Mountain Wheels: Rally-bred Subaru WRX STI is more than just a lifestyle statement
2016 Subaru WRX STI Series.HyperBlue
Powertrain: 305-HP turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine; six-speed manual transmission
EPA figures: 19 combined (17 city, 23 highway)
While there’s still plenty of giggling in non-snow-climates about the Subaru demographic — maybe Bernie can change that — there’s never been any doubt about the absolutely and almost stereotypically macho nature of the carmaker’s race car, the WRX STI.
Fitted out with an implausibly large aerodynamic wing on the back (even better when used as a platform for an Instagram photo of the driver’s tiny, tattoo-covered model/actress girlfriend), the WRX STI does capture and celebrate a certain dude-bro community, no doubt about it.
If you can look beyond the slightly ridiculous nature of the WRX STI community — the backwards-hat dudes bup-bup-bupping along with their aftermarket wheels, boost kits and roll bars, like they’ve just stepped out of the third or fourth installment of “The Fast and the Furious” — well, then you’re in for a surprise, because the car is absolutely fantastic.
I would go so far as to say that it’s probably the best-handling and most precise tool for athletic driving you can get, without stepping high up the ladder into the exotics, or ridiculous-in-their-own-way choices like higher-end Corvettes.
The absolutely rally-bred STI edition of the already pretty macho WRX was never meant to be a top-speed screamer like a Corvette or one of the super-upgraded Mustangs or Camaros, however. It’s a 305-horsepower machine based around a high-revving 2.5-liter intercooled turbo four-cylinder, not a 600-horsepower drag-strip machine. Though, off the line, you’re still going to eat a few big guys for breakfast, at least for the first half block.
Rather, the WRX STI’s major strength is its unbelievably precise and torque-enriched super-star version of the symmetrical all-wheel drive that’s standard on all of the less wing-bedecked Subarus.
Should you feel the need to replicate one of the stages of a Slovenian rally championship race — say, a winding uphill gravel road, or a snow-covered twist of a secluded, secondary highway — STI puts so much pulling power into its wheels that it’s rather unlike anything else you’ll drive.
And with a six-speed manual transmission with a heavy but truly industrial-grade yet fantastically precise clutch and gear linkage (small, short, easy strokes between gears are the norm, though the tachometer may be screaming into the red), you are also imbued with direct control at all times.
The ability to massively accelerate uphill, on traction-deprived surfaces, and then spin around corners while stuck, magnet-like, to the ground, is really something else. That weighty clutch becomes your friend and as long as you remember to shift in to second during particularly hard corners, you’ll be able to keep the 2.5-liter engine fiercely roaring.
The 14.7 PSI of boost is quite stunning, though not quite as audibly overstated as you’ll hear on those backwards-hat boys’ machines.
It’s still not a huge vehicle and with the 18-inch wheels and the, thank you dear lord Jesus, actual high-performance Dunlop winter racing tires, you do feel a bit like you’re directly on top of the front tires — steering requires real input, especially in the deepest of corners, but it’s also fiercely accurate and engaging. Brembo brakes also serve to arrest your occasionally physics-defying bursts of speed, in a car much beloved for its sideways driving.
Set yourself inside and you may be slightly underwhelmed by the purpose-built nature of the car, although the special Series.HyperBlue edition I drove got extra stitching and color on the very rigid but attractive Alcantara and leather race seats, the race wheel and the console. It’s attractive but a little austere — though those seats will absolutely secure you in place. Open the trunk, under that comically huge but active air splitter wing, and you’ll find very little insulation or finishing, as well.
What you will find in the cabin is the much-improved navigation and app-connective audio system and, more importantly, the switchgear to manually adjust both the rate of acceleration response (should you not find four smoking wheels in standard mode to be fast enough) and the bewildering but awesome driver-controlled center differential. If you’re into micromanagement, you can actively change the amount of forward- or rear-focused torque for strong hill climbing or more rear-wheel-drive-style motoring.
Even the stability and dynamics control, including traction control, can be personally manipulated for those skilled enough to want a full-blown manual rally car experience. Tread lightly, I would suggest. Or, not. I know you’ve already ordered “WYKKYD” vanity plates for the car from the DMV.
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