Wing and a prayer

The new STI is what the WRX should have been

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive - JOSHUA DOWL­ING NA­TIONAL MOTORING ED­I­TOR joshua.dowl­ing@news.com.au Twit­ter: @JoshuaDowl­ing

FOR some peo­ple, fast just isn’t fast enough. That’s why there are sev­eral lev­els of Fer­raris and Porsches from which to choose.

The for­mula has not been lost on the main­stream brands, which use highly prof­itable and highly de­sir­able per­for­mance cars to sub­sidise more af­ford­able mod­els in the range, while boost­ing their brand im­age.

Volkswagen is cut­ting the guts out of the base model Golf at $22,990 drive-away, in­clud­ing metal­lic paint, and deal­ers can’t even af­ford to throw in floor mats ap­par­ently. But, in the same breath, VW in­creases the price of its Golf GTI by $500 be­cause it’s an in­de­mand model with up to a four-month wait­ing list.

VW fig­ures buy­ers in this price range can com­fort­ably cough up an­other $500, to $41,490. The top-line Golf R stretches the friend­ship fur­ther at more than $50,000 (though, as we dis­cov­ered last week, this is a cut-price BMW M5 that’s worth ev­ery cent).

Which brings us neatly to the Subaru WRX STI re­leased this week.

It’s the more po­tent ver­sion of the reg­u­lar WRX, cooked up with the cus­tom­ary ingredients: big­ger brakes, big­ger wheels, a big­ger en­gine and a big­ger turbo. Oh, and how could we for­get, a big­ger rear wing.

But there is one crit­i­cal el­e­ment miss­ing: the epic price gap. Since the first STI was re­leased lo­cally in 1999, Subaru has got­ten away with whack­ing a mas­sive $20,000 pre­mium on top of the reg­u­lar WRX for the STI ver­sion. Not any more.

VALUE

San­ity has pre­vailed and the new WRX STI is $10,000 cheaper, start­ing at $49,990.

That’s still $11,000 dearer than the stan­dard WRX, so Subaru ex­ec­u­tives won’t be turn­ing up to soup kitchens with an empty cup any­time soon.

The new price point is aided in no small part to an ar­ti­fi­cially de­val­ued Ja­panese Yen, a strong Aus­tralian dol­lar, and the re­al­i­sa­tion that Subaru can’t pos­si­bly jus­tify such a ridicu­lous pre­mium amid the cur­rent com­pe­ti­tion.

But Subaru shouldn’t con­grat­u­late it­self. All of the STI add-ons equate to about a $5000 pre­mium (brakes, wheels, tyres, and more ro­bust driv­e­train hard­ware). Subaru has even saved money in the en­gine depart­ment. It’s the same tur­bocharged 2.5-litre four-cylin­der that’s been used in the STI for the past seven years.

It’s been barely touched. Power is un­changed. Fur­ther­more the STI’s en­gine is likely cheaper to build than that of the reg­u­lar WRX, which is a fancy new di­rect in­jec­tion unit. Subaru can get away with charg­ing more than the sum of the STI’s parts be­cause en­thu­si­ast buy­ers will pay.

As be­fore, there are two mod­els in the range. Stan­dard fare on the $49,990 ver­sion in­cludes cloth-cov­ered sports seats, nav­i­ga­tion, a rear view cam­era, a sen­sor key, a pre­mium sound sys­tem, dual zone air-con­di­tion­ing, and a lib­eral ap­pli­ca­tion of STI badges, one of which is taste­fully il­lu­mi­nated in the cen­tre con­sole (al­beit in pink). The STI gets the big­ger brakes that the reg­u­lar WRX also de­serves: Brembo four-pis­ton calipers up­front and two-pis­ton rears, and 18-inch al­loy wheels.

The lux­ury ver­sion, priced from $54,990, gains leather seats, a sun­roof, be­spoke BBS 18-inch wheels, heated mir­rors and front seats, and elec­tric ad­just­ment for the driver’s seat. A six-speed man­ual trans­mis­sion is stan­dard.

Subaru still lacks fixed price ser­vic­ing (main­te­nance in­ter­vals are 12,500km or six months, which­ever comes first) whereas VW and oth­ers give buy­ers trans­parency and peace of mind.

Re­sale val­ues of the WRX STI take a big­ger hit than the reg­u­lar WRX be­cause you’re start­ing from a higher price, al­though this may im­prove with the new model.

Used ex­am­ples in orig­i­nal con­di­tion (re­sist the urge to mod­ify the ex­haust, en­gine and sus­pen­sion; apart from po­ten­tially void­ing the war­ranty, it’ll dent re­sale value) with a per­fect ser­vice his­tory and low kilo­me­tres (45,000km) can fetch 50 per cent of their RRP af­ter three years (av­er­age).

TECH­NOL­OGY

There is a tricky boost pres­sure and G-force dis­play in the dig­i­tal screen on the top of the dash. Mean­while Subaru uses its “Si Drive” dial to ad­just the sharp­ness of the throt­tle re­sponse, al­though it doesn’t de­liver any ex­tra power.

DE­SIGN

The canyon be­tween the stun­ning Subaru WRX con­cept car and the show­room re­al­ity has been well doc­u­mented. Sadly, the STI does lit­tle to bridge the gap and may have even com­mit­ted a big­ger sin: an over­re­ac­tion to the sedan’s bland­ness.

The main vis­ual dif­fer­ence

be­tween the reg­u­lar WRX and the STI is the plas­tic pic­nic ta­ble mounted on the boot-lid that dou­bles as a wing and can been seen on Google Earth satel­lite view. The big wing wasn’t cool in the 1990s and looks even more ridicu­lous now.

For­tu­nately, Subaru has de­cided to make the STI’s wing a “delete op­tion” for the first time. If you buy the car with a wing and then change your mind, be warned. The wing is ta­pered at each end to han­dle air­flow over the car, so you can’t use it as a ta­ble.

The cof­fee mugs would slide off. Check the mag­net on your fridge for the lo­cal coun­cil’s next hard rub­bish col­lec­tion date.

SAFETY

Seven airbags and a five-star safety rat­ing carry over from the WRX and the rest of the Im­preza range. Sta­bil­ity con­trol has two set­tings — stan­dard mode and a race­track mode — as well as ‘off’, which should be only used on a track.

A rear view cam­era is stan­dard (the same as that found in the WRX) but the screen is small and there are no park­ing sen­sors front or rear (these are stan­dard on the cheap­est VW Golf GTI).

DRIV­ING

The new STI is ex­hil­a­rat­ing. It’s what the WRX should have been.

The STI’s age­ing 2.5-litre en­gine may have re­de­fined turbo lag in the mod­ern era, but once revs rise above 3500rpm and pull all the way to 6500rpm, the car thrusts with such force that your body is obliged to re­lease a shot of adrenalin to give your brain suf­fi­cient power to keep up.

The turbo engines on Euro­pean ri­vals de­liver bet­ter over­all per­for­mance over a broader power band. The STI’s nar­row power de­liv­ery de­fines its char­ac­ter and makes it feel faster than it is. Subaru says the STI can do the 0 to 100km/h dash in 4.9 sec­onds but, us­ing satel­lite-based tim­ing equip­ment, the best we could achieve af­ter nu­mer­ous at­tempts (without melt­ing the clutch) was 5.7 sec­onds.

The STI’s weight gain and the lack of a slick-shift­ing twin­clutch trans­mis­sion blunt ac­cel­er­a­tion. Euro­peans can achieve the same ac­cel­er­a­tive feat in a real-world, neck­break­ing, 5.0 sec­onds.

Nev­er­the­less, the STI is a blast. The six-speed man­ual gearshift is smoother than be­fore, which is a good thing as you row through the cogs to keep the revs in the en­gine’s sweet spot. The steer­ing is heav­ier than the reg­u­lar WRX but more com­mu­nica­tive. You feel the front wheels clam­ber­ing over the con­tours in the road un­der hard ac­cel­er­a­tion. It de­lights the senses. Grip from the Dun­lop 18-inch tyres is im­pres­sive — in the wet or dry

— and the ride com­fort over bumps is ex­cel­lent by per­for­mance-car stan­dards. The only caveat is that, at sub­ur­ban speeds, the STI’s sus­pen­sion feels busy, al­though not firm.

The STI’s four-pis­ton front brake calipers and large discs en­sure there is am­ple stop­ping power, time and time again. The brake pedal also has a much more pre­cise feel than the reg­u­lar WRX. The sooner the base model WRX gets these brakes, the bet­ter.

Down­sides? The in­te­rior is all but iden­ti­cal to the WRX but for some STI lo­gos and, al­though the ap­pear­ance and qual­ity seem bet­ter than be­fore, they’re no match for the eu­ros.

Nor does the over-sized rear wing sud­denly trans­form this fairly bland sedan into a vis­ual heart-starter. The very fact that there’s not much to dif­fer­en­ti­ate the STI from the reg­u­lar WRX high­lights just how much ex­tra profit mar­gin there is in the STI.

But as long as per­for­mance cars delight the senses, buy­ers will open their wal­lets and sign on the dot­ted line.

VER­DICT

The new STI won’t win any style awards or at­tract buy­ers of Euro­pean cars, but its dis­ci­ples will con­tinue to ap­pre­ci­ate its ec­cen­tric­ity.

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