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MOTORNET: Playstation effect

MOTORNET: Playstation effect

SCOOP MOTORNET with Karl Ferguson
Images by Neil Mackenzie -

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At first blush, I was beginning to wonder what all the fuss was about. Commuting in a WRX STi Spec R mid-winter, as the rain came down and the windscreen wipers heaved, it was hard not to focus on the ‘super-Subaru’s’ apparent shortcomings – the generally unforgiving ride, the clutch that exercised the calf muscle in my left leg more than it had a right to, and the Recaro seats that enveloped themselves around my midriff in a fashion that felt vaguely claustrophobic.

Having previously driven the standard WRX it was hard not to make a comparison. I like the WRX – I like the fact that it’s fast and yet easy to live with. I also like the fact that it’s affordable – nearly $22k less than the STI Spec R in fact. Given this, you’d be mad to consider anything else, surely?

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That is, until you leave the office and the traffic behind, find the right road and let the car do its thing, at which point the STi quite simply blows you away. That happened to me on day four with the car, on a brilliant, mostly deserted coastal road during an unseasonably sunny Sunday afternoon. From there on in, I was like a junky looking for my next fix. The standard WRX can no longer be called fast in my lexicon. The STi is monstrously quick. It’s not quite in supercar territory, but from a New Zealand perspective, it’s academic. Mash the accelerator, and the turbo spools up almost instantaneously. Turbo lag is non-existent. It feels more like you’ll run out of road before you do forward propulsion. In fact, on more than one occasion the rev limiter took me by surprise the needle having strayed too close to 7000rpm for comfort.

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The STi’s magic performance is not achieved through some kind of black sorcery, though you could be excused for thinking so. At a fraction over 1500kg it’s relatively light (only 150kg heavier in fact than a standard Impreza hatch) and it has 220kW on tap from a 2.5 litre blown four that develops a staggering 407Nm of torque – that’s more pulling power than an M3. It should come as no surprise then that the STi blitzes the 0-100km/h time in just 5.18 seconds. Quite simply there is very little that can stay with it. In that respect, its price tag of $64,990 seems almost paltry.

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While everything other than the STi’s performance tends to pale into insignificance, the looks too of the new Subaru are pleasantly contemporary. It’s unrecognizable from its fairly boxy predecessor, a car that for all intents and purposes had evolved as far as it could. Practically, the new car is roomier and vastly more functional and has the added advantage of being a hatch. In STi form the car sports a dramatic bonnet bulge, 18” wheels that fill arches to the max, and side skirts and spoiler that leave no doubt this is an Impreza that means business. From the rear three quarter view, the STi is reminiscent of the angular, but great looking Lancia Delta Integrale – a car with appropriate pedigree for a comparison. By contrast, the rounded front is too indistinct, too soft for my liking. But frankly, none of this matters. Having drunk from the well of STi performance, it could have a nose cone for all I would care.

Likewise, the well appointed interior comes with all the trimmings you might expect – CD player, electrics, climate air con, and those hip-hugging sports seats that when hurtling along at speed seem suddenly perfect. Unfortunately, there’s nothing particularly special about the interior, one of the downsides of the STi being based on a ‘donor’ car. Can’t fault the build quality though which is on another level to its predecessor, and the materials are of the quality you would expect of a premium Japanese brand.

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Performance on the road is really what matters. And it’s also where the car excels. The STi has a window where the ride instantly becomes perfect, the wheel at one with your hands, gear changes a thing of beauty, topped by acceleration that is staggering for a car based on an ordinary hatch. It’s where the car’s four wheel drive capability, the chassis dynamics, the impressive engineering and the well-weighted steering all come into play. Either side of that window and you potentially have unhappy commuting or… well, I never got to what happens when it all goes wrong. But it is a consideration. I like to think of it as the Playstation effect. The car appears so capable so often that in some respects it creates a sense of surrealism – a sense of surrealism that won’t count for much when the laws of physics inevitably come knocking.

In that respect, it’s fortunate that the STi will (hopefully) be reserved for those lucky few who will use and enjoy it in the right environment, and will happily suffer its other minor shortcomings when it’s forced to do what mere mortal cars do. The rest of us should probably confine our desires to the quick, forgiving and cheaper ‘standard’ WRX. After all, there’s no reset button in life.


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