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Subaru Impreza WRX STi


Subaru's Impreza WRX STi never leaves you in any doubt that you're driving a seriously potent car.

Even burbling around the city, the car feels muscular, its chassis alive, its powertrain docile yet giving a strong impression that the docility is a mere veneer.

Nail the throttle and the veneer is blasted away, the car coming explosively to life.

And explosively seems the only word capable of coming close to describing the STi in open-lunged, full accelerative charge.

It'll deal to the benchmark 0-100km/h sprint in a shade under six seconds, but it's the way it does it that takes your breath away.

Massive power and torque arrive seemingly instantly - if there is turbo lag, it's well masked - and you're off on the ride of your life.

For sheer adrenalin-rush acceleration, the STi has few peers among standard cars, certainly not at the bargain price of $65,000 - a significant factor in the limited edition STi's sales success. Auto Trader understands most have been pre-sold through to September. Buyers anticipating an $80,000 pricetag for a car that looks as good and goes as stunningly-well just sign the cheque when they discover the real price.

There's no question, though, that the STi has the potential to bite the unwary or the heavy-handed; nor is it a car for a novice driver.

The 206kW of maximum power - delivered at 6000rpm - and the peak torque of 343Nm which arrives in full blast at 3800rpm are on instant tap, the torque in g-force generating chunks from much lower in the rev range.

Nail the throttle, and the power and torque arrive with a rush, and if you try to manhandle the car you can get into some awkward situations.

The STi likes a light and sensitive touch. Get rough with it and it quickly tells you where to get off.

Here's the scenario. You turn it hard into a second gear corner, pouring on what seems the appropriate amount of lock.

As you reach the corner's apex you push the drilled alloy accelerator pedal to the floor. The revs rise, the engine snarls and wham! the torque arrives and does a pretty good job of trying to wrench the steering wheel out of your hands as the car tries to straighten the front wheels from the exaggeratedly acute angle you've turned them to.

The result is a lurching exit from the corner as the STi castigates you for your heavy-handedness.

The key is a light touch, a gentle turn-in, keeping the angle shallower than you'd use in the average front-wheel drive car and letting the all-wheel drive chassis do the work.

And how well it does that work. The STi tracks straight and true, the rear wheels biting and helping keep the nose pointing where you want it to.

The steering is direct, nicely weighted and communicative, and on a winding road the car is simply superb, changing direction crisply and effortlessly with virtually no body roll.

Overcoming your desire to use too much steering lock takes a few kilometres to achieve but once you give yourself a good talking to and let the STi do the bulk of the steering, progress becomes smooth and very rapid - even keeping to the 100km/h limit.

The nimble chassis and the car's poise mean speeds for many corners remain close to or the same as speeds on the straight. It's only the tighter corners that require much use of the strong, large-diameter brakes, and even then it's generally just a touch to brush off some speed to settle the car for the corner.

The meaty torque also helps make progress brisk, allowing the car to recover optimum pace very quickly after slow corners. It's strong enough to allow the STi to accelerate well even in sixth gear. For most running on winding roads the car can be left in fourth.

Corners for which we'd normally shift down to second were taken comfortably in third.

The manual six-speed's gearshift is a little notchy and firm but except in city running the torque means you change gears much less frequently than you would in many cars.

The ride is firm. At city speeds on uneven urban roads it's harsh, but smoothes out at open road pace.

The big 215/40 Pirelli tyres provide excellent grip but can tramline on bumpy city streets.

The race-style bucket seats are comfortable and provide ample lateral support in fast open road running.

The big rear spoiler gives the STi a striking look and has an unexpected bonus, ridding the STi of one of the less potent Impreza models' most irritating points. The STi spoiler's weight means the bootlid now shuts with a reassuring "thunk" rather than a tinny "clang."

There's air-conditioning, a Compact Disc sound system, power windows and exterior mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift lever knob and a comprehensive security system.

The STi has sufficient creature comforts to keep its occupants happy; but its real purpose is to provide real driving enjoyment and near-supercar performance at an astonishingly-low price.

I don't think I'd like to use one day-in and day-out as a rush hour commuter. It's a little harsh and the drivetrain a little too jerky to make stop/start urban crawling much fun.

But settle into the sculpted, cloth-upholstered seats, peer out over that outrageous bonnet scoop and unleash the engine and chassis on a demanding road...

There can be few greater automotive pleasures than those offered by the Impreza STi.

Words and pictures by Mike Stock

Auto Trader New Zealand