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Red mist: The thrill of Evo hunting
By Ron Kiino
Photography by Derek Gardner

Given that the all-new Impreza WRX failed to pass the first round of this year's Car of the Year competition, it's no secret we're not entirely smitten with it. Sure the oomph is still there -- 224 horses and 0 to 60 in 5.6 seconds-and the refinement and safety improvements represent huge leaps forward, but none of that prevented our editors from finding the Subie's styling too staid, its suspension too soft, and its fun factor too dialed back. Looking for a Legacy GT? Buy a WRX and keep the change.

Still, none of us was willing to write off Subaru's performance icon-at least not yet. Not until we'd gotten our hands on the flagship, the all-new third-generation STI, namesake of Subaru's motorsport subsidiary, Subaru Tecnica International, and the model Subaru promised would heat up our feelings from lukewarm to boiling.Following a 350-mile drive in a WRX sedan from Los Angeles to Carmel, site of the press launch of Subaru Tecnica's superstar, it took a mere 350-foot jaunt in the STI for us to become fully hot and bothered. In light of the WRX, whose controls seem slow, reacting almost a step behind, the STI converses with utter immediacy, be it through the firm, right-now steering, the larger ultraresponsive Brembo brakes, or the more precise short-throw six-speed shifter. While the WRX says, "Input received, allow for response, now proceed," the STI simply replies, "Go!" As a result, the STI feels like a flat-out driver's machine; the WRX, a swift touring car. Of course, one way to create a flat-out driver's machine is to enlist the help of a driver who routinely drives flat-out. For STI, that meant none other than Petter Solberg, Subaru's champion WRC driver, who was involved in the STI's development from day one, assisting engineers with chassis and suspension advancement.

After testing the STI over the undulating and serpentine surfaces of Carmel Valley Road and Laguna Seca racetrack, it was evident Solberg had left his mark. The STI's revised suspension-inverted struts up front, multilink in back-displays a more forgiving, compliant ride than its forebear's, while allowing the contact patches of the wider 245/40R18 Dunlops to remain more intimate with the pavement, making it easier to push when exploring 10/10ths. The new STI holds on for 0.91 g on the skidpad, which equals that of the last second-gen STI we tested (December 2005), yet it feels more relaxed maintaining that level of adhesion. Further, the stiffer structure of the new five-door -- the only body style available and one chosen for its rallying aptitude (short overhangs, body strength) -- imparts a solidity that not only shames the tin-box feel from before but also begs for aggressive maneuvers.

For such maneuvers, the STI's all-wheel-drive system and its bevy of aids, including the Driver Controlled Center Differential (DCCD) with its nine settings (three auto, six manual), two limited-slip differentials (front helical, rear Torsen), and integrated Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC), which boasts three levels of stability and traction control (full-on, less-restrictive VDC and disengaged engine-torque management, and full-off), help the driver push the envelope without needing the skills of one Petter. Further, the DCCD's auto modes-Auto, Auto Minus (for high-friction surfaces), and Auto Plus (low-friction) -- are similar to the Mitsubishi Evo's settings (tarmac, gravel, and snow) and were all we needed (or wanted) during our 1000-mile stint. For the rally nuts and techno geeks, the six manual settings can be sampled, with a maximum split of 50/50.

Though the manual modes seem superfluous to us, as do the three SI-Drive throttle settings (only the ultraresponsive Sport Sharp mode is befitting), the STI's bulging fenders and aggressive body enhancements are entirely appropriate. Not only do the front spoiler and rear wing help deliver zero lift at both ends, they also add a sense of sportiness without coming across as too boy-racer. Moreover, every vent and scoop is functional, including those on the front bumper (brake cooling), front quarter panels (engine cooling), and, of course, the hood scoop, which feeds air to the revised 2.5-liter turbo flat-four's intercooler.

Thanks to that enlarged intercooler and a new Dual Active Valve Control System (variable valve timing on the intake and exhaust valves), the 2.5, with its single-scroll Mitsubishi turbo, delivers 305 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque. At the dragstrip that equates to 0 to 60 in 4.8 seconds and the quarter mile in 13.4 at 100.5 mph, numbers that are significantly quicker than those of the Evo X GSR (5.4, 14.0 at 96.9), but not as speedy as the aforementioned 2006 STI (4.5, 13.0 at 103.5). Chalk it up to overall gearing that's taller in every gear (by about 20 percent in third and fourth) and to a weight gain of 41 pounds, courtesy of such additional safety measures as curtain airbags.

While the curtains remain drawn, the other interior enhancements are in plain sight. Higher-grade, matte-finished plastics, double-stitched leather/Alcantara upholstery, and an available nav system all richen the cockpit, legitimizing the $35,640 starting price. Seeing that the Audi A3 3.2 Quattro possesses 55 fewer horses yet costs $50 more, the STI's entry fee seems fair. The only options are a $2000 BBS package (foglights and forged multispoke wheels in place of standard five-spoke cast alloys) and a $3800 BBS/Navigation package. Loaded, the STI retails for $39,440, stiff for a Subaru but still a bargain next to the comparably equipped A3, which can crest $41,000.

The more important question now, though, is how will the STI compare with the Evo. We'll know soon enough. Until then, happy hunting.

2008 Subaru Impreza WRX STI

Drivetrain layout Front engine, AWD
Engine type Turbocharged flat-4, alum block/heads
Valvetrain DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
Displacement 149.9 cu in/2457 cc
Compression ratio 8.2:1
Power (SAE net) 305 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 290 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Redline 6700 rpm
Weight to power 11.0 lb/hp
Transmission 6-speed manual
Axle/final-drive ratios 3.90:1/2.95:1
Suspension, front; rear Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Steering ratio 15.0:1
Turns lock-to-lock 2.8
Brakes, f;r 13.0-in vented disc; 12.6-in vented disc, ABS
Wheels, f;r 8.5 x 18 in, forged aluminum
Tires, f;r 245/40R18 93W Dunlop SP Sport 600

Wheelbase 103.3 in
Track, f/r 60.2/60.6 in
Length x width x height 173.8 x 70.7 x 58.1 in
Turning circle 36.1 ft
Curb weight 3356 lb
Weight dist., f/r 58/42 %
Seating capacity 5
Headroom, f/r 40.3/37.6 in
Legroom, f/r 43.5/33.5 in
Shoulder room, f/r 54.8/53.2 in
Cargo volume 19.0 cu ft

Acceleration to mph
0-30 1.3 sec
0-40 2.3
0-50 3.3
0-60 4.8
0-70 6.4
0-80 8.2
0-90 10.7
0-100 13.3
Passing, 45-65 mph 2.7
Quarter mile 13.4 sec @ 100.5 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 106 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.91 g (avg)
MT figure eight 25.7 sec @ 0.69 g (avg)
Top-gear revs @ 60 mph 2400 rpm

Base price $35,640
Price as tested $39,440
Stability/traction control Yes/yes
Airbags Dual front, front side, f/r curtain
Basic warranty 3 yrs/36,000 miles
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/60,000 miles
Roadside assistance 3 yrs/36,000 miles
Fuel capacity 16.9 gal
EPA city/hwy econ 17/23 mpg
CO2 emissions 1.01 lb/mile
MT fuel economy 19.9 mpg
Recommended fuel Unleaded premium
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