Published 04/10/2011 | 13:19
The WRX STI continues to distance itself from the Impreza name by honing all the critical aspects to make this vehicle the ultimate example, discovers Jim McCauley
The Impreza name has gone and the WRX STI badge sits alone on the bootlid of Subaru’s latest performance flagship. Full saloon bodywork, sporting flared wheelarches filled with 18-inch alloys and a greedy airscoop rising from the bonnet to cool the hard-driven turbo immediately demand respect. And for good reason, for lying low in the chassis is the company’s legendary 2.5-litre flat-four engine, its 300hp taking drive to all four wheels, which grasp the tarmac to hit the benchmark 100km/h mark in just 5.2 seconds.
In its 10-year evolution since the six-letter badge first appeared, the WRX STI has distanced itself from its Impreza beginnings and now carries only the performance branding. However, while the engineering recipe remains — four-cylinder boxer engine and symmetrical all-wheel drive — all the critical aspects have been honed to make this the ultimate example.
The new saloon benefits from a stiffened bodyshell and an extensively reworked suspension system, the combination allowing for increased suspension travel, benefiting roadholding as well as ride refinement.
Fire up the engine on the push-button starter and the exhaust burble confirms the presence of the low-slung boxer-four. Be naughty and check out the initial benchmark sprint time and a whiff of clutch fumes confirms its effort in launching the car off the line. While horsepower and torque remain the same as the previous model, improved delivery adds smoothness to the drive, although there remains the noticeable step in the gearbox into each ratio.
While the suspension now offers a smoother ride, cornering support is not sacrificed, and with the advantage of all-wheel drive, excellent pace can be maintained even through the most challenging of corners. Hip-pinching Recaro seats up front clamp the driver firmly in place while the retention of hydraulic steering provides both excellent feel and pin-sharp accuracy.
The engine-mapping characteristics can be varied by the driver with the SI-Drive control system. The triple-choice menu varies from a smooth and economy-conscious set-up, complete with a ‘shift-up’ indicator in the instrument cluster to mid-range Sport and a track-day preference of Sport Sharp.
There is also a choice on the central diff setting, which allows the driver to opt for automatic or manual settings, as well as variable settings on the stability control system.
For previous generation STI owners, the latest model is not a progression from the ‘old shape’ but a move in a different direction, with a more mature solution, which nevertheless continues to deliver the goods, but with intrusions of refinement in both ride quality and power delivery.
On the negative side, the stop/go equation isn’t quite right on the car, despite the increased disc acreage and Brembo callipers. Cabin layout is clean and practical, the Recaro seats making sufficient statement as to the car’s potential. Rear passenger room is adequate and while the hatchback version has the load-carrying advantage of better access and folding rear seats, the saloon has fixed rear seats but a larger boot — 420 litres compared to 301.
The saloon WRX STI is a desirable rapid commuting car, well suited to our local road system, and the saloon alternative at the same price as the hatchback looks so much more substantial and capable of delivering its potential.
Fully loaded with all the upmarket goodies, the saloon WRX STI is listed at £32,995.
An in-house developed ‘Power Pack’ produces an extra 20HP and pares the 0 to 62mph time to under five seconds for those is search of track-day exploits.
Subaru WRX STI
Engine: 2.5-litre, 300ps (296.4bhp) @ 6000rpm. 407Nm torque @ 4000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Drive: All-wheel drive, front/rear default setting 41/59%
Performance: 0-62mph (100km/h) in 5.2 seconds; max, 158mph (253km/h)
Fuel on combined cycle: 26.9mpg (10.5 l/100km)
CO2: 243gms/km; VED Band L for annual car tax of £445
Trim: Sole model
Insurance: Group 40 (AIB 50 Group ratings)
Warranty: Three-year/60,000 miles
Taxable benefit: £11,252.50
Euro NCAP: Four star
Available extras: Power Pack