Johannesburg - Just a couple of months after launching the new-generation WRX, Subaru South Africa has brought in the even more potent STI to appease the hunger of high-performance Scooby enthusiasts.
At R449 000 the standard WRX offers good value with its 197kW/350Nm outputs, sharp all-wheel-drive handling, and high-spec luxury package. But for those with a R599 000 budget, the STI represents the pinnacle of high performance within the Japanese stable with its 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged boxer engine, which lays 221kW and 407Nm down through Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system.
Having made its world debut at this year’s Detroit Auto Show the new WRX STI builds on its predecessors in terms of being a sports sedan with everyday practicality, while adding a healthy dose of power and improved handling. It’s available in a single derivative with a six-speed manual gearbox and a Premium specification. A three-year/100 000km warranty and three-year/75 000km maintenance plan can be optionally extended at purchase.
Only 30 STI units will be available in South Africa this year, with some already accounted for.
Like the new WRX, the new WRX STI also features Active Torque Vectoring for enhanced handling precision, while unique to the STI is a multi-mode Driver-Controlled Centre Differential (DCCD) which allows the driver to vary the all-wheel-drive power split between the front and rear.
TOP DOG STYLE
Design cues that identify the top-dog Subaru include a wide body kit and trademark ironing board-sized boot spoiler, which throw subtlety out the window. Together with its quartet of tailpipes and oversized bonnet scoop, the STI screams “boy racer” from every angle.
A 255km/h top speed does justice to the visual promise, while Subaru claims a sea-level 0-100km/h sprint in just 4.9 seconds.
It’s a very swift car without being extravagantly so. For an engine with a single-scroll turbo the power delivery is very linear, and there’s no low-rev lag followed by a sudden kick. It’s all very civilised, and aurally the car follows the same path; there’s a muted sporty thrum from the exhaust but I’d have preferred something lewder and louder from a car with such in-your-face looks.
Our performance tests at Gauteng altitude weren’t able to match Subaru’s 0-100 claim. Our STI test car achieved 6.1 seconds, which is 0.5 secs quicker than the standard WRX, and it took quite a few runs to get it down to that time as it’s not an easy car to launch off the line. With all-wheel drive there’s no wheelspin in a fast start and the clutch takes a real beating, which makes you wince with mechanical sympathy.
The STI’s easily outrun by cars like the Audi S3 and Golf R, in which we’ve achieved 0-100 times about a second quicker in the automatic versions – and consistently so as they’re much easier to launch.
It may not be the quickest car off the line but its combination of power and handling prowess is what places the STI in the heirarchy of bucket-list cars you have to drive through a twisty mountain pass at least once in your life.
In June an STI broke the Isle of Man TT course record for a car, with driver Mark Higgins averaging 188km/h around the fabled 59km circuit with a laptime of 19 minutes and 15 seconds.
All-wheel-drive systems were once notorious for causing understeer but, like the WRX we road tested recently, the STI changes direction without this fun-sapping characteristic. Flick it into a turn and the sweet-handling car hugs apexes like an affectionate cat, with the front end showing little tendency to drift wide.
That said, I couldn’t get the car to oversteer either, even with the centre diff on its maximum rearwards setting and the stability control switched off. While this is very safe, it doesn’t allow the enthusiastic driver a bit of tail-out action on a race track.
My favourite feature in the car is the direct and beautifully weighted steering, which requires a little arm muscle instead of feeling artificially over-assisted. This heavier turning effort, in cahoots with a gearshift that requires a slightly more positive shove, gives the STI a feeling of substance and gravitas. It’s a car that wants to be driven, not just pointed.
FEELS MORE PREMIUM
The suspension’s very firm and road imperfections come through largely unfiltered. It’s a very solid-feeling car, though, and rough roads don’t expose any interior rattles. This build quality is obvious in the cabin too, which has taken a big improvement in luxurious look and feel.
In top-of-the-line Premium spec the WRX STI’s standard pamper list includes automatic headlights and wipers, daytime running lights, a six-speaker multimedia audio system with USB and auxiliary connectivity, voice control, Bluetooth, rear-view camera, cruise control, and automatic climate control. Multimedia and navigation tasks are controlled by a large touchscreen.
Sporty cabin jewellery is plentiful, including leather upholstery contrasted with red stitching, sports bucket seats, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, red gear knob, and a carbonfibre-like dashboard finish.
There are seven airbags and the car has earned a five-star EuroNCAP safety rating. For the performance on offer this Subaru was reasonably economical, averaging 10 litres per 100km.
Sensational handling and almost perfectly-weighted steering make the WRX STI the driver’s car that lives up to the reputation of the iconic badge. The power’s good too, although it will be outgunned by the likes of an Audi S3 or Golf R which cost 100 grand less – and that makes this Subaru more of a hard-sell.
At R449 000, the standard WRX provides nearly as much fun and makes more rands and sense. -Star Motoring
Subaru WRX STI
Engine: 2.5-litre, four-cylinder turbopetrol
Gearbox: Six-speed manual
Power: 221kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 407Nm @ 4000rpm
0-100km/h (tested): 6.1 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 255km/h
Consumption (claimed): 10.4 litres per 100km
Price: R599 000
Warranty: Three-year/100 000km
Maintenance plan: Three-year/75 000km