I'm not a racer, but invite me to ride or drive on a racetrack, and I'm there. When the invitation hit my inbox to experience the 2015 Subaru WRX STI in Monterey, California, including some time on the track at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, I nearly broke my fingers pounding out my response on the keyboard. YES!
I managed to bring my heart rate back to normal, and to consider the STI. The WRX is the hot version of the Subaru Impreza, and the WRX STI is the even hotter version of the WRX–"STI" stands for "Subaru Techica International Inc.". An independent company that was established in 1988 to manage Subaru's motorsport activities. In concert with the regular Subaru engineers, STI plans and develops the WRX STI. They even make their own line of tuning parts and accessories for Subaru vehicles but also builds and races specialty Subarus across several racing outlets around the world. Famously earning recognition during their championship years competing in the World Rally Cross arena.
The new 2015 WRX raised a few eyebrows when it was launched to the press a few months ago. The controversy mainly centered around the option of a CVT (continuously variable automatic transmission), almost never considered a high performance feature. The standard six-speed manual is still the primary choice, but the braying can't be silenced. Some WRX purists were offended, and chose to pan the new car as a result.
The 2015 STI suffers no such controversy. Available as a sedan only (no hatchback), and with just one transmission -- a fantastic six-speed manual, with an available short-throw kit. Power comes from a 2.5L turbocharged four-cylinder Boxer (horizontally opposed) engine, tuned to produce 305hp and 290 lb-ft of torque -–a substantial bump over the WRX's 2.0L powerplant.
Enough facts and figures. What's it like to drive?
In two words – great fun.
My first experience would take place on the track first thing in the morning. We went out in groups of four and five, with a Pro Driver leading us through the first lap to demonstrate lines, and strict instructions not to race or pass. I chose to drive sweep (last position), so that I wouldn't have to worry about slowing down any of the fast guys. Some of my fellow journalists have a lot of racing experience and ability, and some are just nuts. I like to use the track to experience the vehicle at close to its limits, without having to worry about adverse road conditions, opposing traffic or other (bad) drivers. It's a side benefit that I get to improve my driving skills -- every trip to the track does that.
Here's what I learned about the STI at Laguna Seca. I drove about 10 hot laps during the morning session, and another 10 warm up/cool down laps, and the STI handled every situation with amazing grip and grace.
There are several components that lead to great track performance, and STI has them nailed. First of all, hydraulic power steering (as opposed to electric on the WRX) delivers direct road feel and amazingly sharp turn in with almost motorcycle-like in its precision.
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