I was a month away from turning 25 and I decided to go for a bike ride, one that would change my life. No, I didn’t find a prophet, but I certainly spent some profits. On my way down Great South Rd I spotted a pair of blue Imprezas with gold wheels, both for sale. Both were version IVs, both had less than 11,000km on the clock, and the one I wanted was the 2-door coupe Type R, one of only four blue ones in the country at the time.
I had to hide this decision at the time with some strategic lying to the other half because it involved biking back home to collect my Legacy RS RA to offer as a trade-in, and I didn’t want a mere girlfriend from talking me out of a purchase as important as this! Dropping the Legacy off and returning in a standard Impreza loan car could only be accomplished by saying I’d had gearbox problems and had left it to be repaired.
The Type R was $53,000 and fortunately I had my own business as a composer so writing off a chunk of it as a promotional car as I took clients on track days, scaring them into giving me more work, made it affordable.
I had more fun in that WRX STI than you’d ever imagine. Track days, grasskhanas, motorkhanas, club events — you can even see me in the video High Octane 2000 blatting around Pukekohe. It was the best car I’d ever owned, and have ever owned.
But that’s just me reminiscing, because since then six iterations of WRXs have been carefully fettled under the STI banner, and this is the one that recaptures the crown in the Evo vs WRX STI battle in my opinion.
This Spec R is the top of the line model (for the moment — Subaru has announced a Spec C). The jewels in the handling crown are the differentials, the drivetrain and SI-drive. Whereas in my version IV STI I had a dial that would vary the front:rear splt 50:50 to 40:60, the new STI has a multi-mode driver-controlled centre differential (DCCD). The front wheels have a torque-sensitive limited-slip differential, the rear has a Torsen LSD, and the centre one is controlled using a button and switches near the gearstick.
It can be left in Auto for everyday driving, Auto+ for driving on slippery roads where more traction is needed, Auto- for sharper handling in road driving, or Manual where the driver can adjust the torque 50:50 through to 41:59 rear-biased torque.
Sounds clever? Add in Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-Drive) which regulates the electronic throttle and you can tune the drive to your mood. Leave it in Intelligent mode and it will give you the best economy; flick it to Sports mode and the car sharpens up a little for some light duty ‘enthusiastic’ driving; flick it across to SI and the 2.5-litre turbocharged boxer engine responds much more aggressively, offering maximum power and torque at low throttle levels. That’s 221kW and 407Nm of torque, 15 more of each than the version 9.
The engine is a symphony perfectly describing a frenzied assault on your senses. The turbo is 24 violins and violas rising in a frenetic glissando just before the cymbals crash and the trombones cause the scenery to blur. If I had to represent the Subaru’s acceleration on a musical stave I would write fz — forzando — a sudden and loud accent.
Rapid progress is made through the six-speed close-ratio gearbox, each slick change punctuated by the briefest of pauses as you engage a new cog. In-gear acceleration in third is astonishing. It’s truly one of the fastest point-to-point road cars I’ve driven, and the inclusion of a shift-light is welcome. Deceleration courtesy of 17-inch Brembo brake disks and callipers is also extreme.
Unusually for Subaru (or any manufacturer nowadays), there’s the ability to completely disable the VDC (traction and stability control), though ABS is retained. There’s also an intermediate step called Traction mode where the time period between the car detecting slippage and VDC kicking in is lengthened. It’s obviously aimed at the clubsport fraternity, then!
The seats in the Spec R are deep Recaro buckets that counter the g-forces generated when two pairs of 245/40R18 tyres are asked to change the STI’s direction. These sit beneath flared arches that complete a bodykit full of attitude, from the quad exhaust pipes and large roof-mounted spoiler at the back to the deep air dam at the front.
As per the WRX (reviewed here), the version 10 has completely new dimensions with a wider and longer wheelbase for extra stability, and a newly designed double-wishbone rear suspension. The centre of gravity is 22mm lower in the engine, again increasing stability.
If you’re purchasing a WRX STI, fuel economy probably isn’t front of mind, but we achieved 10.6l/100km with some sensible driving against Subaru’s quoted 10.3l/100km. This is over 8% better than the version 9.
As well as six airbags and a 5-star ANCAP crash rating for your own safety, the WRX STI comes with an alarm, immobiliser and DataDot security for your car’s safety.
I’m not a huge fan of the looks, but then I never was of my version IV. My opinion is that driving a car like this should be mostly about the fun you’re having behind the wheel, and after driving it around Taupo on the launch day a couple of months ago I promptly asked whether I could buy one. It’s that good. The waiting list was out to August, so I’ll re-evaluate my finances later. Until then I’ll be left with the melody of that turbo boxer’s furious song resounding in my head.
Click through to the next page to read full specs of the Subaru Impreza WRX STI Spec R version 10.
Price: $64,990 (Spec R, includes 18-spoke BBS wheels and Recaro seats), $59,990 (WRX STI)
What we like
- Safety features and capability
What we don’t like
- Mediocre stereo
- 18-spoke BBS Spec R wheels will be a nightmare to clean
- Lots of road noise from the Dunlop SP600 tyres
Words and photos Darren Cottingham
- 2.5 litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged “Boxer” engine — 221 kWs @ 6000 rpm; 407 Nm @ 4000 rpm
- 6-speed manual gearbox
- Symmetrical All Wheel Drive Transmission
- Driver Controlled Centre Differential — multi mode operation
- Front helical limited slip differential
- Rear Torsen limited slip differential
- Quick ratio rack and pinion steering with power assistance
- Inverted MacPherson strut front suspension
- Double wishbone multi link rear suspension
- Brembo 17 inch ventilated disc brakes
- Multi mode vehicle dynamics control
- 18 inch alloy wheels
- 245/40R18 tyres
- Six air bags
- Door anti-intrusion beams
- Five head restraints
- Front seat belt pretensioners, load limiters
- Height adjustable front seat belt anchorages
- ABS brakes with EBD and BA
- Child proof rear doors
- Data dot security system
- Engine immobilizer
- Alarm system
- Xenon headlights with auto height adjustment
- Headlight washers
- Front fog lamps
- Variable intermittent wipers
- Power folding door mirrors with LED turn signal
- Mesh front grille
- Rear diffuser
- Quad exhaust pipes
- Roof mounted spoiler
- Privacy glass for rear doors and hatch
- Roof antenna
- STI “cherry red” logos
- Tilt & telescopic adjustable steering column
- Cruise control
- Leather covered steering wheel, gear knob and brake lever
- Audio controls on steering wheel
- Aluminium pedals & foot rest
- Electroluminescent gauges
- Trip computer
- Electric windows
- Remote central locking
- 10 speaker sound system with 6 stack CD; iPod and MP3 compatible
- Climate control air conditioning
- Rear cup holders in doors
- 4 front seat cup/bottle holders
- 6 cargo hooks in luggage area
- High backed front sports seats
- Alcantara/leather upholstery
- Height adjustable driver’s seat
- Split folding rear seats
Impreza WRX STI Spec. R model adds
- BBS alloy wheels (same size)
- Recaro sport’s seats