Subaru WRX STI Spec R

Age-old heroís stuck in the waiting room

b y L O U I S CORDONY p i c s A L A S TAI R B ROOK

ENGINE 2457cc boxer-4cyl, DOHC, 16v, turbo / POWER 221kW @ 6000rpm / TORQUE 407Nm @ 4000rpm / WEIGHT 1572kg / 0-100KM/H 5.2sec (claimed) / PRICE $57,690 M AYBE Subaru is hoping we wonít notice. Or maybe itís scrounging around the back of the couch for a dollar or two. Either way, the WRX STI wonít join the fifthgeneration Impreza platform for at least another couple years.

To keep the latterís fangs sharp for now as its rivals evolve, the STI scores a facelift, larger wheels, bigger brakes, and had its mechanicals fine tuned.

At the same time, Subaruís reshuffled its STI range, adding a Spec R to the existing base and Premium guises. It comes with Recaros and a rally-sized rear spoiler on top of the Premiumís sunroof, surround-view traffic cameras, and heated seats.

Pull new red seatbelts over your M chest and you can sense the pews, while claimed to give ďgreater contactĒ, feel flat, under-bolstered, and a touch too big. Especially if youíre attacking roads as viciously as the WRX STI encourages. Look at it.

Riding on new, larger, 19-inch wheels that cage bright yellow sixpiston Brembo front calipers, the new car will ping instantly on police radars. The upside is instant street cred, as the car never fails to generate a smirk, comment, or knowing glance.

At its core breathes the same old 2.5- litre boxer four mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. Only the Driver Controlled Centre Differential has been tweaked. Subaruís ditched the mechanical locking system within the centre LSD so it now relies on an electronically-controlled clutch.

This helps the centre differential react quicker, Subaru says. However, itís hard to feel a difference when unleashing the STI because it was already such an effective gadget.

Subaruís rejigged the suspension to suit the larger diameter wheels, while superb chassis balance, excellent rear grip, and dialled-in damper tuning help it fire across patchy roads with the stability of a cruise missile.

Playing with the centre differential affects handling in real time. Full lock dulls out the front-endís point, but the system works best when left to its own devices, distributing grunt to either endís LSD as it sees fit.

Huge new Brembos clamp drilled rotors with new pads. It takes a while

STAR RATING 3.5

Like Grip; directional stability; visibility Dislike Ride; refinement; steering kickback; turbo lag

Balance, grip, and damper tuning help it fi re across patchy roads like a cruise missile

to adjust to their power, however, they add feel at the end of the pedal travel, exactly where the old carís four-pot fronts felt a bit numb.

Itís only a shame they couldnít fix our main gripes with the ageing Rex.

Worrying steering kickback issues remain, and the hydraulic system can feel both too light at high speed or too heavy when parking.

Elsewhere, the rideís still firm and we suspect sorely outclassed by the competition. Power delivery is old-school, to put it politely. Below 3000rpm thereís nothing, then, 500rpm later, itís like a bullet trainís crashed into you from behind. We also wish the exhaust was a bit more vocal near its 6700rpm redline, rather than booming at low revs.

Perhaps whatís saddest about the 2018 WRX STI is itís losing touch with what it is, a raw, rally-bred animal at its core that rewards effort. Few things can cover ground with the same surefootedness as the STI.

However, while the new mechanical upgrades highlight its talents, when we prayed for more refinement we hoped Subaru would deliver a soothing ride and sturdier steering, not electrically-adjustable seats or swivelling headlights. Meanwhile, moving that iconic rear wing to the options list (for $300) and deleting fog lights from the carís front bumper is verging on sacrilege.

The 2.5-litre engineís sledgehammer power delivery, too, is hard to stomach when Japan has a revhappy 2.0-litre unit with an 8000rpm redline. Surely, that should be on the shopping list come update time.

Of course, we should be grateful.

Unlike Mitsubishi, this is evidence Subaru wonít let its legend die. Letís just hope that by pushing out its renewal by a few years, itís taking the time to get it right. M