Better looking now, which is a decent start considering the motley front end collection that makes up the car's forbears. All the usual STI protuberances apply, including a colossal spoiler that’ll be standard in the UK. Tugging the A pillar forward by 200mm hasn’t hurt the profile, although it’s the new nose – part early Impreza, part Lancer Evolution IX – that makes the model in the flesh.
The interior has also been lifted from its previous ignominy, but only just. On the cheap plastic accreditation scale it has moved up one wrung, but the problem is that while it has been reclad in soft-touch trim and glossy carbonfibre veneer, the elderly architecture beneath it is mostly unaltered and it’s leagues behind the decidedly upmarket competition.
Cranking the Boxer into life hardly helps. Refinement remains an issue; that you may occasionally wish to be isolated from the whining induction noise is obviously still a novel concept at Subaru. The engine is its same old self, however, and despite Subaru’s claims to the contrary, it leaves the STI feeling like a car in search of its optimum power and pace.
The figures – 296bhp and 5.2 seconds to 62mph – may suggest otherwise, but the Boxer feels a full generation and at least a furlong behind the latest Volkswagen Golf R. Placing twice the responsiveness under the first quarter of accelerator pedal travel (as has been enacted by the new ECU) hasn’t alleviated the central issue either, making the STI, particularly in Sport Sharp mode, seem overly climactic. This car often scampers forward when a saunter would do.
It’s around the smaller steering wheel where most of the alterations immediately tell. There’s no muddiness at the straight ahead and the new quickness means minor adjustments are constant. Requiring you to steer straight makes for a meticulous brand of alertness not found in rivals’ electrically assisted systems, and while the linearity of response is called into question when more than a quarter lock is required, the daintiness of the rack between between fast, flowing bends is striking.
The previous STI would have grumbled at the prospect of taking orders from such a speeded-up helm, but a 40 per cent improvement in torsional rigidity and significantly higher springs rates pay obvious dividends. Body roll is far better managed than previously, allowing you to lean even more emphatically on the naturally high lateral grip and apply more power that bit quicker. On turn-in it’ll still labour into understeer with too much effort and input on the sensitive throttle and steering wheel, but get it right and the STI exhibits an aggressive and immediate all-corner balance.
All of this, in typical style, is best enjoyed at nine-tenths, where the car’s obviously mechanical character rewards a specifically gung-ho driving style. Subaru talks of having maximised rear wheel grip to help the front pivot, but the centre differential will still let you merrily drive through this state if you wish, making the STI’s back end interactive in a way that none of the competition deign to rival. With track space and a sufficiently big send, four-wheel drifts are still very much in the party bag.
What’s not in there – still – are the impeccable manners exhibited elsewhere by the opposition at this level. Subaru may have removed some of the notches from the manual gearbox, but this is still a grouchy and rather tinny car to drive modestly. It's expensive, too, given the lowly 27.2mpg combined extracted from the best possible conditions. The after-effects of all the added stiffness make for an old-fashioned and determinedly firm ride, too – not blithely uncomfortable, but forever bubbling on what feels like the initial 10 percent of its suspension travel.