ROAD TEST: 2014 Subaru WRX STi aka 'Sandy the sheepdog'
When I was a lad, in the Lakeland sheep farming village where I luckily spent my youth, there was a sheepdog called Sandy. No idea why, as he was black and white. But he used to follow me and my little border terrier, Amber about everywhere. In rain, snow, hail, sleet and fog, there wasn't a fell walk he didn't go on – relentlessly chasing down the rabbits our ratter Amber flushed out, catching them with ease using his extreme power, pace, grip and even the odd-four-paw-drift (a move he perfected in his full-time job as tail-out drifting sheep dog).
And when the long walks were over, he didn't flop in front of a warm fire like our Amber. Oh-no. He re-fuelled (and boy, did he eat!) and wanted to do it all again, and again, and again. He only had one setting: Mental.
The 2015 WRX STi is the machinery re-incarnation of Sandy the sheepdog: Insane, stupidly fast, bionically powerful, never happy at rest, out in all weather and completely loveable, always happiest blasting about on loose surfaces wagging it's tail... ;-)
It's hard to believe the legendary flat-four Boxer engined, symmetrical all-wheel drive car that launched 23-years-ago in Japan as the Impreza WRX is even still in existence in this EV and hybrid car world. It's a proper relic of a fallen era really. And with Subaru not being in the WRC since 2008 (& even falling out of favour to its nemesis the Mitsubishi Evo on the clubman rally circuit, sadly) and both its most famous British drivers – Colin McRae and Richard Burns – sadly lost from the world too, it's not even got a rally heritage to play on anymore.
But still... people love it.
And why the hell not?
Have you heard one?
That flat-four, off-beat Boxer burble gets under your skin in a way a great V8 does. That turbocharged, pin you to your seat buzz and the legendary all-weather, all-wheel grip is massively addictive. the WRX STi is one hell of a cocktail that never fails to hit the spot, like a great zombie or manhattan does.
And whilst it might not be the special stage winner it once was, it does still do the business in motorsport terms – with a class win at the gruelling Nurburgring 24-hour this year, and hardcore Isle of Man TT course production car lap record, again. And if those two events don't prove that the 2014 WRX STi is still a properly quick, capable and bionic beast... nothing will.
The latest 2014 incarnation of turbo nutter WRX STi madness is the most capable to date, and comes with a substantial re-vamp, inside and out.
Don't get us wrong, it's still unmistakably "Impreza" – with its hallmark, bird-sucking bonnet scoop, flared arches filled with gorgeous monster alloys and beefy STi brakes and insanely massive dinner table of a rear wing outside and its tech-laden, bucket-seat-blessed interior. And it's still a practical performance car too, with room to house five adults and all their clobber no worries. Got to love these Subaru hallmarks, right? We certainly do at Road HQ.
But now, for your £28,995, you get a grown-up 33mpg potential from the familiar 300 PS and 407 Nm Boxer 2.5-litre lump, which is also now able to rocket you to 1mph shy of 160mph and 0-62moph in 5.2s.
And you get the incredibly effective tools of Subaru's Intelligent Drive (SI-DRIVE) – "letting you adapt the driving character of the WRX STI to your needs or desires." The three-modes are simple enough: Intelligent Mode [I], for smooth acceleration and an eye on efficiency. Sport Mode [S] for "a linear response, and versatile command of every condition." And balls-out, hold-on-tight full strength mode in the ballistic Sport Sharp Mode [S#].
Then there's the multi-mode DCCD (Driver’s Control Centre Differential) – allowing you to dial in different diff settings to suit the conditions and your driving style, by adjusting both an electromagnetic multi-plate transfer clutch and mechanical locking of a Limited Slip Differential to apportion the torque to the wheels. Auto Mode finds the ideal power distribution for changing conditions, Auto [+] keeps more power up front for increased traction, and Auto [-] puts more power to the rear for tighter cornering... definitely the best setting to dial-out the WRX STi's understeer and dial-in some tail out stance, which really suits the AWD and superbly balanced independent double wishbone suspension set-up.
The symmetrical all-wheel drive, DCCD, electronic mapping and suspension and brake set-up is absolute perfection for UK roads and even manages to strike a good balance between handling prowess and ride quality few softer cars can manage. Brilliant.
Two new and very welcome additions include the LCD display sports gauges in the dash (with their ace 'sweep' and light-up sequence when you first get in and useful/adjustable data read out whilst driving) and the top-end multi-fucntion display – full of enough to keep even an avid button pressing Alpha male like me happy, including an addictive digital boost gauge. Fab.
Does the new 2014 WRX STi improve the brand? Yup.
Is the WRX STi obsolete? Maybe.
Do we still love it? Definitely.
It's really hard not to love a tail-wagging, go-anywhere, fuel-hungry, super-fast and adorable sheepdog like Sandy...