Ever since the new GDB-platform STI launched in 2008, Subaru elitists complained that it had gotten soft - a more mature, less hardcore version of its former self. You couldn't blame Subaru because the company was catering to what the U.S. market dictated. Meanwhile in Japan, the STI received a healthy dose of go-fast goodies in various trim levels that transformed the STI into quite the tarmac carver. There was the Spec C, the S204, the Type RA - the list went on and on, and all we could do stateside was be jealous.
The wait is finally over, though. We now have our very own special edition STI. Although it would have been much more appropriate if Subaru had named it something other than SE (like Spec C), but we think Japan didn't want to relinquish any of its heritage nameplates for the STI. One step at a time, right?
You'll also be happy to know that this isn't just some gimmick to up sales with a new badge and different alloy wheels. Subaru has greatly enhanced the STI SE to offer more performance at - can you believe this? - a cheaper price! You do lose some options like HID headlamps and manual HVAC controls, as well as having to settle for a downgraded stereo, but the trade-off is well worth it.
So what exactly makes the STI SE that much different than its stock counterpart? Let's start off with a key ingredient, the suspension. Lifted directly from the JDM Spec C, the SE is now equipped with stiffer springs, 16 percent in the front and 29 percent in the rear, which also lowers the ride height by 1mm (not that you will notice). A thicker rear sway bar and stiffer subframe bushings round out the changes made in the rear end.
The footing consists of 18x8.5-inch, 14-spoke wheels from the JDM Spec C shod with 245/40R18 Dunlop SP600 tires. Sadly, a gold option for the wheels isn't available (cue the angry mob of Subaru owners), but the dark gray is a worthy replacement.
On the track, the new hardware improves the handling characteristics quite dramatically. The STI SE now bites and grips much harder and more aggressively than the stock STI. Understeer is all but gone, which allows the STI SE to rotate much better and ultimately makes it faster through the corners. The steering reacts in a smooth, controlled manner, making this hatch incredibly easy to drive at the limit. It's very apparent that with the new arsenal of JDM parts the STI SE is a serious performer that's ready to take on the abuse of hardcore track junkies.
The standard STI DCCD and VDC controls are still intact on the SE, but with the new suspension treatment those functions can be put to even better use - dialing in the perfect combination for one's driving style and habits more precisely. The tried-and-true 2.5-liter turbocharged boxer four-cylinder has been untouched in the STI SE; it churns out 305 hp and 290 ft-lbs of torque as found in all STI models. It's plenty quick, but it's also oh-so-easy to tune. With some minor bolt-ons, the STI SE will be even more fun (or scary, depending how you look at it) to thrash around a racetrack and on the street.
Sure, you may give up some creature comforts like automatic climate control or the HID headlamps, but you won't be buying the STI SE if those items top your list anyway. With a price tag of $32,995 (two grand less then the regular STI), you're going to be hard-pressed to find a better bargain out there for such a hot hatch. You'd better not wait too long, though, as only 125 units, all in Aspen white, will be initially available (more will come later in 2010 in different colors). Who said you couldn't get more for less?
Specs & Details
'10 Subaru Impreza WRX STI SE
Engine 2.5-liter EJ25 turbocharged 4-cylinder boxer
Horsepower 305 at 6000 rpm
Torque 290 ft-lbs of torque at 4400 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual
Price $32,995 MSRP