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You don't buy an STI for its looks

WRX STI features the same 2.5-litre boxer four as the old car, but power has jumped to 221kW and torque to 407Nm.

There's nothing like leaving it to the last minute to maintain suspense. From the moment Subaru announced the new Impreza WRX STI last year we've been on the edge of our seats and waiting with baited breath.

Well, the wait is over and I can tell you Subaru still knows what it takes to make a quick Subaru great. This car is all the proof you'll ever need of that.

Too much has been made of the Impreza's styling. So-what Subaru moved from one oddly styled Impreza to another; it's not the first time and it certainly won't be the last. Does anyone really care what this car looks like? I sure as hell don't.

The bulging guards contain a wider track front and rear than the standard car and also feature vents at the trailing edge of the front arches to aid brake cooling. Nice touch. The wheelbase has grown substantially, although the body itself is shorter.

In the metal the WRX STI looks properly violent, and yet also manages to seem more mature, more elegant even than STIs of yore, and that isn't damning it with faint praise.

A bloated wheelbase, track and shorter overhangs mean the car has a better footprint, think Ian Thorpe as opposed to, well, anyone else. That means handling benefits and on the road it shows. The car follows its line more keenly, is more stable when cornering hard and feels more adjustable via steering or throttle inputs. It's very fast and a whole lot of fun.

Shapes and size aside, the WRX STI is nothing if not a technical tour de force. The Driver's Control Centre Differential is where you go if you want to vary the torque split between front and rear. In Auto it's set to 41 per cent at the front and 59 per cent at the rear. Auto-plus offers more traction in slippery conditions while Auto-minus loosens the diff for twisty roads when you want more front-end bite and a little more rear play.

Then, as if that's not enough, you can manually toggle the plus or minus switches through six stages. The wildest setting sees 70 per cent of torque shuffled to the back wheels.

Stability control, or Vehicle Dynamics Control as Subaru calls it, can be adjusted through three settings. It's either all on, loosened up to allow some cornering slip angle, or all off when you really want to get lairy.

But wait, as Tim Shaw said, there's more. Subaru has also added a system called SI-Drive and again there are three modes to fiddle with: “I” is for when you're cruising along the freeway and want to save fuel, while Sport and Sport Sharp deliver sharper throttle responses. Most STI owners will use the latter settings.

The WRX STI features the same 2.5-litre boxer four as the old car, although power has jumped from 206kW to 221kW and torque is up from 392Nm to 407Nm. A new free-flowing quad-exhaust system rounds out the package, giving the WRX STI a deep growl at idle and part-throttle. Bolted onto the back is a slick, short-throw six-speed manual.

There are two models available: the STI at $59,990 and STI Spec R at $64,990. The Spec R adds lightweight BBS alloys and sensational Recaro buckets; sat-nav is a $3000 option.

The interior is a more pleasant place to be than previous STIs but that's not saying much. There's room for four and thanks to suspension changes, the WRX STI rides better than ever before.

The launch saw us punt the car around Symmons Plains Raceway and then tackle real-world roads outside of Launceston. No matter the surface, be it poor bitumen, wet bitumen or grippy race track, the STI drives like a demon. It's astonishingly capable — more so than ever. Indeed, at a track day or out on a twisting stretch of bitumen very few cars would get past an STI. It's properly quick. That it can be driven around town just as easily is the icing.

It builds speed effortlessly, washes it off just as effortlessly, turns-in well, holds its line regardless of mid-corner bumps, rides superbly, is way more playful than ever before and makes ordinary drivers feel like a hero.

For many potential buyers one question will dominate their thinking: is the WRX STI $20,000 better than a standard WRX? Absolutely it is. In fact, it's so good it makes the WRX seem slow, dim-witted and boring. So start saving. It will be the best $59,990 you'll ever spend.




Subaru Impreza WRX STI

Engine: 2.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder

Outputs: 221kW at 6000rpm; 407Nm at 4000rpm

Transmission: Six-speed manual; all-wheel drive

Price: From $59,990


Check out our Subaru WRX STi section here.


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