I have loved cars since I could talk, and I’ve loved Subarus almost as long. I love them so much that I daily-drive one of the wildest and worst Subies in New York—a bagged and stanced 2005 Baja Turbo. But when I talked my way into a brand new 2016 WRX STI, there was only one question. How does a modern, proper, unmolested Subaru compare to my monstrosity?
Yes, I’ve gone off the deep end. This is happening.
Photo Courtesy of Jacob Tompkins
Hi, my name is Jared. I currently suffer from the “Stance Life.” Yo.
I also happen to be one of the video creators for Jalopnik’s YouTube channel. Ever since the Fast and the Furious movies (as well as my discovery of the Long Island Subaru Club and NASIOC) back in the early 2000s, I’ve been into modifying Subarus. As you’ve surely seen in our season finale of Worst Car Stories, my mother bore witness to my Subaru addiction and ill-fated attempts at modifications.
I ended up owning a 2003 Impreza RS as my first car, which eventually became a highly-modified “RSTI” (pictured below).
Photo courtesy of Aaron Ok.
But why the Baja? Well, I had this crazy dream that I was going to turn it into a cost-efficient camera car and argued that the mods I put in/on it would make it easier to make automotive films. So, at first, I ended up doing cool stuff like this.
Coming from a Bugeye RS with a 2004 STI engine swap, an Open Source tune, 2006 WRX 4-Pot brakes, a JDM STI RA gearset, and some stiff-ass coilovers, I knew that with a little finagling (and some help from my buddies at Tuning Works), we could make nearly any part for the Legacy GT and Outback fit.
So when it came time to get an airride kit together, we slapped on a set of 02-07 WRX front struts, 08-14 STI rear struts from Airlift Performance, a little magic from Trump’s toupee, and voila...a Baja “Laying Frame.”
Fitting those massive 18” X 10” Work VS-XX wheels on slightly-stretched Falken RT-615K tires was a whole other story.
But before you start grabbing your pitchforks and rioting in the streets over my audacity to even compare these two vehicles or, quite frankly, to even modify a “perfectly good” Baja Turbo, you must know three things:
1.) Previously, this “utility vehicle” worked a farm in Philly; now it’s been intentionally made useless in virtually every way possible.
2.) This car could not have been built without a number of generous sponsors, whom which I acquired before working at Jalopnik. I’m not allowed to accept that kind of stuff now.
3.) It was purposely built to piss you off; although to many, it’s one of the coolest builds they’ve ever seen. I mean, come on, if the Road & Track’s Bob Sorokanich, demanded a ride in it, it has to be cool, right?
(If you’ve ever met Bob, the answer to that is definitely “no.”)
But this isn’t about my own weirdness, it’s about the difference between the pristine and, well, not-so-pristine.
The Heart and Soul
The EJ-series engine platform dates back to the late 1980s and has reported for duty in the Impreza, Forester, Legacy, a Saab 9-2x Aero in 2005, and yes, the unusual and arguably pointless Baja and Baja Turbos. It came in a variety of configurations, from single overhead cams to dual, from 2.0-liters to 2.2 to 2.5, and even had a turbo or two – depending on the country – thrown in for good measure.
Guess which new car also has a “Heart of EJ?” The 2016 WRX STI.
By no means am I suggesting that my truck/car/whatever, with upgrades pushing out a whopping 250 horses to the wheels holds a candle to the power, torque, or convenience of the new STI. But as difficult as it is for you to accept, my bagged 2005 Subaru Baja Turbo and the STI do share the same basic power plant.
Suspension and Ride Quality
The 2016 STI features a stiffer chassis, and springs with a redesigned Sport-tuned STI inverted-strut front suspension and aluminum front lower L-arms aid agility. Translation: should you choose to accept the mission of driving the new STI, you’re in for a rough and bumpy ride.
I took delivery of the car at our office in New York City. I drove home to Brooklyn and felt every bump, and I mean every bump. My immediate inclination as a member of the “Low Life” was to start swerving to avoid every pothole and bump I could see. But in reality, the suspension is so stiff that I actually needed to.
Remember I said that my Baja is on air suspension? Spoiler alert: the insanely wide wheels require a disgusting amount of camber in both the front and rear just to fit.
I also didn’t tell you that the ride height makes it significantly lower than the STI.
When I first put airbags on my car, I encountered an unusual issue. In all of Subaru’s wisdom, they forgot to think about the nutjobs like us, who’d be completely screwing with their brilliant suspension designs. That meant that when I put bags on the Baja, and combined them with the short suspension pieces normally found on a WRX and an STI, everything was ruined. The smallest dip in the road would cause my rear tires to slam violently against the inner wheel wells, which in turn would throw the entire rear into the air, resulting in my and my daring passenger’s ejection out of our seats.
It was harsh, and uncomfortable, and felt like sitting in a clothes dryer made entirely out of rocks.
Throwing in extenders, however changed all that.
Had you asked me when the wheels were still on and the extenders weren’t in, I would’ve waved the white flag of defeat and admitted that the ride quality was worse by a landslide.
But with the rear extenders in, it’s virtually identical to the STI. Let that sink in for a minute.
The difference is not only do I have to avoid bumps and potholes (numerous complaints have been filed regarding the firework display left in my trail), but more importantly, I have 30 levels of damping on all four struts, leaving the door open for a more forgiving ride than the STI.
I’ll go a step further: in “Winter Mode,” the Baja rides more comfortably (see below) than the STI. On certain occasions I actually go out of my way to hit bumps just to feel the difference.
So if you’re not used to driving on coilovers or bags, and are expecting to cruise comfortably through the streets of Brooklyn with her random craters in the new STI, consider bringing your grandmother’s hemorrhoid cushion. Or bagging the car.
The 2016 STI and my Baja Turbo quickly go from being really close step-brothers to cousins literally twice removed. One of the biggest differences comes with the 2016 STI’s drive modes. By toggling the SI-Drive button between Intelligent [I], Sport [S], and Sport Sharp [S#], you can completely change how the vehicle performs. It’s as if it has multiple personalities, and the driver has control over which personality comes out to play. While cruising at a steady speed on the highway (and without adjusting my lead foot), changing from one mode to another turned the car into a whole different animal.
Intelligent Mode exists as a way of improving gas mileage, definitely making the car feel more sluggish. You can floor it, but you’ll feel like you’re driving an Elantra in ECO Mode.
Toggle to Sport Mode and you’ll get a formal welcome to the jungle. The gas pedal becomes more sensitive; the engine more responsive. It drives more like how the original STI did back when it debuted in 2004, with a broad, gutsy powerband right from the get-go.
Sport Sharp should appropriately be renamed to “Hank Evans,” as this is the most insane of the three. As soon as you let off the clutch and hit the gas, it goes from zero to psychopath faster than Jim Carrey portraying mental illness.
My Baja also has a wide variety of “modes,” but since it’s not quite a brand-new WRX STI, I’ve had to create them myself, using a tool called the Cobb Accessport.
The Accessport does allow me to make adjustments to my tune, however, I can’t really do it while I’m driving. I first need to plug it in, then go through the main menu to get to the different settings. Add in its distractingly high-resolution display and the lack of an installed In-Vehicle Mount, I need to be parked to make any real adjustments. Which can be a bit of a drag.
STI: 1. Baja: 0.
I don’t care about heated seats, or XM radio, or all sorts of other things you don’t actually need. But Subaru’s had to add a whole bunch of things you might not actually need to the STI in the name of safety and technology. So unlike my Baja, there are now features like a blind spot detection system, and an entire screen that tells me how much boost is pumping through the engine, and where power is going to which wheel.
Absent from the Baja are modern day conveniences like heated seats, push start ignition, and even a rear camera for parking, all of which come standard in the STI. Sure, I could install all of those things, but it would take a fair amount of work, time, and money, most of which I don’t have. I’m lucky the Baja has an auto-dimming rear view mirror.
STI: 2. Baja: 0.
But a car’s beauty and styling is what draws me to it. It’s sexy as it sits, but I see how much better it could be through the art of exterior and suspension modification. Power, braking, handling all come second.
And when it comes to beauty, my stanced 2005 Baja Turbo carries way more of it - literally and figuratively - than a brand new, 2016 STI. Yes, frankly, the whole truck still needs to get painted and (with the wheels on) has more camber in the rear of my car than on the ankles of a pack of drunks walking through The Meat Packing District, but the attention it continues to receive has been incredible.
Whether I cruise to a show or drive through Brooklyn, people are always stopping me to ask questions about the car or take pictures of it. Sometimes they go further, like when a lady saw fit to expose herself to the Baja during a drive in Georgia where I was first revealing the car at Southern Worthersee in 2015.
It was a totally different story with the 2016 STI.
The STI’s visual appeal is anything but strong. It’s difficult for me not to think that it looks like your average Toyota Camry (at least from the back). I won’t deny that the front looks aggressive, but its too robotic. It doesn’t bring out any visceral emotions, and it doesn’t feel like it’s blazing any new paths. It’s boring, and if Subaru is going to change its design every two years, you’d think they’d take some risks along the way.
The only real attention the car received was up in the country side north of Manhattan, from a state trooper who said I may or may not have been speeding, and in the city, no one seemed to pay attention to the car. On my way upstate for Thanksgiving, I was the one honking and waving at fellow Subie drivers. Maybe it was the Dark Grey Metallic paint (which I really like, by the way), or maybe it was the absence of the signature Subaru rumble from an aftermarket exhaust, but at the end of the day, no one noticed it.
As much as I enjoyed my time with the new STI, I just can’t see myself owning one, because it’s not the perfectly-streetable car you’d want for nearly $35,000. Yes, you can use it as your daily driver with ease. But I wouldn’t want to.
The 2016 STI is really geared towards track enthusiasts, and I haven’t gotten enough seat time in any car to the point where I would feel comfortable tracking it. I’d feel way better starting with a ‘90s Miata or a 240SX.
You’d think that if I could afford one, I’d want to stance the car instead. I wouldn’t. Doing so would rob its potential and crush its dreams of being set free on a road course.
My Baja will never be a track car and until I get more seat time in one, I’ll be sticking to the stanced, daily-drive, “Low Life.” Who knows? Maybe I’ll get a Nissan 240SX and bring out my inner track demon.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org