DRIVE STi: Performance over comfort

By Ann M. Job

For The Associated Press

Would you spend more than $31,000 on a new car that doesn't have a standard radio or floor mats?

Some 600 people in the United States already have, according to Subaru, which sells the company's road rally-inspired, 2004 Impreza WRX STi.

On sale since June with a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $31,545, the STi is a rare sedan -- and not just because there's no radio in the dashboard and floor mats are a $75 option.


An all-wheel-driver with the most powerful engine ever offered in a Subaru in this country, the STi is the closest an American car buyer can get to owning a Subaru road rally car.

In fact, STi stands for Subaru Tecnica International, the high-performance and motorsports development division of Subaru's parent company in Japan which helped craft the STi car.

Subaru has a long, successful history in rally racing, which is popular overseas and in video games that young Americans play.

A Subaru opportunity

While rally racing has yet to catch on here the way NASCAR and open-wheel racing has, Subaru officials saw in the STi an opportunity to launch a new halo car for the brand that has become known more for its value attributes and Outback crossover vehicle than for excitement and sportiness.

Trust me, one ride in the STi dispels that old notion.

First order of business: Climb into the car's racing seats.

Gosh, I half expected to see racing seat belts here, too, as the form-fitting front buckets of the STi curved around my shoulders and thorax and thighs to hold me in place.


But no, all five riders in the STi get regular, three-point belts.

Note the climb inside is down into the seats, as the STi, based on Subaru's Impreza WRX, has a body that's lowered nearly a half inch.

The ignition key of the STi is unusual, too. It's a thick, metallic thing that looks more like an emergency turnoff key than a car's ignition key.

Then, there's the light, quick-response steering and the STi's 300-horsepower, 2.5-liter, turbocharged and intercooled, horizontally opposed four-cylinder.

A driver gets an idea of what this means just by looking at the speedometer, which goes to 160 mph and is illuminated all the time in a bright orange-red color.

The tachometer goes to 9,000 rpm, but the needle is likely to get close to that only with engine modifications. Otherwise, the redline is 7,000 rpm.

I noticed there was no turbo boost gauge in the test car. The gauge is an option for those who want it and will help prove that a full 14.5 psi of boost is available from the turbocharger.

But I didn't need a boost gauge. I could feel the power coming on quick in this car.


Mated to Subaru's first six-speed manual transmission in the States, this engine can put out an amazing 300 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm.

Gearing is on the low side, as I regularly needed to upshift quickly out of first gear to keep my speed climbing.

There always seemed to be more power available, though.

The shifter had a nice, short throw and it and the dead pedal -- the resting spot to brace my left foot as I drove -- were an easy reach, even after I moved the driver seat up to accommodate my 5-feet-4 frame.

Brakes provide strong stopping power and are wonderful in helping to give this compact four-door a set.

They're large, ventilated, Brembo racing brakes and react quickly to a touch of the brake pedal.

But, as a race-inspired car, the STi provides a harsh, noisy ride. Sound-deadening material that would be in other cars isn't here -- all in an effort to save weight and make the 3,263-pound STi as sprightly as possible.

Lightweight glass


Additionally, the rear window glass is thinner than normal to save weight, and Subaru spokesman Rob Moran said weight-savings also is the explanation for no radio and floor mats.

It seems a little odd, though, that these items would be left off while cruise control is included as standard in a driver's car like the STi.

The list of options for the STi is instructional, as it includes a security upgrade kit, for $230, and wheel locks, for $39 -- and those floor mats.

The STi is the second road rally-inspired sedan to arrive in the United States this year.

Earlier in calendar 2003, the 2003 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution debuted with a starting MSRP, including destination of $29,582. And this includes an AM/FM stereo with CD player and floor mats.

Subaru plans just 300 STi sales a month, spread across 600 U.S. dealers, spokesman Moran said.

He said he didn't have details on the likely buyers, except that the majority will be men as young as 25.

Wonder how hefty their insurance rates will be with a car like this and that young age.

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