Thursday, December 12, 2013
Sweeping curves. Chicanes. And an occasional hairpin turn.
Subaru’s WRX STI never really left us, but the four-door sedan with the gregarious rear wing has been on hiatus the past few years and has been much less conspicuous in its hatchback configuration. The winged version is back for 2011 with more flash and dash than ever.
Photos courtesy Subaru
Comfort is not the STI’s forte, but the the car proved tolerable during a five-hour drive to Bangor and back.
NUTS AND BOLTS
WHAT IS IT? 2011 WRX STI, a surprisingly practical four-door sedan spawned by a racecar.
WHAT’S IT COST? WRX STI sedan starts at $33,995, about $8,500 more than the tamer and wing-less WRX and $2,000 less than the wing-less WRX STI hatchback. The leather-upholstered WRX STI Limited model starts at $37,345.
WHAT I LIKED BEST: It’s about as close as you can get to a racecar that can carry cargo and passengers.
WHAT I LIKED LEAST: After nearly three hours on the highway, the exhaust drone got to me.
WHO’S IT FOR? Attention-seekers who crave performance and practicality.
IMPORTANT NUMBERS: 2.5-liter, 16-valve, intercooled, turbocharged 4-cylinder boxer engine produces 305 horsepower, 290 foot pounds of torque. Six-speed manual. 103-inch wheelbase. 3,384-pound curb weight. 17 city/23 highway mpg (EPA). 11.3 cubic cargo space. 0-60 in 4.7 seconds (stopwatch).
Those are all things one might expect to encounter while driving a racecar.
But few racecar drivers have to deal with a hockey bag.
... A huge hockey bag.
That was my challenge while testing the Subaru Impreza WRX STI, which is about as close to a racecar as anything the average consumer can find in a new-car showroom.
The WRX STI that consumers can purchase for around $34,000 traces its ancestry to the cars that won several World Rally Championships beginning in the mid-1990s. The current model is based on the velociraptors that chew up competitors in U.S. RallyCar racing.
That's the racing series in which drivers beat the snot out of their vehicles on logging roads, rock-strewn hillsides and snowbound trails.
The WRX STI (which stands for World Rally Cross Subaru Technica International) available to consumers is more civilized and has fewer horses under the hood than its racing brethren.
But that's not to say that Subaru has drained the spirit out of it. With 305 horsepower produced by a tricked-out 2.5-liter, intercooled, turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the STI is capable of being launched from a standstill to 60 mph in under 5 seconds.
Because it has a sophisticated all-wheel drive system with three automatic and six manual settings for front-to-rear torque distribution, it launches with absolutely no wheelspin and maximum grip.
Although the STI has the same blastoff chops as some exotic sports cars, it can beat just about any exotic when it comes to transporting more than just a pilot and co-pilot.
In my case, the "more" was a kid and his hockey bag. If you don't know what a hockey bag is, think gym bag on steroids. My son, Brandon, is a goalie, so his bag is bigger than some of his Pee Wee-level teammates. The big bag is needed to fit all the heavily padded gear he wears to keep hard rubber discs from breaking his bones.
The radiant metallic blue 2011 WRX STI arrived for testing two days before we were heading out of town for a weekend tournament, so the first thing we did was check its trunk. Whoa! It was much bigger than expected. Subaru says you'll find 11.3 cubic feet of trunk space beneath the rear spoiler, which may be the biggest wing on earth now that pterodactyls are extinct.
I'm not sure how to translate 11.3 cubic feet. Is that the equivalent of 11 beachballs? Eight milk crates? Five pairs of NFL lineman Albert Haynesworth's underwear?
All I know is that the STI's trunk swallowed two gym bags, one goalie hockey bag, one full-size digital camera bag and a small, insulated cooler.
Try cramming that in your Ferrari F430 without first removing the passenger seat.
Not that I'm comparing the WRX STI to a Ferrari. You'd be hard-pressed to find any room behind the front seats of an F430, let alone enough for the two adults or three kids who could ride pretty comfortably in the WRX STI's rear seat.
Comfort is not the STI's forte, but it proved more than tolerable for the five-hour roundtrip highway journey to our hockey tournament. After a couple of hours on the road, the drone of the free-breathing exhaust became somewhat tiresome. But it seemed an acceptable price for being able to pass slower traffic at will.
The throaty, full-throttle snarl that interrupted the drone was a bonus.
An unexpected bonus: The STI was more comfortable than anticipated. Its low-profile tires and firm suspension notify driver and passengers of every bump and rut. But the road rubbish is never jarring. And unlike the last WRX STI I tested, the 2011 doesn't get jostled easily by big lumps or gaping potholes.
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