Subaru’s Impreza WRX STI – more conservative in looks only

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Rewarding utility meets awesome power in the 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX STI.

Grocery-hauling attributes combine with the fast and furious for the man who has family responsibilities, but also the need for incredible speed.

The STI, a descendant of the performance car conceived in the 1980s to race in the cross country World Rally Championship, first came to the U.S. in 2003 in the form of a spartan compact sedan. Endowed with enormous horsepower, it appealed to the young, single male that purchased it for its all-wheel drive go-anywhere speed.

It’s been reinvented for 2008 as an attractive five-door hatchback with a more upscale interior, more rounded lines and less of the boy-racer look. It comes with a turbocharged 305-horsepower 2.5-liter flat-four engine, a 12-pony gain from the previous iteration, pulling just a little over 3,300 pounds. This translates into the kind of quickness most people just read about — or dream about — measured in 0-to-60 times of 4.8 seconds and a quarter mile time in a just a tick or two over 13 seconds.

But will this new, more practical and easier-to-live-with vehicle attract the same crowd that the pervious sedan — with its towering rear spoiler and huge hood scoop — attracted?

The new car has the same speed, braking and handling qualifications as the car it follows, but in its new clothes and with less attitude, a slightly different customer may emerge. 
Or it just might be the same customer, but now advanced in life with a wife and a newly minted family.

We like this new version better.

Perhaps that’s because we have different needs than the average 30-something speed freak. For instance, something that probably won’t be on the radar screen of many STI buyers is the fact it can hold two sets of golf clubs without the need to lower the second-row seatbacks. And four adults with a fair amount of luggage can be comfortably tossed around in the five-door layout.

We think the new hatchback design is a cool look with bulging fenders and striking lines. The weak point is a rather homely grille treatment.
The WRX STI is simply a joy to drive, but it’s a niche vehicle with an incredibly high starting price of $35,640. With optional navigation and upgraded wheels the price can escalate to nearly 40 grand.

If this is over the budget, you can purchase an invigorating WRX — sans the STI treatment — with 224-turbocharged horsepower for a base of $25,495. It’s as go-fast as anything most people envision with a 0-to-60 time of under six seconds. And the WRX version comes in a sedan as well as a hatchback.

But the STI brings on numerous performance goodies found on only a handful of cars in the world and should attract the competition-craving faithful. The highlight is a control center offering a Driver Controlled Center Differential, Vehicle Dynamics Control and SI-Drive, which has three settings.

We didn’t do much exploring through the choices although Subaru provided a chart of recommended setting combinations. While the default SI-Drive left us with sufficient thrills for on-road speed-limit controlled driving, we discovered that the Sport and Sport Sharp settings perceptibly raised the performance bar maximizing horsepower and torque.

There is also a range of all-wheel torque-bias for road — and speed — conditions including snow, dirt and gravel.

The bottom line — the STI, which comes only with a six-speed manual transmission, was blazing fast whether from a standstill or merging with interstate traffic, very stable at high speeds on our favorite winding back-road asphalt and with exotic-car urgency pulling down from 60 mph to a dead stop in just barely over 100 feet thanks to a gargantuan Brembo braking system.

One downside is gas mileage, which has been set by the EPA at 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway on premium gas. In fact, Subaru recommends 93-octane, but assures that it can live with 91-octane. That’s a good thing because 93-octane is not available in many areas of the country.

We found the ride on the softer side of firm, meaning it should not offend many behinds. Perhaps a longer wheelbase than the last model has helped. At any rate, we think Subaru has reached a commendable compromise in offering cutting-edge driving dynamics and a livable ride.

The increased wheelbase has also helped gain extra space for rear-seat comfort. We found rear legroom adequate and the seats relatively comfortable.

Luggage capacity behind the seats is a useable 19 cubic feet. With the second row folded, cargo capacity increases to 44 cubic feet.

The cockpit is handsomely outfitted with easy-to-read gauges. A readout display at the top of the dash over the center console dispenses such information as outside temperature, radio station setting and time.

Unfortunately, the dashboard comes wrapped in a lot of hard plastic not usually found in a car north of 30 grand. But be advised that much of your cash outlay goes to pay for the performance goodies.

There’s a convenient cubby for storing a cell phone in the center console as well as two drink holders between the seats. All best used while standing still.

The driver’s seat is up to performance standards, easy on the back and with enough bolstering to hold an aggressive driver in place.

The aforementioned STI driver’s controls, including SI-drive, are located just behind the shifter.

Most things you would assume would come standard on a car exceeding 30 grand are present on the WRX STI including full power equipment, automatic climate control, a stereo with six-CD changer, steering wheel controls and cruise control. Safety comes in the form of front and side airbags, side-curtain airbags, antilock brakes and stability control.

While the STI was a hoot to drive, and very practical in the hatchback format; you could be equally as thrilled to own the WRX version with its aggressive 224 horses and keep that extra $10,000 savings in your retirement account.

But for those who seek the cutting-edge, on or off hard pavement, the STI is hard to beat. Just write the check and say, “it's only money, I'll make some more tomorrow.”


Base price, $35,640; as driven, $35,640

Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged flat four

Horsepower: 305 @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 290 foot-pounds @ 4,000 rpm

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Drive: all-wheel

Seating: 2/3

Wheelbase: 103.3 inches

Length: 173.6 inches

Curb weight: 3,351 pounds

Turning circle: 36.1 feet

Luggage capacity: 19 cubic feet

Fuel capacity: 16.9 gallons (93 octane premium)

0-60: 4.8 seconds (Edmunds)

Also consider: Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, Mazda Speed3

The Good

• Blazing performance
• World-class braking

• Practical storage in a go-fast package

The Bad

• Pump in the premium, 93 octane if you can get it

The Ugly

• A 37 grand pricetag seems over the top even for this kind of performance.