2008 Subaru Impreza WRX STI

Robert Kerian

In fairness, the STI is very quick around a track thanks to its relentless acceleration and the grip that the sticky Dunlop rubber generates in spite of the noticeable body roll. Its oversize Brembo brakes, with four-piston calipers in front and twin-piston rears, shrug off repeated abuse that would melt a WRX's binders into pudding. Fast as it may be, though, the STI just won't dance on the track.

Get the STI on a windy, hilly, bumpy canyon road - you know, the kind you'd see on a tarmac WRC stage-and all of that boring stability turns into dynamic magic. The STI's suspension is completely unfazed by jumps, midcorner bumps, frost heaves, railroad crossings - practically anything you can drive it over. You can jump it, landing sideways in a pothole, and there's nary a whimper of protest. Thanks to seemingly endless wheel travel, the ride quality is never harsh. It's no WRX wet noodle, mind you, but you won't have to go to the dentist to replace loose fillings after a long drive.

In addition to "on" and "off" settings, the STI's new stability control system offers a third mode that allows increased yaw and slip before it intervenes. On the track, it felt like it actually helped rotate the car, resulting in faster lap times. On the road, it barely intervened no matter how hard we pushed. That this new mode is called "traction" is comical because, at least in the dry, no amount of lead-footedness will result in wheel spin. Apply 305 horses worth of thrust as you're sliding around a corner, and the STI shrugs and says "uh, OK." There is no other car in the world that can explode out of a tight, first-gear hairpin like the STI. And, in fact, the STI is so stable, I'd feel comfortable sending my mother to climb Pikes Peak in it with the stability control disabled. In the snow. With bald tires.

There is quite a bit of chatter - and some torque steer - coming through the leather-rimmed steering wheel, but the system is accurate and well-weighted. The STI's standard xenon headlights cast a perfect blanket of light, so your pace won't slow unnecessarily in the dark.

Like the WRX upon which it's based, the STI has become much more livable in everyday driving. Its interior materials and fit and finish are worlds better than its predecessor's, and its funky hatchback body can swallow far more cargo. It will also swallow more of your bank account-the STI we drove, equipped with the only three available options (a navigation system, forged aluminum BBS wheels, and foglights), cost a whopping $38,000.

Does this mean that the STI has gone soft? No way. Ignore the complaints you'll no doubt hear about body roll and understeer - no one ever said the STI was a track car. Go beat an STI mercilessly on some insane mountain road, and you'll understand. You'll hear the subtle gear whine, you'll notice the endless suspension travel, and if you're patient enough to work through the turbo lag, you'll carve through bumpy, off-camber, blind corners at a rate of speed that would make a WRC driver smile. Sure, there are cars-especially in this lofty price range - that out-this or out-that the STI, but few have as much personality. In a world where so many cars, including Subaru's own WRX, are turning into lifeless appliances, it's the personality that counts. n

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