It’s been a while since I drove a stick shift. Given the punishing traffic jam that hounds urban motorists 24/7, Filipino consumers have long shifted their loyalties to the automatic transmission, due to the ease of use and convenience. The last stick shift this writer drove was the 2015 Subaru WRX STi, the famed 4WD machine of Fuji Heavy Industries that locked horns with World’s best rally cars in the WRC. Two years after that exhilarating experience behind the wheel of the STi, the marketing tandem of Uzzi Ascunsion and Tine Liwanag of Motor Image Pilipinas, the local distributor of the Subaru brand in the country, entrusted me with the keys to the latest version of its famed 4WD icon.
Not much has changed actually for this mechanized bully, except maybe for the missing massive rear wing. It takes a keen eye to point out the differences of this current model, but surely, improvements were made into its chassis which was pretty much excellent to begin with.
The 2017 Impreza STi is wider, sits lower to the ground and has a slightly longer wheelbase. On paper, this variant is stiffer than the previous STi model. Being a performance car, don’t expect your Grandmother to like the ride because Subaru tweaked the suspension with stiffer cross members and bushings both front and rear, as well as thicker anti-roll bars with slightly altered mounting points to increase toe-in at the rear and ground contact under load upfront. The hydraulic power steering has also been replaced with a stiffer column with a quicker gear fitted. Pop the hood and you’ll see the same 2.5 turbo boxer engine which is matted to a six-speed manual transmission. Driving it along EDSA, you’ll feel that the tranny has a shorter throw and thanks to an intelligent drive system, a knob just beneath the transmission stick, the driver will be able to choose from three settings such as Intelligent, Sport and Sport Sharp. Fans of the boxer engine will not be disappointed because the car leaps on demand and power is on tap when you summon it.
Step inside the cockpit of the STi and visually, one will immediately see its true intent, which is to go fast at a drop of a dime. An extra 25mm at the wheelbase means more knee and legroom for the driver, which is a plus for people like Stephen Curry.
The gauge clusters screams performance with it’s 280kph speedometer, 8,000 rpms rev counter and the STi logo emblazoned across the gauges. The meaty leather wrapped steering with hand grips is good to the touch and the bolstered seats and nice and comfortable which compensates for the rather harsh ride of the STi. The only downside of this cabin is the nineties throwback audio system which was a clearly not prioritized by design engineers at Fuji. My Blaupunkt equipped Hyundai Accent sounds better than this Subaru. It’s also good that the audio system has USB connectivity.
Despite the drawbacks of the audio system, this car is fun to drive. The engine puts out 305 hp and 290 pound-feet of torque, and the STI is one of the only cars in the market that is still exclusively available with a manual transmission. The gearing for first and second are a bit short and you’ll hit redline in no time, plus the short throw transmission is a delight to use. Off the line acceleration is freaky fast and the torque kicks in as early as 2,000 rpms. There is a bit of turbo lag, but the car feels light and is always ready to pounce on unsuspecting boy racers. The large brake calipers are sharp, the clutch is the right weight and feels intuitive to use and the steering is fantastic, slightly heavy, but responsive to what direction you want it to go.
Haters are quick to say that the WRX STi is not refined as its competitors, like the Volkswagen Golf GTi or the Mitsubishi Evolution X. My argument is that the STi’s competitors simply are not as engaging and fun to drive. Think of it as an MMA fighter, it will not apologize for its looks or it’s behavior. The important thing is, this JDM rocket gets the job done.