For the better part of the last decade, Subaru has been puzzling me. While there is no arguing that the boxer engine and AWD combination is a great partnership that defines what the brand stands for, styling, well hasn’t. I can’t help but feel that there has been a great deal of confusion starting off with the bug-eyed GDA and the subsequent two face changes of the GDB, and then the controversial jump to the hatchback GRB, which personally took quite a while to digest. The same has happened with the Legacy, the SUV-ish proportions of the new gen model have made it a difficult evolutionary step to take in at first.
But late last year, Subaru did the right thing in a long time and created the GVB WRX STI sedan. This was by far one of the best decisions they could have taken, making the hot version of the Impreza available as a 4-door sedan. With such an exciting new version Subaru’s tuning arm, STI, was certainly not going to sit back and do nothing!
A limited edition tS model was in the cards from the beginning and after seeing it sitting at the STI HQ in Mitaka, I knew it was a car I needed to take out and sample.
Like all “tuned by STI” models the Impreza A-line I borrowed received a comprehensive selection of upgrades to help fine tune it into more of a driver’s car, adding sharpness and more focused dynamics. There are two versions available; one a manual with the stock 303 HP EJ20, which gets a faster responding twin scroll turbo upgrade…
…and the automatic version, which gets the higher capacity 296 HP EJ25 motor. The EJ25 might be the lazier of the two powerplants but has a flatter torque curve, offering up 258 lb/ft anywhere from 2,800 rpm to 6,000 rpm. The 2-liter manual has a more savage delivery, with a max of 317 lb/ft available at 3,200 rpm. But it was the A-line I wanted to sample as STI did a great job in trying to retune the old torque converter 5-speeder into a faster shifting modern-style transmission and on top of that I’d never driven and auto version of the WRX STI.
The tS is fitted with the same flexible strut tower bar that has contributed in transforming the handling of my Legacy.
During my time with the A-line Impreza tS I had the chance to experience it as it was my own car, driving it around through grueling Tokyo traffic, taking it on the highway for a long drive and throwing it around challenging mountain roads. It quickly became apparent I was probably driving the most easy to live with Impreza WRX STI; its firm suspension precise and communicative but at the same time compliant, the auto transmission easy to live with during normal driving but with a sportier edge when the occasion called for and the engine, powerful but at the same time economical if driven conservatively. The looks are something that I really liked about car. I’m glad the huge rear wing was removed form the A-line version, the small lip spoiler adding a little maturity to the blistered-fender-dominated exterior. And yes…
…that is a carbon fiber roof you see here! STI have managed to shave considerable weight off by replacing the regular steel item, effectively lowering the center of gravity of the whole car, which in turn reduces the roll moment of inertia. Out on the real world this translates to better handling and feel thanks to reduced roll and sharper reactions.
Behind the 18-inch by 8.5J STI 12-spoke wheels is where most of the tS upgrades are found. The retuned Bilstein dampers are joined by slightly harder and lower springs while a series of flexible supports offer the right amount of rigidity when it’s needed and in the direction it counts in the most. The concept is the same as the one use for the ball-joint in the flexible strut tower bar, except it is applied to tigthen up the front and rear suspension links. STI pillow-ball bushes are then thrown in for the lateral front & rear links helping eliminate any sort of slack, not that there was much in the first place mind you! But these changes are instantly perceptible from the first corner you take in the tS, the front is more willing to bite with no signs of understeer…
…while the rear feels a little livelier, sharper on turn it and when set up correctly more eager to kick the tail out, allowing the car to be driven on the throttle more, something that on the deserted roads around Ashinoko was tremendous fun. Don’t forget to turn the stability control off first though! The A-line is fitted with a rear helical LSD while the manual EJ20 powered version gets a Torsen rear LSD and a helical item for the front. STI really got the exhaust right on the tS. If you recall on the Legacy tS I drove last year, I found the engine note to be too conservative, but the Impreza’s quad-exit system blares out all sorts of great burbly boxer sounds…
…adding to the experience. The 5-speed auto isn’t that bad when going for it on the right roads, it shifts fast through the steering mounted paddles and blips the throttle on downshifts. But after sampling tons of dual clutch gearbox as of late it’s hard not to feel like it’s massively outdated. Subaru really needs to take a leap into the future and come up with a replacement if it continues to offer cars like the A-line.
I forgot to count how many STI badges there are in the interior, but it’s a lot!
There are nice upgrades like the STI steering wheel and comfortable half leather Recaro sports seats. It’s a simple, basic and decently accessorized cabin and a nice place to be in, the only real issue I had was the height of the driver seat, a little too tall even on its lowest setting.
Only 400 Impreza WRX STI tS have been made, and they are all sold out already.
STI are really onto a great concept with the “tuned by STI” models, an entry level performance-oriented version that offers refined handling upgrades and a nice selection of bespoke upgrades. Now if they weren’t JDM-only models and built in such small numbers then more people could buy into the tS experience. So how about it STI? Can we have more of these cars, and in other parts of the world too? Pretty please? With sugar on top?
-Dino Dalle Carbonare