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New models - Subaru - Impreza - WRX STi sedan

First Oz drive: STi sizzler

Rally bred: Subaru claims the new STi can accelerate from 0-100km/h in 5.45 seconds.

Subaru's latest rally rocket has returned to the Australian line-up and it's here to stay

14 Dec 2001

SUBARU Australia's end-of-year special delivery, the second generation Impreza WRX STi, has arrived just in time for Christmas - as promised.

It has been more than two years since local WRX fans were last treated to an STi version of the Impreza, but at least this time around the hot Sube will be an ongoing model in the company's line-up.

Originally the car was not due to arrive until early 2002 but Subaru managed to get the Australian production run brought forward, so an initial batch of around 100 cars has made it just in time to fill the Christmas stockings of a select few.

Pricing for the ultimate WRX is $55,130, which makes it more than $7000 cheaper than its predecessor.

It also puts it on a par with the company's other performance offering, the Liberty B4, allowing both cars to slip into the country just shy of the luxury vehicle tax threshold of $55,720.

More significantly, the figure represents a saving of almost $25,000 - or more than 30 per cent - on the cost of the STi's logical rival, the Mitsubishi Ralliart Lancer Evolution VI.

STi stands for Subaru Tecnica International, which is the Japanese car-maker's motorsport and tuning arm.

The new car has picked up a raft of improvements over its predecessor, on top of the refinements associated with the second generation Impreza on which it is based.

The phase II EJ20 2.0-litre turbocharged boxer engine has been significantly re-engineered with stronger internal componentry, including a semi-closed deck cylinder block, stronger con rods and big ends, revised camshaft timing and lift, as well as a larger IHI turbocharger and intercooler.

It is also fitted with Subaru's version of variable valve timing called Active Valve Control System, which is claimed to improve torque delivery and engine breathing.

Engine outputs are down 9kW and 30Nm on the Japanese-specification STi due to a re-mapping of the engine management ECU to cope with the lower standard 98 RON Australian fuel - the Japanese version is tuned to run on 100 RON fuel.

Maximum power is 195kW at 6000rpm while peak torque of 343Nm arrives at 4000rpm. The previous model's Japanese regulation 180km/h speed limiter has been removed this time, replaced by a higher artificial limit of 235km/h.

Other key mechanical changes include larger 17-inch alloy wheels, a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission - which helps to offset the extra 200kg of weight in the new car - a Brembo brake package with ABS and Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD) and the addition of a front axle Suretrac limited slip differential (LSD).

The inverted strut suspension remains due to the increased bending rigidity it offers over a conventional strut setup.

Exterior changes include WRC-style triple-lamp headlights, a unique grille design and a taller bonnet scoop to channel more air onto the larger intercooler.

The STi's traditional signatures are retained for the new car, including gold alloy wheels, hot pink STi badging and the plastic covers that replace the WRX's trademark fog lights.

Paint colours are limited to white, silver, WRC blue and blue/black.

The interior features blue and black race-style seats with matching door trim inserts, a revised instrument cluster with centre-mounted tachometer, red stitching on the leather Momo steering wheel, gear knob and handbrake lever, and a metal finish gearshift surround.

Standard equipment extends to dual front airbags, semi-automatic climate control air-conditioning, remote central locking, electric windows and mirrors, cruise control and an in-dash six-disc CD player.

Security is handled by a dual stage PIN operated keypad alarm system - as used in the Liberty B4 - that provides six points of immobilisation including an anti-hijack mode.

When the STi was last available in Australia it was a strictly limited edition proposition with just 799 units offered across two separate runs - one of coupes and the other of sedans.

Although the new STi is not a limited edition model, supply will still be capped in terms of the production capacities of the factory in Japan.

Europe is also set to receive the second generation STi as an official model, rather than as a grey import, so extra demand will be placed on the production of what has never been a high volume car.

Subaru has forecast sales of 600 STis during the next 12 months, which effectively equates to the extent of Australia's allocation.

After the initial batch of cars, supply will roll in at a rate of around 50 per month.

The company is currently holding about 185 orders for the new STi, which it intends to fill as quickly as possible, before settling into a more consistent rate of supply and demand.

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

WITH the hype that often surrounds the arrival of high performance models such as the new STi, it can be hard not to have unrealistic expectations of the driving experience.

On a positive note for Subaru Australia, the latest incarnation of the STi tradition does not disappoint.

A few laps around Baskerville Raceway in Tasmania was scarcely enough to become familiar with the tricky circuit layout, let alone come away with a full appreciation of the STi's potential.

But it is definitely fast, although perhaps a fraction behind Mitsubishi's Ralliart Lancer Evolution VI Tommi Makinen Edition.

Stopping is not a problem either, with the Brembo package taking the braking performance to another level again from the regular WRX.

In fact one of the cars survived a long day of hot laps with rally star Cody Crocker behind the wheel, taking the media contingent for rides just to show what it can really do! It is a familiar story from behind the wheel if you have been in a WRX before. The traits are the same - a good, adjustable seating position and well placed controls that fit the average size driver to a tee, allowing you to concentrate on extracting every ounce of performance while exercising complete control.

The ride is quite firm but no more so than you would expect in a high performance model. However, it does have a higher degree of compliance across normal road conditions than the Lancer Evo, which makes the car a more liveable everyday proposition.

The close ratio gearbox is relatively easy to use, with a positive shift and short throw, although it does require some familiarity to get the right gear every time after stepping out of your average manual car, especially during rapid changes.

The introduction of a front limited slip differential is a significant change over the old car and a noticeable improvement.

When the LSD kicks in there is some initial torque steer, noticeable particularly when the turbo comes on boost, but it is really just letting you know that it is now working.

You have to adjust your cornering line slightly via the amount of steering lock that is wound on when the LSD activates, but it lets you get on the power earlier and harder, and helps dispense with much of the understeer inherent in four-wheel drive cars.

For a mid-$50,000 entry fee the STi is unmatched on a bang-for-your-buck scale. It offers a reassuring combination of performance and safety, coupled with a high level of standard equipment and the road presence that comes with the STi banner and its signatures, particularly the gold wheels.

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