Subaru is a brand that has a lot of stereotypes when it comes to the average owner. There’s the modern, new-age version of hippies, who need a Subaru Outback’s All Wheel Drive to navigate the muddy dirt roads that lead to their dirty, all-organic, locally grown produce communes. The lesbians, treehuggers and PETA enthusiasts figure prominently, too. Basically, Subaru makes cars for outdoorsy communists.
And outdoorsy communists seem to drive painfully slowly. They trundle along at geological speeds. They force you to stare in glassy-eyed boredom at their fading “Kerry-Edwards” and “Coexist” bumper stickers. You endure this for an interminable amount of time. Then, happily, the oncoming traffic clears and you can finally stomp on the accelerator and pass them, while they stare balefully at you with painful earnestness.
As it happens, though, Subaru does make a car that your average outdoorsy communist hates. It’s called the Impreza WRX STI. Sadly, it has the stereotype of being owned by street-racing douchebags. And it is the ugliest car in the world.
How it looks
Maybe you missed the last sentence. It is the ugliest car in the world. Its two most prominent features—and the ones that send street-racing douchebags into priapic enthusiasm—are the hood scoop, and the massive wing on the trunk. The hood scoop is functional, because it feeds air to the top-mounted intercooler for the turbo. The boy-racer wing on the trunk is not.
Independent analysis says the STI’s wing probably provides 70 lbs of downforce at 100 MPH. You might get 100 lbs of downforce at track speeds. You wouldn’t notice that. Even Subaru says it’s not really functional and that it’s mainly there for looks. Apparently, it’s a marketing ploy to attract douchebags.
The rest of the bodywork is lumpy, with haphazard creases and flared wheel arches to accentuate the overall douchebaggery of Subaru’s design. There is a major body revision coming in 2015, and the concept version looks fantastic and modern—everything the current STI’s design is not.
Inside, it doesn’t get much better. To be fair, the interior has some good points. There’s massive room inside for passengers, front and back, with loads of leg and head room. The ergonomics are well thought out for the driver, with everything falling naturally to hand. The seats are comfortable, being firm, supportive, and well bolstered.
But while the seats have a minimal amount of leather trim, they are stylistically ruined by being covered in the same man-made textile that they made “Ultrasuede” suits from in the 1970's. The pebbled leather dashboard is hard plastic. As is the “brushed aluminum”. And, basically, everything else inside.
The steering wheel’s rim is covered in stitched leather, though everything else is hard plastic, too. But, it does have the requisite thumb switches for all the techy bits, including bluetooth phone connectivity, cruise control, and the stereo.
In fact, the best thing that can be said about the interior of the STI is that it prevents you from seeing the exterior of the STI. Except for the wing. It’s always there, lurking in your rear-view mirror, an inescapable, malevolent presence.
Keep in mind that the price for all this nastiness is $35,000. Essentially, your thirty-five grand gets you an ugly exterior and the same interior you get in the $17,000 base Impreza, which is just…wrong. You can’t even get sat-nav without paying for it extra as a $1,000 option. Fully-specced, you can expect to pay $39,000 for an STI. That kind of money should get you something nicer. A lot nicer.
So, you pay the best part of forty grand for this hulking monstrosity, and looking at it gives you no clue as to why. It seems insane to spend that kind of money on what looks like a bargain-basement economy car inside and a fourteen year-old’s wet dream of a car on the outside.
Then you stick the key in the ignition…and turn it.
How it drives
When you fire up the STI, it doesn’t sound like a 2.5L 4-cylinder boxer engine. It sounds…evil. From inside, the regular Impreza WRX just sounds like a car. There’s no drama or anything. In the STI, there’s this basso bark and sputter. “Well,” you think to yourself, “this sounds the business.” Then you give it some gas, let out the clutch, and it is.
The transmission is a short-throw, 6-speed manual that is completely lovable. There’s no slack in the shifter anywhere. The friction point of the clutch is ridiculously easy to find. The shifter moves from gear to gear with sharp pops between the gates. It just flows naturally from one gear to the next, as quick as you please. In comparison, the regular WRX’s 5-speed manual is a bit sloppy, and depressingly average.
The STI’s suspension is almost magically good. In standard mode, it’s firm, but not jarring at all, and soaks up minor bumps and pavement ripples. In a car of this type, you’d expect an annoyingly harsh ride that amplifies every bump and ripple in the pavement to you painfully, but it doesn’t. Even in the hardcore “Sport #” mode, the STI has a ride you can live with. Despite that, you can dive into a corner, trusting the Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive to keep traction, and body roll is almost unnoticeable. It just hunkers down and turns.
Subaru has also got the electrical power steering sorted properly, giving you more resistance at speed, emulating the steering feel properly. Like all electric systems, it’s a simulation of feel, of course, but it feels right.
Then there’s the output from the 2.5L boxer engine, which delivers 305 HP at 6,000 RPM and 290 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 RPM in Sport # mode. That’s good enough to cut your time from 0 to 60 MPH to slightly under 5 seconds. It could be faster, really, but the STI’s acceleration is hindered a bit by the 3,384 lb curb weight, most of which, I presume, is contained in the garish wing over the trunk.
OK. Enough about the wing.
In addition to the normal “Intelligent” and two sport modes, you can also control the amount of torque that’s sent to the limited slip diff in the rear. The normal bias is 49/51, but a switch in the center console allows you six different levels of adjustment to add more power to the front or rear as you desire. You can then lock it to your personal preference.
If there is anything that’s less than optimal about driving the STI, it’s the braking. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very good, but under hard braking, the rear has a tendency to shift sideways a little, and the ABS system jumps in noticeably, with a little juddering. Still, from 60 MPH the brakes haul the STI to a stop in…wait for it…106 feet. That’s pretty good.
In every way, the STI is a car that’s meant to be driven. Hard. License-losing speed and hooning power are available even in the muted Intelligent mode, which cuts the maximum power to 265 HP.
What’s good about it
Everything that actually has something to do with driving. It handles sharply. It has power that seems even more brutal than the 305 HP engine output would suggest. Subaru’s Symmetrical AWD system is unbeatable, and works better—and is lighter—than any Haldex-type system. It rides well and is comfortable. Fantastic transmission, fantastic power.
What’s bad about it
Everything about how it looks. I mean, seriously, it’s God-awful. If you’re not a street-racing douchebag in your 20s, you’ll just look silly driving it. Everything about the interior screams cheap economy car. The design of the interior looks dated, as well. There’s literally nothing in the standard STI that would frighten or confuse a driver who was magically transplanted into it from 1990. And then there’s the wing. That damned useless and gaudy wing.
Also, if you want an STI, you pretty much have to buy it. Subaru meets their sales targets with the STI, because it’s a car with a fanatical following of street-racing douchebags who throw every penny they have at it. Subaru doesn’t need to lease any of them. Nor is Subaru particularly interested in letting you rent it, hooning about and such, doing god knows what in terms of abuse to it, then dropping off the keys to them three years later.
The STI’s ride makes it livable as a daily driver, whether you’re commuting at 70 MPH on the highway, or 100 MPH on a dirt track in Finland. On the other hand, with all that power, you’ll end up driving it like a street-racing douchebag, and lose your driving license, most likely. Because this thing is hugely fun to drive.
But no matter how fun it is to drive, eventually you’ll have to stop somewhere, at which point you’ll have to get out of the STI and look at it. And you’ll, you know, see it. And the wing. Which is always there, always in your field of view.