It happens almost every time a redesigned car debuts—the peanut gallery chimes in. "It's ugly. It'll never be the same. It looks like so-and-so. They got it wrong..."
People can make all the judgments they want, and haters will always hate, but eventually many come around once they get a chance to drive the car, or see it modified, or generally wrap their minds around exactly what the engineers were aiming for.
The moment the new 2015 Subaru WRX STI went viral, almost half of the comments about the sedan-only high-performance turbo AWD variant were negative. And we can relate—it looks very little like the concept that swept us off our feet at the 2013 New York International Auto Show. But after giving it a chance and seeing a fully prepped race version in person, we can honestly say the new STI is better than ever!
When I first talked to Subaru engineers about what makes this STI different than the previous generation, they told me the older one fell short when it came to driver control. Power-wise, the car was more than enough to handle for the average driving enthusiast. So instead of spending millions to make a few extra ponies, they developed a chassis that would be more balanced, safer and quicker around the track. It's not about numbers with the new STI, but about feeling that emotion and control.
Eager to drive the car for the first time, I took a quick flight out to Monterey, to meet with the bigwigs at Subaru. Before I knew it they had me on a bus to a little track known as Laguna Seca Raceway (ever heard of it?) where I was thrown a helmet and given the keys to a barely-driven STI. My job sucks, right?
Starting the car and taking it out of the pits for my initial warm-up lap, the first thing I noticed about the car was its steering—razor sharp and incredibly responsive. The steering wheel is tad smaller in diameter than the WRX, features a thicker cross section and uses soft materials. The ratio is much tighter than the WRX as well—13:1, as opposed to 15:1.
On my first hot lap, this was incredibly noticeable along with how well the chassis is dialed-in. After each lap I could take each corner faster and faster, yet the STI didn't even break a sweat, as the car remained balanced and gripped like glue. After the first two sessions, I was feelin' good; I'm no professional driver by any means but this car gives you that confidence.
I walked over to talk with a Subaru engineer in the pits about everything that's been changed to make the new STI much more agile. He went on to list more things than I had enough time to jot down on my notepad. Literally every part of the chassis has been touched: stiffer torsion bars, more rigid control arm bushings, higher strength steel, bigger sway bars, etc.
Then came some numbers that blew me away: lateral stiffness up 38%, roll stiffness up 24%, torsional rigidity up 40% (DUDE!). The new STI is just that much more of a handling monster compared to the outgoing model, and it falls just short of Porsche 911 territory—a car that's more than double the price! The engineer told me the new 911 was used as the benchmark throughout the STI's development. We figure with only a handful of power and chassis mods, the new STI could really give the 911 a run for its money!
After picking the engineer's brain for 15 minutes, it was time for my next session. Knowing how well it handled, it was time to push the car even harder and really test the car's symmetrical all-wheel drive system and power delivery. I was impressed with how crisp each shift was. From the presentation earlier that day, I remembered the tranny mounts are stiffer and the gearbox uses a modified shift mechanism and new rod profiles— all equating to a more solid and smoother shift. Subaru nailed it!
I was also luckily behind the wheel of a Launch Edition STI, which features the short-throw shifter (an option on the standard model). After every 2.238-miles of Laguna Seca, I didn't want to pull into the pits. I just wanted to keep going. The power delivery is strong and peppy as boost kicks in after 3,000rpm. Subaru told me the ECU is retuned to be more responsive, with more accelerator input with less throttle—made for easier heel-toe action and quicker reaction times. And with four differentials working along with a new active torque vectoring system that helps improve "near limit" cornering by distributing torque to the outer wheel, the car would accelerate out of corners with control and gusto!
After more than 10 laps around the world-famous Laguna Seca, I was convinced the new Subie was a track-ready performer. But still hungry for more, the day was only half over and Subaru let me take its Launch Edition STI out in the real world where the pavement wouldn't be so smooth and the turns not as predictable.
I set out on a journey through Carmel Valley to do some real world shit. I found a 60-mile stretch of road that was desolate with nothing but twisties. I went for it, driving like I was on an actual road rally. With blind corners and sudden sharp turns, I was quickly thankful for the meaty four-piston front, dual-piston rear Brembos—they never overheated and always stopped on a dime. Subaru told me later the brake booster was improved from the previous STI for a solid and more linear feel—I'd have to agree. Continuing my road abuse, another feature that I was thankful for was the increased visibility the new STI has. Subie designers implemented narrower A-pillars, added a partition glass and lowered the instrument panel to allow drivers to see the road better.
The route I was on had some of the bumpiest, pot hole-infested roads I've seen in California. I was surprised how well the suspension, wheels and tires handled everything. I probably wouldn't have gone as hard in a lowered car or with low-profile tires. At times, I pushed the car past my driving limit and was saved by the all-wheel-drive system and active torque vectoring. There were sketchy sections on the road where if I were in a front-wheel-drive car or a vehicle not as balanced, I would have easily eaten some dirt. But the STI drove like a king. I didn't want the road to end, but it did as I finished the afternoon's drive with a high-speed run of 125mph on the open straightaway. It got there with ease, I might add.