Jeep Cherokee Trackhawk, Dodge Durango R/T, Lamborghini Urus, Stelvio QV to name a few, the demand for a fast and practical SUV has never been higher. In an age where, at least in the United States, people are becoming more and more convinced they need an AWD/4WD track monster that can haul their 3.5 kids to karate class and get their groceries home with their own area code of living space in the back, the demand for fast SUVs has never been higher. Whether it’s the practicality, the off-road capability, the straight line speed, or the refusal to go quietly into the dark night that is the minivan, there has been a significant uptick in the presence of powerful, family minded SUVs on the market.
The idea of a Sport SUV is nothing new. The letter S in SUV stands for sport, but during the age of SUVs, many focused on the Utility aspect over the sport. Now there have been SUVs that were properly sporty, the one that comes to mind is the Toyota 4-Runner, but most of the Sport had been previously focused on the SUVs performance off-road instead of its ability to smoke a BMW in a drag race.
In the US, the emergence of blisteringly fast SUVs coming straight from the manufacturer is a new concept, at least insofar as domestic cars are concerned. We had SS model Trailblazers, Explorer Sports and the like, but it was the European market, with the G Wagons and the Cayennes, that dominated the early 2000s quick SUV market, or were they?
Now, however, every SUV seems to have an Unleashed version pushing the limits of what the chassis can do as far as performance and speed, often at the sacrifice of off-road ability. When I was growing up, a sporty 4 door sedan was the compromise between the last vestiges of youthful fun a man or woman could cling to, while still being able to haul their kids around town. In an era where the target market is the upper-middle class nuclear family of 2019, maybe it’s more reasonable to get an SUV that is a compromise of practicality and driving entertainment. The realistic maximum off-road capability that this target audience would need is to handle a snowstorm.
Enter one of the most unique SUVs ever made, and you can still get one today (just not in the west), the Subaru Forester STI. The Forester was a compact SUV that was introduced in 1997, and has been reasonably popular for its smaller size and reasonable utility. It was only a matter of time after the car was introduced that Subaru’s rally pedigree started to make them have wild ideas about their SUV.
Except that the idea of an STI Forester makes a great deal more sense than you’d think. The Forester was designed around the chassis of the Subaru Impreza, their award winning rally car. It only has a height of 65 inches, which was only ten inches taller than its parent Impreza (American SUVs of the time were sitting at 70+ inches). The Forester shared the same 2.5L Turbo flat-4 from the 2005 Impreza, and was tuned to boot.
The Forester STI, when introduced in 2004, was pushing 265 BHP with a manual transmission with taller gear ratios to adjust for the engine’s torque. Subaru gave it an all new steering rack, an Active Valve Control System, 18 inch tires with Brembo brakes, and the same AWD drive system in the Impreza (albeit without the Impreza’s adjustable differential). The Forester STI weighed only 155 pounds more than the Impreza STI and, while slightly slower, was still very quick and just as fun to drive. The car marketed for 28,500 USD, almost 4,000 less than the Impreza STI.
The Forester STI handled well, and was described as being exciting when the back end was out, as well as torquier than the Impreza STI. The lower center of gravity allowed it to handle almost as well around corners as the Impreza, but the extra height sometimes reminded you that it was not, in fact, an Impreza. There was plenty of cargo space since they did not have to sacrifice space to accommodate any performance upgrades the car received.
In the JDM community, the Forester STI received a cult following. Far fewer were made than the Impreza STI, but are remembered for their Subaru reliability, utility, and STI heritage. A reasonably preserved STI can be found for under 1.5 million yen, around 15K USD. In 2006, the Forester STI got a facelift. Pre facelift cars are called “kouki” and the post facelift “zenki”, and both are desirable.
Subaru Forester STI Concept, which will feature an exclusive interior, plenty of badging and upgrades,and a tuned version of the eBoxer 2.0L Hybrid engine in the current Forester.
In early 2019 a concept for an upcoming Forester STI was unveiled in Tokyo, and it looks fantastic. Most likely it will not be available for the western market, but we can always hope. If you fancy an original Forester STI, and live in the US, they will be available for import starting in 2029. If you live in a more JDM friendly country and like this unusual machine, they're hard to find, so you'd better snag one before they reach 22B prices.