Earlier this year I found myself looking seriously at a B6 Audi S4 Avant.
Browsing used cars is one of my favorite weekend rituals and in this case the car in question was one my father spotted and sent to me. For a little while, I contemplated checking a six-speed V8-powerd German uber wagon off my bucket list.
Having practicality and performance in one package is part of the draw, but the scarcity is what’s really exciting to me. Few people buy performance wagons and fewer still take theirs with a stick.
At least that’s usually the case, but it wasn’t with the previous generation WRX STI. Through its life cycle, hatchbacks accounted for roughly 33 percent of U.S. sales until the end when Subaru pumped up production on the five door and the take rate shifted to roughly half.
Admittedly, it takes a special sort of person to buy Subaru’s halo car. The STI rides on a suspension that most people would probably agree is painfully stiff. The 2.5-liter boosted boxer four pot makes 305 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque and that might not sound particularly impressive by today’s standards, but it really is once you start driving.
Get Used to It
The acclimation period associated with driving a WRX STI is longer than most other vehicles because the gas pedal is touchy enough to make Dennis Rodman’s North Korea rant seem docile. There is three drive modes: Intelligent, Sport and Sport Sharp. The car grows progressively more aggressive through each to the point where smooth starts are almost impossible with “Sport Sharp” mode activated.
As you might already know, one of the primary differences between the WRX and STI is that the latter comes with a center differential that can adjust front-rear power distribution with the provision for a locked 50:50 ratio. This in combination with a newly revised chassis, especially quick steering and an impeccable driving position make the STI a non-stop thrill ride.
Driving the WRX STI is nothing short of addictive. Most of the time, cars with its level of performance come with setbacks like a heavily-raked roof that make them difficult to see out of. That isn’t the case here because this car is a cousin to the work-a-day Impreza that is designed at its core to be practical.
Two and a half turns is all it takes to go lock-to-lock with the steering wheel, which is particularly small in hand and particularly entertaining to spin.
I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to buy one if my income justified it save for one complaint: I want the hatch back.
Introducing Buddy the Dog
Buddy is a golden retriever that sheds perpetually and doesn’t like being in cars. Months before I booked a week with the STI, I agreed to chauffeur his owner to an annual family gathering and that meant bringing the pooch.
In preparation we spread plastic over the rear bench seat before wrapping it with old bed sheets in an effort to simplify cleanup and avoid damaging the car. It’s a good thing we did that because Buddy barfed… Repeatedly.
Obviously that would have been simpler with the more generous space that a fifth door brings.
Considering how popular the hatchback was through the 2014 model year, it’s hard not to wonder why Subaru chose to axe the five-door model. After all, they sell more cars in the U.S. than any other market. Why deny people something they seem to want?
Performance Oriented Compromise
It turns out there’s a very good reason for the decision. Subaru is a small company that can’t afford to shovel piles of cash ad hoc into projects. They also have a following of justifiably loyal fans.
Chassis and suspension tuning are some of the most significant improvements Subaru made to the WRX STI for 2015. If you didn’t pick up on that part already, let me emphasize again that this car is considerably stiffer than the model it replaces.
Unfortunately, Subaru couldn’t justify developing both a sedan and hatchback version. Instead the company poured everything into making one model that is appreciably more performance capable than its predecessor. In other words, I’m no more likely to get my wish than Buddy is to avoid going for another queasy car trip.