Sharp and sophisticated new Subaru road rocket
The camera doesn’t lie – or so the old saying goes.
Then there’s always an exception that proves the rule.
But before we get too bogged down in sayings your mother told you, let’s state that in the case of Subaru’s new Impreza WRX STi, the camera does lie.
The publicity pictures pumped out by the Japanese manufacturer last year made the new take on the four-wheel drive pocket supercar look decidedly bland – uninteresting even, scarcely the stuff to set the pulse racing.
In true STi fashion there would be plenty of get up and go and finely-honed handling, but the looks were blands-ville, the car looking like a melding of BMW 1-Series touches with standard Japanese offend-no-one hatchback styling.
But the first good look at the car in the metal at a sun-drenched Taupo Motorsport Park last week revealed a very different proposition.
The camera in those 2007 publicity sneak shots may not have exactly lied – it just didn’t tell the whole truth.
I still find the new-look standard Impreza an unprepossessing car, but so was the old base model (wisely Subaru didn’t bring the real base model here) compared with its quirky and vaguely menacing STi counterpart.
The new car is much more muscular, much more impressive than the early pics might have suggested.
There are big wheelarch flares that extend in a sort of sculpted shelf to underline the grille.
There are big wheels, a discreet but purposeful rooftop rear spoiler and four tailpipes – two on each side.
The car looks like business, as indeed it proved itself to be in too brief, two-lap sprints on a section of racetrack, with Porsche racer Jody Vincent riding shotgun.
There’s mumbo aplenty. The turbocharged 2.5-litre boxer four develops 15 more kW than the old model’s. The output is now 221kW and peak torque rises from 392Nm to 407Nm.
Those outputs drive all four wheels through a symmetrical All Wheel Drive transmission and a six-speed close ratio manual gearbox.
The 18-inch alloy wheels wear 245/40R18 tyres. BBS wheels, also 18-inch, are optional on the Spec R model.
Only the STi’s bonnet, roof, hatch opening and front door panels are the same as those on other Impreza models.
Subaru says the rear spoiler optimises the balance between the front and the rear and an aerodynamically curved front air dam helps minimise lift forces and contributes to maintaining vehicle stability at high speeds.
Seven exterior colours are available: Obsidian black pearl; pure white; spark sliver metallic; dark gray metallic; lightning red; midnight blue pearl (only for the WRX STI); WR blue mica.
The vehicle information display constantly shows outside temperature, average fuel consumption and time. And the audio display is placed nearer the top of the dashboard for improved visibility and functionality.
The front bucket seats use a combination of Alcantara fabric and leather; Recaro custom sports seats are available on the Spec R model.
Power tilt and telescopic steering comes with a three-spoke genuine leather wheel. Electro-luminescent instrumentation is used.
An extended wheelbase and widened track compared to the previous STi provide optimal dimensions for top-drawer handling and road holding.
The wheelbase is longer by 85mm to 2625mm, the front track is 40mm wider at 1530mm, and the rear track at 1540mm is 45mm wider than the previous model’s.
Shortening of the front and rear overhangs has reduced yaw moments of inertia, and enabled highly stable handling.
Cabin space has been improved, but the gross weight has remained nearly the same as in the previous model through streamlined body construction.
The front differential has a torque-sensitive limited slip differentia; the rear differential employs a Torsen LSD.
Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-DRIVE) regulates the Engine Control Unit (ECU) and the electronic throttle control, allowing the driver to select three different modes of driving: Intelligent, Sport, and Sport Sharp.
The multi-mode Driver’s Control Centre Differential (DCCD) enables the driver to choose from different modes of control for the centre differential.
The multi-mode Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) also provides three different modes that the driver can choose from to experience a wider range of driving enjoyment, while always maintaining the safety features of VDC.
The combination of SI-DRIVE, Multi-mode DCCD and Multi-mode VDC means that the new WRX STI can be configured, at the touch of a button, to create a bespoke driving experience to suit the conditions, skill and driving style of the driver.
The STi has inverted MacPherson strut front suspension and newly designed double-wishbone rear suspension.
The Impreza WRX STi costs $59,990, and the Spec R’s $64,990 price includes BBS 18-inch aluminium alloy forged 18-spoke wheels and Recaro Alcantara/leather sports front seats.
On initial acquaintance and with a total of four laps and three runs through a slalom course, the new Impreza seems to deliver on the promise its purposeful looks make.
Certainly, locking the centre diff in a 50:50 split gives the car crisper and more aggressive bite in corners.
NZ rally champion and some-time Production Racing ace Sam Murray – on hand to drive model launch attendees on hot lap rides and show would be racer journalists just how hard the car can be driven – reckons it’s a big improvement over his current STi.He says it rides better, handles more sharply and is more forgiving than the much harsher older car.
We wait with eagerness to try the new STi on favourite roads.