What is it?
Despite the appearance of this Subaru WRX STI 320R, the manufacturer recently asserted that it no longer wants its performance models to dominate the brand limelight like they have done in the past.
Thanks to a combination of recession and high fuel prices, the WRX STI’s segment has become a crumbling niche and Subaru now believes that fresh ‘lifestyle’ products would be more likely to generate the showroom traffic which was previously buoyed by rally-inspired ironmongery.
Nevertheless, the current model, already reinvigorated by the welcome addition of a saloon profile last year, remains a key part of the Subaru portfolio and there’s evidently enough enthusiasm for it at the company’s UK division that time and money has been invested in improving its performance.
The 320R is a upgrade pack which can be specified at the point of sale (where it’s currently available as a non-badged special edition) or retro-fitted at a later date. The pack is offered free on the £32,995 standard car until the end of the year, but the power upgrade is worth £799 and the accompanying satnav is worth £750.
Previous incarnations would have been a messy mechanical affair involving a new exhaust, but this time round Subaru has found an extra 20bhp simply by remapping the ECU on the standard 296bhp 2.5-litre Boxer engine.
What’s it like?
Apparently the 320R enhancement was ushered through the development stage by a former employee of Prodrive, Subaru’s former tuner-extraordinaire. The connection is fitting as the software embellishment is the precisely the kind of performance enhancer the British firm used to rustle up for its employer.
The remap is intended to improve the flat-four engine’s flexibility by producing more torque at lower revs. This it does: 332lb ft at 3400rpm as opposed to 300lb ft at 4000rpm, but the reality is just a very slightly shorter pause before the boxer finally stretches its legs beyond the initial listlessness.
That things have improved from there on is evidenced in the figures, where the 320R trumps its lesser sibling’s 5.2 second 0-60mph time with a claimed 4.9 second sprint. Real world that doesn’t translate into a dramatic difference, but the higher power output does appear marginally quicker at 5200rpm, making all 316bhp readily available between corners.
Nothing else has changed beneath the WRX STI although the car’s butch all-wheel drive setup was hardly likely to struggle with such a moderate power increase. The steering still isn’t quite as accurate as you might hope, but the usual tenacious grip and old-fashioned B road poise ensure that the horizon always appears satisfyingly promptly.
Should I buy one?
If the WRX STI is already very much your cup of tea then there’s unlikely to be any way of convincing you that making it go faster is a bad idea. Japanese special editions (and their uniquely British translations) have always been a numbers game, and a sub 5 second 0-60mph time is still a desirable commodity for those who dwell on such stats.
Overall though the Subaru WRX STI 320R doesn’t propel the model into new realms of desirability. Its deeper-seated weaknesses – a poor interior and relative high price – remain, and with a UK distributor clearly focused on other things, they are unlikely to be resolved until the new Impreza (due in the UK next year) spawns a fresh performance derivative.