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The STi comes with a button on the instrument panel that sprays water on the intercooler to bring down the temperature and boost horsepower.

2003 Subaru WRX STi Road Test

STicking to the Road
Subaru's new Impreza WRX STi boasts 300 hp of fun.

By Bill Roebuck

June 6, 2021 -- There's not many a driver who would turn down the opportunity to spend a day at Mosport testing one of the newest and most powerful vehicles on the road. I certainly didn't, a couple of weeks back, when Subaru Canada introduced its 2004 Impreza WRX STi to a contingent of Canadian journalists.

The STi is Subaru's latest model, a sedan based on the all-wheel-drive Impreza WRX, but re-engineered to provide sports-car levels of acceleration, handling and braking performance.

We arrived at the Mosport International Raceway, 100 km east of Toronto, on a gloomy and chilly Tuesday morning, to be greeted by driving expert Judd Buchanan and his team of assistants, along with Subaru staff. Highlights
2004 Subaru Impreza WRX STi
Category: Sports Sedan
Seats: 4
Engines: 2.5-litre, 300-hp Supercharged H4
Fuel Econ.-Cdn L/100 km (mpg), city/hwy: n/a
Price (Cdn): $46,995
Pros: Powerful, quick, adrenaline-stimulating fun, excellent grip, good safety features, all-wheel drive.
Cons: High price, low fuel economy.
You couldn't miss the lineup of STi's waiting for us at the track. There was no mistaking them for the Impreza 2.5 RS and WRX sedans that were around. A huge rear spoiler for aerodynamic stability and a giant scoop on the hood to feed air to the intercooler were instant giveaways, even from a distance.

Buchanan's group had created five stages of tests on the track's Mosport-Powell circuit, including a circular skid pad, a slalom course, an accident avoidance lane-change segment, a drag-strip for a zero to 96 km/h acceleration test (that's 60 mph), and an autocross segment along a winding, hairpinned course to evaluate acceleration, cornering, handling and braking -- all while driving as fast as you could.

The latter two stages were certainly the most fun, and very revealing of the STi's prowess on the tarmac. Most of the tests were done with two people in each car.

Being on the track at Mosport in ANY vehicle would have been exciting, but driving the 300-hp STi was the icing on the cake.

It's surprising that those 300 horses -- plus 300 lb-ft of torque -- are generated within a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder powerplant. Yes, just four cylinders. The boxer-style (horizontal) engine is turbocharged and intercooled, and linked to an easy-to-shift six-speed manual transmission.

The STi even comes with a gimmick -- there's a button on the instrument panel that sprays water on the intercooler to bring down the temperature. It apparently helps boost horsepower in hot weather after some hard driving. If nothing else, it's something unique to brag about.

The STi stops as fast as it goes, thanks to its big Brembo brakes. You can see them clearly between the spokes of the 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels.

On the track, the start area for the Subaru's acceleration test was wetted down to allow a bit of wheel slip, which you normally don't get with an all-wheel-drive vehicle. Most of the journalists averaged times of less than six seconds for the 0-60 mph run. My best was 5.70 seconds with a passenger. However, that was well behind Mark Hacking, a writer with keen reflexes, who managed a searing 4.90 seconds -- with no passenger, though.

The hardest part of getting a fast run on the acceleration test was in holding the revs at a smooth 2,500 rpm and quickly letting out the clutch -- not too fast, not too slow, but just right -- as you ground the pedal to the metal. If you muffed it, causing the engine to lag for even a slight moment, your time would well exceed six seconds.

The autocross segment included short straights up and down hills and back-to-back corners, both flat and graded. We had plenty of time to repeat the course again and again. It's something you think you'd never tire of, even though you can work up a bit of a sweat after close to a dozen runs. Later, when you get home, you realize you're tired. Then, the next day, you notice a few odd muscles that ache a bit from all that twisting, turning and holding back against hearty G-forces. Who said test-driving isn't real work?

Not one driver had any complaints about the muscle of this new Subaru. It has the kind of power and acceleration you get with a Porsche!

No matter which segment we were on, the STi's performance didn't seem to be noticeably different with or without a passenger. I lost my co-driver for a few of the autocross and slalom runs when a bout of motion sickness put him on the sidelines. After all those side-to-side G forces, he had to take a break from the curves.

The slalom test added to the fun factor of the event. You go as fast as you can, winding down the track without knocking down any cones. At the speeds we were trying, I expect lesser cars would have left nary a cone standing. But the stable STi swung in an out with ease, displaying remarkable grip on all four wheels. That's not to say that some of the scribes didn't overstep their personal limitations and demolish a cone or two.

A large amount of new technology in the STi helps make it fast, agile and stable. It would take more space than we have here just to list it all. The innovations are mainly in the engine, drivetrain and suspension. One feature worth mentioning is a small control wheel on the centre console that lets you adjust the amount of torque available to the rear wheels, from 50% to as much as 65%, so you can change the car's handling characteristics on the fly. All this doesn't come cheap, though, as the STi's list price is $46,995.

After a day of trying to lose my grip (without much success) at Mosport, it was a challenge to drive home at reasonable speeds -- at least until the city's rush hour traffic kept the speedometer in check. However, the slow drive gave me time to reflect on the amazing acceleration and agility Subaru has built into this little sedan. It's really a giant when it comes to raw power. In fact, Subaru should nickname the STi the "Tyrannosaurus WRX."

© Copyright Bill Roebuck, 2003.

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