Exterior Design: ***
The 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX STI isn't what you'd call traditionally handsome. But with the wildly flared arches, huge hood scoop and restrained rear wing, it caries an air of purposeful muscularity. We prefer it to the old version, but would order ours in either black or white. Red does not flatter this shape.
Interior Design: ****
Wait, wait; hear me out. Sure, the interior's all swoopy and odd, but the minimalist instrument cluster is positively refreshing after driving anything Japanese. Just three dials exist there to control the HVAC; the rest reside in the touch-screen sat/nav or on the steering wheel. The Alcantara-covered Recaro seats look great and feel better, and any true driver's car that can accommodate four adults in comfort is a winner in our book. Further satisfaction is derived from the racy red instruments and chunky steering wheel, which always manages to feel just right.
Below 4,000rpm, you've got nothing, above that it flies, but a 4.8 second 0-60 time is now unremarkable in this class. Whilst hooning, you're working the gearbox hard and never notice the turbo lag, everywhere else, you do. In sensible mode, it never becomes easy to pull away smoothly, making you hop and jerk like a 16-year old just learning how to use a clutch.
Competent and confidence inspiring, if somewhat unremarkable. The relationship between gas and brake pedals makes for easy, intuitive heel and toeing.
Abysmal, but nothing less than what you'd expect from a car of this caliber. On the plus side, the STI always feels in control, no matter how rough the road gets, just keep a firm hand on the steering wheel. It also has a reasonable ride height, which means you wont be grinding out the undercarriage on every driveway lip and speed bump.
Ultimately extremely capable, but pushing it hard initially requires an unnatural level of trust as the chassis lacks that nth degree of feedback. The STI rewards a firm, experienced hand like few other cars while still providing plenty of thrills for the inexperienced, and it never feels like it's going to bite.
Notchy, requiring a firm, accurate throw. The clutch is suprisingly light, which, if it weren't for the engine's lack of fervor at low rpms, would make for easy stop-start driving.
It's not the radio that makes this car sound special, it's the engine. Since when did 4-cylinder turbo boxers sound this characterful and just plain special? The stereo with Aux input sounds pretty good too, but you won't want to turn it on, it covers up the engine noise.
Right where you'd expect to find an iDrive knob or climate controls in a lesser vehicle, the Subaru features a knob to adjust the throttle response and a switch to adjust the degree to which the differential locks up. In fact, the only thing keeping the STI from a five star rating is the painful lack of a manual intercooler water spray button and Active Yaw Control. Oh, and if tweaking the throttle and differential settings ever gets old - trust us, it won't - the touch-screen sat/nav system works pretty well, too. There's an acceleration meter located somewhere in the depths of the touch-screen, but it's gimmicky and we prefer trusting the seat of our pants.
At $39,440 with BBS wheels and sat/nav, the STI isn't the performance bargain it once was. Still, this level of performance doesn't come any more practical. If you're prepared to put up with the harsh ride, road noise and turbo lag, you could get away with using it as an everyday car. A BMW 135i is similarly priced and more luxurious, but lacks both the space and pace. A Lotus Elise would provide a similar thrill level, but has only seats two and starts at $46k. Crucially, however, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution comes in about five grand less than the Subaru.
More than the sum of its parts, the 2008 Impreza STI offers a truly special drive, all the more so for its numerous foibles. It's refreshing to find a vehicle this rewarding in such a compact, practical body. The controversial looks will keep it from mass-market acceptance, but don't be afraid to take the plunge, it'll flatter and reward both mediocre and experienced drivers by offering a package that's always safe and fast, but ultimately somewhat challenging to get the most from.