Test Drive: 2009 Subaru WRX STI
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In these economically challenging days, sub-$35,000 performance cars like the Mazda RX-8, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, the Nissan 370Z and the Subaru WRX STI are starting to have more appeal compared to more expensive offerings from manufacturers like BMW, Porsche and Corvette. The STI has generated a cult-like following, thanks in large part to the last generation model which we tested back in 2006. Subaru has taken a very different route with the new STI, most notably going to a five door hatchback body instead of a sedan, so we were curious to see if it still retains the performance and charisma that has made those three letters famous.

A quick look at the spec shows the STI has all the right numbers: The turbocharged four-cylinder boxer engine puts out 305hp and 290 lb-ft of torque, has all-wheel-drive with a driver controlled center differential, a four-wheel independent suspension and beefy Brembo Brakes. Road & Track testing revealed a 0-60 time of five seconds flat, braking performance that took the STI from 60 to 0mph in 199 feet and the ability to generate .90 g's in the slalom, which are very respectable numbers for a car that starts at a base MSRP of $34,995.

Preferences on styling and design are purely subjective, but I prefer the new hatchback styling of the STI over the previous sedan. I've always liked hot hatchbacks, and the muscular fenders, dual exhausts and gold BBS wheels on our test car gave the car great presence on the road, though I could do without some of the cheap-looking plastic around the front fog lights. Our test car also wore the famous blue paint of the rally cars, but I think the car looks really fantastic in satin white pearl paint with the gold wheels. Inside, the STI has a proper three-spoke steering wheel, logical placement of gauges and controls, decent storage space and a usable back seat. Our car also had the optional navigation system, which couldn't find Penn Station in New York City and tended to lock up from time to time. Hopefully Subaru has fixed these bugs since we drove it.

I had mixed feelings for the STI when driving on some of my favorite roads here in Northwest New Jersey. I liked the gutsy engine, the strong brakes and the short, precise throws of the manual transmission, but the steering feel was a little too vague and had too much play around center. Feel improved through the wheel as speeds increased, but it never became as communicative as I would like it to be. I also liked the support of the seat backs in sporty driving, but Subaru should have picked some seats that give the driver more support around the hips and legs.
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