No mention is made of higher spring rates in the press material for the WRX STI. So you’ll have to take our word for it that this is a much more stiffly suspended machine than the last STI – and a much, much stiffer one than the slightly soft, roll-affected STI hatch that came before.
On the face of it, Subaru has over-compensated massively in response to criticisms of that car (and perhaps the STI saloon that followed it) by ramping up chassis rates to almost anti-social levels. It has introduced both grip and enhanced directional responses into the car’s handling, but at disproportionate expense.
The STI’s ride is very poor. In fact, it will be intolerable to all but the most committed. Mercifully, it isn’t too noisy or crashy as much as it is unnecessarily unyielding. It’s twice as firm as it needs to be at an estimate, and more so than a lot of 600bhp supercars we could mention.
Suspension travel feels uncharacteristically short for a fast 4x4, so the car’s dampers are rarely given the chance to soak up shocks in one cycle of movement. Every bump in the road seems to cause two or three more bodily disturbances than it should; every one is exacerbated by the chassis rather than absorbed.
The firmer load paths through the front suspension also cause a bit of torque steer, bump steer and general unwanted interference through the steering wheel, all of which makes guiding the car quite trying at times.
Grip levels are high, though, and the steering itself is very direct and responsive – but it’s an unsatisfying helm, mostly because the weighting is inconsistent and there’s a nasty elasticity to the feel, while little sense for what the front contact patches are doing is actually conveyed.
Assistance levels are necessarily high, however, due to the lateral forces that must be overcome, the reduced diameter of the wheel you’ve got to overcome them with and the extra directness of the steering gear.
Sheer lateral grip puts the STI within two-tenths of the VW Golf R around our dry handling circuit. The Subaru clings on to the track very hard indeed, turns in much more cleanly and keenly than any STI has before and keeps its body upright at all times. There’s still quite a bit of dive and pitch to contend with — a pay-off for those stiff anti-roll bars — but not so much as to corrupt braking stability.
The disappointment is that, in the dry, there’s not quite enough neutrality to the car’s cornering attitude. Once you’ve grown used to the entry speed you can carry, you inevitably look to pick the throttle up as early as you can mid-corner and steer the car on the rear axle as you exit. But no dice.
There’s no limited-slip diff for the rear axle here and understeer only intrudes if you harry the car too hard. So unlike a car with a 4WD system that can push its power rearwards when the front starts to slip (which is most good ones), in the STI you have to play a waiting game until the road opens out. Pity.