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2008 Subaru Impreza STI: The Boy-Racer Grows Up
Author: Ali Allage
Last Updated: 3/28/2008
By: Charles Juckett, Ali Allage, David Tate
Photos: Charles Juckett, Subaru
If you're reading this article, you're probably quite familiar with the Subaru WRX. We won't need to explain how it's a "rally inspired" all-wheel-drive car with a turbo engine, and how it has a beefed-up variant known as the STI. Frankly, if you're anything like us, you've probably coveted these cars since their inception over a decade ago, and the mere mention of "22B" gets your heart beating a little faster. With that in mind, let's take a closer look at what Subaru created with their all-new 2008 STI. With an bespoke chassis under the new sheet metal, redesigned suspension and brake system, as well as a plethora of smart technology, this new car has a lot to explore.
|Subaru STI Technology Explained |
|Si Drive: Si drive allows drivers to change the ECU mapping on the fly to adjust power delivery and efficiency. S mode is the standard with S# for increased response in sport situations or Intelligent mode to sense appropriate power delivery for low traction. |
DCCD – The driver controlled center differential maintains the same 41/59 available torque split, but now offers two more auto modes, auto plus and auto minus. These modes are variable but offer a bias front or rear. The DCCD can also still be left in full auto or locked at a set level.
Dual AVCS – Subaru’s variable cam timing gear, now on both intake and exhaust cams, adjusts on the fly to maximize the torque curve.
With each redesign of the Impreza's exterior, critics have had a field day painstakingly detailing exactly why they believed the previous iteration looked better. This generation is no exception, and the hatchback-only 2008 STI definitely has both its naysayers and fans. While there's certainly nothing outwardly offensive about its appearance, it has still lost a good deal of pizazz, for better or for worse. All signs of "boy-racer" have vanished, lines have been rounded and smoothed, and the overall appearance has become much more conservative. Fans call it refined, clean and slick, while haters call it bland and cookie-cutter.
Although we'd say the car looks much better in person than it does on paper, the new STI doesn't stand out from its lesser Impreza siblings as much as it used to, although the bulging fenders and rear spoiler are an obvious clue.
One thing that immediately stood out was the interior, which is finally starting to look like it should for a car in this price range. Gone is the Smurf-blue and cheap black plastic horror show of the older generations. In its place is a clean two-tone theme, with black leather and gray alcantara. Dash materials and trim throughout the interior are dramatically upgraded, and the cabin feels noticeably roomier. Adults fit comfortably in the back seats, and the hatch compartment provides ample space for luggage. With the rear seats folded, the new hatchback offers significantly more storage space than before.
The stereo is also much improved over the let-down of previous generations, although the new navigation system (an $1800 option) leaves a lot to be desired. While it technically works, and gets you where you're going, it's not quite user-friendly. It's quite difficult to input data while moving, which is a safety feature not fully thought out, and will produce a lot of frustrated passengers. The process of actually entering addresses is counter-intuitive, and starts with the city, then the street name, and finally the number. While many nav systems share this frustrating detail, the Subaru's often yielded confusing results.
However, for a car like an STI, this is all besides the point. Owners will not be buying this car for its two-tone interior or its storage space. It may be growing up, but the STI serves a singular purpose in the car world: to haul ass in any situation, road or weather condition, and simply embarrass the (more expensive) competition. The good news is, this new STI delivers the goods...sort of. It consistently delivers performance numbers that were better than the outgoing model, but it is a different driving experience, and it simply doesn't communicate the same way as the old one.
Starting the car, you're still treated to the deep rumble of the boxer engine (and the obligatory dashboard light show), and the new quad exhaust doesn't hurt the sound one bit, either. Pulling away, the 2.5L motor feels as strong and torquey as ever, and begs you to dip into the gas whenever possible. This ready-to-rock personality is a trademark of the STI, and we're glad Subaru hasn't tinkered with it. Full-throttle acceleration is brisk and satisfying, though we can't say we really noticed the extra 12 hp over the last generation. Aftermarket tuners will enjoy this motor every bit as much as the last, thanks in no small part to the variable valve timing, now on all four cams (Dual AVCS, in Subie speak). The rock-solid 6-speed transmission was left largely unchanged, and we have no problem with that.
Tech-wise, Subaru revised its signature Driver Controlled Center Differential (DCCD), and introduced a 3-mode Vehicle Dynamic Control system (VDC) and multi-mode Si Drive computer mapping. All these electronic goodies make for quite a unique drive, and it is actually fun exploring the various control settings.
Going around the twisties, the new chassis and suspension are immediately noticeable, and soak up bumps and rough pavement much more smoothly, without ever requiring correction from the steering wheel. The new double A-arm setup provides better tire contact with the road, and the car feels firmly planted at all times, without being jarring or uncomfortable to its occupants. Like every STI since 2004, this car's true limits cannot be tested on public roads, at least not safely, so we decided to take it to the track and see what it's made of.
After warming up the tires around the track, it wasn't long before we began to get a feel for the car, and starting sorting out what we liked and disliked. Two main complaints presented themselves pretty early on. First, the seats suck. They simply lack the bolstering and side support necessary to keep occupants in place during hard cornering. While optional Recaro seats solve this problem for the Japanese market, we in the US aren't so lucky (Subaru, you reading this?). Second, even if the seats could keep the driver in front of the steering wheel, the steering itself lacks feel. In a car like this, the steering should have better response and communication, the driver shouldn't ever feel disconnected from the road. This may be because of the relatively tall steering ratio, but it needs improvement regardless. Even the last generation STI had better steering feel.
Poor seats and steering feel aside, the car was still handling itself smartly around the track. Our cornering speeds increased as we became familiar with the car's personality. The rear seems to remain planted and secure at all times, even as the front end begins to break loose, regardless of DCCD or VDC setting. Because of this, we needed to take extra care in maintaining a proper line around the track, and being aware and ready for any understeer. In order to induce any significant rotation on corner entry, trail-braking or weight-shifting were necessary.
The new ring-structure chassis, unique to the STI, feels dramatically stiffer than both the new WRX and the old STI, and this decreased chassis flex helps improve performance in harsh conditions or rough pavement. We also noticed the various DCCD and VDC settings do make a tangible difference. For us, setting the DCCD to "Auto Minus" and turning the VDC off completely provided the quickest lap times.
We have no complaints whatsoever with the new brake system, they provided consistent stopping power, and maintained great pedal feel lap after lap. These strong brakes allow very late braking for corners, which works well with the stable chassis. Along with the brakes, the new 245-width Dunlop tires held up very well, and actually felt like they gained grip as they continued to heat up.
Despite a slightly less engaging experience, the lap times don't lie. The new STI is consistently faster than the old one around the track, and certainly quick enough to take down most of the competition on the road. This performance, along with the daily practicality, improved interior and cleaner exterior, make for an appealing and well-sorted-out package. Our test car carried a price tag of $38,995, including the 18"x8.5" BBS wheels and nav system. Quite a jump from the $33K STI of last year, but we're sure the new Subaru will have no problem finding happy owners.