Vail Valley: Racer boys unite: The blistering Subaru WRX STI
Vail, CO, Colorado
Anyone who sees driving as a task that’s about as exciting as vacuuming will find nothing interesting here. But Those who TiVo “Top Gear” on BBC America and have a foot-high stack of auto magazines in the bathroom, listen up: The 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STI will, in fact, tear your face off, so start saving your tip money. You want one.
The rally-derived, super-tuned and frighteningly hostile rendition of the workaday Impreza is officially the best-handling vehicle I’ve ever driven.
Not the most comfortable, or most practical, but absolutely able to complete feats of motoring totally impossible in other automobiles. Turn the wheel 45 degrees at 65 mph and the STI will make a complete right turn. Head to an empty parking lot at night and you can circle the drive-thru espresso stand at the same speed.
And yes, with the exception of the stealth fighter-shaped rear wing and subtle airflow modifications, it will still strike 95 percent of the motoring public as just another Subaru. My dad thought it was the Legacy he drove as a rental earlier this year. The other 5 percent will, invariably, pull up behind you on the highway and flash their lights to race. That STI emblem is like a red shirt to an angry bull – this is the world that STI owners volunteer themselves for.
In its 2011 guise, the new four-door version of the up-tuned WRX has been given a “wide body” look – technically true, compared to the old model, but it’s still not imposing in mass or scale.
The stats also add up to make it, at $34,000, the reigning king of the high-performance, low-cost world: a 305-horsepower turbocharged 2.5-liter Boxer four-cylinder, Brembo brakes, electronic throttle and center differential controls, symmetrical all-wheel drive, 18-inch BBS alloy wheels, aluminum pedals and exceptionally tall, race-oriented seats.
It doesn’t yap or rumble or whoosh like the aftermarket WRX jobs you hear on the streets of Denver, but the proper combination of throttle and that unbelievably heavy clutch will produce searing noise aplenty.
On dry pavement, it’s unstoppable. Wind it up and the rev limiter/gear change warning light and buzzer will be constantly ablaze; the short-throw, six-speed manual snicks off easy changes and you just have to concentrate on running out of horizon. When speed is no longer needed, stomp the Brembos and all forward movement ceases, entirely.
Someone in a Cadillac CTS-V will beat you on a long run, but you’ll nail him in the twisty bits. Guaranteed.
The full 305 horses emerge at 6,000 rpm, so I opted to leave it in third gear and marveled at flat, effortless and gravity defying, neck-snapping cornering. I couldn’t get the rear end loose, as hard as I tried. Tech nerds can also play with the controls to max out vehicle dynamics and throttle response or configure the center differential for more traction.
Unbelievably sticky Dunlop SP Sport tires come standard; swap out to some high-performance winter tires and the all-wheel drive system will help you be the fastest thing on a snow-covered road.
But. Is it easy to use when not rally driving? Barely. That suspension creates an awfully tough ride around town, the clutch will kill your leg in traffic and the flamethrower acceleration seems so pedestrian when restrained by the real world.
The stereo’s also pretty mediocre and the cabin finishings pleasant but straight out of the base, $17,500 Impreza; that’s not the point, clearly. This is a machine purpose-built to devour the road, and those of you who understand will understand.