Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Forum banner
1 - 4 of 4 Posts

· Registered
1,565 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
First steer - Motive flogs the 2008 Subaru WRX STI

words: Bryan Joslin

Carmel Valley Road slithers south and east away from the coastal hamlet of Carmel-by-the-Sea, traversing the mountains and eventually depositing its travelers in the agricultural plains of central California. For most of the 42-mile journey from Highway 1 to Arroyo Seco Road, the pavement is a slim ribbon of uneven asphalt with slight shoulders, sometimes squeezed by the rocky topography to just a single passable lane. Ancient trees cast permanent shadows on the roadway, swallowing daylight in an instant and spitting out pencil-point beams of sunshine through their canopies. The terrain climbs for most of the southeastward drive before it plunges toward the lowlands. Though sparsely populated and lightly traveled, treachery lurks behind every blind corner in the form of lumbering farm trucks, death-wish bicyclists, and the occasional shirtless local on an ATV. The road is unlike any other in America — in fact, it more closely resembles the unimaginable European tarmac that often makes up the special stages in the World Rally Championship. It's no wonder, then, that Subaru chose this road to showcase the newest generation of its rally-developed thoroughbred, the 2008 WRX STI.

In the four years since the first WRX STi (that "i" became "I" in 2006) landed on our shores, the mightiest Subaru has earned itself a loyal following of performance driving enthusiasts who cherish its superb traction and turbocharged powerplant, if not its homely styling. The beauty was always in the mechanicals — a 2.5-liter boosted flat four that produced 293 horsepower, all-wheel drive with driver-selectable differential settings, and seriously sticky rubber — while the exterior looked the boy-racer part with its oversize hood scoop and trunk spoiler. At a starting price of $31,550, the original STi wasn't cheap, but it did offer a lot of technology and performance for a reasonable buck.

On the surface, not a lot has changed in four years. The 2008 Subaru WRX STI still has a 2.5-liter turbo with only a modest bump in power, the all-wheel-drive system still allows the driver to choose his own settings, it still arrives with near race-ready performance tires, and it is still festooned with wings and scoops. Only the shape of the all-new car would appear to be totally new. The truth lies beneath the skin, though, as the new STI is far more refined than before. Not only is the STI a break with its own past, it is so vastly different from the standard WRX on which it's based that it shouldn't even wear the same letters. My first drive on the twisting roads near Carmel and the nearby Laguna Seca Raceway would prove that.

Before tearing up the California countryside, I have to set the car up for the drive. Like so many other modern high-performance daily drivers, the STI is loaded with buttons and knobs that allow the driver to fine-tune the car to his daily mood. There are three such gizmos on this monster, each with its own clever acronym — SI-Drive, DCCD, and VDC.

I start by turning the "SI-Drive" knob on the center console to the "Sport Sharp" setting, the most aggressive of three unique throttle programs that not only determine final output, but also the manner in which the power is handed down. "Intelligent" is the least aggressive option, allowing only 80 percent of the engine's peak power and 90 percent of its peak torque to be delivered in the interest of preserving fuel economy. "Sport" delivers sharper throttle responses than "Intelligent" and allows full power and torque delivery, but in a more linear fashion than "Sport Sharp"'s peakier power delivery.

Next, the driver-controlled center differential (DCCD) requires tweaking. Like the SI-Drive system, the DCCD offers three automatic settings, but adds an override for manual adjustment of the torque bias. The default selection is "Auto," which manages torque distribution from front to rear based on road conditions and driver inputs. Bumping the switch forward selects the "Auto+" setting, which is designed for low-traction situations like gravel or snow and moves more torque to the front wheels. For my drive, I'm choosing the "Auto-" position, dialing more torque to the rear wheels for optimized traction and a more direct steering feel. There is also an option for manual mode that allows for six preset levels of center-differential lock.

The last bit of technology to program before blast-off is the Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC). By default it is designed to preserve life at the expense of fun, dialing back throttle and modulating the brakes at the first hint of disaster. Pressing the VDC button disables traction control but leaves the stability control system active, ideal for launching with all four wheels ablaze and not giving up lateral security. Holding the VDC button for more than five seconds turns all the electronic aids off (except for ABS) to allow its driver to explore the dynamic limits of the STI — and that's exactly what I want do.

Satisfied with the STI's setup, I roll out through the valley, over-revving the engine in first gear as soon as I hit the road. Yes, first gear seems incredibly short; but more importantly, the engine is quieter than before and I don't hear it wind up. Even the exhaust — its grumbly overtones long a trademark of Subaru's opposed engines — is neutered, especially from inside the car. Most of this drive, however, involves sweeping through third gear — an ideal choice for keeping the engine on boost and in its sweet spot between 4000 rpm, where it makes all of its 290 lb-ft torque, and 6000 rpm, where power reaches it full 305 horses.

Compared with last year's STI the new model gives an additional 12 horsepower, the result of several incremental changes — variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust sides; 14.7 psi of boost instead of 11.9; a 10-percent larger intercooler; more efficient intake plumbing; and a freer-flowing rear catalytic converter — that seem insignificant on their own but add up to more output, better response, greater economy and cleaner emissions. From the driver's seat the engine feels much the same as the previous STI's. Power is fairly flat in the lower revs, despite the fact that peak torque comes on 400 rpm sooner, and once the boost is up, it climbs freely to redline. Keeping the turbo spinning is easy enough with proper gear selection, and the experience of riding the revs through second and third is intoxicating.

First gear over-revs aside, moving through the gearbox requires no special training, since the shift action feels much the same as in other Subarus — somewhat vague and rubbery, and not nearly as precise as some of the other mechanical bits on this car. Inside the 'box, however, are triple-cone synchronizers for first and second gears, a double-cone synchro for third, and single carbon units for fourth, fifth, and sixth gears. True to its rally-car roots, the transmission is designed to be downshifted to its lowest gears on the fly; reverse is even located next to sixth, farthest away from first and second to avoid any confusing and potentially catastrophic missed shifts when the action heats up.

In no time at all, the road turns from mildly entertaining to seriously challenging, and this is where the STI starts to show its talents. Carmel Valley Road is a test of any car's suspension tuning: Too soft and you'll quickly find yourself wallowing into an oncoming lane of traffic; too firm and you'll bump-steer yourself into the same predicament. Tires are critical too, as the surface changes from coarse asphalt to greasy tarmac without warning, with the occasional dusty corner, running water, or metal cow grate thrown in for comic relief.

The old road failed to toss the STI; it simply refused to give up traction no matter how hard it was thrown through corners. The engine now sits a full 10-mm lower in the engine compartment for a seriously improved center of gravity. Compared with the previous model, the new one features a 3.3-inch longer wheelbase that provides better straight-line stability, especially under hard braking. Bulging fenders allow for more track spacing than a standard WRX — an additional 1.3 inches in front and 1.5 inches more in back — for a more planted attitude. The front suspension is essentially the same as before, with inverted struts and forged-aluminum control arms, but the rear suspension is all new, using double wishbones with coil springs and shocks, contributing to a greater clarity of handling. Combined with the phenomenal grip afforded by the new Dunlop SP Sport 600 tires, the STI seems magnetically attached to the road. The 245/40-18 rubber is fitted at all four corners to 18-x-8.5-inch alloys, with forged BBS wheels available as an option. Inducing the STI to powerslide on asphalt requires an act of brute savagery.

· Registered
1,565 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Moving swiftly through the mountainous terrain, the chassis rewards with unmolested feedback and faithful responses to inputs. The steering, while not as lightning quick as a Mitsubishi Evo or a Mazda MX-5 Miata, delivers accurate information, feels naturally weighted, and reacts effectively to small changes in direction, even if it delivers a little kickback on rough surfaces. The super-stiff bodyshell uses more than 20 unique pieces of high-strength steel versus the standard WRX, and allows the suspension to do its job effectively. The resulting ride is predictably firm, transmitting small jounces to the cabin but swallowing major bumps with ease.

The brakes are certainly the best ever fitted to a road-legal Subaru, and not just because of the impressive Brembo hardware peeking through the wheel spokes. Good brakes not only stop short, they also "talk" to the driver, an area where a Subaru's middle pedal has traditionally been a letdown. The 2008 STI uses a new brake booster with a double pushrod to eliminate deflection in the linkage, giving a more connected feel, and the flexible brake lines are made of an ultra-low-expansion material for firmer pedal response.

The road experience so far has me preaching the STI gospel, but the next stop on my itinerary is Laguna Seca, where Subaru has scheduled a little track time. With hardly a shadow to be found and no oncoming traffic to worry about, the conditions on this renowned racetrack are far different than those on the public roads, but every bit as challenging. Long, fast straights, decreasing-radius hairpins, and lots of elevation changes make Laguna Seca notoriously hard on both car and driver. How will this more refined STI cope? After a couple orientation laps by IMSA legend John Paul, Jr., we're set free on our own. Almost immediately, the sounds of over-revved engines echo from the paddock; surely STI drivers will get used to the super-short first gear ratio, even if I can't seem to.

On the open track, all of the STI's superb road qualities come into sharper focus. The suspension is sublime on the nearly seamless pavement, and the little thumps of steering kickback I felt on the road vanish completely. The chassis feels a little soft, but everything is working together as it should. The front wants to push out just slightly near the limit, but can always be reined in with a slight lift of the throttle.

Grip is positively tenacious on the warm asphalt as the sticky Dunlops do their thing. Subaru technicians check the tires after every four-lap session and, miraculously, they end up not changing a single one. The broad outer shoulder stands up well to severe cornering forces, and even the inner ribs are showing minimal evidence of trauma. A representative from Dunlop was on hand and mentioned that the SP Sport 600s get even grippier with a few heat cycles and work even better with miles on them than they do fresh off the shelf.

Power is plentiful, and really only third and fourth gears are needed to navigate the course quickly. With the helmet on and the windows closed, the sensation of speed is lost to the new chassis' refinement, but a quick glance at the speedo confirms that, yes indeed, we are hauling some serious ass.

The brakes that were so impressive on the street are equally outstanding on the track. Four-piston Brembo calipers squeeze 13-inch vented rotors in the front, while a pair of dual-piston calipers act on 12.6-inch rear rotors, which are vented as well. The pedal stayed high and mighty throughout the run sessions, despite visible smoke streaming off of the fronts upon my return to the grid area. Current WRX owners may have to re-think their heel-and-toe technique for the new STI, since the pedal no longer sinks to the floor after a couple of hot corners.

After a day like this, it's hard to say whether the 2008 STI feels better on the confines of an open track or out on the winding, ever-changing public roads. As irresponsible as it may sound, the street probably wins by a narrow margin; it just feels much more frenetic with rocks and trees as corner makers. The STI also looks more in its element on the mountain roads than on the open track, those blistered fenders flirting with disaster at every clipped apex, the bobbed tail begging to be swung around a blind hairpin.

After all, that's what it was designed for. Though the standard-issue WRX can be had in either four-door-sedan or five-door-hatch configurations, the only version that will hit the World Rally circuit, or be built as an STI, is the hatch. Its incredibly short rear overhang is intentional, with the genuine purpose of preventing it from being torn off by one Mr. Petter Solberg, Subaru's star WRC driver, who is known for using all of the road and a bit of the shoulder as well. The STI's controversial shape, with its long, chiseled nose and sloping rear deck, is reminiscent of early Saab 99s and 900s. Even the new, wider grille design is more mid-'70s Scandinavia than millennial Fuji.

Indeed, the rally-car battle dress is all business. Subaru assured us every air duct on the front of the car serves a function, whether feeding the engine or brakes, or just cooling off the engine compartment. The air inlet that resides front-and-center on the aluminum hood is far more integrated than on past STIs, lending the car a more grown-up look than the old high-rise sugar scoop. Also, the rear wing seems to fit the car better, perhaps because it's a natural extension of the roof's bodywork as opposed to the trunk-mounted park bench of previous versions. The STI-specific rear bumper includes a special valence with openings for the two pairs of exhausts tips. Finally, the extended fenders truly mark it as a roadgoing racecar. Subaru gave this car a look that is more purposeful and less street racer than before, so it's sort of unfortunate that chromed LED taillights are part of the package.

The inside is pretty grown up, too, featuring a cleaner instrument panel trimmed in an attractive leather-grained black plastic that would look at home in most European cars. A dual-cockpit dashboard is accented with silver-painted aluminum-look plastic that, while obviously not real, is a decent facsimile. STI emblems abound throughout the interior — on the special shift knob, in the center of the three-spoke steering wheel, on the face of the 8000-rpm tach. There's even a backlit STI badge on the center console. Rubber-studded aluminum pedals, including a left footrest, round out the drag.

But the real highlight of the interior is a pair of fully manual rally-style sport seats trimmed in graphite-colored Alcantara cloth with black leather bolsters. Not only do they look amazingly apropos, they also do their job exceptionally well. The twisty roads of my initial drive had my kidneys plastered to the sides of the deep seats. The side bolsters provide plenty of lateral support, but perhaps more important for long trips is the fact that the bottom cushion is actually long enough to support the longer thighs of American drivers. Subaru thoughtfully included a manual height adjustment, but some drivers might also long for the ability to tilt at least the driver's seat for a cozier fit.

A longer wheelbase pays dividends in the rear seat, with more legroom for all three passengers. And though the cargo hold may look to be small from the outside, Subaru insists that two full-size golf bags will fit, in case you want to squeeze in a round between special stages. Remarkably, the ubiquitous trans-generational weight increase has been kept to a minimum. The newer, larger STI weighs in less than fifty pounds more than the model it replaces. With 305 horses pulling a relatively low (for 2007 anyway) 3395 pounds, the power-to-weight ratio is actually marginally better the old car's.

I walked away from Subaru's latest hot pocket wanting more, especially on these roads. This new STI is a more refined, more mature, and more capable performance sedan than ever before. At its $35,995 base price, it isn't cheap, but it's certainly attainable for a lot of driving enthusiasts. The STI's real charm is that it not only represents a decent value when placed up against expected rivals like the upcoming Mitsubishi Evo X, but also less obvious 300+ horsepower performance coupes like Infiniti's G37 and BMW's 135i.
1 - 4 of 4 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.