There’s nothing wrong with getting excited about driving the 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX STI.
It’s an all-wheel drive legend and the flagship sedan for the Japanese carmaker.
I waited more than six months since seeing its unveiling at the Los Angeles auto show to finally hop inside of this pricey performance sedan. Given its starting sticker price of $35,640, I always wondered if the car would meet my expectations.
First of all, its performance may be legendary, but I liked the previous generation’s straight-laced sedan looks. Now it’s a hatchback. The all-new model looks like Subaru designers whacked it over its giant scooped hood with an ugly wrench.
The front end looks too long and out of proportion with the rest of the car. The oversize hood scoop — a functional tool needed to suck air into the turbo’s intercooler — looks like a rejected prototype from James Dyson’s vacuum factory.
There are pieces I appreciate. The wheels pushed out to the edges and even the cool spoiler at the top of the hatch on the back adds to the car’s fast appearance. Even the straight A-line cutting through the tops of the door handles adds a touch of refinement. But the gold rims on my test vehicle, the plain-stamped sides and the down-sloping roof line gave the WRX STI an unflattering shape that does not become its reputation.
Now, functionally, I like hatchbacks and believe the WRX STI can be a five-door and still beat any other hatchback on or off road. But the look just doesn’t connect performance and function.
I wanted an exterior that said, “go fast.” Instead, it whimpered, “go pick up some milk and the dry cleaning.”
The interior, on the other hand, combines form and function very well. The Graphite gray Alcantara with black-trimmed leather bolstered sport seats add class to a vehicle that feels racer minimalistic.fg
The leather-wrapped steering wheel and easy-to-reach controls put every function of the car at your finger tips. My test vehicle included the optional navigation system that was easy to use and the steering wheel included controls for the stereo’s volume.
Now, this car was moving in the direction I want. Converting the WRX STI (the STI stands for Subaru Tecnica International, the high performance and motorsports development division of Fuji Heavy Industries — the parent company of Subaru) into a hatchback may have taken some of the hype out of its sales for me, but I still wanted to race her.
Once I started up the WRX STI, it won me over. Few cars offer the high-revving performance of the STI. The four-cylinder turbocharged engine launches you with its 304-horsepower and 290-pound feet of torque.
The six-speed manual gearbox is perfect. The symmetrical all-wheel drive system, which splits power 41 percent to the front and 59 percent to the back during normal performance, bites through corners and creates a vehicle ready to handle all weather, all roads, at any time.
As I zipped around Detroit, I found myself longing for a few inches of snow to test her.
The car’s light weight — some of that is due to the high-performance design, the aluminum hood and other stiffer chassis — makes it easy to flog the WRX STI. The engine purrs that high-pitched hum over 5,000 rpm, clicking through each gear with precision and acumen. The steering is exact and the brakes offer immediate response.
During the first 100 miles, I tested Subaru’s Driver Controlled Center Differential various settings. A simple knob on the center console allows you to select three preprogrammed settings that adjust differential locking settings. There is a fourth manual setting that allows you to adjust six variables to tune in the perfect settings for driving in any conditions. All of this lets you change throttle response and how the power is placed in the drive train. Basically, keep it in auto and you’re fine. Figure out what you need, and this car lets you adjust to what you want.
The ride in the STI is stiff — as it should be. And on the highway, it’s a little louder than I expected.
But most of the time, when driving the STI, you’re laughing. It’s just fun to rev and run and few cars do it better than this one.
2008 Subaru Impreza WRX STI
Type: Five passenger all-wheel drive sedan
Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
Power: 305-horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
90 pound-feet torque @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission: six-speed manual
EPA fuel economy: 17 mpg city / 23 mpg highway
Suspension: Four-wheel independent, high performance sport tuned
Brakes: Brembo Performance Brake System:
Front brakes: 13-inch ventilated with four piston fixed calipers
Back brakes: 12-inch ventilated with twin-piston fixed calipers
Wheels: 18-inch cast alloy (optional forged alloy)
Dimensions: Wheelbase, 103.3 inches; Length, 173.8 inches; Hieght, 58.1 inches;
Width, 70.7 inches;
Curb weight: 3,395 pounds
Headroom: 40.3 inches
Legroom (front): 40.3 inches
Legroom (rear): 33.5 inches
Second row up: 19 cubic feet
Second row down: 44.4 cubic feet
Scott Burgess is the auto critic for The Detroit News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.