Hot STi goes from video games to the street

October 10, 2003|by MALCOLM GUNN/Wheelbase Communications

If you want to learn just how capable Subaru's WRX STi really is, ask any kid.

That's right, many have logged countless hours honing their driving skills behind the wheel. OK, just how is that possible? It so happens that the hottest rally car on the planet is also featured in some of the hottest arcade and home-edition video games on the planet.

Now it's time to put down the controller and pick up the keys. Subaru has seen fit to release a street version of the STi to anyone patient enough (and with deep enough pockets) to join an already lengthy line for its newest flagship Impreza model. Yes, gamers, the real deal is ready for you.

In North America, Subaru promotes itself as king of the international World Rally Championship circuit, a unique niche that also neatly ties in with its role as the sole provider of all-wheel-drive only vehicles.


The STi (the name stands for Subaru Tecnica International, the company's motorsports division) is an offshoot of the Impreza WRX, a fast-acting sports machine with slightly tamer, but still potent road manners.

Buoyed with the WRX's success and aware that rival Mitsubishi was planning to introduce its Lancer-derived Evolution rally car to our shores, Subaru decided to act quickly and bring out its big dog.

From all angles, the STi appears every bit the serious competition-bred car with its oversized hood scoop, ground-effects kit and giant rear wing. However, unlike your typical tuner-grade tack-ons, these items are fully functioning accessories. The hood opening helps move fresh air to the intercooler while the spoiler and ground effects work to keep the car glued to the road.

A lowered suspension also helps the car stay in regular contact with the pavement. Pavement? Isn't this a rally car? Call it a rally car for the street. Subaru makes it abundantly clear that smooth surfaces, and not washed-out back roads, are where the STi belongs. The underlying hint is that your dental work will shake free if you attempt to hot-dog it over gravel-covered and pot-hole-infested trails.

Continuing with the race-car theme, heavily bolstered front seats with integrated head restraints are designed to keep you in your place and the clean and straightforward dash layout should keep you focused on the road ahead.

Keeping weight to a minimum is important on any performance car. The STi uses thin rear glass, aluminum suspension components and special 17-inch forged-alloy BBS-brand wheels to achieve its svelt, but not light, 3,250-pound mass.

With 300 horsepower and 300 lb.-ft. of torque emanating from its 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the four-door STi is designed to leave just about everything else in its wake. By contrast, the base WRX delivers 227 horses and 217 lb.-ft. of torque from its smaller 2.0-liter turbo engine. The STi's engine includes variable valve timing, the first such application in any Subaru.

Shifting the STi's six-speed manual transmission (don't even think of asking for an automatic) will blast you from a standstill to 60 m.p.h. in a claimed 4.8 seconds. The quarter mile, still the acceleration benchmark, arrives in just 13.2 seconds with the STi whizzing by at 103 mph. Times are comparable to the competing Mitsubishi Evolution.

To haul down the STi from such a torrid pace, large diameter Brembo-brand disc brakes are standard issue.

The STi's all-wheel-drive system lets the driver dial in six different front-/rear-wheel torque distribution settings. It can also be left in automatic mode, allowing the computer to determine, based on surface conditions, where the power should go.

At a fully loaded list price of $31,000, the STi is considerably more expensive than its video-game counterpart. But for those who want to get off the couch and experience some real thrills, driving this swiftest of Subarus is the only way to play.

© 2003, Wheelbase Communications

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