2012 Subaru WRX STi Review By Carey Russ


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2012 Subaru WRX

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

Subaru Specs, Comparisons and Prices - Subaru Buyers Guide

2012 Subaru WRX STi

Last year, Subaru moved its high-performance WRX lineup away from the regular Impreza line with wider, more performance-oriented bodywork for the regular models as well as the top-of-the-line STi, and expanded STi offerings with a four-door sedan body style in addition to the previous five-door hatch. The sedan featured the return giant rear wing that has was the original STi trademark. "The wing is back!" trumpeted Subaru. Stealth factor? We don't need no steenkin' stealth factor!

Not long ago, one would expect WRX styling cues to filter down to the everyday Imprezas. Not now - with the increasing popularity of fuel economy, driven by both oil prices and government regulations, the newest generation of Impreza has been introduced, and, with improved fuel economy and a more mainstream look, does not copy the WRX family at all.

Which is likely to please both Impreza buyers and the WRX fan base, a win-win situation for Subaru.

Compared to the 2010 version, the 2011 WRX STi benefited from suspension tuning lessons learned from the 010 Special Edition, further developed for even better response, cornering ability, grip, and ride comfort. The sedan got a similar body treatment to the five-door hatch, with widened fenders to cover the larger and wider wheels, and of course, that wing. Inside, despite its rally car demeanor, it was meant to be a practical daily driver, like any other Subaru. That meant not only a high level of standard equipment, with amenities such as automatic climate control with air filtration and an AM/FM/single-CD audio system with auxiliary jack and USB, plus iPod and XM/Sirius radio capability. There was an optional navigation system, useful for drivers without a co-driver to read the course notes.

So no surprise that changes to the STi for 2012 are minimal. The sedan gets new wheels, and there is a new optional touch-screen nav system with more advanced features than the prior one. Other than that, the 2012 WRX STi sedan is the same little hooligan it has always been, with 305 horsepower and 290 lb-ft of torque from its 2.5-liter turbocharged and intercooled boxer four and any transmission you want as long as it's a six-speed stick. Compared to the original of five or six years ago, today's STi is a bit larger and roomier. It's gained a few pounds, but not enough to seriously affect ability. And with Subaru's SI-DRIVE system, the driver can tailor engine response from almost mild, for those transportation stages of life, through Sport and Sport Sharp for the special stages. It's as easy to short-shift and blend into traffic as it is to run up to redline and play racer, and the larger size compared to the original does mean much more useful space for both people and cargo. The ride is appropriately firm, but not punishing, and with its blend of performance prowess and functional comfort, a Subaru WRX STi is a perfect daily driver for those who accept it for what it is.

Leave it to Subaru to make a practical supercar.

APPEARANCE: Covert operations not spoken here. As ever, the newest WRX STi sedan is about as subtle as a thermonuclear bomb. The wing is small only when compared to a Plymouth Superbird's, and if the fender blisters are less radical than on the first US-spec STi, they still shout "racecar!" The functional, intercooler-feeding hood scoop doesn't impede forward vision, and the higher rear wing doesn't block the most important part of the view to the rear . The styling is perfect for the WRX and especially STi's place in the world, and is actually toned down compared to the original STi. And the wing really is functional, at least at speeds somewhat higher than US-legal, where it reduces drag and rear lift.

COMFORT: In the first STi, floor mats and an audio system were nowhere to be found. Emphasis was on performance, and weight from extraneous features not necessary for performance only detracts from that performance. That's gone, as there are now floor mats and an AM/FM/CD/aux jack/USB audio system with iPod and satellite radio capability. If today's STi is less "pure" because of that, so be it - creature comforts are Good Things in everyday life, especially if commuting. And the STi should be comfortable and capable everywhere from the daily commute to a track day… It's still a racing office at heart, in the mid-priced high-performance idiom with excellent high-backed and bolstered seats with integrated headrests and Alcantara® centers and leather bolsters, black with red stitching. Instrumentation is complete and easily visible. No nav system in my example, and not missed. The STi is a driver's car, but there is ample space for two or three passengers in the rear. According to Subaru, the sedan's trunk can hold three full-size golf bags. Golfers who are STi enthusiasts will be overjoyed…

SAFETY: Subaru's "Ring-Shaped Reinforcement Frame" unibody structure takes care of the basics of passive safety with front and rear crumple zones and a strong safety cage around the passenger compartment. Add a full complement of airbags and three-point safety belts for more. Active safety is more up to the driver, but said STi driver gets the Brembo Performance Brake System, with four-wheel vented discs and four-piston front, dual-piston rear calipers plus ABS, EBD, and Brake Assist and the traction and handling potential of real four-wheel drive and the STi's upgraded suspension.

RIDE AND HANDLING: The regular WRX and the STi are now nearly identical in looks, but under the skin it's a different story. The suspension design -- struts in front and a double-wishbone setup in the rear -- may be the same, but the details differ considerably. And a lower ride height, stiffer bushings, springs, shocks, and stabilizer bars are all tuned to work together to provide immense grip from the 245/40 R18 W-rated tires and a comfortably compliant ride for the type of car that the STi is. The STi that I drove back in 2005 was "comfortable" only when adrenaline and endorphins masked the pain. This one could be a reasonable car for daily use -- and that's with wider, lower-profile tires. Weight-adding soundproofing is still noticeably by its absence, appropriately. As ever, the STi uses the highest-performance version of Subaru's Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system, which includes the ``Driver-Controlled Center Differential'' (DCCD). Fore-and-aft torque split is normally 41 percent / 59 percent front to rear, and can be varied automatically or, as in rally cars, manually via the DCCD, which incorporates a mechanical limited-slip center differential to augment the regular electronically-controlled one . Unless you have competition experience, the DCCD computer in auto mode probably does a better job. Front and rear limited-slip differentials take care of side-to-side traction. All-wheel drive and four large, sticky contact patches ensure that cornering performance is astounding.

PERFORMANCE: The STi's heart is its 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed turbocharged and intercooled engine. With 14.7 lbs of boost and four-valve twincam heads with variable cam phasing on both intake and exhaust cams, it makes 305 horsepower at 6000 rpm, with torque maxing at 290 lb-ft at 4000. It has a strong midrange and an even stronger top, and shifting is quick and easy thanks to good linkage in the six-speed manual, appropriately the only transmission offered. It's plenty quick and loads of fun, but fun with the right foot shows at the pump to the tune of a 19mpg average -- which I got only after about 100 miles of sedate highway driving on top of the backroad fun. Fuel economy is not likely a major reason for STi purchase, so no demerits. Unlike the regular WRX, the STi has "Subaru Intelligent Drive", or SI-DRIVE. A knob on the console allows the driver a choice of three engine- and throttle-mapping modes: I(ntelligent) for regular operation, S(port) for quicker throttle response, and S# (Sport Sharp) for the quickest throttle response. S# is quite entertaining when merging into hostile traffic, with the expected negative effect on fuel economy.

CONCLUSIONS: Added civilization has not destroyed the Subaru WRX STi's rambunctious character.

SPECIFICATIONS
2012 Subaru WRX STi Sedan

Base Price			$ 34,095
Price As Tested			$ 34,845
Engine Type			horizontally-opposed turbocharged and
				 intercooled DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder
				 with variable camshaft timing.
Engine Size			2.5 liters / 150 cu. in.
Horsepower			305 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			290 @ 4000 rpm
Transmission			6-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		103.3 in. / 180.3 in.
Curb Weight			3384 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		11.1
Fuel Capacity			16.9 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires				245/40 R18 93W Dunlop SP Sport
Brakes, front/rear		Brembo vented disc all around,
				 ABS, EBD, BA, multi-mode traction and
				 stability control standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent inverted struts, 
				  independent double wishbone
Drivetrain			longitudinal front engine,
				 full-time all-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		17 / 23 / 19
0 to 60 mph				5.3  sec.

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Destination charge			$ 750

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