I've been following the 2019 Subaru STI S209 since its unveiling at the 2019 North American International Auto Show. It was exciting news for Subaru fans, especially those who understood how special S-line models were and how they've only been rare JDM treasures up until now. Not the best news for Subaru USA, though, as there was a lot to compete with at the Detroit show. For example, the reveals of the production model Toyota Supra and Lexus RC F Track Edition. But no worries... A race-bred, track-ready, all-wheel drive sedan like the STI S209 shines most on the road and not under convention center lights, which is why Subaru organized two test drives for media following the show and Super Street was invited to both of them.
Just my luck, I wasn't able to attend both due to scheduling conflicts. So, in March 2019, our Tokyo-based photographer David Ishikawa attended STI Motorsport Day where he got to taste the S209 on a small circuit at Fuji Speedway. Last September, regular Super Street columnist Benjamin Hunting traveled to New England for a track day at Palmer Motorsports Park. Both David and Benjamin reported back with rave reviews for the S209; however, at the time of both events, pricing was still TBD.
My turn has finally come and with an official price tag announced at $63,995, it was time to take the revered S209 up some familiar canyon roads. Let's just say I can agree with what my guys were talking about, but also wanted to give my two cents about its overall value and if it's worth it.
RAD PARTS & COOL POINTS
- This is the first-ever S-line sold in the U.S., which is pretty badass. From the special edition S201 to S208, S-line models have been Japan-exclusive models only. To put this all into context, let's say the Type R label never made it to America until the FK8 Civic Type R. Something along those lines if you catch my drift...
- The S209 is like a beefed up STI, intended to look and drive so good you don't need to make any additional modifications to it. Starting with its style, there's a front carbon spoiler, canards and carbon rear wing (similar to the Type RA). The well-designed fenders and carbon roof (sheds 8 lbs) are probably my two favorite parts of the exterior. The S209 is also only available in World Rally Blue Pearl and White Pearl (as it should).
- Wheels are 19x9-inch forged BBS while the tires are 265/35R19 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT600As. To put that into perspective, the standard STI runs 19x8.5" with 245/35 tires. The Brembo six-piston front, dual-piston rear brakes are carried over, but upgraded with high friction pads.
- Suspension tuning and chassis rigidity is where STI engineers really went in with a microscope. Things like spherical joints, new rear cross brace, reinforced support arms, draw stiffeners, thicker sway bar and tuned Bilstein shocks all equate to a better handling and less sloppy road car.
- The 2018 WRX STI Type RA turbocharged EJ25 powertrain is the same spec used in the 2020 STI - 310hp and 290 lb-ft of torque. The S209 gets a 31hp and 40 lb-ft bump, resulting in 341hp at 6,400rpm and 330 lb-ft at 3,600 rpm. It's a modest upgrade but the testing and parts changed in order to get there weren't at all easy and results in better power and torque curves above 3,600rpm.
- Only 209 will be made in history, all exclusive to the U.S. market.
SUBARU-THEMED CANYON DRIVE
15 months after the S209 debuted in Detroit, I finally had the keys to Subaru's finest STI. Unfortunately, I didn't have the time (or permission) to pound on it at the track so I spent half of a day doing the next best thing (if you live in Southern California), which was going for a spirited spin around the canyon roads of Angeles Crest Highway. And similar to a Honda S2000 drive I organized earlier this year, I didn't want to go alone, so I invited four seasoned Subaru enthusiasts to join me—Tony Lee with his fully-built widebody 2005 STI, Louis Yio and his STI-swapped 1998 Impreza, Daniel Leung's Sunrise Yellow STI hatch and Roy Fann's street-tuned WRX. The end result was some fantastic driving and sexy photography by our shooter Renz Dimaandal, plus my first hands-on experience with the S209. The verdict?
HAIL TO THE HANDLING
Overall, the S209's handling, steering and balance is where it shines. The hydraulic assisted steering works to a tee and the STI's maneuvering was quick to react to my steering inputs. The suspension is dialed-in as expected, with the added grip available due to the wider tires and chassis stiffness. Even on ridiculous bumps and elevation changes, it reacts like it knows what's coming and made me feel comfortable even in sketchy sections of the drive. I didn't mess with the diff settings too much; didn't need to. Its vehicle dynamics are predictable and impressive. I'd go to bat with this car on any backroad, any day, and only wish I had the chance to push it a step further on a track like Laguna Seca.
MATURE AND COMPOSED
I've also come to appreciate how mature the STI S209 feels. It's not a cheap feeling Subaru or sometimes too loud and stiff, like older STIs I've tested. It's grown up with a modern-day interior and everyday comfort that wasn't a chore to drive around on the streets of LA or in traffic. It felt cushy, remarkably quiet, and refined, although the kid in me would still want a more tuned exhaust note and lower stance despite its balanced formula.
WATCH THE UPSHIFT
During acceleration, my biggest complaint was the third to fourth gear upshift (which I guess is a common complaint about previous-gen STIs from what I'm told). The S209 has a short shifter installed, but it doesn't like you jamming it into fourth. You have to be smooth and fluid.
INTERCOOLER SPRAY SYSTEM
Subaru is one of the few manufacturers I know that equips their halo car with a factory-installed intercooler spray system. It's activated by pulling the paddles behind the steering wheel (which was weird because I'm used to driving cars with paddle shifters in the same location). It's neat little feature that seemed to work without issue, but I wasn't in any high heat condition to truly need it.
POWER GAINS ARE MARGINAL
While I mentioned earlier that there's a bump in the power and torque curves, I was definitely reminded of the basics of driving a turbocharged four-cylinder. Once I got used to keeping the RPMs above 3,600, the S209 has some kick with a smooth delivery. You never feel like you're going to break the tires loose. It just moseys on its way. Personally, I still feel there could be more improvement in this department, and how long has Subaru been using the EJ25 on the STI? It's not slow by any means, but when you take into account how much the S209 costs, it brings me to my final point.
PRICE & VALUE
The standard 2020 WRX STI with comparable performance but missing all the cool shit and exclusivity runs $36,995. As for the super limited-edition, badass S209...we're talking about $63,995! Let me reason with Subaru and state that I understand the S209 is a special type of project built at STI headquarters and not on the typical assembly line. The amount of R&D that goes into it takes a skilled team many years to perfect, given they have to reuse the same engine and blueprint of the regular STI. The S209 is also not a volume project as only 209 will be built and intended only for the American market. Taking all that into consideration and knowing very well this is an out-of-the-box daily drivable track toy, is it worth the price tag? For most of us, the standard STI with choice modifications is probably a better option. There are also several other cars in the $40-$50K price range that are a better bang for your buck. At the end of the day, I strongly feel this is a collector's car for the diehard Subaru enthusiast. I don't really have any majorly bad things to say about the S209 except its value doesn't add up. If exclusivity and owning a piece of Subaru history is worth it to you, then the S209 will fit right into your collection. My bet is it'll keep its value for years down the road, especially in mint condition, but if it's manhandling canyon roads and racking up weekend track days, the S209 is exceptional at that too. You won't be disappointed, in fact, you'll be very pleased; however, for me, I'd prefer my dollar to go a little further.
In next part of our feature, we'll delve into the four other Subarus on the Angeles Crest drive as well as hear their thoughts on the S209. Stay tuned!