2015 Subaru WRX STI First Drive Details:
- Route through Carmel Valley canyons and on Laguna Seca Raceway in California
More precise and improved feedback thanks in part to new steering rack
- Under-steer common to previous models nonexistent on the new WRX STI
- More agile and predictable at high speeds on both straights and corners
- Overall a better handling machine than previous generations
The job perk of getting to drive the latest and greatest machines is one that comes with the territory, and one we try to never take for granted. And in truth, driving new cars is only half the joy of getting invited on "press" trips; the other half is getting to travel, sometimes to some pretty exotic or legendary places. It was the latter for the 2015 Subaru WRX STI first drive; the OEM invited a handful of media to flog its newest during an eventful three-day press trip to northern California.
The first leg of the trip was a 50-mile highway excursion though the twisty canyons of Carmel Valley, followed by high-speed runs around the world famous Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Carmel Valley Canyon Run
Immediately jumping into the newest flagship, it took all but a few seconds to realize this car has more to offer than just a fancy exterior design. Holy crap, I thought to myself, as the limited edition STI quickly reached triple-digit speeds entering the first canyon corner. That escalated quickly.
Lesson one about the new WRX STI is that handling is more precise and offers improved feedback than previous model STIs, thanks in part to a number of new car features including an improved steering rack design and quicker ratio steering (13:1). The STI's six-speed manual transmission (also offered in Sport Lineartronic CVT, with fully automatic electronic control) was crisp with every shift as was a noticeably improved throttle response over previous models.
New to the 2015 STI is the SI-DRIVE engine performance management system. Driver-selectable modes (I-Mode, Sport, Sport Sharp mode) tell the ECU to manipulate the vehicles DBW (drive-by-wire) throttle body to allow for a quicker or more measured throttle response. This was immediately evident switching from the more economical I-Mode to the Sport Sharp mode as we throttled though the twisty canyon roads. Subarus have a reputation for displaying inherent under-steer but it seems that engineers have done their homework.
Laguna Seca Raceway
The new WRX STI felt at home in the canyons and on the circuit, too, handling beautifully every challenge we threw at it, including a barrage of high-speed runs down the infamous Laguna Corkscrew. The characteristic push we have in the past often found ourselves batting on Subies while throttling out of the apex was a non-issue and pleasantly surprising.
This isn't your typical refresh version of the Impreza with a simple fascia upgrade; the factory rated 305-horsepower turbocharged engine worked in perfect harmony with a new, more rigid, high-performance chassis and an aerodynamically enhanced wide-body sedan design. Handling was enhanced with the stiffer chassis (only two pound heavier than 2014 models) using more tensile steel in key areas, firmer spring rates on all four corners, pillow ball rear control arms, and more durable bushings. The end production is a car that's more agile and predictable at high speeds on both straights and corners.
Another driver that was on our wave of the STI press trip may have said it best. After driving around the revered road course, he stated, "The car drives and handles years beyond the previous models. I wouldn't do anything to the car's suspension or engine. It's just that good."
You don't have to be a professional driver to enjoy the handling capabilities of the new 2015 STI. The car is smarter and fully capable of aiding all types of drivers regardless of skill set, whether you're on the track or simply encountering an emergency road situation.
Among the 2015 models, Active Torque Vectoring is one of many features that has been shown to improve handling. ATV is one of those features you won't really come to appreciate unless you're in a sketchy driving situation, as we did when we overcooked the first corner of Laguna Seca and needed to perform some evasive driving to stay on the track. Multi-Mode Driver Controlled Center Differential (DCCD) Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, Multi-Mode Vehicle Dynamics Control, and a Brembo Performance Brake System with Super Sport ABS are all part of the STI package.
Owning two previous model Subarus, it wouldn't be unfair to characterize me as a tad cynical, as I thought Subaru was attempting to pull a fast one from under our feet with a car that offered old technology with simply a new look. Boy, was I wrong. After a weekend filled with informative conversations with Japan's STI technical engineers and driving the snot out of the demo cars, I can honestly say it might be time to consider upgrading to a 2015.