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Rally rocket: Petter Solberg will unveil the WRC concept next week.

Subaru's upcoming STi cult-car will go soft, just like the WRX upon which it's based

5 Sep 2007

SUBARU has admitted the next-generation Impreza STi will go soft – just like the MkIII Impreza WRX hatch upon which it is based.

In a move that could disenfranchise many hardcore Subaru performance fans but is in line with the Japanese maker’s new strategy to broaden the appeal of its iconic turbocharged rally/road cars, the company has confessed that its redesigned STi sports flagship will be softer than the sedan it replaces – but not as soft as the all-new Impreza WRX launched last week.

Originally due on sale here late this year, the new STi hatch is expected to hit Australian Subaru dealers from December ahead of an official January release and following its global debut at the Tokyo motor show in October.

It will replace the current Impreza WRX STi sedan ($56,990), which still finds about 40 new customers per month, but is expected to better justify its $17,000 premium over the WRX by bringing exclusive new styling and even greater gains in performance and handling.

The latter will be aided by the third-generation ZR1-series Impreza hatch’s more rigid yet slightly lighter five-door bodyshell, which reportedly makes the new STi quicker on the racetrack than its four-door forebear – despite offering vastly improved refinement and ride quality.

A leather-clad luxury version of the next-gen STi could also become available for the first time, priced close to the circa-$66,000 STi-tuned Liberty.

“The target market has changed – customers want performance but with ride comfort,” said Subaru Australia managing director Nick Senior. “The current WRX and STi are less comfortable than Petter Solberg’s WRC car. The new WRX addresses those that are no longer willing to trade ride comfort for performance, while the STi will cater for those that are. Ride comfort is the new direction.” According to Subaru Australia marketing general manager Graeme Woodlands, the new STi “will be more luxurious, especially in terms of ride quality – but it will still be hardcore”. He also said the new WRX and STi’s more refined ride would attract many more buyers than it turned away.

The staff manager of Subaru’s Total Vehicle Performance Integration Department, ride/handling executive Katsuyoshi Tanaka, admitted the stiffer new STi would be quicker still if was fitted with suspension as firm as the current model’s.

2 center imageLeft: Facelifted Tribeca.

Mr Tanaka said the softer ride/handling set-up was in line with the new direction Petter Solberg’s new Impreza hatch-based WRC racer will take in 2008, following its debut in concept guise at next week’s Frankfurt motor show.

Asked if the STi’s 2.5-litre turbocharged boxer engine would match the reported 422Nm peak torque output of its direct rival, Mitsubishi’s all-new Lancer Evo X sedan, which also makes its world debut in Tokyo next month, Mr Tanaka said: “Maybe we can get 420Nm too”.

He said the STi would be launched with a six-speed manual transmission only, but that a double-clutch automated manual transmission, similar to that in the upcoming Evo and M3, was also on the cards.

“Of course, we have studied SMG, DSG and CVT in addition to a six-speed manual,” he said. “But a horizontally opposed engine is much harder than an inline four-cylinder to engineer transmissions with. We are working on an alternative to a manual transmission and my personal preference is DSG over SMG.” The MkIII STi will follow the launch of a facelifted Tribeca SUV, which Subaru dubs a “mid-term upgrade” despite the fact it comes just prior to Christmas – barely 12 months after its Australian launch.

A direct response to criticism in the US, its largest market, the revised Tribeca seven-seater brings less fussy front and rear styling, a new 3.6-litre six-cylinder boxer engine, revised suspension, a recalibrated five-speed auto and improved third-row seat access.

In March 2008 comes the third generation of Subaru’s Forester, a model that represents the culmination of a 63 per cent renewal of Subaru’s model line-up over the next six months.

Subaru will have replaced its entire model line-up within a further 12 months, when the fifth-generation Liberty and its crossover cousin, the fourth-generation Outback, go on sale here.

What's coming from Subaru:
MY08 Tribeca Series II Dec
MY08 Impreza STi MkIII Jan 2008
MY08 Forester MkIII Mar 2008
MY09 Impreza sedan MkIII Sept 2008
MY09 Liberty MkV Mar 2009
MY09 Outback MkIV Mar 2009

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Subaru kills off Japan's Impreza WRX

First official look: Impreza goes mainstream

Impreza reborn - again

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