RECENTLY a car executive horrified me. Research shows, he said, that onboard apps—all that Playstation stuff—are now the fourth most important consideration in our choice of which car to buy.
Silly me. All this time I’ve been writing about the motor and suspension, the steering and brakes and how well you can toss the thing into a corner, or how many bags of trash it’ll haul.
Instead, you want to know how rapidly the voice-recognition algorithms can convert “Y’all find me a Chuck E. Cheese, hear?” into turn-by-turn directions.
To try to get over this, I had to spend a week in an electric-blue Subaru WRX—the nasty 305-horsepower high-boost-turbo STI model. Where I live, every third car is a Subie, so no one looks—unless it’s one of these things. And if the color doesn’t grab your attention, or the fat tires, bulging fenders and front lip, or the hood scoop evidently meant for sucking up marine plankton and the colossal basket-handle spoiler on the back, then the racket from these four big-bore exhaust pipes will.
Just revving it in the driveway was enough to bring my wife outside to shout, “Did the muffler fall off?”
Nope. This is what you get if you tick the box for Subaru’s Excitement Option and then hand them about $35,000: A raucous demon that will claw its way to 60 in well under five seconds, shotgunning gravel from all four wheels while trying to slam into the rev limiter before you can pull the gearbox from first to second.
Subaru Tecnica International, or STI, is the company’s skunkworks, the no-doubt-grinning maniacs who build race cars for the World Rally Championship and other politically incorrect uses of petroleum products.
This machine began life as an ordinary Impreza sedan; now it’s a hooligan express with go-kart reflexes and a hair-trigger temper.
It’s even got some of those electronics people now seem to crave, namely Bluetooth-enabled, hands-free phone and audio. And Satnav. Some cupholders.
OK, that’s cool. My favorite electronics, though, are the switches on the center console that let us flip from Sport to Sport Sharp—with a notch inbetween that’s mysteriously labeled “Intelligent”—and from normal to mud-slinging traction via an adjustable center differential.
Like steroids, these convert the STI from merely mean to outright psychotic, and trigger the sort of behavior that brings out the villagers with their pitchforks.
Lacking a racetrack on which to thrash the motor and shred the tires, most owners will have to hunt up dirt roads or pray for snow (or relocate to Finland) to really enjoy what Subaru hath wrought.
Recent generations of this car were accused of going soft. The 2011 STI, however, is abrupt, aggressive, noisy, challenging, functional-ugly and rides like a wheelbarrow.
I love it.
Oh, I just now noticed it’s got four doors, too.