Over the past decade, Classic Car Club has answered the same queSTIon many times for visitors not equipped with their own member card: Why does a rather swank SoHo garage stuffed with Ferraris, Porsches and other striking sports cars have a lowly Subaru amongst its weaponry? This new, 2015 WRX STI is our fourth time around the stars of Subaru and the answer is always the same—because it's rally royalty.
Before we get into what makes this newest edition of Subaru's dirt machine good or bad, let's have a quick look into the history of the STI.
In the late 80's and 90's, there were a lot of crap can cars available. They worked moderately well, but they were completely uninspiring. Econoboxes ran the day and Subaru's Loyale waived the beige flag for the Japanese manufacturer. But things changed in 1993 when Subaru sailed their Loyale replacement, the Impreza, to American shores. It was just improved all around. In Japan, things were even better, as they were given a turbocharged version of the Impreza, bringing the power to a respectable 237bhp. Four-wheel drive and a sweet five-speed gearbox were also equipped, meaning this car was meant to hoon straight from the box.
This same year, the blue and gold rally colors of Subaru quickly became en vogue, thanks to a rather racy gent named Colin McRae. Before his tragic death in a helicopter crash, Scottish rally overlord McRae drove his Impreza 555 differently than the other rallyists on the tour. The smaller, lighter Group A Impreza handled impossible gravel-shooting slides with ease, as it spit flames and snarled turbo blow-offs through the woods of Europe. Two years later, McRae and his 300bph Impreza 555 took the title with relative ease.
To celebrate the popularity and dirty vulgarity of the 555, Subaru plucked a handful of Imprezas off the assembly line and brought them to a different building in the Subaru facility, where Rally Blue and Gold were swapped for pink. Pink is a very symbolic color in Japanese culture, it represents the brevity and passion of a Samurai warrior's life. This was the home of STI (Subaru Technica International), Subaru's version of BMW's M-division or Mercedes Benz's eminent AMG division. Here, a number of go-fast bits were bolted to the Impreza, including a carbon fiber strut tower bar, forged pistons, trick intercoolers, a bump of power that pushed the car to 250bhp and, of course, about a half dozen pink STI logos. This car became an instant hit with racers and tuners who, with just a touch of knowhow, were able to unlock much more performance from the pink-badged brawler.
Throughout the years, the WRX STI continued to grow in stature. McRae racked up another two World Rally wins wearing blue and gold. Subaru treated the STI to almost Porsche 911-levels of formulaic improvements that continued to improve the car without straying from the original formula that made millions of hooligan rally fans love it so.
There's one part of this car's development that some scoff at though. For the past number of years, and models, the power output only jumped up by five—from 300 to 305. During an automotive arms race that produces staggering numbers in the form of Shelby 1000's, Dodge Hellcats, McLaren 12Cs, and highways of 600hp+ daily drivers, it's not exactly up to par.
What's it for?
Unlike a lot of purpose-built sports cars hanging out at Classic Car Club, we love STI's for their jack-of-all-trade demeanor. Need to get a friend to the airport in an extreme hurry? Throw their bags in the trunk and haul ass. Want to do a track day at New Jersey Motorsports Park? The STI will hustle around corners with delight. Want to go snowboarding with the bros? You'll get to the mountain way faster than anything they brought. You can even pick them up from the steepest of black diamond trails when they crash and destroy their pancreas. The STI is the most versatile sports car out there. All it takes is the right tires for the mission. This little blue hellion is the Swiss Army Knife of Japan.
Really, there's not much to say here. STI's don't need to be beautiful, which is good, because they're not. But they do need a few things, and this Subie is no different. Any STI requires a preposterous wing bolted to the trunk, and an air scoop up front. All the required boxes are checked for 2015. This new model is the Launch edition, of which Subaru has made 1,000 for the US market. That means it has gold BBS wheels, which are not only appropriate but pretty snazzy and of course, the WR Blue Pearl paint job. I think we're going to have to buy some red STI mud flaps for her too. This new whip kicks the past hatchback model to the curb in favor of a traditional sedan layout. It has four doors and a trunk. What a clever sports car.
If you really want to get into it, the front seems to overhang the wheels a little too much, giving it a hatchback face and a boot in the back. If we're honest, it also feels a little cheap. For instance, if you were to do that shut-the-door-with-your-hip-while-carrying-coffee move, you'd put a big, bum-shaped dent in it. We Subie purists will counter by saying it's Subaru's attempt at keeping the weight down and we all know that light is right.
Inside, the car is an upgrade from the past few editions. Interior components feel solid and less plastic-like. There's a lot of go-fast carbon accents (fake of course) but it gets you in the mood. The shift knob now comes festooned with a red gear map, too. There's also the addition of a second information screen, planted in the center of the dash, way up by the windshield. It can tell you things like which direction your wheels are facing (seriously), how much boost your lead foot is creating, the back up cam, and a bunch of other factoids that won't improve your life or your drive. We've noticed this new secondary screen trend in a number of cars recently, and it feels more novelty than novel in all attempts. The back seat remains full-sized and usable as ever. Overall, things are really nice in here. This is an everyday car with a menacing nature hiding just below the surface.
While everything stays true to the original recipe with similar ingredients, it seems this new STI has been cooked not only differently, but perfectly. First, let's discuss the "technica" parts of an STI. As with the last model, this new Subie has a knob just below the shifter that lets the driver select from three drive modes: Intelligent, sport and the silly-sounding "Sport Sharp". Each setting dispatches the power a bit quicker, and also gives you a power band map in the instrumentation cluster so you know just how badly you're going to hurt your back before you get on the gas. Typically, I find these settings in most cars noticeable, but just. In the Subaru though, each setting draSTIcally changes the nature of the power delivery and the ride. Intelligent is nice for getting around town, Sport Sharp is nothing short of savage. Sport is a nice compromise that STIll gives you snappy power without the on-off naSTIness of Sport Sharp.
Just below the settings nob is a toggle switch that allows the operator to determine how much power they want to split between the front and rear diff. This actually comes in handy if you're rallying through the snow or power sliding on loose gravel or dirt. Ratchet it up and you're in full diff lock. How many cars let you get that?
The 2.5 liter engine upfront retains Subaru's boxer configuration. This keeps the engine flat and the weight low by firing the cylinders in a horizontal configuration, rather than in a V-pattern like an American-style V6 or V8. The turbo jacks the power up to 305hp. Here, some find fault. Many say it's time that Subaru add a few more ponies to the ponderosa, but personally, I don't think it's necessary. Speed is relative. Speed is a sensation. It's not just a number. Because Subaru throws so much forced induction, torque and short gearing into the equation, the driver, and his or her passengers, really do get pushed into their seats on take off. The Subaru puts every drop of that 305 to work, and while this isn't the car that's going to massacre the quarter mile, it will hustle around any track, tarmac or dirt section quite efficiently.
The new STI sports a very STIff chassis and beautifully engineered Brembo racing brakes with a bit of their own trickery. These Brembos will add or reduce bite to each wheel, depending on their levels of traction. The result is a lovely driver's car that can put all the power it offers to work rather easily. Behind the wheel, the Subie offered very aggressive grip and a diehard lust for finding the apex of a corner. In this car, you can really overcook your entry, but if you look to the inside of the turn, the car will keep up with you and the front will make it to the inside. Understeer, apparently doesn't translate in Japan… this car just doesn't have it.
Another thing I love about this car is the feel. The communication is fantaSTIc. The driver can feel every tire scrambling for grip. You can sense the front, outside wheel power through a turn, you can feel the rear pushing the front around a bend and you can sense when a bit of gravel or loose tarmac makes the footing less sure.
And don't forget the sound. We at CCC always believe that a racy thing like an STI should STImulate all the senses. Our new, stock STI was lacking in the sound department, so we fitted an Invidia exhaust system to it. This gives the Subie an authentic boxer bellow, which is good for letting the day trippers in front of you know to get out of the way.
The fan boys and Ken Block kids know what they're talking about. The new 2015 Subaru WRX STI delivers a genuinely entertaining drive over more than one surface type and does it for a hell of a lot less money than most cars fighting in its class. It's not just great for the money, it's just great.
Text: Michael Prichinello
Photos: Michael Roselli
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