Subaru has hot Legacy
But Aussies miss out, writes PETER LYON in Japan
AUSTRALIA is missing out again on the best of the best in the Subaru garage. The stove-hot Legacy STi S402 will not be taking on Liberty badges or an Australian price, despite its popularity.
The S402 arrives as the countdown begins to the next new Liberty, timed for the middle of next year.
It is the work of chief engineer Hideharu Tatsumi, who has produced the best-handling Liberty yet.
Tatsumi has recently moved from Subaru to STi after tuning every Liberty and Impreza as Subaru’s chief test driver for the past 20 years. He is quick to admit certain budget restraints — on the design side — meant he could not play around with the sheet metal.
‘‘But even with those restrictions, we have a car that looks the business and delivers on the road,’’ he says.
The unique mesh grille in the S402 is complemented by flared front fenders that were specially widened to take larger BBS rims and wider 235x40R18 Bridgestone Potenza RE050A rubber.
He wanted to redesign the front bumper section to give the car an even sportier look, but a price about $600,000 for the special mould stopped that plan.
‘‘When you divide our limited run of only 402 units into $600,000, well, that adds an extra $1500 to each car. The bean counters would have none of that,’’ he laments.
Other cosmetic touch-ups include a fake side air vent, a rear lip spoiler and special S402 emblems. But what was saved on the body upgrades was spent on the hardware.
The car uses a 2.5-litre boxer unit with a twin-scroll turbo from STi, a tweaked engine control computer with increased boost and a sports muffler. Power and torque are up only slightly, but the objective was instant go and — by tweaking the gearing — maximum torque arrives from only 1800 revs with a strong pull all the way to 6000 revs.
It’s now possible to take secondgear corners in third, with huge response and plenty of grip.
If a word could describe the S402’s throttle, steering and braking responses, instant would have to be it. There’s less play and greater rigidity in the throttle pedal than the current Liberty, and no understeer.
Tatsumi has tweaked the steering rack from 15:1 to 13:1 for quicker turn in, and added STi-tuned dampers and springs. But it’s the addition of three flexible performance bars — one across the front strut towers, one under the engine across the front suspension mounts and one across the trunk — that generates the S402’s precision.
It’s a pity about the swanky soft leather seats, which unfortunately don’t have the side support you need when pushing through fast bends.
We don’t have to forgive anything about the brakes, though. They are phenomenal, thanks to a monoblock six-piston Brembo package.
First impressions lead to conclude this car is made to punish.
The car is not coming to Australia until at least 2012, when the next STi Liberty is ready for the road.