Japanese automotive manufacturers have been doing it for years - saving the very best for themselves. The reasoning perhaps lies in a belief that customers in international markets couldn't possibly appreciate the extra level of detail, luxury or performance. But what happens when a manufacturer so completely misses the mark that they've ended up with a car for no one? Subaru's new S4 tS does it's very best to find out.
I've long argued that Subaru's rising popularity has (expectedly) had an adverse effect on the brand's flagship STI. The 3 infamous letters were born in the world of rallying in the late 1980s and became a badge of honor amongst enthusiasts around the globe. Those same enthusiasts were the ones who made Subaru relevant and helped transform the manufacturer from eccentric, AWD purveyor to the gold standard in reliability and safety.
Over the decades the once taut, 2-door rallying young gun embraced the expanding waistline of middle age and has become hard to distinguish from any other bloated 4-door sedan on the road. However, for Subaru enthusiasts, there has always been the excitement in what results after STIs top engineers go for a night on the town - the beloved 22b, the stripped down Spec C and Subaru's answer to the BMW M cars of the world, the S-Series (S202, S203, and so on). Very few ever made their way outside of Japan, but it was a reminder to all that Subaru could still go racing, when they wanted to.
With age comes wisdom and the S4 tS may be the smartest limited edition STI yet. DampMatic II front suspension and Active Torque Vectoring keep the car planted and limit understeer around the bends. An upgraded air intake and exhaust increase power and efficiency. All it sounds great and like any aging star, there's been a fair bit of nip and tuck around the face - the lipstick around the front grill is a nice touch. But despite the car's many selling points, one factor negates it all, an automatic transmission.
In an attempt to market the car to an older, more sophisticated demographic with a lazy CVT and a significantly increased price tag of $49,000, Subaru have continued to ignore their younger and fiercely loyal enthusiast customer base - one that still enjoys thrashing through a manual gearbox. It's the mechanical connection that every petrolhead knows and loves about a car and in the case of the STI with its turbocharged boxer engine optimizes every last bit of horsepower.
A mind of its own CVT slows the S4 tS before it even sets off and the more mature motorist it hopes to impress will find little interest in the car's plastic interior and pink jewelry.
Thus we have a Subaru STI for no one.
Image credit: Subaru