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First Oz drive: Slicker Subaru STi still stirs the soul

Cult-var: Third-generation STi gains an adjustable centre differential.

Comfier, higher-tech and still blindingly quick, Subaru's MkIII STi hits Oz

8 Feb 2008

SUBARU Australia calls it the ‘Perfect 10’, which refers to ten years of consecutive sales growth in Australia, and it’s the competence and focus of the local management team that has paved the way to further boosting overall sales.

Nick Senior and his team are very good at reading the tea leaves, and this time those attributes have delivered a new Impreza WRX STi that reflects Subaru’s growing maturity.

Subaru Australia has clout at the parent company, because of its sales results and the unambiguous manner in which it targets its objectives and delivers on the tactics.

Senior’s team has been able to get Subaru’s engineers and bean counters to give them exactly the car they need to broaden the audience for the WRX STi, and after a presentation and brief drive, the only obstacle they would seem to face will be supply constraints.

Subaru set new benchmarks for this new model, and by and large it has succeeded. What the new model lacks, however, is that cheeky personality bred in the public eye as owners blasted down the road and around corners in one of the car industry's great cult-cars.

2 center imageThe priorities this time were to improve refinement, comfort and response and reduce noise levels (as well as the possibility of the car being stolen). In short, Subaru won on all fronts. The new car is very impressive.

It may lack the soul of the car it replaces, but if it's supposed to challenge cars like the Audi S4, the Golf R32 or even the mighty BMW M3, then it's well on the way.

The interior treatment remains second-class to its Euro matchmates, but in every other measurable area the 2008 WRX STi is so close it will seriously frighten the Europeans.

The quality and depth of engineering refinement evident in this car is staggering. There is no doubt that lessons learned in the harsh and competitive world of international rallying have become intrinsic elements of the overall improvements in the STi.

There is also no area left untouched in this redesign.

Mechanically there are three major areas of technology which have dramatically changed the way the car performs. They are the engine mapping the transmission and the suspension.

You can now change the ‘engine map’ by twisting a "SI-Drive" rotary dial on the centre console. You have the choice of ‘Intelligent’ offering a smoother power delivery for congested traffic, or freeway motoring. There’s Sport (the default mode) which optimizes performance for day-to-day open-road driving and then there’s Sports Plus, which boost engine revolutions for sharp, sporty driving.

SI-Drive regulates the engine control unit, and fine tunes the electronic throttle control and can be changed while the car is moving.

The multi-mode Driver Control Centre Differential (DCCD) feature comes straight from rally experience, and the controller is again mounted on the centre console. There are three settings: Auto Auto+ and Manual.

Default mode is Auto and works best for sporty driving on high grip surfaces and reduces limited-slip differential impact. The Auto+ setting boosts LSD impact and is best on slippery surfaces. The Manual mode allows the driver to manipulate front/rear torque split to suit individual driver needs.

New front suspension struts provide greater rigidity which improves steering response and stability but the new design also reduces transferred road shock, and NVH. All of which is a major contributor to the car’s change of character.

The rear suspension is all new, and is a double wishbone, low profile design intended to improve refinement and reduce intrusion into the rear load area. Wider track improves footprint and stability. This too helps change the character of the overall car.

There’s a host of small, but significant other changes. The gear shift ‘feel’ is much improved thanks to carbon synchros on 4th and 6th gears. This also creates a shorter stroke movement. The gearshift is now best described as ‘slick’.

The engine features Dual Active Valve Control (AVCS), which is variable valve timing on both the inlet and exhaust vales. This benefits low speed torque, reduces fuel consumption and maintains better stability at idle. The engine now sits 22mm lower in the engine bay, lowering the centre of gravity aiding the balance of the car, and reducing NVH, due to the re-alignment of the powertrain.

Subaru Australia’s clout shows up in the demands Australia’s technical team made on the factory to revise the suspension settings. This has meant better ride comfort, reduced noise levels and much improved secondary ride quality. A big influence on the car’s personality switch.

In the statistics area, power is up by 7.3 per cent torque is increased by 3.8 per cent and fuel economy improved by 11.2 per cent.

In short it’s quick, comfortable and easier to live with. The 2008 WRX STi is much more comfortable as a ‘daily driver’ and will certainly have a much broader appeal than the car it replaces.

Subaru’s road rocket is getting closer and closer to its European competition, and that’s very likely to lead Subaru Australia towards a ‘Perfect 11’.

Read more:

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First drive: New Sube STi banishes boy-racers

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