By on August 2, 2005

 That my trusty sidekick decided to pack it in just days before this WRX STi arrived can hardly be viewed as coincidence. Rather than face the license and physics compromising surety of Subaru's turbocharged, all-wheel-drive juggernaut, my radar detector committed suicide. In the dead of night, leaping from her once-cozy, hardwired and suction-cupped perch, Michelle (my BEL) fatally dashed upon the rocky shoals of my daily driver's center console. It wasn't a cry for help, as nary an ear was around to hear her final (undoubtedly false) bleating. Tragic, yes… but completely understandable given the circumstances.

For as you can plainly see, Subaru hasn't exactly wrought a Q-ship here. The STi is utterly infested with attention-grabbing aerodynamic addenda: skirts, scoops, vents, canards, EVERYTHING. Factor-in the gaping mesh grille inserts, look-at-me STi stickery, 17" 12-spoke BBS alloys, and it's a miracle owners ever make it out of their driveways without police choppers whirring overhead. And then there's the small matter of the rump, where some Suba-guru epoxied a park bench to the decklid, screwing a Dutch Boy finial to the pipework as some sort of perverse coup de grâce.

 Of course, some might consider it a hero's garb, and they've got a point– provided you're a 12-year-old anime addict. At least Subaru had the prescience to paint mine silver. Had it been the retina-searing WRC blue (traditionally paired with King Midas' own alloys), I'd have confettied my license straight away. Despite STi's preposterous visuals, I loved every minute of it. Truly… madly… deeply. As I see it, the madder-than-a-bag-of-cats visuals means driving the Scooby never fails to engender a sense of occasion… a guilty pleasure windfall courtesy its stylistic insouciance.

Open STi's sashless doors and you'll know exactly where your $32-large went: the driveline. If Subaru spent more than ten bucks on plastics in the entire mess, I beg its beancounters to demand supplier reparations. At least the three-spoke wheel is appropriately chunky and drilled pedals well-placed. And visibility isn't as bad as one might think, though the wing disconcertingly bisects the lightbars of trailing constables.

 TTAC's arrived optioned with a cheap-looking boost gauge leeched to the steering column that blocked the fuel gauge– singularly inconvenient in light of its Dionysian thirst. During a particularly spirited run, I drained half a tank of high-test in under 70 miles… a Cheney cackle shy of 9mpg. Our tester's only other indulgence was a thoroughly ridiculous $190 titanium shiftknob, roughly equivalent to grabbing the hell-bent-for-leather end of a branding iron whenever the sun shines. Buy the short-shift kit instead.

If true artists must suffer for their work, consider STi's el-cheapo furnishings due penance for its magnanimous drivetrain. Packing a blown, intercooled 2.5-liter boxer routing its special brand of mechanized violence through all fours, STi packs enough courage to leave some supercars for dead on challenging roads, especially when Mother Nature unexpectedly throws a party. And it isn't shy about its clout, even at a standstill. A guttural chainsaw-with-a-thrown-bearing cacophony issues from idle on up, putting drivers immediately on notice. Goad the riot pedal, and passers-by stare. Car alarms chirrup nervously. BP hurriedly erects another gas station.

 Unchain its 300-horses, and the STi doesn't so much accelerate as savage the time-space continuum. Keep the eruption on boil long enough to reach a corner, and you'll find the grip every bit as vicious as its motivation. While it doesn't effortlessly slink through corners in the manner of, say, a Mazda Miata, gummy Bridgestone Potenzas tear chunks out of the road in a spectacularly manic power-grab. It's enough that one can't help but glance rearward, if only to check if some tarmac has been spared for the poor bastard who just shat himself attempting to keep up. In short, it's bewitchingly brilliant.

As one might suspect, whipping an STi mercilessly reveals the only arena in which it truly makes sense. Crop it hard and the firm-riding MacPherson struts find their cadence, vigilantly adhering to the road whenever wheelspin relents. Squeeze the brakes, and the (occasionally noisy) bullion-hued Brembos come good faster than you can say 'golden parachute', shaving off just enough velocity for the skilled wheelman to chuck it into the next corner. The unique driver-adjustable center differential (which gerrymanders the power split front-to-back) evolves from bench-racing bauble to co-conspirator. Even the spendy adjustable-throw xenons reveal their necessity– with so much firepower on tap, overdriving conventional headlamps would've been guaranteed.

 Beyond the obvious threat of license revocation and social censure, STi ownership presents other potentially thorny issues. Appointments will never again accept: 'Sorry, running late,' and your children's once-cryptic Yu-Gi-Oh! cards may become worryingly comprehensible. But for the enthusiast, these are minor concessions. Just make sure to factor the cost of a Valentine One in your monthly payments… and a little extra for some decent suction cups.

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