- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2004

It may come as a surprise to some that automotive manufacturers are seeing the benefit of bringing a street version high-performance automobile to market. To them, it makes perfect sense, when they see the remarkable effect these “halo” vehicles have on sales of all vehicles on their dealer lots.

Subaru brought the WRX to North America with ease. Having garnered great success in international professional rally racing, the hardest task was to keep the brawn in the car while making it fit for everyday driving. In fact, when Subaru introduced the first WRX, the automotive world went wild. Not only was there a ground swell of enthusiasm for the car, but there were a huge number of requests for an even more powerful and capable WRX, more like the race car.

Well, Subaru has taken the requests to heart and now a new WRX STi modified by the racing side of Subaru is here. To put this WRX STi in perspective, a Porsche 911 produces 315 horsepower. The WRX STi brings 300 horsepower to the street via an adjustable all-wheel-drive system.

This turbocharged, flat four-cylinder engine is remarkably lacking in turbo lag and torque steer. Subaru engineers have done an excellent job of getting all the power possible from this engine to the street.

Not only is the engine masterful, the suspension system adds an increased element to the vehicle that allows you to enjoy the kind of romp along country roads that you can get from very few automobiles.

The one thing you will not get from the WRX STi is a cushy ride. In fact, I am sure most drivers will find this Subaru downright rigid. But the folks who will appreciate the superior handling will not care one bit.

There are two lines of thinking on the subject of the exterior appearance of a performance car.

One believes that the performance should be experienced, not shown off by exterior dressing.

The other side says let the folks see exactly what the car represents. Dress it with all the exterior bits that tell the world it is a performer.

Subaru has decided to travel the latter route, but with style. There is nothing attached to the WRX STi that isn’t needed or goes without function. No unnecessary graphics, body panels or garnish. Everything you see here performs a function that improves the performance of the vehicle. Right down to the huge functioning hood scoop that forces cool air through the turbocharger’s intercooler. Even the large rear spoiler mounted to the deck lid provides needed down force to help hold the car firmly to the road. Of course, the big meaty, high-performance tires stick to the road like they have suction cups attached.

As it is with the other aspects of the car, the interior is both sporty and functional. Deep sport-style bucket seats hold you firmly in place. The only thing missing is the six-point racing-harness seat belts.

Plenty of interesting features are also enlisted that give the car outstanding abilities. The all-wheel drive system has a driver-controlled variable center differential. From the driver’s seat you can adjust the drive-line balance, sending more power to the front axle, to the rear axle, or anywhere in between. This gives the driver incredible control over the handling and power application to the road.

Other than true specially built race cars, I have not seen this ability in any production vehicle. If you tend to push your WRX STi a little harder than most, there is a switch on the dash that sprays cooling water through the intercooler to help keep the engine running at optimum temperature.

Yes, the WRX STi has four doors, like a family sedan. Yes, you can carry more than one passenger. However, there are few automobiles out on the market that can be as much fun and perform as well as the Subaru WRX STi.

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