I was at considerable speed on the Hampton Downs motorsport track in a Subaru Impreza WRX STi with veteran New Zealand race car driver Ray Williams beside me.
He was explaining to me the changes Subaru has made to the centre differential adjustment mechanism which would compensate for a slightly damp track. I was momentarily distracted by that, and was exiting a corner just a bit quicker than I ordinarily would have when Williams suddenly shouted: “Back off.’’
I felt I had things under control and kept my foot buried on the accelerator, I made the corner okay but the ripple strips did rattle the suspension a little and I did collect an edge of track marker cone.
That aside, there were no other dramas, the track experience showing how quick, capable and thrilling the STi is to drive in anger.
I felt quite privileged to have that track time in the STi, it is a true champion in terms of output and handling ability, and it does so in an understated way. It looks little different to the WRX, and apart from a few cosmetic details it is hard to imagine it has the goods which place it in a high performing category.
While it could easily be described as manic, such is its personality, it is also an easy-to-drive model at city speeds, it is docile, and far from a challenge in traffic, yet stand on the throttle and it lunges with turbo boost that is dynamic.
The STi has a six-speed manual transmission only and, to my way of thinking, you wouldn’t want it any other way. The gear lever slots accurately and has a close, crisp feel about its movement, there is little chance of wrong-slotting and the clutch, while firm, is progressive with plenty of pick-up feel.
Under the bonnet sits a 2.5-litre, horizontally-opposed (boxer), quad-camshaft, engine that Subaru rates at 221kW and 407Nm.
These are impressive outputs thanks to high pressure turbo boost, yet the areas where these figures are developed are met at usable parts of the rev band – 6000rpm and 4000rpm respectively. The result is a strong torque flow from low revs until the point of redline.
I didn’t explore the top end of the rev band at all, there is so much satisfaction to be gleaned from letting the turbo boost through the mid-range.
The engine has an angry tone under load but that is something the driver can also gain enjoyment from, it offers all of the right harmonics and delivers with a rush that ushers in vivid acceleration.
Also, I don’t like placing huge stress on mechanical components so I didn’t ask a lot from the STi at launch, but it likes to accelerate rapidly and is a delight when it does.
Subaru claim a 100km/h from a standstill time of just over 5sec, while against my stopwatch it blasts through a highway overtake in around 3.5sec which are quick figures and ones which satisfy, the STi is quick in all gears, it enjoys freedom and responds accordingly.
Because I had that special time on track I didn’t load the car too much during my home patch drive, I did tackle some quick corners west of the city and enjoyed its firm steering feel that feeds back all the nuances of the road surface and what the tyres are doing in relation to that.
New wheels and tyres are fitted to the 2018 STi, the wheels are up an inch in diameter and carry performance specification Yokohama Advan tyres at 245/35 x 19in, grip is unyielding and that is enhanced by all four wheels providing drive.
The STi blasts between corners with an acceleration rush that is infectious, strong brakes also provide surety while turn-in and accuracy are unsurpassed. The brakes have also received an upgrade, they are bigger and are the latest generation units from Brembo, they look fabulous in vivid yellow and work just as well as they look with strong pedal feel and forceful retardation.
Through the sheer nature of its purpose, the STi is firm underneath, and while there is some compliance, it won’t absorb those ruts that form many of Christchurch’s roads. That is a small price to pay, the STi is a car for the enthusiast and it delivers in other areas.
At $59,990 (high spec, $64,990) it also comes with bang for buck performance.
For 2018 the STi carries a bit more kit, notably additions to the EyeSight driver assistance safety system and those improvements I’ve just mentioned. Cosmetic enhancements also add to the STi’s desirability.
Even though the STi is a true sports sedan, it is also the comfortable five-seater, four-door sedan for which we know the Impreza as an all-rounder. It is engineered from experience gleaned from Subaru’s rally programmes of years gone by and is certainly one of the most capable performance cars I’ve had the pleasure to be behind the wheel of.
Price – Subaru Impreza WRX STi, $59,990
Dimensions – Length, 4595mm; width, 1795mm; height, 1475mm
Configuration – Four-cylinder, four-wheel-drive, 2457cc, 221kW, 407Nm, six-speed manual.
Fuel usage – 10.4l/100km