It seemed fitting that the outgoing Subaru STI had the longest name this side of old British aristocracy. The Subaru Impreza WRX STI was a buildup to a promise that it usually delivered; that by reciting the entire name you wonderfully whittled away with words the sport sedan’s wisdom. Subaru? OK. Impreza? Sure. WRX? Now you have my attention. STI? You’re at 60 mph now. Rad.
Presumably that also reminded people how many cars you had to step over to get to the halo car. The Impreza and Impreza WRX are both fine cars to drive, and even finer to drive everyday. Indeed the WRX, presumably the last sane stop before going whole hog into the STI — which is essentially a rally car for the streets — presented a compelling argument to stop before launching into an expensive proposition.
Even when the 2015 Subaru WRX was released earlier this year, it appeared that the STI had only a narrow scope of buyers to entertain. Shortening the name to the 2015 Subaru STI seemed like a capitulation that Subaru knows now that it won’t persuade normal sedan buyers into the STI’s snug seats. If you’re in the market for one of these things you’re the type that isn’t concerned when “Market Price” appears on a menu — you just want to know how raw that steak can be before they can legally serve it to you.
Raw isn’t entirely undeserved here. Our first taste of the 2015 STI came at Monterey, California, where the Laguna Seca track’s marble-smooth pavement is the type of place a sports sedan should be unleashed. Despite being saddled with the same engine as its predecessor (more on that later) nearly everything in the car’s bones has been changed. The list includes inverted front struts, stiffened cross members, a front stabilizer bar fattened by 3 mm and higher spring rates up front; stiffer sub-frame, springs and better wishbone setup in the back. And voila, the new STI has a 24 percent improvement in lateral stiffness, according to Subaru. On a skidpad, the 2015 Subaru STI will pull 0.98g in cornering, just short of a Porsche 911. Torsional rigidity is up by nearly 40 percent. My neck gets stiff just thinking about it.
Throwing the car around a hairpin or holding on for dear life around a sweeping left-hander is something the STI was made to do, very well in fact. But remember this: engineers considered suspension first, comfort second, lunch third. On streets, it’s apparent that the STI can rattle your fillings loose. On the track, you might be persuaded to remove those yourself in exchange for a few more laps before you head home.
The STI buyer’s tradeoff then is a car that makes hay on a track, and compromises nothing in its DNA on the way. I can appreciate that.
And yet, the STI lulls you into believing that it has manners. The exterior of the car, despite sharing very little with the Impreza looks the part of a daily driver. The side profile offers few cues, outside of the massive wing, of what’s underneath. Body panels have been flared, bulges added, but the styling is very tasteful considering what’s underneath. From the front, the hood scoop is another indication that the STI might be different, but the hawk-eye headlights aren’t overdone, they are inconspicuously squinty and tasteful. Oh, but that wing in the back. Yup, it’s a full foot or so off the deck. Chalk it up to effective marketing, because there’s no one else on the planet that’ll roll another car out of the factory with one of these things on the back.
To step inside is also a thoughtful experience. The cabin is actually bigger than in previous years, with more legroom in the back for rear passengers. There are touches of suede-like material stitched everywhere and the whole instrument panel gives way to better visibility forward. I’d be remiss not to mention that the rear wing is very evident in the rearview mirror, however seeing out of the rear window isn’t massively impacted. The split look backward reminds me of a Prius, which is about the only time a Prius and STI will ever appear in the same sentence.
And in that vein, an STI wagon won’t appear here anytime soon either. This year — and likely a few more — the STI is sedan only, which means something if you live in the northeast or near the Rocky Mountains. (It does to me, by the way.)
Which brings us to the powertrain. The STI’s turbo flat four is already perfectly suited at altitude because forced induction mitigates parasitic horsepower loss where less oxygen is available. If the preceding sentence made sense, feel free to skip the next two. What I mean is by artificially feeding the engine air — as opposed to the way most cars just draw it in naturally — turbocharged engines can pull better in varying conditions than other engines. That partially explains why Subarus are more popular in mountain states and in higher altitudes than in say, the Sun Belt, where oxygen and two-wheel drive do just fine.
But by dropping in last year’s 2.5-liter flat four for 305 horsepower, Subaru signaled that the STI isn’t about power, it’s about handling. And that’s just fine. Mated to the only gearbox option available, a heavy-duty six-speed manual, it’s a philosophical nod to handling over power. And to be fair, this car doesn’t suffer from a lack of horsepower. Running all the way up to 60 mph in around 5 seconds isn’t what’s impressive about the STI, it’s that it can kink your neck on a skid pad before it loses grip.
At more than $35,000 to start (nearly $40,000 in Limited trim) it’s more than $8,000 over the base price of a WRX. That’s a big ask over a car that’s more approachable on the road, and is really good already. But the STI is Subaru’s most-hardcore car they’ve ever built and it gets to that point quickly. Kind of like its new, shorter name.
2015 Subaru STI
Price: $35,290 to start ($35,290 as tested)
Engine: 2.5-liter, turbocharged horizontally opposed four (305 horsepower, 290 lb.-ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel Economy: 17/23 mpg (EPA est.)
Pros: Serious grip and better interior. Quickened steering ratio helps turn in and suspension is massively upgraded.
Cons: Expensive compared to other sport compacts and WRX. Stiff suspension may be hard for some to live with everyday.