When I bought my second Rex, I nearly bit the bullet and went STI. But I like to haul more than ass. So I sacrificed balls-out speed for cargo capacity and bought the five-door WRX (again). The good news: starting now, Subaru's hottest rally-bred machine is available only as a hatch. The bad news: the new STI costs $14k more than the WRX. Is it worth it?
Not from the look of it. I wonder how far the STI's development had progressed when GM sold its shares to Toyota; the front of this sucker resembles a partial-birth Saabortion. Subie designers must have had a running bet to see who can fashion the world's most grotesque cars nose. The STI's rump is also ugly against all odds. Clear Lexus RX style taillights? Yuck. Quad tailpipes? The STI only has four cylinders for Malcolm Bricklin's sake!
The STI's interior is a travesty at the price. Someone (Subaru? GM? Toyota?) replaced the previous car's nice-for-an-econo-box plastics with crap. Crap whose crappiness is increased exponentially in full consideration of the STI's $40k price tag. The STI's cabin "boasts" a cartoonishly oversized (or is that MINIshly?) tachometer, festooned with green and pink neon lights, which glows a deep orange-red. Now that's cooking with class! Radio buttons on the steering wheel of an STI? In a word, nyet!
A big however, however, occurs when you start moving your hands and feet around. The STI's tiller is the right kind of chunky. While it could be an inch or two taller, the metal and leather shift knob feels like the business end of an aluminum bat. And a special shout out to the ideally placed pedals. To me, no car is set up better for the old heel-and-toe routine. While I'd still prefer the JDM STI's racing buckets, the USD leather/Alcantara seats look fly and provide enough bolstering to defend the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Almost.
Light the fuse and the STI's carryover (but remapped) 305 horsepower boxer mill will rocket you to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds. The STI doesn't feel nearly that slow. If not for the fussy gearing that forces an up-shift to third, you could hit 60 mph a lot faster.
Still, like all turbocharged Subarus, the 2.5-liter four-banga is useless below 4000 rpm. And because the new heads feature variable valve tech, the STI's redline has been lowered by 400, down to 6600 RPM. That's a lawn mower-grade useable power band, which explains the constant gear rowing. (I happen to love it, but many won't.) The STI's big, bad Brembos are absurdly fantastic. More importantly, they feel burly, which is exactly what drivers want when decelerating from triple digit speeds.
The STI's supposed killer app: DCCD. That's Driver Controlled Center Differential to you and me. We're talking an open center diff that sports clutch-type locking. In default Auto mode, the traction control computer monitors wheel slippage and routes torque accordingly between the front and rear wheels. But with 18" x 8.5" Potenzas on 18-spoke forged aluminum BBS wheels mad-doggedly grasping the pavement, what's the point?
In Manual mode, you can vary the lock-up from a 50-50 split to a maximum of 35/65 front to rear. There are three Automatic modes to choose from: "Auto," "Auto +" (for snow and gravel) and "Auto -" to route more torque to the rear wheels. After screwing around with the DCCD settings for 400 miles, I'm sad to report that the entire system's a total waste of time. I didn't notice any difference in handling save for lighter, less accurate steering in, uh, one of the modes.
The STI's "SI-Drive" knob lets drivers select from three throttle response programs. "Sport" is the default setting. If you're interested in saving gas, there's an "Intelligent" mode that neuters the engine's power output by 20 percent. While I question the smarts of anyone who buys an STI and worries about fuel economy, I'm thinking of having "Sport Sharp" tattooed on my forearm.
Needless to say that's because the fully enabled 2008 WRX STI outhandles an X-acto knife. Yes, the steering's a bit lumpen, and the chassis understeers at the limit, and the mammoth tires produce unwanted bump steer rolling over the nastiest bits. But this sucker's is a four-wheeled middle finger to Newtonian physics. Einstein, too.
True to its rally roots, the worse the road, the better the STI behaved. In fact, I didn't really dig the STI until I fed it some busted-up asphalt. Then my love blossomed with an unnatural (and sideways) passion.
So, is the STI worth a 14k premium? The depends entirely on your driving license's current status and your access to crumbling roads.