Car reviews - Subaru - Impreza - WRX STi sedan
Addictive performance, improved driveability, exhaust note, grip
Room for improvement
Fussy new styling, outdated interior, still no side airbags, tyre noise, minimal performance gains
2 Jun 2006
By CHRIS HARRIS
SUBARU’S WRX STi is undoubtedly the king of street credibility when it comes to outright performance and value-for-money. With a $56,990 price tag (up $360), there aren’t many cars around that can keep up with it – apart from Mitsubishi’s $56,789 Lancer Evo IV, now that it’s a permanent member of the range.
With a huge cult following that many manufacturers can only dream of, it’s understandable that WRX and STi fans get excited when they hear that Subaru is about to make a significant change to its beloved cult cars.
Prior to the unveiling of the latest WRX and STi, enthusiast websites were buzzing with rumours about Subaru’s plans to adopt the American-spec 2.5-litre engine. Die-hard fans would have hardly slept as they imagined the official power outputs.
A short time later, the same websites published unofficial photos of the 2006 Impreza range, including the STi, at an exclusive unveiling in Japan. Around the world, fans received their second taste of Subaru’s new, aviation-inspired three-piece front-end styling – which all began with the B9, Subaru’s first full-size SUV, that is bound for Australia later this year.
When the MY06 STi was launched in September 2005, people finally saw its bold front-end in the metal, which immediately created controversy.
So too did the power specifications.
With an additional half-litre of engine capacity, maximum power increased to 206kW – up a mere 11kW from 195kW but at a lower 5600rpm - but otherwise the same figure as early, limited-edition STis.
Torque gains were more respectable, improving by 14 per cent from 343Nm to 392Nm, and starting at 4000rpm.
If STi buyers thought they had grounds for complaint, WRX buyers were left feeling even more disappointed, as the Rex gained just 1kW and 20Nm of torque.
Subaru’s response was that its hero cars had improved in driveability across the rev range.
During our week driving the STi, we’d have to agree. The car felt easier to live with than its predecessors.
Historically, STis have been criticised for not offering much below 4000rpm, having a narrow on-boost powerband that was unusable on a daily basis without breaking the law, and being too hardcore for most drivers to comfortably live with – unless the driver in question was a dedicated STi enthusiast.
The MY06 STi, meanwhile, has matured to become a more civilised and compliant sports car without loosing its hardcore rally roots. With host of technical changes added at each of its model year updates, think of it as a better-trained pit bull terrier.
With the addition of almost 50Nm, the STi is quite happy to cruise around in sixth gear, or cleanly pull away in fifth from 50km/h.
And, thanks to those extra cubes, you’re not left looking at your watch, waiting for the turbo to spool up so you can slingshot away.
Other civilities include a slicker gearshift, with smoother and more direct changes possible thanks to the use of carbon on the fourth, fifth and sixth gear synchronizer rings.
A drive-by-wire electronic throttle has also been included for a more linear feel under acceleration and deceleration. Unlike other sports cars with drive-by-wire, the STi is not overly sensitive or jerky.
So is the STi quicker? Well, officially no, but you’d argue otherwise when driving the car, regardless of your skill level.
Officially, the MY06 STi, at 1495kg, is 20kg heavier at 1495kg and will dash from 0-100km/h in 5.4 seconds – pretty much the same since the ‘bug-eyed’ MY02 model, Subaru Australia’s first permanently available STi.
The MY05 STi’s most significant update was its tricky driver-controlled centre differential (DCCD) for the all-wheel drive system, allowing the car’s handling characteristics to be quickly adjusted via a control between the front seats.
This system adjusted power bias between the front and rear axles from anywhere between a locked 50:50 front/rear torque split to a maximum 35:65 split.
MY06’s DCCD system is further refined with the addition of a dual mechanical and electronically controlled limited-slip active centre differential, taking its handling to an even higher level.
Said to improve steering stability, traction and control when cornering, the LSD can continuously react to changes in torque between front and rear wheels.
Maximum front/rear torque split has been reduced to a 41:59 split, minimising excessive oversteer. A steering wheel angle sensor has also been added to signal the driver’s intended direction.
For most of us, it’s probably best to leave the system in automatic mode, which is reportedly the fastest way of getting around corners.
Apart from the controversial front-end styling, the MY06 STi and WRX share the same longer, sleeker bonnet and smaller bonnet scoop, which is said to be more aerodynamically efficient. The STi goes further with a new aluminium roof spoiler and a rear underbody diffuser to improve high-speed stability.
While the additional bodywork certainly adds visual distinction and technical benefits, few tangible gains are offered for the majority of STi buyers.
During a weekend trip in the STi, the constant whistling from the new roof-mounted spoiler and side mirrors only added to the already-fatiguing roar of the track-oriented Bridgestone Potenza RE070 tyres. If the tyres didn’t offer so much damn grip we’d consider changing them.
Speaking of sound, but on a desirable note, fans will be pleased to hear that the STi’s rabbit-burrow-sized exhaust has further increased in diameter for more flat-four aural pleasure to compete with the aftermarket systems found on every second WRX.
In a driving sense, everything else about the STi otherwise remains the same, meaning the steering is razor-sharp, requiring full-concentration and two- hands on the wheel at all times.
It's still addictively quick, easily inducing nausea to unwary, faint-hearted passengers at the sudden surge of turbo boost, and it has the same fade-resistant Brembo brakes with sports ABS, all the while turning heads from the hoon crowd like never before.
The interior, conversely, receives visual differentiation only a trainspotter or MY05 owner would notice. A redesigned steering wheel, alarm keypad relocated from near the handbrake to the right side of the steering wheel alongside the manual intercooler spray button, relocated cupholders and mildly updated climate control switchgear in line with the rest of the Subaru model range just about sum up the changes.
With minimal interior updates come the same interior grumbles. It's all very blue, with a cramped back seat that proves uncomfortable for adults on long journeys and doesn’t fold down (there’s only a ski-port).
Equally as frustrating, the STi doesn’t have a trip computer, which means true fuel economy calculations require the use of mathematics. And, unlike the rest of the MY06 Impreza range, the STi doesn’t receive front side airbags.
Moans aside, the interior still means business with the usual well-shaped sports seats, centrally-located tachometer with adjustable shift light, red-lit dash, aluminium pedals and red stitching highlights.
Also new for STi and WRX is the addition of high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights with pop-up jet washers. Subaru obviously took notice of criticism of the poor lights.
The MY06 Impreza’s new front-end styling may be a continual topic of conversation but, whether we like it or not, nobody can argue with the STi’s performance, price, street credibility and significantly-improved road manners.
Of course, fans will continue to speculate enthusiastically on future performance figures. Now that the STi’s engine has an extra half-litre of capacity, here’s hoping that we’ll eventually hear of a jaw-dropping power increase without the loss of driveability – officially.
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