We received a 2006 Subaru STI with an SPT package the other day. We don't play host to new cars anywhere near as often as we used to, and when they're in, there never seems to be the time to take them out for a good old-fashioned flogging. But this time, Ed was on vacation and the STI was sitting lonely in the garage, giving me the puppy dog eyes. I decided to make the time.
I almost always go to the same place to drive. It's a network of roads that, when combined in the right sequence, make up more than 50 miles of unadulterated sweeps, bends and corners. Once you get a good rhythm going, time accelerates and you've hit the end before you know it.
The STI makes quick work of roads like these-there aren't many other cars that could keep up such a ridiculous pace. But despite the massive grip, I found myself unable to really bond with the car. I had a tough time feeling how close I was to the limit of adhesion. The super-capable Sube wasn't really talking to me. When I got to a rest stop, I began chatting with a sport biker, who I had been playing cat-and-mouse with for the last 25 miles.
It occurred to us, with cars as well as bikes, that it's incredible the things we complain about these days. I'm whining about a $30,000 car that has more than 300bhp and could easily outpace a Ferrari 360 on such unpredictable roads. It seats five and it'll go despite rain and snow. In the era of the Supra and the RX-7, a machine like this was little more than a fairy tale.
Modern day folklore would have you believe the Toyota Supra was a chariot of the gods. But while it had the capacity to make tons of power, the steering feel was no better than a Camry. The Supra's steering ratio was a luxurious 17.5:1 and the wheel rotated three turns lock-to-lock. A large helping of power-assist made sure you'd be questioning your line on fast roads like these.
The STI's steering, by contrast, has a ratio of 15.2:1 and takes just 2.6 turns lock-to-lock. Yes, it'd be nice to have the 13:1 ratio of the unattainable STI Spec-C, but, relatively speaking, the stock STI rack is quick.
I'm trying to highlight a never-ending progression between driver and builder: our nitpicking is what constantly drives manufacturers to better their offerings. I'd never have been able to talk about precise steering if a focused machine like the STI wasn't here in the first place. And if it weren't for drivers like you and me making notes about what could be improved in the regular WRX, there might not have been an STI at all.
The honed machine that pops out of the factory with heightened abilities is what lets us-as drivers-see what can be tweaked even further. In 2007, it's clear manufacturers are silencing complainers like myself. More emphasis than ever is being placed on driving dynamics, with each new model far eclipsing the previous offering. They're listening to us. Most are even giving the aftermarket a try, going so far as to offer dealer-installed mods.
The way a high-performance car drives has a new level of importance to manufacturers. That's a good thing, but it means it's getting harder and harder to genuinely improve cars without compromising other aspects. And that, in turn, is what drives our aftermarket to see new possibilities and better ways of building staple parts like suspension, intake and exhaust systems. Our little world isn't about strut tower braces and cold air intakes anymore. It's about R-compound rubber and reprogramming your own ECU in the basement.
Without each part of the driver/aftermarket/ manufacturer equation, the entire notion of the cheap performance car would be dead in the water. The drivers are necessary to find the faults. The aftermarket offers a quick fix for existing platforms, and the manufacturers respond with improved machines. As far as I can tell, it's the coolest cycle going.
Associate Senior Editor