'The time has come for the Subaru STI to take its final bow, which presents us with the sad perfect opportunity to look back at the career of one of our most beloved models'
The heartbreaking news that the current, Final Edition of the WRX STI will be the last Subaru to wear the iconic three letter badge, in the UK at least, has caused much soul-searching and not a bit of reminiscing amongst vast swathes of the British motoring world. Believe us when we say that it wasn't a decision taken lightly – we're only too aware of the STI-badged Subaru's place in automotive history and the role it has played in the evolution and growth of our company, which is why we've opted to take a good, long look back at its 23 year history. Without further ado, lets say our final farewell to the STI Legend…
It's hard to appreciate the impact that the original Subaru Impreza STI had upon the automotive landscape when it was launched upon an unsuspecting public back in 1994. It was one of our original performance offerings and one of the first to be truly embraced by the car-buying masses, yet also one which bucked the all-pervading perceived wisdom of the time, namely that high performance cars had to be 'snatchy,' tricky to drive, impractical and unreliable. The twin virtues of symmetrical all-wheel drive and turbocharged flat-four boxer, both of which remain to this day, gave the Impreza STI class-leading traction and power, all wrapped up in a package as reliable as a Swiss timepiece. It meant that investing tens of thousands of pounds into a Porsche or a Ferrari was no longer the only route to a startlingly quick performance car, and we (and the car buying public) haven't looked back since.
STI (Subaru Technica International, if you didn't know) badged Imprezas went onto make the 1990s their own, with much of this success down to the wholly accessible nature of their performance. The abundance of both power and sure-footed traction mentioned above were key attributes of all STIs, and they meant that these cars could well have been designed with the UK's pock-marked, pot-holed and all too often sodden-wet roads in mind, something we endeavored to underline in all our marketing at the time.
Of course it's impossible to discuss the role of the Impreza STI within Britain in the 1990s without also mentioning the sport of World Rallying, a sport which we rather made our own for a large portion of the decade. Our decision to pair with David Richards and his Prodrive outfit had already borne fruit with the Legacy RS, yet the introduction of the Impreza, not to mention the retention of a certain Colin McRae, catapulted Subaru UK and the Impreza STI to the forefront of the public consciousness.
The Group A Subaru Impreza, known as the 555 in rallying circles, proved a force to be reckoned with in World Rallying from its launch on the 1000 Lakes Rally midway through 1994. Prodrive's relentless commitment to active differential technology, the car's compact size, the fact that the low-mass, all alloy 'boxer' flat-four engine imbued the Impreza with an ability to be kind on its tyres, these traits and many more made the 555 a formidable opponent, particularly with drivers like Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz behind the wheel. It meant that we were able to claim an impressive array of WRC silverware, including 3 Manufacturers' titles on the trot between 1995 and 1997, and of course McRae's famous Drivers' championship victory in 1995.
STI-badged Impreza rally cars would remain a pre-eminent force in the WRC for many years, with both Richard Burns and Petter Solberg netting their respective titles in our overalls. Impressive as all this no doubt was, it was the impact said rally performance had on the UK's road car market which was most arresting, with something of a 'cult of STI' growing as the 1990s progressed. This, and the encouraging sales figures it drove, convinced us to green-light a number of STI-based special editions, many of which have gone onto become fully paid up automotive icons in their own right. We could devote countless pixels to detailing every single STI-badged Subaru to have emerged over the years, but we can't. Instead, we'll restrict ourselves to two of the most beloved, the P1 and the 22B. The former was a UK exclusive developed by Prodrive (hence the 'P') to stem the tide of 'grey imports off the back of our WRC success, while the latter was nothing less than the ultimate iteration of the Impreza STI, a 280bhp monster with bulging arches and rallying provenance, with just 399 cars produced globally.
The twin virtues of all-wheel drive and lightweight boxer-power continued to serve the STI well long after we withdrew from the WRC in 2008, so much so that Subaru performance offerings have found themselves taking on all comers in an environment which would once have felt wholly unfamiliar to them – the track! Clear evidence of this can be seen in the tarmac-based exploits of the current WRX STI, with a specially prepared Type RA NBR (Record Attempt Nurburgring) having smashed the Nurburgring lap record for a four-door saloon in September of this year. The time in question was a mere 6m 57.5s, a figure which puts the STI in the most rarified of company, faster around Germany's most infamous ribbon of asphalt than the Lamborghini Aventador SV and just half a second slower than the Porsche 918 Spyder.
Perhaps the ultimate indication of the STI's ability to bring top-tier motorsport performance to the road occurred last year though, when Mark Higgins piloted a Prodrive fettled, 600bhp WRX STI around the grueling Isle of Man TT road course, all 37.73 miles of it, in an attempt to set a new record. The bare stats give a glimpse into the talents of Higgins, the scale of the challenge at hand, and of course the capabilities of the STI itself; the daunting road course was dispatched in a mere 17 minutes 35.139 seconds, an average of 128.730mph – all while dodging' man-hole covers, drains, postboxes and pretty much any other item of 'street furniture' you care to mention.
For all the STI's exploits both on the special stages and race circuits of the world, it's important to grasp that what really matters, to us, our designers, engineers and everyone associated with Subaru, is how the car performs on the public road. The STI has always been about scintillatingly accessible on road performance, and it has remained true to these fundamental ideals throughout its history. It means that despite the monumental strides in both technology and construction processes made over the last two and a bit decades, the current, Final Edition STI has much in common with its Impreza predecessors. It's still a deceptively potent car which can punch well above its weight thanks to an abundance of grip and tractable, real-world performance. It can still show a clean pair of heels to most examples of Italian exotica on any undulating British B-road you care to name, and it remains every bit as home rush-hour traffic as it does the depths of a damp Welsh forest.
There's doubtless a sense of sadness surrounding the demise of the STI, a car we at Subaru UK have come to view as one of our chosen sons, but there's a rather significant silver lining to be had, one which serves to temper any sense of loss. You see, everything that we've learned over the course of the STI's extended 23 year life hasn't been squandered or forgotten, quite the opposite. No, the traits which made STI Subaru's so beloved by so many hundreds of thousands of owners have instead been distilled and infused into the wider model range. It means that no matter which current Subaru you opt to buy, you'll still be directly benefitting from the STI's DNA; your Subaru will still sport the symmetrical all-wheel drive and power will still come from an all-alloy boxer engine of some kind, and we can't think of a more fitting epitaph to one of Subaru's most beloved models than that!