When I was a kid, I would stay up at night with my Dad just to watch the World Rally Championship. It was our bonding time before I'd have to be sent off to bed. I used to marvel at those cars going sideways on the dirt and splashing their way through puddles. They always looked so much faster on TV than Formula 1 did. During these 30 minute episodes on TV, the main highlight was always when the blue car with the yellow 555 stickers and gold wheels would come sprinting in our TV at full speed only to make a full 180 degree handbrake turn, and fire out of the hairpin with the exhausts popping like shots fired from a sub-machine gun. The blue car was always the Subaru Impreza WRX STI, driven by my rally heroes, Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz.
I was so drawn to the car that I would always ask my Dad for a 15 minute extension to play my Colin McRae Rally game on the Playstation before I'd really have to march off to bed. Being a Dad who understood my passion for cars, he'd always happily oblige. He'd even play split screen with me too. My love for the STI consumed me so much as a kid that I remember driving it through real twisty mountain passes and shaking through the ever-changing terrain, only to realize that the shaking was that of my "yaya" waking me up for school the next day. Well, ain't life grand?
"it was just the most unreal surge of power and tunnel vision was imminent"
Luckily, it wasn't long before my first real experience in the car finally came. One night after dinner in 1998, my sister Charlotte called me to walk out to the gate with her. Being the obedient brother that I was, I followed her out and there it was. A white WRX STI driven by Steven Tagle. It may not have had the heroic blue and yellow rally livery, but it kept the gold wheels - and that for me was legit enough. Steven happily took me for a spin, and boy was I in for the shock of a lifetime. His car felt unlike anything else I'd ever experienced.
"the feeling of weightlessness became too overwhelming for me as the butterflies in my stomach started eating my organs."
At my age then, I had already been a passenger in quite a few fast cars, but this was different. It took a while for the Turbos to spool as I could hear it working, but when the boost came in, it was just the most unreal surge of power and tunnel vision was imminent. As we ran through the gears, the feeling of weightlessness became too overwhelming for me as the butterflies in my stomach started eating my organs, that I asked Steven to slow down. I simply just wasn't ready for the attack on my senses. Maybe my appreciation for the STI then was best left to Star Sports at 8pm.
"IRONICALLY, SUBARU HAVE DROPPED THE 'IMPREZA' NAME."
Now it's 2016, and I've been handed the keys to the all-new Subaru WRX STI. Will it resurrect my memories of a lightning quick rally hero, or is this merely Subaru's marketing tool for a fallen star?
Ironically, Subaru have dropped the 'Impreza' name for the WRX and WRX STI, leaving it badged onto the cars you see in your daily commute to work. Styling is subjective to everyone, but this current generation WRX STI didn't appeal to me at the beginning. I thought it looked a lot more civilized than its predecessors and I happen to prefer the one that came before this one, in sedan configuration of course.
"If you want to wake up the neighbors without revving the engine, this is the car for you."
The interior is a lot better than I expected though. I was banking that it would be quite horrible since there'd be almost no focus on anything that had to do with comfort or luxury, and I was wrong. I found a nice slush of leather and suede, a dual-zone climate control system, an infotainment screen and a decent audio system. Oh, and it comes with a handy keyless entry system. When you get in, you'll find that the seats are very supportive and making the adjustments will help you find the perfect driving position. The steering wheel is lovely to hold and all the controls are where you want them to be.
I pushed the start button, and the bassiest 2.5-liter boxer engine came to life. It sounded a lot like someone turned up a concert grade subwoofer to its maximum setting of low frequency bass. If you want to wake up the neighbors without revving the engine, this is the car for you. It is properly loud on idle. With the engine in its optimal temperature, I finally pulled out and saw some space. I gave the car a squeeze, and it felt lethargic. Then I saw a ton more space and I gave it the full beans, and there was nothing.
There was no indication whatsoever of a 305 horsepower World Rally Champion. Also, there isn't much noise when you're going through the entire rev range. It's a lot of air and induction noise, which is nice because it's real. I just thought that it would have a more sonorous exhaust note. It's quite odd that the car is in its loudest at 1,500-2,000 rpm. Unfortunately, there wasn't a hint of the savagery of my joyride from the 90's. What happened here?
"There's a significant improvement in refinement and build quality."
With the traffic building up, I parked at our studio feeling really disappointed. I took the guys from Opus Macchina around, and they felt the same way I did. Ken a racer himself, said that he understood what I was saying. There was no immediacy in the engine and that even in high rpms, the turbocharged boost wasn't as we expected from an STI. We were quite in shock but this time for all the wrong reasons. The only things going for it at this point were the steering and the gearbox. The clutch felt weighted, but not exaggerated. It's the kind of clutch that you can live with on a daily basis. The short throw gearshift is lovely and it makes swapping cogs quite entertaining. It is precise, but a bit too close for my liking. You'd be forgiven for slotting in back to 3rd even if you meant to go to 5th. On the upside, the car felt tightly screwed. There's a significant improvement in refinement and build quality.
Finally Sunday arrived. As expected the roads were clear, but the weather remained unpredictable. The upside is that the WRX STI is equipped with a symmetrical four wheel drive system. You can also access the Driver's Control Center Differential (DCCD) via a rocker switch. This adjusts the distribution of torque to the front and rear wheels. Auto(+) basically keeps more power upfront for increased traction, while Auto(-) transfers more power to the rear for tighter cornering. There is also a six-stage manual mode that allows you to set your car's handling characteristic based on your preference. Subaru experts strongly advise its owners to keep it in the selection of Auto modes and let the computers do its work.
"those Brembo brakes will shave off speed faster than your barber can shave your already bald head."
As impressive as the DCCD was, the standout feature here was Subaru's Intelligent Drive, or SI-DRIVE. You have three settings: Intelligent, which lets the computer do all the thinking for you; Sport, which is a little bit more aggressive in throttle response and boost; and Sport Sharp (Sport#), which is absolutely bonkers. In Sport Sharp, the boost comes in at about 3,500 rpm and it doesn't stop giving until the rev limiter starts flashing. The acceleration is savage and you feel like you're being pushed further into the horizon at a rate that your eyes can barely keep up.
"you will be able to fire out of corners at a rate that you never knew was possible"
It is raw and unhinged. This was the Subaru WRX STI that I've been waiting for. It's light on its feet, it's agile, it's cat quick, and it's powered by the God of boost. As floored as I was with the complete change in speed and character, I was most in awe with the car's grip and cornering ability. I kid you not, you will be able to fire out of corners at a rate that you never knew was possible. The grip is God-like. And when you've gone too fast, all you need to do is step on the brake pedal and those Brembo® brakes will shave off speed faster than your barber can shave your already bald head. The suspension work and the grip of the all wheel drive system is legendary. It is without mystery to me now why Colin McRae dominated the rally scene in the 90's.
So here we have it. You have the most annoying car in the world and at the turn of a knob, you have the most amazing car in the world. It is an absolute superstar. Please excuse me, now I need to check-in a rehab facility and get detoxed from my turbocharged high.