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Subaru WRX STi

Click to view picture gallery“You don’t have to be a petrolhead
  to recognise the words ‘Subaru’,
  ‘WRX’, and ‘STi’. Perhaps Subaru
  could cut to the chase and trim
  WRX STi to FF — Fast ’n’ Furious.
  Because with 296bhp, that’s exactly
  what it is...”

AND IT LOOKS IT TOO. There's no picnic tray rear wing to mar rear visibility on the STi's wide-tracked, four-door bodyshell (back in response to popular demand), but the low ride height, boldly bulging wheelarches and quad tailpipes ensure that the latest STi's street theatre still attracts and engages an audience.

The cabin reflects the STi's sporty exterior: there's black Alcantara trim and a pair of very secure, comfortable and extremely supportive one-piece front seats (jointly developed with Recaro) upholstered in suede and leather with red stitched STi logos. You can't slide behind the grippy, three-spoke leather-rimmed steering wheel because, and this is a plus point, of the racing-style bucket seats' firmly pronounced bolstering they're one-piece items with integral headrests into which you effectively 'drop'.

“You can’t slide behind
the grippy, three-spoke
leather-rimmed steering
wheel because of the
firmly pronounced
bolstering of the racing-
style bucket seats —
one-piece items
with integral headrests
into which you ‘drop
re essential to stop
your body being slung
across the cabin
in sharp manoeuvres.
But once you
re located
ll feel ready to tackle
a rally stage
Given the STi's very high levels of grip you need these seats to stop your body being slung across the cabin in sharp manoeuvres. But once you're located you'll feel ready to tackle a rally stage.

The driver gets plenty of steering wheel adjustment, both height and reach, while generous seat height adjustability keeps your hips lower than your thighs for better body location. Now all you have to do is press the Start-Stop button on the fascia.

If it's your first time, better check out the dials first. The clear instrument cluster is dominated by a large, centrally-mounted rev-counter red-lined to 6,700rpm and inset with trip data, C.Diff and SI Drive readouts; supercar fashion, a smaller speedometer calibrated to 160mph sits to its right, leaving you in no doubt whatsoever as to what this 296bhp machine is about.

The glowing, reddish-orange electro-luminescent graphics are readable in a flash not that you'll have the time when you unleash this fastest-ever STi.

While it's all pretty shipshape, there are a few valid gripes: on a car costing this much you'd expect an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, not a manually-operated item as provided. And the horn could definitely benefit from a shot of testosterone. Equally galling, there's no range readout on the trip computer. However, thoughtful touches include a damped glovebox lid (no more banged passenger knees), a well-positioned left foot rest that matches the aluminium pedal set, and the de-icer elements that prevent the wiper blades freezing to the screen in winter.

A surprise to some will be that this WRX STi is not all Mad Max road-burner. The automatic climate control is efficient and the rear cabin is accommodating with decent headroom. Foot, knee and leg room are also all very good in the back, as too is the angle of the backrests. Three adults can travel side by side but there's no centre rear armrest to share between two.

Boot space is a useful 420 litres and the split/fold rear seats let the STi play the practical family car, although you don't get a flat load bay when the seats are folded. Cabin storage is reasonable, with a sliding lidded storage tray that doubles as a twin cup-holder. The bin beneath the central front armrest houses a 12v socket, Aux-In and iPod connections, and all four door pockets will hold a 500ml bottle.

Standard equipment is pretty much what you'd expect to find on a 33K car, and includes keyless entry with push-button start, automatic climate control AirCon, four electric windows (driver's with one-shot auto up/down), multifunction wheel (audio, Bluetooth, cruise), electrically-adjustable heated mirrors (powerfold on demand), radio-CD with 10-speaker audio system, AUX/iPod input jacks, hands-free Bluetooth, cruise control, front fogs and a satellite tracker.

“Accessing the 158mph
performance is done
manually via a six-speed
box. Its an easy job —
the lever has a positive
and precise action
with a tempting
natural inclination to
effortlessly slot into third
whenever you pop it
out of top gear
You also get privacy glass (rear doors, rear quarters and rear window), a full set of airbags (dual front, side and curtain), Isofix child safety seat mountings, Xenon high-intensity discharge headlamps with pop-up headlamp washers, and Hill Start Assist which maintains brake pressure for one to two seconds after the brake pedal is released to prevent roll-back and assist the driver in making a smooth take-off on gradients.

Smarter and better kitted-out inside the STi undoubtedly is, but its motivation hasn't altered much since its rallying heyday through all of its various winged incarnations, its raison d'être has remained constant: to provide an adrenaline-charged drive on the wild side.

Heart of the STi is Subaru's widely-praised 2.5-litre 16-valve turboed 'boxer' engine that punches out 296bhp. Torque is substantial 300lb ft at 4,000rpm. Make no mistake, this is a seriously brawny powerplant; torque delivery throughout the rev range is eager, even from low down, and accompanied by that unmistakable boxer 'burble' from the exhaust. Top speed is well over twice the legal limit, at 158mph. And against the stopwatch, zero to 62mph is 5.2 seconds quick.

Accessing the performance is done manually via a six-speed 'box. It's an easy job the lever has a positive and precise action with a tempting natural inclination to effortlessly slot into third whenever you pop it out of top gear. Get the message?

Fans of the breed will be delighted to learn that Subaru's widely-praised 'spec. C' suspension system is now underpinning the STi's more rigid bodyshell, to the benefit of the road-holding, handling response, and manoeuvring precision with a spin-off of enhanced ride refinement. New lighter 18-inch multi-spoke alloys contribute something to both the better ride and handling: each saves two kilograms of un-sprung weight at each corner.

The lower ride height, 'sticky' 245/40 Dunlop rubber and an engine installed deep in the chassis to maximise the STi's low centre of gravity all help generate more accurate control through the wheel. The quick-ratio rack-and-pinion steering has hydraulic speed-sensitive variable power assistance it's accurate; turn-in is crisp and placing the car easy.

And while firm, the ride is not as harsh as you'd maybe expect; it's compliant, enough to counter most bumps, and is by no means uncomfortable. Long journeys are not at all tiring, as they were with earlier generation STi models cruising motorways in this latest generation saloon is a pleasure.

“Given some heavy
wellie and the way it
slingshots through
bends and out of
corners, the latest STi
can plaster a
huge grin on your face
in less time than it
takes it to reach 62mph.
Better still,
the complete driving
experience can be
personalised to suit
both the driver
s mood
and the driving
This level of power would be unusable without a potent set of brakes thankfully the STi's high-performance Brembo brakes are up to the job, delivering real stopping power whatever punishment you dish out to them.

They're backed up by Super Sports ABS (a high-performance anti-lock system with an additional lateral G-sensor to monitor yaw-rates); Electronic Brake Force Distribution (compensates for differing weight distribution depending on the number of passengers and/or luggage); and Brake Assist, which detects an emergency situation and delivers maximum stopping power. Front (four-pot) and rear (two-pot) discs are vented and both have discreet black-painted STi-branded callipers.

Equally crucial to how the STi goes and, more importantly, grips, is Subaru's renowned Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive set-up. This makes use of front, centre and rear differentials in order to optimise dynamic balance. It's what gives the STi its grippy 'bolted to the road' feel something you're aware of all the time the wheels are turning, and especially along winding roads.

Given some heavy wellie and the way it slingshots through bends and out of corners, the latest STi can plaster a huge grin on your face in less time than it takes it to reach 62mph. Better still, the complete driving experience can be personalised to suit both the driver's mood and the driving environment. Three driver-adjustable aids for fine-turning the driving dynamics let you peel away the STi's more civilised layers until you reach the raw core.

The most easily engaged of these is SI-Drive (Subaru Intelligent Drive). Twisting the rotary switch behind the gear lever adjusts engine mapping between three levels of performance, all selectable on the fly: I (Intelligent), S (Sport), or S# (Sport Sharp). Each ratchets-up throttle response by varying degrees.

Intelligent mode serves up moderate power for smooth driveability along with gear change prompts to help economy; Sport is for all-round performance and is perfect for responsive everyday driving in any conditions; along with a super-sharp throttle response, Sport Sharp unleashes full-on, 296bhp aggression for attacking twisting roads or safe, super-quick overtaking.

Then there's C.Diff. Basically, this allows the driver to change the degree of centre-differential lock-up from the default 41:59 per cent torque distribution ratio between the front and rear axles. The default 41:59 setting provides optimum balance between agility and handling stability and tweaking it will be something keen drivers will be sure to enjoy experimenting with. Finally, the VDC stability control system can be adjusted to set the point at which you'd like the electronic nanny to lend a helping hand to keep the STi pointing in the right direction.

It may dress smarter now but underneath the tailored sheet metal the beast that was and is the STi lives and breathes. Entertaining to drive over any road, it now, like Transformers' Autobot Optimus Prime, also has more understanding of humans and their needs, offering comfort and enough practicality for family use. Believe it or not, our week-long test threw up an average of 27mpg (the official combined cycle figure is 26.9) with a best of 31.8mpg. And Yes, of course we stuck to the speed limits!

Subaru WRX STi | 32,995
Maximum speed: 158mph | 0-62mph: 5.2 seconds | Overall Test MPG: 27mpg
Power: 296bhp | Torque: 300lb ft | CO2 243g/km