2012 Subaru Impreza WRX STI Driven: I’m too Old for This

I drove a WRX STI for the first time. Spoiler alert: I didn't like it.

The Subaru Impreza WRX STI is one of the automotive legends. As a kid, it seems like the perfect car: a great big turbo upfront with a billion horsepower, all-wheel drive, a manual gearbox, and a rear-wing that embarrasses even the most aggressive race cars. All that with four seats, four doors, and a big boot.

For the youth, it was the stuff of dreams. For the adults, it was a way to reconnect with their youth without neglecting their responsibilities as an adult thanks to the four-door practicality. The WRX STI is not only a rallying Goliath but also a performance road car that demands your respect. Because of this, naturally I went in my friend’s WRX STI with great expectation. Boy, do I have a lot to say…

Before I talk about the Impreza, I'd like to note that I drove the Impreza’s sworn nemesis a few years ago, a Mitsubishi Evo X with a DCT gearbox, and I was not impressed. The standard Evo felt somewhat lacklustre even with 300 horsepower on tap, and the gearbox made it even worse. Even though it’s fast to shift just like any dual-clutch gearboxes, at launch the car felt like it was being bogged down by both the all-wheel drive system and the gearbox.

The handling was alright, but it wasn’t anything to write home about. On top of that, the Rp1,200,000,000 (~$84,000) launch price tag in Indonesia didn’t help the fact that it had the interior quality of a Mitsubishi Mirage. Sure, the Evo X was still pretty quick, but the DCT gearbox made it duller to drive than reading its owner’s manual. So, is the Impreza WRX STI with a manual gearbox any better?

Subaru Impreza WRX STI: The Modifications

Keep in mind that this is a friend’s car and there are modifications done to it, here’s to name a few:

Fujitsubo muffler, Pivot step gauge boost meter, Sprint filter replacement, CP Piston, Manley connecting rod, ACL racing coated main bearing, ACL racing coated rod bearing, Exedy clutch 3-puck, Forge turbo hose, Forge intercooler L hose, Mishimoto radiator 3-row.

Quite the extensive list, I know. However, my friend hasn't put the car on a dyno, so we have no idea how much horsepower it’s churning out. But he’s confident that it’s pushing 400 horsepower from the engine.

So, 400 horsepower, manual gearbox, the first time I drove a car with that much power with a manual gearbox, what could possibly go wrong?

Subaru Impreza WRX STI: Turbotastic

Due to the stage 2 clutch that my friend had installed in the car, the Impreza felt nothing like a normal car as you try to creep forward. The car shakes and judders as if it was nervous on a first date, but once you get the car going then it feels like any normal Japanese sedan.

If you put the car in its “Intelligent” mode, the Subaru Impreza limits its boost to virtually none, and the car feels like it has a naturally-aspirated engine. It’s when you put it in Sport or Sport Sharp where the car comes alive.

Unlike the great Clarksonius, I can appreciate the appeal of gigantic turbochargers. In Sport or Sport Sharp mode at 3,500rpm the car launches into a world of power, giving you a jolt of power to all four wheels and propelling you nearer to the car in front of you. It’s addictive.

Of course, like any car from its era with a big turbo, the Impreza had lag lower down in the rpm range, but once the turbo spools it accelerates violently and accelerates to 100km/h faster than you can say “Petter Solberg”. While immediate power and response are appreciated, there’s something about a turbo kicking in making it feel faster and addictive. There’s no getting around it, I love the engine.

It sounds nice too. The Fujitsubo exhaust my friend had fitted wasn’t particularly loud, but it was loud enough to announce its presence and has a nice, smooth, but aggressive noise to it. I can’t really complain about the engine, it isn’t a technical masterpiece, but boy is it fun.

Subaru Impreza WRX STI: The Handling

The handling, however, is something I can complain about. It wasn’t particularly bad, but the steering didn’t feel quick or sharp enough for my taste. If anything, it felt a bit vague, as if there’s no physical connection between the steering wheel and the wheels itself.

That being said, this only really happens at high-speed cornering, at lower speeds it feels fine even though it’s not quite as sharp as I like it to be. Also, when you’re cornering at high speeds and apply some power, there is some noticeable torque steer where the steering wheel slightly moves by itself. It’s nothing too alarming, but it does make the steering feel vaguer which I don’t like.

To be fair, my complaint is probably because I just don’t like all-wheel drive cars in general. I much prefer front or rear wheel drive. But if you’ve driven an all-wheel drive car and you like it, you’d probably be fine. The chassis, however, does feel a bit soft. While the ride isn’t particularly comfortable, the chassis has quite a bit of body roll to it, making the car feel heavy and somewhat unstable in sharp corners.

Then there’s the adjustable differential settings, where you can either send equal 50-50 power to the front and rear axle or send it mostly to the back axle only. Which, if I’m being honest, I can’t tell under in-town driving. You’d probably notice it more on gravel or when you’re pushing the car to its limits, but if you’re just having a vigorous drive on back roads then you wouldn’t really notice it. You’d have to be a more perceptive driver than I am to notice it.

Because of this, I would advise it would be best to leave it alone in auto mode. Believe me, you don’t want to be driving vigorously for one moment with the diff in its locked 50-50 setting, and then moments later doing a U-turn only to be greeted by a violent juddering and slipping wheels.

Locking the diff at 50-50 means that both inside and outside wheels are rotating at the same rate, resulting in the outside wheels slipping to catch up with the inside wheel. If you didn’t know, your wheels have to rotate at different rates while turning, as they have to travel at different distances. I've attached this video below if you want to learn more about differentials:

Subaru Impreza WRX STI: The Boring, but Important Practical Things

I’ve been a car enthusiast for more than a decade now and to be honest, I think we’ve reached peak performance and driving dynamics, so there’s really not a lot to talk about when it comes to performance with this Subaru. Besides, there are lots of reviews talking about the performance anyway. Sometimes, the practical – and somewhat boring – stuffs are more interesting.

The Impreza has an average fuel consumption of 7km/L, or around 14L/100km. Which isn’t so bad considering that this is a sports car from the early 2010s. The fuel tank is 55L which is average for a sedan, and that means it will keep you going for around 380km until you need another refuel.

That being said, keep in mind that the car does not accept anything below RON98 fuel, which means refuelling can be expensive. But all things considered, it’s not too bad and as long as you drive relatively civilised, you won’t stop by the fuel station and drain your wallet too often.

Then, of course, there’s the four doors and the boot, which means it’s about as practical as any other mid-size Japanese sedan. The boot is spacious, and the rear seats are fine with decent legroom, and the practicality sort of makes up for that body roll. Although for its price (which is around Rp600,000,000 or $42,000 nowadays), your friends and families are probably going to be more comfortable in a Toyota Camry. But who cares about them, right?

The interior isn’t particularly interesting either, although my friend has fitted a multimedia entertainment system with touch screen and Apple Car Play, making life more modern and convenient. However, once you look around the interior you’ll notice it has more plastic than a Tupperware factory. Whether this is a big deal or not, it depends on your stance on plastic interiors.

Subaru Impreza WRX STI: I’m too Old for This

If I’m being honest, I am struggling to write a review of this car. It’s a relatively old car, and many other more experienced reviewers and have voiced out their opinion on this car long ago. I was struggling to find a fresh perspective for the review. However, this is my opinion of the Impreza WRX STI summed up in a few paragraphs:

If you’re an 18 year-old boy with testosterone bursting out and has just gotten your driver’s license, then you’re going to absolutely love this car. It has everything that the adolescent would want: a sodding big turbo, a mountain of horsepower and torque, a manual gearbox, and a rear wing higher than your dreams. But for me, I think I’ve outgrown this car.

I think I would’ve loved it if I were to drive it five years ago, but nowadays I like a car that’s more well-rounded: fast and exciting when I want it, but comfortable and relaxing when I need it. Like the BMW M235i or the Toyota GT86, for example.

It’s the ride comfort, the plasticky interior, and the small rattles here and there that make the car unlikeable for me. Not to mention, with that clutch, the car was just too tiring to drive for me and my rapidly ageing spine. It judders as you try to creep forward, and the whole car jolts as you change gear.

When I drive fast and exciting cars like this, normally I don’t want it to end: I want to drive it again and again until the fuel runs out, or until I get a little too carried away and hit a tree. But after I drove the STI for about an hour or so, I couldn’t wait to finish up filming and give the keys back to my friend and go back to the comfort of my beloved Mitsubishi Pajero Sport.

I still appreciate performance cars, and I can certainly appreciate the appeal of the STI, but at the end of the day, I feel that this car is too rough, too uncomfortable, a little too unrefined for my taste. I might even call it juvenile, if I may be so bold.

It’s not the car, the STI is still very much an exciting sports car in a sedan body, and depending on your taste, you might just absolutely love this car. Not to mention it’s also a good project car with lots of potentials. But for me, I guess I’m just getting too old for this shit.

All photos are taken by me unless stated otherwise. Please contact me should you want to use my photos for commercial purposes, or credit me for personal uses.

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