EXPERT REVIEW

AZCentral.com's view

This will date me badly, but I remember when Subarus were nerd cars. They were the sensible shoes of automobiles, reliable and inexpensive, but not much else.

No more. After shakily climbing out of the new 300-horsepower Impreza WRX STi, I know why Subaru is such a strong player among the import performance crowd.

The WRX STi is the dream machine for today’s young drivers (mostly male) with an all-out race-car image and mighty performance to back it up. A massive hood scoop and double rear wing leave little doubt about the intentions.

The turbocharged WRX STi is a modern rendition of yesterday’s factory muscle cars, the GTOs, GTXs and Boss 429s of a previous generation. Strapping myself into this street rod and peering over that gaping scoop reminded me all the world of ’60s thunder.

Of course, get this little rocket on a back road, and dad’s muscle car stands no chance. The suspension is tuned just as fervently as the engine. STi, by the way, stands for the Japanese company’s performance arm, Subaru Tecnica International.

Rock-hard suspension, extremely quick steering, low-profile racing tires, monster brakes and 300 horsepower under the hood. Makes for a rather satisfying driving experience. Ahem.

One personal clinker was the gray hair on my temples, which made me feel decidedly out of place in this electric-blue tuned import with its towering rear spoiler. I felt like everybody who saw me was shaking his or her head and muttering, “Now that’s a midlife crisis.”

What it is

A World Cup Rally car for the street. Subaru is a leader in dirt-road racing, and WRX STi pulls it all together in power, handling, braking and driver involvement. The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution is the only other thing that comes close.

The STi is stripped down for performance and doesn’t even include an audio system. If you want music, you must buy it from the dealer or aftermarket.

Performance

Think of it: a 300-horsepower Impreza. The turbocharged flat-four-cylinder engine in the STi generates 73 more ponies than the standard WRX, already a hot little car.

Let’s do this by the numbers:

Three-hundred horsepower, 300 pound-feet of torque.

9,000 rpm tachometer.

14.5-pound-per-square-inch, high-boost turbocharger.

Six-speed stickshift.

Zero to 60 in 4.8 seconds.

Fast and fun, the WRX STi is also uncompromising, which means engine harshness and a strident exhaust-note noise accompany the performance. It’s all worth it.

The six speed is the only transmission, and it shifts with precision. The clutch is not too heavy considering the torque it’s required to handle.

Drivability

Amazing. Sharp cornering like a race car, steering that is remarkably quick and responsive, powerful brakes that grab and hold, this Subaru displays the athletic agility of cars costing twic e as much.

But, like the engine power, there is a trade-off in ride harshness. Though the stiff suspension is compliant in performance driving, it can feel like a dump truck over the mildest road irregularities. What’s fun at first can get old on city streets.

Part of the handling equation are new rally-derived inverted struts, which help control bending forces during hard cornering, helping the shock-absorber effect remain consistent. The frame is reinforced for stiffness.

The steering ratio is quicker than the standard WRX, and the brakes are Brembo Performance discs: 12.7-inch rotors in front and 12.3-inch in back. They include electronic brake-force distribution and four-channel anti-lock system.

The all-wheel drive features a Driver Controlled Center Differential, in which the driver can vary the torque ratio between the front and rear wheels through a thumbwheel in the center console, depending on driving conditions. A gearless limited-slip front differential and mechanical limited-slip rear differential keep the power on the pavement.

Styling

Aside from the obvious excesses of scoop and wing, the WRX STi wears its performance image on its sleeve with a redesigned front fascia, high-intensity quad headlights, fog lights, STi badging, aerodynamic lower side panels and gold-toned, 17-inch alloy wheels.

Not subtle but effective. The boy-racer look turned many heads, including one young male who proclaimed it the most beautiful automobile in the world.

There’s much about the body that is functional, including an aluminum hood for lighter weight and air-flow management to maximize handling at high speed.

The light doors feel tinny.

Interior

The feeling is race-car intensity. The center-mounted tachometer includes a manually adjustable peak-rpm warning light. The red LED gauges, trimmed in aluminum, look appropriately sporty.

The seats are racing-inspired, deep and supportive to hold your body in place during cornering. The thinly padded surface gets hard as a buckboard’s for those of us lacking personal seat padding.

Pricing

Not cheap but not bad for what it is. At just under $31,000, you get a performance machine that’s the envy of all your young pals and plenty of fun to drive.

Everything comes standard, including side-impact air bags, power features, cruise control and other creature comforts. But no audio.

The test Impreza did have an audio system, whose price was not reflected on the window sticker. The only addition noted was shipping, at $550, for a total of $31,545.

Bottom line

One of the hottest sedans ever, WRX STi feels as if you could take it out on the track or rally course without changing anything and blow everyone’s doors off. An excellent piece of performance engineering from Subaru’s racing tuners.

Subaru Impreza WRX STi

Vehicle type: Five-passenger, four-door sedan, all-wheel drive.

Base price: $30,995.

Price as tested: $31,545.

Engine: 2.5-liter flat four, 300 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, 300 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm.

Transmission: Six-speed stickshift.

Wheelbase: 100 inches.

Curb weight: 3,263 pounds.

EPA mileage: 18 city, 24 highway.

Highs:

Engine muscle.

Race-car handling.

Responsive steering, brakes.

Lows:

Suspension harshness.

Boy-racer styling.

Codger driver.

Latest news

genesis-gv80-2021-03-angle-dynamic-exterior-front-maroon.jpg
Genesis GV80: Which Should You Buy, 2022 or 2021?
volkswagen-id4-1st-edition-2021-19-front-row--gearshift--interior--steering-wheel.jpg
Do Electric Vehicles Have Transmissions?
Honda-HR-V-Teaser-2023-001-dynamic-front-angle-silver-suv
Honda Teases the 2023 HR-V: Here’s What We Want