HONDA DID IT with the Civic Type R, Subaru with the BRZ and now Toyota is poised to do something similar with the Supra. Return to the top of the class, I mean, whether it’s hot hatches, pure driving fun or powerful straight-six rear-drive thrills. (And yes, I know there’s a disconcertingly high percentage of BMW parts under the new Supra’s skin but nobody who’s wrung the neck of a BMW B58 straight-six would ever want to swap it with a 2JZ, as venerable as it is.)
But my heart longs for the comeback of another legendary Japanese performance brand and that’s Subaru Tecnica International. ‘Come back, you say? They haven’t gone anywhere!’ I beg to differ. Sure, the current WRX STI is a turbocharged all-wheel drive thrill-a-minute and a total blast around a track, but when people praise it for its analogue feel in an increasingly digital age, what they’re really politely saying is that the car is an old nail. Further evidence of this is when the car gradually goes down in price as the years tick on, to keep it attractive to customers in the face of no real mechanical progress.
This is true of the current STI – and it offers a properly antiquated driving experience compared to, say, a Ford Focus RS, another turbo four-cylinder all-wheel drive with shopping trolley DNA – and that car has just been put out to pasture! While I’m chuffed to the gills that the WRX STI is still around – natural selection has ironically and regrettably claimed the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution – I’m also a bit sad to see the STI get its quad tailpipes and rear wing so thoroughly handed to it by even front-drive cars like the Civic
Type R. The game has moved on big time.
And where is the turbocharged BRZ STI? I feel like a simpleton for still wanting such a thing but imagine a low-boost set-up, a bit more brakes, a bit more grip, a bit more damper, and you’ve got the makings of an outstanding sports car that doesn’t depart too far from the simple-fun ethos of the base model car. The aftermarket can do it – Tunehouse in Sydney has a low-boost turbo kit for the BRZ that works really well – why can’t STI?
There is a new WRX coming, and a new STI, and Subaru has previewed as much with the various iterations of the VIZIV Concept we’ve now seen. The STI version, with its squinty eyes, 22B-inspired pumped guards and sleek rear wing, hints that the brand hasn’t given up the turbo four-cylinder, allwheel drive fight. There’s even talk of hybrid powertrains for this car, albeit still some years away. Like, 2023 away.
This might seem like an eternity but it has the potential to leapfrog STI back to the top against the next generation of hot small performance cars also to sport 300kW-plus hybrid systems, such as the next Mercedes-AMG A45 and Ford Focus RS. Before the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ, during that painful period after Japan seemingly killed off all its sports cars or turned off the R&D taps for the ones that were left, I had little remaining confidence in Japan’s ability to build cutting edge sports cars that could again compete against the Euros. But I am glad to be wrong – the 86/BRZ is the best of its admittedly specialist kind, the Civic Type R is undoubtedly the bestdriving hot hatch right now and the Supra is sounding like a proper thing. Buoyed by the brilliance of these new Japanese performance cars, here’s hoping bright pink becomes something to be feared in the rear vision mirror once again.