Subaru New Zealand can thank Possum Bourne and used imports for helping make the Impreza WRX and STI variants a real favourite here. The Possum factor has sadly faded, but the appeal of the wildest Impreza is still strong.
While the Lancer Evo has been numbed slightly with the inclusion of too-clever all-wheel drive, the sub has always retained a rugged, beastly quality.
Household notoriety and some serious hoon credential are all well and good, but in an auto-dominated market, the STI’s snappy six-speed manual has restricted the car’s reach in terms of sales.
So, enter – best you sit down for this – the Subaru Impreza STI automatic.
Subaru NZ managing director, Wallis Dumper, suggests the auto will boost STI sales by 25% and will represent 40% of the mix between two and three-pedal versions. This all makes sense; a hard-edged performance car bred from the super stages of WRC isn’t the most convenient drive in peak traffic. But there are a few hurdles between an STI for your mum and sales success.
Both manual and auto versions are available in hatch or sedan configuration, which presents an issue for those keen to secure some of STI's heritage and spirit. The hatch is easily the better looking of the two; while the more traditional Impreza design, the sedan has a few unresolved slips of the pencil at the rear. The STI sedan may have always been based on a fairly basic compact car, but only this latest version has been based on a rather unattractive one. Here’s the rub though, if you can live with the looks, the sedan is the one you’ll want to drive.
The sedan incorporates a cackling, sports-focused exhaust that finally sees the boxer growl return to Subaru’s hero, where the hatch offers a completely different muffler arrangement that disappointingly suppresses the exhaust note. The chassis also feels very marginally less rigid. Forgivable; I’d probably still opt for the hatch on looks alone.
The suspension has been beautifully fettled with the inclusion of pillow-ball suspension arms (production equivalent of rose-joints), stiffer roll bars and spring rates, which all improve the sharpness and road-holding. When this excellent chassis and suspension is combined with the low centre of gravity of the six-speed manual’s 221kW @ 6000rpm / 407Nm @ 4000rpm boxer engine, you’re under no illusion this is a very serious performance car. 100km/h comes in 5.2 seconds, mechanical grip is other-worldly and there is a suppleness to the ride that gives you the confidence to push comfortably harder. Put simply, this is a $63,490 car that will comfortably see off supercars on our roads.
The auto on the other hand, well, it’s left lacking. You pay less ($61,490), but you get less. Less torque for a start. To save the drive train, the five-speed automatic runs just 350Nm @ 3000rpm, so understandably there’s less performance, 0-100 comes only a fraction off the standard WRX’s 6-second time. But for me, the biggest omission is the adjustable sports centre differential, which is what gives the manual STI that epic traction.
Unfortunately all the things you’re missing are everything that has made the STI great. The automatic instantly feels lethargic, slow even. The flappy paddles go some way to retain some sportiness, but they don’t allow the engine braking and hard downshifts the manual seems to thrive on. The twin clutch transmission in Mitsubishi’s Evo X is vastly better than the STI’s self-shifter. In fact, given the conventional WRX now receives the STI’s wide body, wider track and previous STI suspension, the auto STI is actually less of a driver’s car than the base $46,990 rexxy.
Still, your left leg will get a break and in that traffic you’ll have USB compatible, 10-speaker audio, Bluetooth connectivity, cruise and climate control to play with. But you can escape that, while an automatic option finally gives softies a taste of Subaru Technica International’s rallying past, it undeservingly buys into of the sporting reputation STI has built up. Possum would be rolling in his grave.
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