Subaru’s STI Performance Division Keeps a Low Profile

It’s on the top floor of a Subaru dealership in suburban Tokyo where some of the wildest products to bear the brand’s name are born.

This is the headquarters of Subaru Tecnica International, better known as STI, a laboratory of speed for the automaker’s portfolio of passenger cars. It’s where everything from Subaru’s motorsports programs to its bolt-on suspension parts are developed, and where cars like the Subaru WRX STI are fine-tuned from one generation to the next before being unleashed on the market.

It’s an innocuous space, standing in stark contrast with the stuff that’s developed by the small team that works here. Just a few thousand square feet is all the room the STI folks at this location occupy — about half of the 100 STI works out of another facility where product testing is conducted — and they could easily be confused for the finance department if it weren’t for their signature blue shirts.

The cars that sit at the top of the stairs are also a bit of a giveaway as to what these masterminds are up to. A 1998 Subaru Impreza 22B STI, one of the skunkworks division’s most renowned — not to mention rare — production cars, is flanked by a pair of retired rally racers. Each of these three helped elevate the STI movement to new heights over the years, spawning a special breed of Subaru fan that’s as diehard as they come.

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Elsewhere in the second-floor lobby are small tributes to the performance division’s achievements past and present. A timeline highlighting some of its most significant rally wins over the years, or a cutaway of the engine that powers the Subaru BRZ currently competing in the popular Super GT touring car series in Japan.

This is also a showroom of sorts, and so standing in the middle of all that history is a hatchback version of the current Subaru Impreza decked out in what could be the entire STI catalog to date. A strut tower brace spans the width of the engine bay, while oil and radiator caps finished in the brand’s infamous Cherry Blossom Red add to the effect. Outside the car are some subtle aero parts, a perfect representation of the very place in which it’s all dreamed up to begin with.

Despite the significant splash STI has made in its relatively short existence, there’s a certain amount of modesty associated with the sub-brand. From the people in charge to the place they work, there’s something humble about the whole thing that’s hard to wrap your head around. But all it takes is one glimpse of a WRX STI to recognize that it’s nothing more than a clever ruse. Just try not to let it fool you.