Up: Signature boxer rumble, STI badging

Down: Not quite as fast as you’d think it would be

Netural: Bring back the hatch!

It’s written somewhere in the “Intro to being a Gearhead Handbook” that there are three sports cars that everyone should experience at least once: a Mazda MX-5 Miata, a Nissan GT-R, and a Subaru WRX STI. Surprisingly, I had never even sat down in a single one therm. Even more surprising is that I’m a huge Subaru and STI fanboy (having driven the 2013 BRZ, 2013 Impreza, 2014 Crosstrek, 2015 WRX, and owned a 1999 Impreza RS) and still have never been behind the wheel of Subie’s highest performing car. Well that all changes today, which is my birthday mind you, when I get behind the wheel of a 2017 Subaru WRX STI!

Actually I drove it about a week ago but I’m publishing it on my birthday so I’m counting it as a present to myself!

When I was in high school, a Subaru Impreza WRX STI (now just WRX STI) was as unobtainable as a brick of gold. Sure a couple kids could get their hands on enough of their parent’s money to get a used WRX, but an actual STI sat untouchable with the likes of a Mitsubishi Evo VIII, a Mazda RX-7, and the god-like Toyota Supra. Those were cars 30-year-olds bought and 16-year-olds hoped to see at the local car shows. That hood scoop, the huge wing, those gold wheels, the pink “STI” logo, it captivated me. And now that I’m 30 (today to be exact), I can finally say that I…do not want one. Well, at least not this one.

2017 Subaru WRX STI-3

But let’s start with the test drive. Although I’ve driven McLarens and Acura NSXs and Dodge Demons, I can sincerely tell you that getting behind the wheel of my first STI was still a pretty big deal to me. I had just stopped at Luxury Auto Mall to shoot their new Mercedes AMG GT C Roadster on the showroom floor and I walked by this mint 2017 Subaru WRX STI on the way in. It was in perfect condition, unmolested by mods, and in the premium trim. No it didn’t have the WR Blue Pearl paint or the gold wheels, but I had to ask anyways. My go to guy, Jake Fredrickson, was happy to oblige and tossed me the keys.

As I slipped into the black ultrasuede leather seats I had to pause for a moment before firing the STI up. I couldn’t believe it, I had butterflies! I ended up snapping a picture of the STI logo in the center dash and sending it to my wife to let her know I was having fun while she was at work. Then I pushed-to-start the iconic boxer engine and that glorious flat-four rumble growled to life. Time to drive the car I spent nearly half my life ogling in magazines.

Now I apologize to the next owner of this car, but I immediately grinded from first to second gear. An onlooker could have easily seen me conveying a few expletives through the windows. But it wasn’t my fault, I swear! The gear lever is just that short. I had never driven anything with such tight shifting that, despite driving a stick every day, I had to almost re-learn to get this one down. I practiced for a bit, got it down, and then went to town.

First thing’s first, the 2017 Subaru WRX STI sounds amazing. It sounds exactly like that modified blob-eye that drives by your house every night when you’re trying to sleep. I know Subaru offers a performance exhaust as an option, and I’m not sure if this car had it, but the pipes that were on it were more than enough. With the window down I cruised in the 4000 rpm range and listened to it grumble along the pavement.

2017 Subaru WRX STI-7

Then it was time to test the performance. This WRX was tuned by STI y’know! The best thing nearby for me was a curved on-ramp to the interstate so I dropped down a gear, floored it, and hugged the apex. I’m admittedly jaded when it comes to speed, because the STI’s acceleration was not overly impressive to me, but the handling was impeccable. Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel-drive system and STI’s tuned suspension kept this car flat through the curve at 60 mph and gave me the feeling it would still do so at 120.

Don’t get me wrong, the WRX STI is fast, just not throw-you-into-your-seat fast. I think there are a few factors to blame here. One is that Subaru has basically been using the same 300 horsepower 2.5 liter flat-four (ej25) engine for two decades. Another is that the STI has slowly been getting fatter and fatter over the years with the current generation being the largest and heaviest version yet. And finally, unlike its brother the WRX with its all new 2.0 liter engine and twin-scroll turbo, the STI still has a big turbo that doesn’t properly spool until 4000 rpms. This creates the one word that all speed junkies hate: lag.

On the inside the STI is far ahead of its previous generations, but still behind Subaru’s new Impreza models. Separating the two platforms must have also meant separating the R&D and roll-out times for new tech. Still, all the usual things you’d expect are here: backup camera, premium audio, multimedia center, dual climate zone, heated seats, and dynamic drive modes. One very nice touch in this STI is the larger center-screen above the console that displays the interior climate, the time, and a digital boost gauge. The seats are pretty comfy too!

I played around in the 2017 Subaru WRX STI for a bit longer, I returned it to the lot satisfied. But if I was content, then why am I not chomping at the bit to own one, you ask? I said I didn’t want to own this one. Don’t get me wrong, the current generation of STI is a great car, but it’s just too large, too civilized, and too normal for me. The STI I worshiped in my teens was a tiny, ugly Impreza with a hood scoop, a big wing, gold wheels, and had a turbo slapped onto the engine. I think a 2006 “Hawkeye” in WR Blue with gold BBS wheels is the right STI for me. Or, better yet, a 22B. Now that would be a happy birthday!

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