2008 Subaru WRX STI (Japanese-Spec)

Still, the 2.0-liter provides lots and lots of thrust. Its twin-scroll turbo builds boost more linearly and gently than the last STI we drove - the last-generation 2.5-liter U.S.-spec STI. Whereas that turbo's boost hit the motor like a tidal wave, this one oozes in like a hurricane. Don't expect much boost - or torque - under 4000 rpm. Strangely, off-boost at low rpms, this engine felt stronger than the 2.5-liter in the U.S.-spec WRX. That might be due to this engine's variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust cam.

Regardless, this 2,0-liter mill won't be coming to the U.S. Our STI will continue to have a 2.5-liter four, and that likely means even more horsepower. From what we understand, Subaru continues to use the 2.0-liter engine for the Japanese market (and the Japanese market only) so that it can me homologated for the World Rally Championship. Oh wait, that's another three-letter acronym: WRC.

And speaking of WRC homologation, Subaru decided that a hatchback body is the best way to go, so the STI is a hatchback only - no sedan. The hatch's shorter overhangs reduce yaw inertia, and its shape allows for better front-to-rear aerodynamic balance. And, compared to the last STI, the wheelbase is 85 mm longer and the track is 40 and 45 mm wider front and rear, respectively.

The STI gains a much more aggressive looking body, too, with bulging fender flares front and rear. While it looks a little overwrought in photos, it looks positively menacing in person, especially in darker colors.

The supersupportive Recaro seats won't be coming to the U.S. (at least not initially) but a few trick electronic gizmos will make the trip across the Pacific. The first is a VDC stability control system which, for the first time, gives the STI three modes of operation: Normal (all systems on), off (all electronic systems except ABS are turned off) and a new mode called Traction. Traction mode works similarly to other manufacturers' "Sport" modes - it raises the intervention thresholds and limits traction control functionality for aggressive driving. Around the track, it works well to smoothly mitigate understeer without yanking power unnecessarily.

The second new electronic control in the STI is Subaru's DCCD - the Driver's Control Center Differential. Previous DCCD applications gave an automatic mode or a manual mode, which either the computer or the driver select the front-to-rear power bias. The new DCCD system keeps those two modes but adds two more: Auto+, which gives the computer control but favors loading the differential to maximize overall traction, and Auto-, which similarly tries to maximize handling by favoring an open differential.

Subaru's all-wheel drive system can vary the torque split between the front and rear axles only from 41:59 to 50:50, so the difference in any of these modes isn't drastic. In fact, we could feel no real difference on the high-grip track - but we look forward to trying the system in more slippery conditions.

We will be driving the U.S.-specification STI soon, and that experience will include both on-track and street driving. We expect to know a lot more about how the STI drives afterward. Because a handful of laps on the wrong side of the car around a racetrack just isn't enough to give you the full picture. We look forward to doing that, um, ASAP.

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