-arms. Make no mistake, this is a stiffly sprung car. Others in the media have said that it is too harsh to use the STI as a daily driver but I beg to differ. While the ride is very firm indeed, it’s never punishing.
Much of the credit is due to the new body structure that makes greater use of high-tensile steel and has special stiffening elements at key locations. The car feels communicative not just through the steering wheel, but also by the seat of your pants.
Active Torque Vectoring further increases handling performance by applying the brake to the inside front wheel to hold the vehicle in a tighter line when carving corners.
The Beauty of All-Wheel-Drive
I know it’s perhaps an overused marketing tag line. But nothing else does such a succinct job of describing Subaru’s Unique Selling Proposition.
Like other Subarus, the WRX STI comes with an all-wheel-drive system. But this is no ordinary system.
One major differentiator between the WRX and the WRX STI is that the latter has a Driver Controlled Centre Differential (DCCD) with three automatic performance modes.
While normal torque split fore and aft is 41% and 59% respectively, the driver can even alter the mechanical limited-split centre differential to six manual control settings.
A helical gear-type limited slip front differential and TORSEN rear limited-slip differential are other pieces of the puzzle that allow the WRX STI to put down its power not just in a straight line but also in the corners.
This is one serious bit of kit.
And now the interior. It’s nice, has luxury features, but it’s not luxurious. Sure there is a bit of soft-touch material on the dash, door trim, and centre console armrest. The new flat-bottom, leather-wrapped steering wheel has just the right thickness and perforated leather texture to be interesting.
However, there is a fair amount of wind and tire noise above 90 km/hr. You do have to raise your voice if you want to have a conversation at higher speeds. BMW M3 this is not.
The STI’s electroluminescent gauge cluster has a 3.5-inch LCD screen to display various functions and warning lights. But a new 4.3-inch LCD multi-function display now flanks the top of the dash providing useful functions such as a virtual turbo boost gauge display, rear camera view, as well as HVAC settings.
And now for the bad news. The WRX STI’s infotainment system is a few years behind its competition. Its uninspired graphics and slowish performance is nothing to boast about. It’s functional but that’s about it.
For me, the main reason to upgrade to the Sport-Tech package is not for the GPS navigation system, but for the 440-watt 9-speaker harmon/kardon premium audio system. It’s a much improved upgrade over the base sound system and you don’t have to be an audiophile to appreciate the benefits.
Fortunately Subaru has been listening to its customers and the fully redesigned headunit in the 2015 Impreza is heads and shoulders over that in the 2015 WRX STI. It is all but certain to trickle to the 2016 WRX as well.
So in summation, compared to its predecessor, this new WRX STI has a much nicer interior, more legroom, improved visibility, more comfortable seats, and a larger trunk.
Altogether, the car feels significantly more mature and more civilized. Think of it as being less boy racer and more rally-inspired.
Is the STI perfect? No, far from it. But what car is? There are a few silly little niggly things that I wish the car did or had or didn’t do. But ladies and gents, this is one seriously good performance car.
An auto journalist in Australia recently wrote a brilliant editorial on how kids today are more interested in the latest iPhones than the latest cars. That makes me sad.
However if there is one saving grace for car fans out there, it’s that the WRX and WRX STI still grace the TV screens connected to today’s video game consoles.
With its giant (and ostentatious) rear wing, the STI awakes the 7-year old boy in me. In my week with the car I have never received as many thumbs-up or stares from guys ranging from 6 to 40 years of age. Awesome.
Perhaps there is hope after all for car culture, also evidenced by the several month long wait list for the STI.
Subaru’s latest tag line is “confidence in motion” and their confidence is certainly shining bright and true with the STI.
I’ll take mine in World Rally Blue please.