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Car reviews - Subaru - Impreza - WRX STi 5-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Improved ride, slingshot performance, exclusive look, brilliant handling, impressive fuel economy
Room for improvement
Terrible tyre noise, noisy gearbox, lack of an automatic, high price

7 Feb 2008

THE new STi is a much more liveable machine.

Subaru Australia says it is now a car that you can drive every day, as opposed to the last model which would have rattled your fillings out and compacted your spine before you arrived at work.

At the same time it offers neck-straining acceleration, amazing traction levels and excellent handling. It all sounds too good to be true...

There is no questioning the STi’s ability. This is a true sportscar and the softer suspension tune doesn’t appear to affect its pace. The questions start to arise when you think about driving it on a daily basis.

Many people, especially those coming out of the previous model, will be far more comfortable in this version.

It’s generally quieter, it rides better, the interior has been improved and it’s nice to know that the level of safety has been improved.

There are some things that have not improved much, which now stand out even more. The most obvious is tyre noise.

You expect that a sportscar is going to run a more aggressive, and therefore noisier, tread pattern, but the tyre noise in the STi is just plain terrible. Whether you are cruising on smooth tarmac or pushing on coarse chip surfaces, the tyre noise is very, very loud.

It growls when turning and when you coast up to a set of traffic lights. It's as though the tyres have simply been picked off a list and never actually tested on Australian roads. This alone could put many people off buying the STi as an ever-day driver.

Another noise that stood out on the test car came from the gearbox. It’s best described as chattering - the mechanical whirring you hear in old gearboxes. You don’t expect these sorts of sounds from a $60,000-plus car.

Subaru could also be caught-out by not offering a dual-clutch automatic like the forthcoming Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X. Some purists will howl that you can’t have an automatic STi, but it is an obvious extension of the argument that the new model is aimed at a much wider audience.

Now that Subaru is pitching the STi as a more premium model, it would only make sense to at least offer a quick-shifting auto. The fact is that Subaru, being a smaller company, simply didn’t have the time or the cash to develop an auto for the STi in time for the launch. Stay tuned though, it should come in the next few years.

The test car also suffered from a drivetrain thump under heavy acceleration. Subaru Australia has since replaced the driveshaft of the car, suspecting a failed centre bearing. The company says that the thrashing it received at the press launch may have contributed to the failure.

Having got some of the negatives out of the way, it’s time to concentrate on the positives - and there are many. The first is the STi’s unique body.

It is clear to any Suby enthusiast that this is the STi rather than the regular WRX.

Subaru should be congratulated for spending the extra cash on fitting the car with unique body panels.

It is a significant undertaking to have new front guards, rear doors and rear body panels to accommodate the wider tracks and give the car a muscular look.

This also shows Subaru is serious about giving itself the best chance to win in the World Rally Championship by designing a car with the best possible footprint for WRC action.

Back on the street, it doesn’t take long to observe that at lot of people pay a lot of attention to the STi. It probably helped that the test car was fitted with the optional BBS light alloy wheels and was painted in Subaru blue.

The many enthusiasts, usually young males, who admired the car on the road weren’t disappointed when the STi accelerated away, its quad pipes emitting the wonderful lumpy boxer note that is so important to Subaru.

Subaru could make the note a bit louder inside the car, but it probably was aiming for a balance of refinement and aural excitement.

Of course, the acceleration of the STi is simply stunning, pulling well straight off idle but really going crazy from 2700rpm, when the passenger usually reaches for the grab-handle.

Subaru says the new STi is 0.2 seconds faster than the previous model and can dash from 0-100km/h in just 5.2 seconds, which feels about right.

What is even more impressive is the fuel economy. The test car was given a pretty good workout as well as some highway time, all while averaging just 10.6L/100km.

A V8 with similar performance would end up using about 15L-18L/100km under similar conditions.

The ride, as mentioned, is significantly better now. It is not pillow-soft by any means, but is nowhere near as harsh as the last model, which could make a relatively smooth highway feel like a rocky trail.

Despite the the softer springs and shocks, the STi does not pitch or roll around and still handles well.

There is no way to tell if it is faster or slower through a twisty section of road without grabbing a previous model and doing a back-to-back test, but it is hard to imagine it would be slower.

It stayed dry during the time we had our STi and we weren't about to take it off-road, but on gravel or slippery bitumen you might be able to test the selectable differential control maps of the DCCD (driver controlled centre differential), to see exactly how much difference it makes.

As has been the case from the very first STi, which had a simple front/rear diff controller, we suspect most owners will leave the DCCD in the Auto mode and forget about it. That is until they show off the car to their mates and explain the brain-dazzling array of different drivetrain settings.

In terms of packaging, the STi has good cabin room for the front and rear passengers. The optional Recaro front bucket seats are very supportive if you fit in them and the leather trim looks and feels great, but with protruding side supports, portly drivers and passengers may struggle to get comfortable.

Boot-space is not as impressive as similar sized vehicles such as the Focus that we directly compared it to. The boot is also shorter than the Ford’s as well as shallower as the cargo floor sits higher up.

The interior is better than the last, but again, probably not what you would expect from a $60,000-plus car. It looks adequate, with metal-look trim sections and red dials, but is probably a standard you would expect from the WRX, not the range-topping STi.

Something that is a huge bonus over the last model is the banishment of the aftermarket immobiliser. Owners of the last model may remember the keypad stuck on the dashboard, which needed to receive the correct number sequence or it activated an ear-bursting squeal that seemed to aim at damaging thieves' hearing more than stopping them.

As mentioned, our STi was fitted with the optional BBS alloys and Recaro seats, which push the price to $64,990. Without the wheels the car doesn’t really look the goods.

You can’t help but feel they should be standard on the $59,990 model. The test car also scored the DVD-based satellite-navigation and information centre screen, which works very well but adds a further $2990.

So the STi is a very good car, but a fairly pricey one that's not without its faults. It will be fascinating to see how it lines up against its fiercest rival, Mitsubishi's upcoming Lancer Evolution X.

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