What is it?
After a three-year absence, the Subaru WRX STI saloon is back and bolder than ever. The Japanese maker has been a bit hit-and-miss with its car designs over the past decade and is trying to find its mojo again by giving the WRX STI saloon the same bulging flanks and wide footprint as the hatchback.
A rear wing so large that it doubles as a picnic table is back, too, although the jury is out on its overall aesthetic appeal.
The new saloon was unveiled at the New York motor show earlier this year and has just gone on sale Down Under ahead of its British debut later this year or at the beginning of next year.
Australians got an early taste because they seem to have a soft spot for the idiosyncratic brand; per capita more new Subarus are sold in Australia than any other country. Plus it’s a shorter boat ride for the cars to Australia than Great Britain.
What’s it like?
The other big news to go with the arrival of the wide body sedan is the option of an automatic transmission – a first for the WRX STI. But don’t get your hopes up for a slick-shifting automated twin-clutch arrangement available in the Golf R or the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. The WRX STI makes do with a conventional five-speed torque converter auto.
It appears to be a stop-gap measure as Subaru has simply raided its parts bin rather than design an all-new gearbox; the five-speed auto is the same transmission used in its large softroader, the Tribeca.
Indeed, the gearbox appears to be untouched, as Subaru has had to cap the torque output of the STI’s otherwise impressive 2.5-litre turbo four-cylinder engine.
Power, curiously, is the same for both the manual and automatic versions (at 292bhp it is also unchanged from last year’s model). However, while the six-speed manual WRX STI has 300lb ft of torque, the auto must make do with 258lb ft.
I’d like to say that you can barely notice the difference, but the reality is: you can.
Against the stopwatch, the auto is almost a full one second slower in the 0 to 62mph dash than the manual, completing the task in a rather leisurely six seconds neat.
And it’s not because the auto version is 10kg heavier than the manual. It just doesn’t have enough grunt.
The automatic shifts are quite smooth, and as with its peers the WRX STI auto comes with a nice pair of levers behind the steering wheel so you can select gears manually. But manual gearchanges are slow and blurry, and the system won’t allow you down-change if doing so means the engine is likely to be within a few thousand rpm of its maximum revs.
It’s all a bit ham-fisted really. Thankfully, the manual still offers blistering performance and the wider body means the sedan gets the wider track for better cornering grip.
Subaru has also used the opportunity to update the suspension tuning; the new model is more compliant over ruts in the road than its predecessor. And while there is still plenty of road roar that is typical of Japanese performance cars, it is muted slightly by some extra sound deadening material.