Hot Japanese compacts used to be derisively called rice burners, but mostly by folks who preferred American muscle or German sophistication.
But that was before little Subaru went all wild and launched an all-wheel-drive terror called the STI.
No one laughed at Japanese performance any more.
Basically, the STI is a WRX on steroids, which itself is no slouch in the performance department. First unleashed on an eagerly awaiting American public in 2002, the WRX took the pedestrian, bug-eyed Subaru Impreza through a muscle makeover with a turbocharged flat-four, suspension retuning and some appearance bits. With 227 horsepower and all-wheel drive, it was an immediate success.
For 2004, Subaru upped the ante by adding still more power via a 2.5-liter engine delivering 300 raucous horsepower, a heavy-duty six-speed transmission and a rally-worthy suspension upgrade, and the STI was born. The WRX and its rowdier sibling have received upgrades with each new Impreza version. For 2015, though, the WRX and STI have become a separate model lineup, and while still based on the current Impreza, they feature a unique body along with myriad performance enhancements.
The new STI retains the previous generation’s 2.5-liter, 305-horsepower motor (the WRX makes do with a “mere” 268 horsepower from a new, 2.0-liter turbo flat-four). While avid STI’ers complained about not getting a power boost to match the car’s newly aggressive looks, there’s certainly no shortage of juice. And the handling can best be described as virtually flawless.
Above and beyond the base WRX, the STI adds such go-goodies as front and rear limited-slip differentials, driver-selectable center-diff modes; 18-inch wheels; track-worthy Brembo brakes; and foglights.
Our tester, a limited-to-1,000 Launch Edition, gets gold-painted lightweight BBS wheels, leather upholstery with simulated suede inserts, keyless ignition and entry and a short-throw shifter. The absurdly large rear-deck wing practically shouts, “Hey cops, look at me!”
Driving the STI is just crazy fun, with deep reserves of power, gluelike grip on any road surface, enhanced by Subaru’s specific guttural engine growl.