2005 Subaru Impreza WRX STi
The STi in the Impreza WRX STi's lengthy appellation stands for Subaru Technica International, Subaru's high-performance division. Technology, in the context of the Subaru WRX STi, is less about entertainment than driver control, which is appropriate, given its status as Subaru's high-performance flagship. With any WRX, particularly the STi, the entertainment is in the driving. This is not a car for the casual driver or the uncommitted nonenthusiast. It has ferocious power, and its suspension is optimized for high-limit cornering--at the expense of ride comfort and normal levels of interior noise. It's loud enough inside that, at speed, you won't hear the audio system all that well, but you'll be too busy driving to care. The Impreza-based WRX was a legend even before it became available in the United States, known mostly from magazine articles and video games. The 300-horsepower STi, introduced in 2003 as a 2004 model, has some significant tweaks for 2005. The styling remains the same, with rally-car fender blisters and the huge rear wing, although there's a new underbody cover for improved airflow and high-speed stability. There are significant upgrades to the steering, the suspension, and the Driver Controlled Center Differential (DCCD) all-wheel-drive system programming. The result is that Subaru's beast is better than ever, and its limits are even higher. At $33,020 base (including destination charge) or $33,938 as tested, it gives supercar performance and rally technology at a very good price.
Compared with dedicated rally cars, the STi offers relative luxury. With good interior space for its size, it seats four comfortably. The trunk is also usefully large. As with other Imprezas, the STi's dash and center stack have been revised. The STi adds grippy Ecsaine fabric seat and door inserts, both in electric blue, to distinguish it from lesser Impreza models. The excellent driver control interface includes a three-spoke, leather-wrapped Momo steering wheel with a comfortably thick rim, a close-at-hand shift knob, and well-arranged metal and rubber pedals that facilitate easy heel-and-toe driving. Unlike serious rally cars, there is a very functional automatic climate-control system and an AM/FM/in-dash six-CD changer audio system, although the CD doesn't have MP3 capability.
Windows and outside rearview mirrors are power operated, but the seats are manual. That means less weight, as does the deletion of a significant amount of soundproofing material in the name of performance. The suspension calibration reinforces the performance angle, with firmer springs and shocks and less jounce and rebound travel than before. Wider BBS alloy wheels allow the tires to seat better than with last year's narrower rims, resulting in better cornering ability. Rear visibility is compromised by the large rear wing, and with the STi's speed capability, a close watch in the rearview mirrors is critical. But the wing is not a deletable option, since the suspension is calibrated for the downforce it generates.
Heart of the beast
Mechanical and electronic wizardry makes up the heart of the Subaru Impreza WRX STi. Like the base WRX, it uses a horizontally opposed four-cylinder boxer engine, but the STi's is larger in displacement, at 2.5 liters, and features the Active Valve Control System variable valve timing system for a broader torque band. Like the regular WRX, it's turbocharged, but it gets another pound of boost to 14.5psi, and air is fed to the intercooler via the extralarge scoop in the lightweight aluminum hood. Water can be sprayed on the intercooler to increase its effect during high-performance driving. Race-tech items such as forged alloy pistons, forged high-carbon steel connecting rods, and sodium-filled exhaust valves improve longevity. The result is a healthy 300 horsepower at 6,000rpm, with 300 pound-feet of torque at 4,000rpm--and a LEV emissions rating.
It's not a particularly high-revving engine, which makes it easy to drive even in commute traffic, and with the $938 Performance Group 2B option, linkage to the six-speed manual gearbox shows a significant improvement upon earlier Subarus'. Not that much shifting is necessary with the STi's strong, wide power band. There is adequate but not excessive low-end power, with a strong rush from about 3,000rpm to just past the 6,000rpm power peak. The 2B package also includes a steering column-mounted boost gauge that's too small and too close to the driver to see well--under anything close to maximum acceleration, the driver's eyes had best be on the road ahead, not the instrument panel, which explains the red upshift light in the tach.