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

Launch Story

Subaru logo7 Feb 2008

By GEORGIA OCONNELL

We like:
Improved refinement and ride quality, SI-Drive engine management system, centre differential control system, slicker gearshift, improved braking, outright performance

We don't like:
The fact there's no sedan version, nothing much else

By JOHN CRAWFORD 08/02/2008

LET'S cut to the character analysis. The 2008 WRX STi is no longer the brash, uncultured, in-your-face teenager with attitude.

It’s now a hip 30-something with 1.5 children (0.5 is on the way), who enjoys Pinot Noir rather than a beer with a schnaps chaser. Corinne Bailey Rae rather than Silverchair.

Such is life. Everything grows up. So, has STi MkIII been emasculated? No way, it’s just completely different to Version 2.

We’re driving the WRX STi on the road first, before finishing the day with a few laps of the flat, monotone Symmons Plains race circuit. And while it’s fun to contemplate thrashing around the empty track it’s the road course which shows what the Subaru engineers were chasing with Version 3 of this classic cult-car.

In the first 2km along Tasmania’s A1 you notice two things instantly. It rides more comfortably, with less lurch and bump-through and the secondary ride is very smooth for a high-performance car from Japan.

In those first few minutes you know the 2008 WRX STi is nothing like its predecessor. But, that’s okay. Subaru wants to broaden the appeal of the car and while it may have left current owners standing in the dust, it will open up a new market. And they’d be people who might consider a European sports sedan like the Audi S4 or the VW Golf R32.

The basic recipe hasn’t changed. It’s powerful, fast and handles very well. It’s sharp, responsive and grips the road like it’s glued on. It’s just easier to drive and more comfortable in the bargain.

While the occupants are better insulated and isolated from the harsh feedback you experienced in Version 2, this car is nonetheless responsive and allows you to feel completely in touch with the road and driving conditions.

Leaving the SI-Drive in the (default) Sport mode and the DCCD in the (default) Auto mode the car becomes predictable, friendly and smooth. These settings will be fine for day-to-day use, and we think you are unlikely to change, unless the driving environment demands it.

This is technology ‘managing’ your driving. You get optimized performance, optimized grip and yet you still feel in complete control. That’s because with the twist of two dials on the centre console you can completely change the character of the car.

Spinning the SI-Drive dial to Sport# means you get higher engine revs and highly responsive throttle control, because this setting regulates both the engine control unit, and the electronic throttle.

Conversely, when you select ‘Intelligent’, you get gentle, smooth power delivery in congested city traffic, and more stable idle speed.

The Multi-Mode Driver Control Centre Differential (DCCD) comes straight from ProDrive’s rally-developed cars.

This control changes the power delivery to all four wheels to give increased grip on slippery surfaces (Auto+) or the Manual setting allows the driver to increase or decrease the front-to-rear torque split to whatever you need in sharp, sporty driving over indifferent surfaces.

Quite frankly, the technological benefits from these two systems are amazing, and impressive – whether you’re on the road, or the track.

A few quick laps around the circuit and a limited opportunity to ‘play’ with the settings gives you excellent flexibility to ‘massage’ the car’s character to suit how you’re driving.

The DCCD options allow you to achieve maximum grip on the track or you can tune it to suit your own style. However, even with the DCCD employed to manage the car it never feels overly intrusive.

The changes to the six-speed gearbox to shorten the stroke, and to smooth the path of the gearstick, are equally impressive. The shift action is clean, slick and positive. You will love changing gears in this car.

STi retains Brembo brakes. The rear brake calliper piston size was also increased 14 per cent to provide a better front-rear balance, however, one of the most significant improvements was made to the brake booster and master-cylinder.

Tie-rods are now used to eliminate booster shell distortion under hard braking and the master cylinder-diameter has been decreased for a 30 per cent increase in braking pressure. This has improved brake linearity and response, and the improvements were very evident driving on the racetrack.

So, driving the STi on road and track gave us a good opportunity to decide whether the latest changes had improved car, or destroyed an icon. In our humble opinion Subaru has kept all the good bits and improved everything to the power of 10.

This is a very impressive sports sedan from a company whose rally success appears to have bred a significant integrity into the third version of one of the world’s most lusted-after cult cars.

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