Coordinating a spirited drive up Angeles Crest Highway with four Subaru owners on a weekday afternoon ain't easy, but when you can entice 'em with a first look at the 2019 S209, well, things just fall into place. The S-series trim of the STI is the ultimate model if you're into all-wheel-drive production model Subarus. For years they've been forbidden fruit until the U.S.-only S209 hit dealerships earlier this year. It takes the standard issue flagship car, then does everything better, from suspension tweaks, firmer braking, more power and flashier style. To the untrained eye, it could easily look like a STI with a big wing, but for enthusiasts, this is as good as it gets and the four Southern California Subie owners we invited can attest (despite its rather extreme price tag of $63,995).
You can read my previously published review of the S209; however, today I'm excited to share these gorgeous photos of four well-groomed Imprezas—not all are STIs, each has its unique character, but all are delightfully cool, especially when put through the exhilarating gauntlet of backroads known as Angeles Crest Highway.
THE HEART OF A HERO - Louis Yio | 1998 Subaru Impreza 2.5RS
First generation Imprezas are hard to come by these days, especially two-door 2.5RS models. With vibes of rally and the 22B, chances are if you ever fancied a Subaru, it was because of this body style and its all-wheel-drive prowess that dates back to the early nineties. Unfortunately, it didn't come with a turbocharged powertrain but a 2.5-liter flat four capable of about 165hp—basically not even enough power to beat mom's Toyota Sienna off the line. So, what's become quite common for these Impreza owners is going with a STI/WRX swap and Louis Yio's 1998 model is a prime example. His Impreza features a full powertrain swap from a 2005 STI—everything from the engine, transmission, subframes, axles and brakes were swapped over resulting in 300hp and 300lb-ft powertrain in a car that's easily 400 lbs lighter. The different wiring harnesses were merged by iWire and appropriate elements kept stock to keep the entire setup California state legal.
As for the rest of the coupe, it keeps its OEM style with refinished BBS wheels, also borrowed from the 2005 STI. The chassis features KW Clubsport coilovers, StopTech pads and lines, and Yokohama A052 tires for maximum grip. Louis tells us his car was actually owned by Formula DRIFT driver Ken Gushi's dad (aka "Papa Gushi"). The original intention was to build it into a pro rally car, but plans changed and eventually the car was sold to Stephen Papadakis, who then sold it to Louis. Pretty damn cool!
Thoughts on the S209 from Louis, a first-gen Subaru owner: "From the few minutes in the S209, I'm quite impressed by it. It's noticeably slower than my car but that was almost a given, just from comparing the specs on paper. Compared to my car, I really liked the steering feel as the new 2015+ STI have such great steering racks. Everything felt more direct with the minimal input I'd give to the car, especially in corners. The big sweeper showed where it shined over my car. Corner exit speed felt great as I was more comfortable getting on the gas earlier than in my STI for that same corner. Wasn't a fan of how late the turbo kicked in. Felt like around 4,300rpm which is a lot later than in my STI, but it feels amazing as long as you're keeping it in the powerband. It feels large but it's definitely got some punch when you push it.
Steering wheel felt very solid. Wish my steering wheel had the same suede texture. Hands down the best part was the dual water sprayers for the intercooler. Better than the single one in my car, which I didn't swap over during the STI swap process... Totally something someone in 2050 will talk about. Many people compare the WRX to the STI, saying that the WRX is the better daily, but coming from my car, which is a bit more visceral than most STIs, I feel like the S209 would make a great daily as it as that perfect balance of performance and comfort. Obviously, I've never driven the newer WRXs so my opinions would change if I ever hopped into that."
THE SUPER STAR - Tony Lee 2005 | Subaru STI (GDB)
12 years in the making and one of the most well-executed Subaru feature cars in Super Street history, Tony Lee's 2005 WRX STI is on a level unlike any other. After making its debut at the 2017 SEMA Show, it toured the show circuit where it was widely a crowd favorite for its heavy JDM influence, high quality/rare parts and overall flawless flow. There's not one piece or component that looks amiss, period. The exterior has a unique mash-up of parts which include an M-Sports front bumper and wide fenders, HKS rear diffuser, Varis carbon side skirts and Chargespeed brake ducts. Complemented with gold Advan GT Premium wheels, Brembo big brakes, Moton suspension and a long list of other chassis stiffening supplements, this STI isn't just a pleasure to look at but also extremely balanced in the corners. As for power, Tony's done more than enough to get it up to par with a larger GTX3071R turbo, 1,000cc injectors and E85 tune that makes 413whp and 416 lb-ft of torque. Simply put, it's one of the best Subaru builds today, and we are happy to report it's not just a show piece but can hang with the big boys through Angeles Crest Highway.
Thoughts on the S209 from Tony, an STI owner: "I mean I can only say it's an epic thing to see in person. It's like all the things Subaru enthusiasts asked for all in one. I loved them widening the fenders to differentiate it from a regular STI, also all the little details reconfirming that this is not just a regular Subaru—plaques and S209 insignia all throughout the fenders, grill, engine bay, seats and trunk. This is truly Subaru's most epic release ever in North America and is the only Subaru that has ever come close to the legendary 22B."
THE UNDERDOG - Roy Fann | 2018 Subaru WRX
Just because it's not an STI doesn't mean the standard issue WRX sedan isn't a capable car; in fact, quite the contrary. Roy Fann's is a 2018 VA model and he's upgraded it in a fashion that makies power similar to an STI but in a lighter package. The WRX comes with a smaller engine in the form a turbocharged 2.0-liter flat-four, but Roy's added proven bolt-ons like the Cobb V3 Accessport and Tomei exhaust, which all equate to 243whp and 232 lb-ft of torque. Improving its grip and handing is a Cusco 1.5-way rear LSD, HKS coilovers and RS-R control arms, while Work Emotion CR 2P wheels provide the biggest visual update. Bride Zeta III bucket seats and a small Nardi steering wheel further improve the driving experience. I honestly didn't think Roy's car would keep up with the STIs on the Angeles Crest cruise but I had the chance to take it for a spin and it astoundingly offered a very quick and raw driver feeling that's more fun and nimble on its toes compard to the STI. If you don't mind not having the STI nameplate, this is a great example of a very clean and balanced AWD and turbocharged project car that you can now find in the $21K range, used. Don't sleep on the WRX.
Thoughts on the S209 from Roy, a WRX owner: "The STI S209 is an all-around sports sedan. The suspension rides well and absorbs the bumps effectively, and it's not as "harsh" as some journalists have mentioned. The exhaust is really quiet, which is good for getting around town. Overall, it's a great package offered by Subaru, but it has one major drawback: Pricing. Also, since I have a VA-chassis WRX, I have high expectations for the S209. Surprisingly, the 341hp S209 is a tad slower than my mildly modified WRX. With suspension modifications such as coilovers and lower control arms, the WRX provides more driver confidence than the S209. If you like the feeling of a great OEM offering and its ultra-rare status, go for the S209. But how about getting a base model WRX or STI and modifying it to your taste? It sure sounds good to me."
THE BEAUTY QUEEN - Daniel Leung | 2010 Subaru STI
Featured in our 2020 Toyo Tires calendar, Daniel Leung's whip takes on the hatchback/wagon variant of the third generation STI. It's without a doubt the most eye-catching of the bunch, especially painted Sunrise Yellow (same color used on the Japan-only WRX STI Spec C). It features a Varis widebody (rear fenders molded to the body), carbon hood and rear wing. 18x11-inch Volk Racing TE37 wheels with Brembo big brakes are installed on all four corners, while Air Lift suspension sits the AWD hatch on the floor. There's still a lot more that Daniel has planned for the car but stay tuned as we have a full photo set by Renz Dimaandal to reveal in our final Subie installment from Angeles Crest Highway.