|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
UPDATE 2: Full review of Subaru WRX STI Premium.
It’s not every day you get excited about a car even before it was officially launched. In my case, the anticipation for the all-new 2014 Subaru WRX and WRX STI was so high, I was literally begging on my knees to be one of the first to get my hands behind one. Motor Image Pilipinas, the exclusive distributor of Subaru in the Philippines, literally whetted my appetite to the point where I was salivating like a rabid dog thanks to all the carefully planned teasers including bringing over the WRX Concept to Manila. Everything turned full circle as they held the regional launch of the WRX and WRX STI in Manila—the first time the country played host to our 9 Asian neighbors for quite some time. (For the complete specs, click here).
At this point, let’s get the elephant out of the room and talk looks. You’re not buying the WRX or WRX STI for the way it looks; you get it because it drives well. Subaru seems to know this quite well and not once did they delve into design details (the brochure skipped the entire chapter on design entirely). Still, like any other Subaru, it grows on you. It’s the same thing with the WRX and WRX STI—stare at it long enough, and you’ll fall in love: the flared fenders, the trademark hood scoop, the aggressive body kit—they are all there. If anything though, both of these cars need bigger shoes—235/45R17’s on the WRX and 245/40R18’s on the WRX STI look just too small.
Like the outside, the interior of the WRX and WRX STI is function over form. There are absolutely no useless trinkets in here. Sure, there’s some carbon fiber on the dashboard and red stitching on the seats (with additional red accents on the WRX STI), but these were done to give a unique flavor compared to lesser Subarus. What’s lovely is that Subaru’s gotten the driving position absolutely perfect. Everything in the WRX and WRX STI is perfectly placed for track attack mode from the thick D-shaped steering wheel to the shifter to the pedal spacing. The seats on both the WRX and WRX STI feature power adjustment for the driver and have heavy bolsters and adjustable headrests (a first) for optimal comfort. Both these two models also debut a new fancy instrument panel with not one, but two multi-function displays: one sandwiched between the tachometer and speedometer, and the other on top of the center console. Juggling between these two is challenging at first, but give it some time, and you’ll be rewarded with all the wealth of information you’ll ever need—including a boost gauge. Clearly, these two sport sedans were clearly designed to be driver-centric.
Just how driver-centric is the all-new WRX and WRX STI? Motor Image Pilipinas invited over Fuji Heavy Industries General Manager for Vehicle Research & Experiment Department Mr. Tetsuo Fujinuki to talk technical. There, he revealed that Subaru benchmarked the WRX and WRX STI not against the Lancer Evolution or Volkswagen GTI or Ford Mustang or BMW M3. Instead, they talked about the Porsche 911—long considered as the pinnacle of sports car engineering. Subaru says the all-new WRX and WRX STI has the same steering response, almost same turning ability, lateral acceleration limit, and body roll as the Porsche 911.
In order to prove the tall orders, the WRX and WRX STI went straight to the racetrack right after the technical presentation. There, there was a series of exercises all to prove the enhanced abilities of these two sports sedans.
The first is to ride shotgun with world-renowned precision driver Russ Swift as he does a drag strip-style launch of the all-new WRX STI before braking, doing a 180-degree turn, and then going through a high-speed slalom course. He had the old WRX STI on hand for benchmarking.
Everyone expected the old and new WRX STI would feel the same since they have carryover mechanicals: the same 300 horsepower, EJ257 2.5-liter flat-4 mated to a 6-speed manual. Everyone was so wrong. Even before the exercise started, Russ wasn’t happy with the old WRX STI’s brakes. After a couple of runs in the morning, he simply cooked them. This wasn’t the case with the new WRX STI. It kept going on and on until after lunch. Other than that, the stiffer body’s more evident as it didn’t lurch back even when Russ dumped the clutch to send all 407 Nm of torque to the pavement. Towards the end of the track, the WRX STI also carried more G’s under braking. Finally, as he made his way back through the 180-degree turn and slalom course, the all-new WRX STI didn’t roll as much and Russ didn’t need to saw the steering wheel as much.
The second exercise was a handling course that had everyone comparing the all-new WRX and WRX STI against the old WRX STI and BRZ. Like the previous exercise, a few laps in, the old WRX STI’s brakes found itself toast and had to be retired to the side of the road leaving the all-new WRX, WRX STI, and the BRZ.
The BRZ clearly felt at home on the track with its responsive steering, excellent turn-in, and quick reflexes. But with only 200 horsepower on tap, it’s only rewarding if you’re knowledgeable on track. One small mistake and you’ll lose all the momentum you’ve built up. On the other hand, both the WRX and WRX STI gave you the same level of confidence, if not more, going into a corner and then hand you the power to hammer your way out. As someone said, these cars make you look good even if you drive stupid.
The basic difference between these two cars is how much power you can handle. The WRX has performance that’s easier to max out for the regular driver. For one, it’s fitted with Sport Lineartronic which keeps the engine revs at optimal levels to keep the turbo spooled while you keep both hands on the steering wheel. Even compared to the old WRX STI, the WRX feels much more stable, more surefooted through the corner. There is noticeably less body roll and less steering input’s needed. The WRX STI is a different animal altogether. On the straightaway, you’ll need to shift through the short-throw gearbox because the 300 horsepower engine can easily eat through engine revs effortlessly. Also, it has an insane amount of mechanical grip. Even when you want to kick it out, it won’t; instead it’ll do a four-wheel drift. When Subaru say it’s the best handling, best performing WRX STI ever, they mean what they said.
The Subaru WRX (P 1,888,000) and WRX STI (P 2,498,000) are the Jennifer Lawrence of sports sedans. She’s not the common beauty, but the more you know her; the more you know her personality, charm, talent, and wit, the more you fall in love. It’s the same thing with the all-new WRX and WRX STI—they certainly aren’t lookers, but the more you see it, the more you drive it, it rewards you tremendously. Though my seat time with these two cars are limited to the racetrack, I find them to be the ultimate expression of driver’s cars—a continuation of Subaru’s long heritage developed on dirt tracks and racetracks around the world. It’s about time these two sports sedans be noticed; it’s about time you give them an Oscar.