Subaru has hot Legacy

But Aussies miss out, writes PETER LYON in Ja­pan

Herald Sun - Motoring - - News -

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.

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