Executive wheels: Wanna race?


I’m probably the last guy on earth that Subaru should have sent a WRX STI model. I don’t fit any type of demographic for a car like this – in age or audience – and I’m not a racing enthusiast, rally or track. And several years ago I wrote a review of a WRX they sent me — saying basically that I love Subarus generally but found the WRX a sort of silly vehicle for everyday street use – and the e-universe of the time went nuts with the message that I was stupid and ignorant and unworthy of life. There are, obviously, some serious WRX people out there who think that any opinion of a WRX that doesn’t match their version of reality should be shouted down or fully suppressed or both.

So I take on this task with a certain amount of trepidation because with the Internet and all of its offshoots being what they are I am already going to be vilified into the 25th Century for what I wrote 10 years ago, and I am preparing to pretty much say the same thing again. In “Biographies of Ancient People” written a thousand years from now, I will be summarized as a “Subaru Basher,” even though nothing can be further from the truth. Ah, but to enthusiasts – ideologues! – of all stripes, truth matters very little.

So, In an effort to at least try and understand all points of view, I went looking around the web for consumer and expert reviews of the WRX and the WRX STI to get a feel for the universe The consumers all seemed to be enthusiasts and flat-out loved the WRX and the WRX STI, while the experts (people from the various car and racing magazines and sites) felt that the Subies, as they called them, were great racing vehicles for a myriad of very technical, gear-head types of reasons, but that as street vehicles they were lacking.

I can only surmise that the consumer reviews pretty much all came from young men,16 to 30, where the consensus would be that Fast and Furious would be their favorite film. I should note that I looked up the most ticketed-for-speeding cars in America and the Subaru WRX leads the pack. You put your average 22-year-old guy behind the wheel of one of these and you should probably just put a neon sign on the car that says “Pull Me Over.” If I had had a Subaru WRX or WRX STI when I was 22, well, I’m not sure I would have made it to 23, and I am quite sure that if I did I would have been 23 without benefit of driving privileges.

Both the WRX and the WRX STI are, basically, a Subaru Impreza with way beefed up suspension, driving, transmission, engine – everything. About the only thing they share with the regular Impreza is the body, and even here they have gone out of their way to alter the Impreza styling so that so few people would confuse your average Impreza driver from the race-car enthusiast behind the wheel of any of the WRX models.

WRX, by the way, stands for World Rally Cross and it is a nod to Rally Cross racing which is highly popular in Europe, and somewhat popular in Africa (WRX was the South Africa Car of the Year a while back), however this type of racing doesn’t get as much enthusiasm here in the states compared to track racing.  It basically involves racing long distances on roads, mainly dirt roads, with plenty of curves and elevation changes, and plenty of European car companies, and Japanese, make these tight, fast little rally cars to meet the demands of Rally Cross. The Subaru WRX, with its excellent road-hugging AWD is said to be among the leading choices for Rally Cross.

And that may be good, but that’s not what I do. I drive around town, up to the mountains, take road trips on Interstate highways and scenic routes, and I am usually not racing to do these things. I personally find the WRX and especially this WRX STI uncomfortable, bouncy, and difficult to drive. The steering is incredibly stiff – what I might want on sharp turns at high speeds on a dirt road – the suspension, while it holds the road well, lets you feel every little imperfection in the street, and the shifting and clutch are stiff, stiff, stiff. The shifting and clutch have great race feel, but for normal driving it is too much; I got caught in a traffic jam and my left leg got quite a workout after about half-hour of stop and go. The brakes here, also beefed up, are excellent.

The WRX, which I have driven before, is a souped-up race-car Impreza with plenty of punch. In the normal WRX they put in a 268 hp, 2.0-liter fourbanger, turbocharged of course, and it features a spoiler on the back. The base model goes for a MSRP of $26,295. Reasonable.

The WRX STI, though, which I drove this time around, (STI stands for Subaru Tecnica International) has so much extra stuff on it that I couldn’t, and didn’t want to, figure it out. There are many levels of adjustments you can make – three levels of Vehicle Dynamics Control for traction and torque vectoring (whatever that is), three settings for SI Drive (Sport, Intelligent and Sport Sharp), and three setting for Driver Controlled Center Differential. You’d need an engineer co-pilot to make any sense of all that, or to use it as Subaru intended.

The STI features a 2.5-liter fourbanger, turboed out to 305 hp, and yeah, it’s fast as all get-out. It’s also incredibly noisy so that kind of wipes pout the AM/FM/CD/HD Radio and six speakers. They added in a lot of high-tech extras as standard (Bluetooth, iPod and iTunes connectivity, satellite radio , USB port, navigation), and thank god some of it is hands-free because you don’t want to take your hands off the steering wheel here; you’d lose control. Oh, and let’s not forget the high Wing on the back instead of a spoiler. About the only thing it did for me was to draw looks from people with expressions that said, “What the heck are you doing driving that silly car?”

So, with $795 in destination charges, the bottom line on this 2015 Subaru WRX STI is $35,290. Plus about $75 a week for speeding tickets.