the wrong car

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Road Test -

com­pares very well with a Golf GTi from $40,490, the Golf R at $49,990 and the Lancer Ral­liart SST from $43,990.

There are other hot­tish hatches around, and peo­ple also shop a WRX against a Mini or a BMW 1 Se­ries, but they are the ob­vi­ous ri­vals.

The STI is up a gear from there and, in Aus­tralia, the only se­ri­ous op­po­nent is the Lancer Evo from $61,390.

The update to the Subaru range brings ex­tra value with the wide-body look on the WRX, as well as Blue­tooth, an STI ex­haust, light­weight 17-inch al­loys and a rear-sus­pen­sion up­grade.

The STI kick in­cludes a 5mm cut to ride height with re­vised sus­pen­sion, new 18-inch wheels, darker in­stru­ment panel and door trim and Blue­tooth.

Technology

WE’RE look­ing pri­mar­ily at the STI so the big changes are the re­vised sus­pen­sion and the au­to­matic trans­mis­sion.

It’s a five-speed with a se­quen­tial change, but the shift is the ‘‘wrong way’’ for sporty driv­ing with down­shifts re­quir­ing a pull back­wards in­stead of a push for­wards.

But the big dis­ap­point­ment in the STI auto is the en­gine. It still makes 221kW but loses a full 50Nm from the man­ual car to pro­tect the gear­box from dam­age un­der max­i­mum ac­cel­er­a­tion.

De­sign

THE 2011 up­dates gives the STI a real vis­ual kick. At last the sedan is back in the fam­ily and it looks tough with the big wing, droopy front spoiler and the big al­loys, as well as the mi­nor tweaks in­side.

Safety

SUBARU has al­ways been big on safety and the im­por­tant change this year is — sur­pris­ingly — Blue­tooth. It’s not as im­por­tant as airbags, ESP, ABS or all-wheel drive, but it al­lows the driver to go hands-free on the phone and that is a huge thing in 2010.

Driv­ing

THE new STI looks rally-bred tough and that’s great. It’s also com­fort­able with chunky sports buck­ets, has qual­ity in the trim and equip­ment, and comes with rock-solid re­sale and ser­vice backup.

And yet . . . the STI au­to­matic is a ma­jor dis­ap­point­ment. It’s the first tur­bocharged Im­preza I’ve driven in more than 10 years that fails to de­liver the goods.

I can live with­out the huff­ing and puff­ing of the turbo, and with­out the wicked red­line rush which has al­ways been part of the STI ex­pe­ri­ence, but this car is plain dowdy in the mid­dle gears.

The loss of all that torque hits so hard that the STI is a snoozer around town. You can give it a rev — pro­vided it does not make an un­wanted au­to­matic up­shift— to get some fun but it is not re­motely what an STI driver wants.

If Subaru was so keen to have a self-shifter, it should have done the job on the reg­u­lar WRX and left the STI as the kick-hard car.

The rest of the deal is good, with ex­cel­lent corner­ing grip and bal­ance, classy brakes and good fuel econ­omy.

Some things still feel a bit cheap and tinny, like the way the boot closes, but the STI com­pen­sates with the tough new look and the wel­come re­turn of a four-door sedan.

She says —Ali­son Ward

EV­ERY WRX I have driven is def­i­nitely a fun ex­pe­ri­ence, and not much com­fort is given to the pas­sen­gers. But this lat­est, easy-to-drive ver­sion of the le­gendary car is not as for­mi­da­ble as ear­lier mod­els, or even, I sus­pect, the man­ual mod­els to­day.

I think the ef­fort here from Subaru might be lost to the usual WRX cus­tomer. Where is the speed? Where is the slam-into-the-seat feel­ing? Well, it’s still there, but a lit­tle qui­eter and a lit­tle more re­fined. But can re­ally fire up when you add on some power revs.

It’s prob­a­bly bril­liant for those peo­ple who en­joy a prac­ti­cal car for ev­ery­day use, or for the lazy driver who just wants to punch it out ev­ery now and then, not at ev­ery set of lights.

It’s a sober­ing ride and still rea­son­ably com­fort­able and edgy enough to feel all the bumps.

So per­haps it’s the le­gendary car it al­ways was, just now it’s show­ing off its softer side.

Ver­dict

THE wrong car for a lazy au­to­matic gear­box.

Good deal: (left) the Subaru WRXSTI Spec.R with op­tional Re­caro seats and satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion.

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