New Model Preview: Subaru Impreza WRX STI

new model preview subaru impreza wrx sti

Subaru is hard at work on the successor to the legendary Impreza WRX. Spy photographers recently caught several camouflaged test vehicles strutting their stuff. The shots lead us to believe that the new car will be a hatchback, drawing its design inspiration from the ’00 B5-THP concept car. The change from four doors to five will throw the WRX STI against cars like the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Opel Astra OPC and Ford Focus ST. Do the European and American hot-hatches stand a chance?

Although Americans are supposedly hatch aversive, the arrival of the MINI, Audi's “premium compact,” sales of the not-for-fairies Dodge Caliber and the emergence of the “hatches on stilts” CUV genre have all paved the way for a Subaru WRX STI five-door. Equally important, the current Impreza is having a hard time competing against European hot hatches and wagons. Audi's new S3 and BMW's 130i have extended the battle into Subie’s (and the Mitsubishi Evo's) happy hunting grounds. By adding a fifth door, maintaining the brand's astounding value-for-money pricing, and keeping the model's supercar slaying performance, a Subaru Impreza hatchback could recapture lost ground from higher-priced competitors, and obliterate its peers.

The B5-THP’s fancy hybrid technology will not make it to production, but some of its design lines certainly will. At our behest, artist Andrei Avarvarii examined the next gen WRX spy shots and prepared two computer illustrations to give TTAC readers a feel for where the next WRX may be heading.

Judging from the photos, the B5-THP concept’s front fascia seems fairly close to production. The headlights will get conventional lamps while maintaining their radical shape. Same for the radiator grille, which will feature the usual black plastic net instead of the concept’s shiny, painted look.

The STI's aggressive front spoiler will host a enlarged air intake to meet the turbocharged boxer engine’s cooling needs. A fully functional hood scoop will also remain in situ, continuing to project the WRX’ extreme capabilities and rally heritage. To that end, large round fog lights will extend and complete the snout’s rally-car look.

The new WRX’ rear will drop the fantasy optics of the B5-THP for conventional lights, with a different shape (but similar technology) to that of the current models. The sportier-looking exhaust will be probably divided in two, to accommodate the boxer engine’s two banks of cylinders.

Mechanically, the new Impreza WRX will be an evolution, not a revolution. The model will continue to use technology developed for and borrowed from the company’s phenomenally capable WRC rally cars. Obviously, racing technology marches on; so there’s plenty of scope suspension and drivetrain upgrades– that will increase the car’s hard-man reputation for extreme performance.

Although the new WRX STI's turbo boxer engine will still displace 2.5 liters, rumor has it that the updated blower will boost power (so to speak) to 330hp, perhaps more in selected markets (in Japan, a “gentlemen’s agreement” limits a vehicle’s power output to 280hp). Subaru’s engineers have also addressed the powerplant’s lack of bottom end torque– one of the few chinks in the WRX’ mechanical armory.

The WRX STI's legendary four-wheel drive system is slated to be fitted with new active differentials. It’s not known, but likely, that some of the components will made out of high-strength, low-weight aluminum, as more and more automotive manufacturers are turning to the material to try to save weight, to increase performance without raising fuel consumption.

The WRX STI's interior is a question mark. Subaru would have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to know they need to raise the WRX' cabin's game to meet the encroaching threat of the premium hot hatches. Whether or not the WRX will sacrifice some of its maniacal nature to achieve greater ride comfort is another quandary that won't be answered for some time yet. On one hand, a more civilized Impreza would make serious inroads into the hatchback market. On the other hand, the car's take-no-prisoners nature has won it a large and devoted following– who would not want the car to go "soft" in any way, shape or form.

A launch date for the new WRX STI has not been officially announced. Judging from the current test car’s level of development, the new STI should be ready for production in late 2008.

[For more of Mr. Avavarii's work, please visit www.spyshots.carbonmade.com]

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  • Durishin Durishin on Oct 16, 2006

    Wow! Sad....about Mr. Zapatina's grille design... I was looking foward to owning an entire fleet of Flying Vagina's - trading in my Spec. B and starting with the new STi then getting bigger ones from there.

  • Ilias subaromania Ilias subaromania on Nov 26, 2006

    I M 29 years old and i have my first impreza from 21 years old. I M happy with my car and i have 160,000 happy k.m. IN CASE THAT THIS WOULD BE THE NEXT DESIGN OF IMPREZA I WOULD SALE IT MY OWN AND I WILL DON T WONT TO HEAR ABOUT IT AGAIN>

  • Dennis Howerton Nice article, Cory. Makes me wish I had bought Festivas when they were being produced. Kia made them until the line was discontinued, but Kia evidently used some of the technology to make the Rio. Pictures of the interior look a lot like my Rio's interior, and the 1.5 liter engine is from Mazda while Ford made the automatic transmission in the used 2002 Rio I've been driving since 2006. I might add the Rio is also an excellent subcompact people mover.
  • Sgeffe Bronco looks with JLR “reliability!”What’s not to like?!
  • FreedMike Back in the '70s, the one thing keeping consumers from buying more Datsuns was styling - these guys were bringing over some of the ugliest product imaginable. Remember the F10? As hard as I try to blot that rolling aberration from my memory, it comes back. So the name change to Nissan made sense, and happened right as they started bringing over good-looking product (like the Maxima that will be featured in this series). They made a pretty clean break.
  • Flowerplough Liability - Autonomous vehicles must be programmed to make life-ending decisions, and who wants to risk that? Hit the moose or dive into the steep grassy ditch? Ram the sudden pile up that is occurring mere feet in front of the bumper or scan the oncoming lane and swing left? Ram the rogue machine that suddenly swung into my lane, head on, or hop up onto the sidewalk and maybe bump a pedestrian? With no driver involved, Ford/Volkswagen or GM or whomever will bear full responsibility and, in America, be ambulance-chaser sued into bankruptcy and extinction in well under a decade. Or maybe the yuge corporations will get special, good-faith, immunity laws, nation-wide? Yeah, that's the ticket.
  • FreedMike It's not that consumers wouldn't want this tech in theory - I think they would. Honestly, the idea of a car that can take over the truly tedious driving stuff that drives me bonkers - like sitting in traffic - appeals to me. But there's no way I'd put my property and my life in the hands of tech that's clearly not ready for prime time, and neither would the majority of other drivers. If they want this tech to sell, they need to get it right.
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