Sunday, December 7, 2008

Toys 'n' the Hood

We installed a Seibon carbon fiber hood on the Mach V STI. The pictures here show it in its raw carbon form (it's finished in a clear gel coat), but it'll eventually be white like the rest of the car. We'll probably leave the side vents in carbon just to show the underlying material.

The hood fits pretty well -- it's molded underneath just like the factory hood, and it's got holes for the factory-issue windshield washer nozzles. It does come with silver aluminum mesh inserts, which we thought didn't really look good, so we removed those. The factory hood scoop doesn't have any mesh in it either...

The original purpose of carbon hoods on cars was to save weight. In recent years, a lot of carbon hoods don't actually reduce weight at all. The use of lightweight aluminum on the 02-07 WRX and STI, for example, meant that a carbon replacement weighed the same as the metal hood. But in recent years the price of aluminum has soared, and Subaru went with a steel hood for the STI. At 22 pounds, the Seibon carbon hood weighs a lot less than the 45-pound stock one. Hooray for actual weight reduction!

Note that we don't have hood pins on the car, but I've always recommended people use them with any aftermarket hood. Still, the Seibon hood is made with a metal plate imbedded in the fiberglass that holds the hood catch. Given the minimal amount of use our car gets, I may hold off on the hood pins until some future time when we're headed for the race track with the car.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Brittle Pistons on 2008 STI?

We've heard of an alarming number of 2008 STI cars that suffered piston ring land failures. Once the ring lands break, the engine loses power. Repair involves removing the engine and rebuilding it. Many of these failures were on completely unmodified cars. Subaru issued a recall on the car to reprogram the ECU in an attempt to remedy this problem, stating:
During a quality review, we discovered that under certain harsh driving patterns, specifically when repeatedly or continuously operating the engine above the “red-line” (RPM above 6,700), abnormal combustion could occur resulting in serious internal engine damage in the form of broken piston ring lands. This abnormal combustion condition is the result of an “over lean” fuel mixture caused by a combination of fuel cut activation and high turbo boost.
I'm not convinced the problem is ECU-related. Most of the failed pistons show no signs of detonation, although I admit that doesn't prove it's NOT detonation that caused the failure. Various theories have been advanced on the Subaru message forum communities, including:
  • Crankcase oil is contributing to detonation which results in piston failure
  • New materials used for the piston castings are more brittle than older ones
  • Solid (not sodium-cooled) exhaust valves create in-cylinder hot spots which lead to detonation.
Personally, I'm leaning toward the "brittle casting" theory. It just seems like the pistons are more fragile than in the older Subaru 2.5 liter engines. Given the general trend towards cost-reduction, it would not surprise me if Subaru changed suppliers and that the new supplier used a slightly less sturdy metal formulation for the pistons. The bad news for us if the problem is caused by the actual piston construction, is that we will not be able to fix the issue just by re-tuning the car, or by any bolt-on modification. Only an engine teardown and piston replacement would solve the problem.

This problem hasn't surfaced on our shop STI (yet), but we're keeping our eyes and ears open.

Thanks to the guys at Turn-In Concepts for the picture above.

Monday, October 20, 2008

TPMS and You

When we swapped on the new wheels, we also installed the factory-issued Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) sensors, which would allow the car to keep track of tire pressures on our new wheels. Unfortunately, we broke a couple of them in the process, so we had to buy some new ones. And the car was not familiar with the digital code of the new sensors, so the dash cluster tire pressure warning light was always on. Some cars have an option to reset the tire pressure sensors right from the dashboard controls, but not this one. The only choice is to use a dedicated tool that can tell the car it's got new sensors on it. We'll eventually have one of these in our shop, but for now none of the aftermarket systems can work with the Subaru sensors.

So, down to our local Subaru dealership we went -- that's Dulles Motorcars in Lessburg, VA. A quick session with their factory scan tool laptop, and everything was working as it should. In fact, the next time the light went on, the outside temperature had droped about 40 degrees, and I found the right rear tire to be about 5 psi low. Hey, the TPMS actually works!

Friday, October 17, 2008

STI in the News

The December 2008 issue of Evo magazine arrived in the mail today, and it's the tenth anniversary issue. The first feature article compares the latest UK STI edition, the 330S (it has 325 hp) with the original 22B Impreza, which Evo tested in its first issue ten years ago. As you might guess, the 22B comes across as the better driver's car. The cars have almost the same power-to-weight ratios, but the 22B is under 2800 pounds, while the 330S is 3311. (A whole bunch of that is in the wheels, which are the five-spokers from our base-model US STI. And which weigh a whopping 27.5 pounds each.)

The article talks about the modern STI's lack of steering feel, and I concur. That is something I'm looking to remedy with some aftermarket parts in the future. I don't think I want to go so far as to swap steering racks, but I'll look into changing bushings and maybe some of the front-end suspension geometry in an attempt to get better steering feel.

Oh, and speaking of weight, we're looking forward to dropping 20+ pounds off the nose of the Mach V STI by swapping the stock steel hood with a carbon fiber one from Seibon. The hood is on its way to our shop by freight truck now, so I should have some pics of that in a week or two.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Rollin', Rollin', Rollin'...Keep Them Fenders Rollin'...

Somewhere many months ago, I said, "I'll find some wheels that fit better, because I don't want to alter the fenders to clear these." That was before I decided that the G-Games wheels are just RIGHT for the car. Not that I care -- okay, so I do care -- but 100% of the people who have an opinion also love the wheels. So they stayed, and to make sure the rear tires didn't collide with the edge of the rear fenders, we rolled the fenders.

You can do this a couple of different ways. The old-school way involves a baseball bat rolled between the fender and the tire. That's a little crude for my tastes, although there are people who can do it really well. We used a dedicated fender rolling tool, which bolts to the hub, and has a little urethane wheel and a screw that is used to press the wheel against the fender lip. It works well and makes sure you roll a nice circular arc. (The picture above is from Tire Rack. You can buy one of these tools from them, if you want.)

Mach V master tech Mike Gerber performed the delicate surgery on the STI, and the results are very nice. The fender is flared out ever-so-slightly -- so much that I didn't notice it at first -- so that it clears the outside edge of the rear tire. Mike made sure to heat the paint at the edge before rolling, so the paint did not crack. Before, the tires and fenders would rub together under any large suspension movement. Now, they don't seem to be able to touch at all. I've done some pretty hard cornering with the new setup, and have not been able to get them to rub.

At left is the fender and tire, post-fender-rolling. I'll be doing a bit more high-g driving to understand more about the results of our sway bar swap, and in the process I'll keep an eye on that rear tire/rear fender. Stay tuned.

I do have to make a note here about wheel offset for the 2008 STI. I've been seeing a LOT of 2008 STIs running very low-offset wheels. I think this is mostly because there are not many high-offset, large-width wheels on the market. Optimal offset for a 9.5" wide wheel on this car is probably around 50mm, but you'll be hard-pressed to find anything that wide, in anything CLOSE to that high of an offset. (As of this writing, I do have a set of 19" ASA's in the showroom. Email me if you're interested...) Most 18x9, 18x9.5, 19x9, or 19x9.5 wheels are in much lower offsets, like +30 or less. This kind of offset is great for a deep concave look, which I admit is really cool. But it also puts the tire really far out toward the fender, resulting in pretty serious interference problems unless you go with a narrow tire. So I've seen some people running only a 225 or 235 width tire so it won't rub. The car comes with 245s! I'd hate to go to a narrower tire just because I couldn't find the right wheel fitment. Some of the people who do this seem to really like the sticky-out wheel look, or the small-tire-stretched-to-large-wheel look. But in many cases these cars are severely compromised in terms of driving them every day, and in outright performance.

The other isse that nobody seems to talk about is that changing the wheel offset changes the scrub radius, and the steering feel is changed. For the worse. Even the relatively small (-15mm) change I made on our car resulted in a noticeable loss of steering feel, especially at higher speeds.

Monday, September 29, 2008

More Footwork: Whiteline Rear Sway Bar

We installed a Whiteline 22mm adjustable rear sway bar on the STI to try to get the car to rotate a little more readily. The stock suspension, even with the coilovers, has a marked understeer bias, meaning the front loses grip long before the rear. While this is safe, it makes it difficult to hustle the car around corners effectively.

A firmer rear sway bar can make the back end of the car more lively, and Whiteline's 22mm bar (up from the stock 17mm) is adjustable so we can tweak the stiffness at the back. Since we were back there, we also installed Whiteline adjustable rear end links. Installation was straightforward -- you could easily do this to a car on jack stands. Note that the sway bar kit comes with a set of sway bar support brackets (the gold-colored bar in the picture), which tie together the sway bar mount and the rear subframe. We think this is a great idea -- the stronger sway bar will put a significant amount of stress on its bracket. You can buy the sway bar supports separately if you want.

One note on the installation: The bar has a Whiteline label on the center portion. You would THINK that the label would face upright when mounted on the car. At least in this case, you'd be wrong. Putting the bar on so it'll clear the exhaust meant the label is upside down. Who knew?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The STI as Daily Driver: Thumbs Up

Compared to some of my previous daily drivers (cough! -- Lancer Evo -- cough!) the STI is extremely easy to live with. Even with the relatively hard-core Cusco coilovers, the ride is comfortable enough. And I had forgotten how useful and practical the hatchback layout is. Open hatch, pop down one seat, slide in a cat-back exhaust, box and all, and still have room for two passengers. It's quieter than older STI models, too. Talking with passengers doesn't require raising my voice.

I've come to appreciate the lighted steering wheel controls -- cruise control and audio functions are illuminated for easy identification at night.

The other part of STI ownership that I didn't expect is all the compliments and attention. At one gas stop I got three different people coming over and commenting on the car. I get thumbs up from random other drivers. One guy followed me to where I was going to ask about the car. Non-car people say things like, "I love your car! It's cool looking! What is it?" Not even the Evo got this kind of positive reaction.

Friday, August 29, 2008

End of Summer Update

We've been busy with some travel, a new acquisition, and some prototype work. The travel was a trip out to the Pebble Beach Concourse D'Elegance, which is a hugely over-the-top classic car show. It's hard to describe the ridiculousness of this show, so I won't try, but I'll share a couple of pictures. On the modern side, there were such vehicles as the Lamborghini Reventón (one of twenty made) , several concept cars, and the debut of the new convertible Bugatti Veyron. On the classic car side, there were scads of '30's-vintage Rolls Royces, V-16 Cadillacs, and Packards. Oh, and a mess of Ferrari 250GT Spyder Californias. And a Ferrari 312P flown in from Switzerland. So many super-ultra-rare cars I felt like my brain was going to explode from overload. "Oh, look, a Lamborghini Miura Spyder. Wait...did they even make a Miura Spyder?" (Answer: Yes, but only one.)

Featured cars included V-16 Cadillacs, Alfa Romeos, and the Ferrari 250GT Spyder California, of which several gorgeous examples were in attendance. (See one at left.) The Spyder California was already highly coveted before the movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," but that film brought the car to the attention of the public, which further added to its value.

There were not any Subarus shown at Pebble Beach, but there was a WRX STi at the nearby Pacific Grove Concours Auto Rally.

Back to reality, we've got our annual Mach V Track Day event coming up, and after balling up my Lancer Evolution at a track event a couple of years ago, I'm not so keen on risking my pristine STI. So we acquired a somewhat tired 2000 Impreza which we're going to turn into a track mule. On the minus side, the body is a little rough, and the engine has a rod knock. On the plus side, we've got a spare engine, and it happens to be a Japanese turbo engine. (It's 1996 vintage, but still...) So we'll be putting that together over the next couple of months.

I find it interesting to compare the size of the '00 Impreza with its grandson the '08 STI. The old car (known by its chassis code GC) looks much smaller, even though it's only about an inch shorter in length and width. It is a full three inches shorter in height, and the roof line does look much lower; the beltline is lower, too. There's a huge difference in weight, though: The older car weighs around 2700 pounds, while our '08 model is a hefty 3350 or so. Even just getting in to the GC car, you can tell the old chassis isn't anywhere close to the stiffness level of the current car. You can get in the car and watch the frame flex! We'll be gaining some stiffness with extensive chassis reinforcement and a roll cage...

Yes, this post WILL actually have some Mach V STI info in it. We're working on a cat-back exhaust for the car. We have mostly finished the prototype. It still needs tips, but the basic design and layout is done. The design is a transverse oval muffler with four tips, similar to the factory layout. The piping will be 3" to the muffler, then 2.5" out to the tips. Even with our phony muffler (it's full of air, not normal muffler packing), the prototype system is surprisingly quiet. We're aiming for a mild sound with good exhaust flow. Look for the system on our web site some time in the near future.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Mach V STI Goes Drag Racing

My good friend Tom lives near Capitol Raceway, a quarter mile drag strip in Crofton, MD. He invited me out for the Friday Night "Test and Tune" drag races. Two hours of rush-hour traffic later, I was there at the strip. An eclectic mix of cars showed up to run, including: A Chevy van; a BMW 745i; a 2009 Dodge Challenger (which ran a 13.2); a bunch of 350Zs; a couple of Lancer Evolutions; one or two other Subarus; and a good selection of loud American muscle cars. There was also a VW Golf with an STI hood scoop on it. The big scoop, the one that looks like a snow shovel. It wasn't functional yet, but the owner promised that it would be. He said he always liked Subarus.

My timing was bad, so although I was at the track for about three hours, I only got to make two passes. (Various pro classes and motorcycles were being run between street car runs. And then various cars broke, requiring clean-up.)

On my first pass, I was so nervous I forgot to switch the throttle map to "S#" and to turn off traction control. I revved the engine to 4000 rpm, dumped the clutch and peeled tires for a split second...and then the revs dropped to about 500 as the tires hooked up and/or the traction control kicked in. Worst. Launch. Ever. The elapsed time was a shameful 14.645, with a 2.275 60-foot time.

After that I had almost three hours of idle time in the staging lanes to think about my second pass, so I had it together and switched the traction control off, and toggled over to "S#," which would deliver maximum power above 6000 rpm. I was relieved that the temperature dropped a bit as the evening wore on. It had been almost 100 degrees earlier in the day. By 11:00 pm it was only 80.

I staged next to a clapped-out Honda CRX with fat wrinkle-walled slicks sticking 4" out from the front fenders. The second stage light came on. I revved to 6000 ("Must not bog!") and held it there while the Honda did a loud burnout. He staged. The tree lit up and I released the clutch. I heard lots of tire peeling noise as the STI launched forward, and I briefly saw the Honda in my rear view mirror. I shifted to second, and about then the Honda blew past like it was going into orbit. I struggled a little with the next shift, but managed to get into third, then fourth. The speedo showed around 100 mph as the car went through the traps at the finish.

Final time: 13.667 at 100.32 mph. Not bad! The mph was a little lower than I expected, but a decent 1.758 60-foot time allowed me to knock a full second off my first pass. With a little more practice I think I could get another couple of tenths from the car.

Oh, and the Honda posted a 10.682 at 142.40 mph.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Stiff Stuff

Since increased chassis rigidity is always good -- especially considering we have greatly increased the suspension loads with the stiffer coilovers -- we applied Cusco chassis braces to the front of the STI. Underneath the engine, we bolted up a Lower Arm Bar, which ties together some of the front subframe bits, and replaces a thin steel reinforcement plate (that's the triangle shaped part) with one that's made from material that's twice as thick. If you know Cusco parts, you might notice that the Lower Arm Bar is gold -- this particular part was sold under Cusco's now-retired "Vacanza" brand. All the parts in that line were finished in gold instead of the usual Cusco metallic blue.

Up under the hood, we applied a Cusco OS upper strut bar. It only took a few minutes to install it. It looks like the bar leaves plenty of room for a larger intercooler, should we choose to add one later.

Cusco has not yet released rear chassis bracing for the 2008+ STI, but when they do, we'll be installing those, too.

Friday, June 27, 2008

First Dyno Results

We put the STI on the dyno and did some baseline passes. The car made a respectable 244 hp and 245 lb-ft of torque to the wheels. This is about what I'd expect from a car rated at 305 hp at the crank -- I use a rule of thumb of 20% drivetrain loss for an AWD car on our dyno. Hmm...305 times 80% equals...hey, it's exactly 244! (I guess I'll keep using the 20% rule...)

Then we switched to the Stage 1 map on our Cobb AccessPort, and ran the car again. The change was dramatic: 264 hp and 289 lb-ft! That's a gain of 20 hp and a whopping 44 lb-ft of torque. We did all these pulls within about a half hour of each other.

For the record, the weather was pretty hot -- the temp at the dyno was 98 degrees F, and 25% ambient humidity.
This isn't ideal turbo-car weather, but at least both sets of runs were under the same conditions. If you are interested, that SAE correction mentioned on the graph means the numbers are scaled up by 2-3% to try to normalize for the heat.

I did notice that below about 3000 RPM, the car actually LOST a little power, and I've heard some other people complaining about that on the off-the-shelf Cobb Stage 1 map. We'll be doing some additional custom tuning on the car, so stay tuned for more gains, and (I hope) recovering that lost low-end power.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

HyperFest 2008

On June 21, we took the STI to HyperFest. We didn't actually put the car ON the track, but we had it on display at our Mach V booth, and got a lot of nice feedback about the car. Many non-Subaru owners recognized that it was an STI, and knew about the car. "This is the new STI, right?" We continue to get HUGE positive response about the wheels, so it looks like those will stay, despite the slightly-too-low offset.

The drive to and from Summit Point was pleasant. Good weather, nice roads. The early morning light was good, and we got a few rolling shots of the car.

The HyperFest turnout seemed really big -- we had a lot of booth traffic all day long. Organizer Chris Cobetto said he suspected this was the highest turnout they've had.

Our booth was next to the Grassroots Motorsports magazine booth, and we got to chat with associate publisher Greg Voth. My not-so-humble opinion is that GM is a great publication, with some of the best technical content of any of the sports car magazines currently offered. Greg was clearly an enthusiast, and knew a lot about a ton of different cars. We talked about participating in one of their Subaru projects. If that happens we'll post here about it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Photo Shoot!

We assembled a crack team of photographers and assistants -- okay, okay, it was just me -- to shoot the Mach V STI on a summer evening. Many mosquito bites later, we had a few shots we liked.

If you're interested, I was using a Canon 30D digital camera, with a couple of different lenses, and a tripod.

In my experience, it's MUCH easier to get good car shots during the "golden hour" right after sunset, or right before sunrise. Not only do you get nice sky colors, but the car details are also softened up a lot, and little flaws -- chips or small bits of dirt -- are less obvious. But it's tough because there's only about an hour, and setting up shots a
nd moving the car and equipment around is time-consuming.

You can view more pictures -- and mega-sized versions of them -- over at this thread on NASIOC.

Friday, May 30, 2008

New Shoes!

Sorry, I promised dyno testing news, but I'm going to discuss wheels and tires first. The dyno stuff will come later.

Although the stock wheels and tires on this car are pretty huge (18x8.5" wheels, 245/40R18 tires), the fenders are simply gargantuan, and there's a LOT of room in there for bigger rubber. So, not being the type to leave well enough alone, I got out the calculator. Lessee...there's probably an inch of extra clearance...That'd be around a 275mm tire width. A wheel that was one inch wider would be 9.5" wide...might as well go up a size in diameter, mostly for appearances...So that means a 19x9.5" wheel, 275/30R19 tire.

Scouring our various suppliers didn't result in many choices. Most mondo-huge wheels are in lower offsets than will work on the STI. And some that would fit are boat anchors weight-wise, or wouldn't clear the brakes.

One promising wheel was the Rays G-Games 99B. It's really light at 21 pounds. (Trust me, for this large of a wheel, that's light!) It comes in the right bolt pattern and size. But the highest offset is +40. Still, I couldn't pass up the look -- it's like the stock five-spoke, but bigger and more sculpted.

For tires, the choices were again limited. 275/30R19 just isn't something you're going to find at the local Tires 'R' Us. Cooper Tire came to the rescue with their Zeon 2XS. Some of you tire snobs might be asking, "Why not Pirelli or Michelin or some other fancy-pants tire?" Well, to be honest, I didn't want to spend $300+ per tire, and I find that our customers don't either. So I thought I'd try this brand. Plus, Cooper sponsors our friends at CSI Racing, and the team has had good results with the Cooper product.

Here's the result. It looks awesome! To me, the car looks more to scale with the wheels -- the larger wheels reduce the car's bulky appearance, especially at the back.

But there's some sad news, too -- the +40 offset is too far outward, so both front and rear tires are sticking out from the fenders just a bit. We haven't done full testing yet, but it looks like the fenders and tires are going to come into contact at full suspension travel. In theory we could have the pad (the center mounting surface of the wheel) machined down, but I don't think there's enough material on the wheel to allow that. So it's back to the drawing board, looking for an even higher offset.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Check Engine Light Resolution

When we last left our heroes, they were struggling to diagnose a mysterious "Check Engine" light that showed up after the installation of an electronic suspension controller. As I mentioned earlier, I was studying the wiring layout of the car. Had we somehow nicked a ground, causing several sensors to go offline? Was something left unplugged? We went back over all the connectors -- everything was plugged in.

The other weird thing was when the ignition was switched to on, stuff started clicking under the hood. The radiator fan went on and off. I said, "It's almost like it's in pre-delivery test mode." Someone else exclaimed, "The test connector!" I had been looking for that earlier -- turns out it's over in the passenger footwell, not in the driver's footwell like on earlier WRX cars. Well, one of our well-meaning junior mechanics had been putting the interior back together after the suspension install, and seeing a connector unplugged...he plugged it in!

This test mode connector is only intended to be used at the pre-delivery inspection, to make sure all the systems are working. After that it's unplugged. And going back to the wiring diagram, sure enough, the test mode connector plugs into a junction that also attaches to the neutral position switch, which was one of the trouble codes the ECU was telling us about. So we unplugged it on our car, cleared the stored ECU trouble codes, and poof, it's a working car again.

Next up: Dyno testing.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

I Still Remember My First Check Engine Light

Ah yes, it seems like only yesterday. We had just buttoned up the interior of the STI after the installation of our fancy electronic suspension, and we switched on the car to find...a dashboard full of warning lights! Specifically, the Check Engine light, and its friend the blinking cruise control light. (All late-model Subarus blink the cruise control lamp when the Check Engine light is on. I assume this is to make extra sure you don't drive around forever with the Check Engine light permanently lit. And the cruise control doesn't work when that light is flashing, either! Maybe they think THAT will give you the incentive to seek professional service help...)

Anyway, the car was throwing a bevy of diagnostic codes, including "Rear oxygen sensor signal low" and "Neutral position switch signal low" and something else about air/fuel. Clearing the codes resulted in them coming back on instantly upon starting the car, which is a sure sign of disconnected hardware. A once-over of the various wiring harnesses revealed no obvious plugs left hanging, though.

My next stop was to the excellent Subaru Technical Information System web site. There you can pay a small fee ($35 for 72 hours) and download shop manual PDF files to your heart's content, look at wiring diagrams, get detailed troubleshooting instructions, and more. I scarfed up pretty much the entire STI shop manual, plus the full set of wiring diagrams, and got to digging.

I'll post about the resolution to this problem next time.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Cusco E-Con

As I mentioned in a previous post, we installed the Cusco Zero-2E coilovers on the STI. The "E" in the name indicates that it's compatible with the Cusco E-Con control module, which gives you remote adjustment of the coilovers' five-way dampening.

Installation of the system is a little involved. There are four little motor modules which each sit atop their respective shock. Wiring leads to a junction box, and then a ribbon cable from that connects to the control unit. The only wires you actually have to attach to the car are power (constant and switched) and ground, but running all those wires to the four corners of the car took some time, plus the removal of a good portion of the interior. The innards of the '08 dash are pretty cramped. We decided to mount the control unit inside the center console. The junction box we hid where the rear cup holders used to live. (Sorry rear passengers, you'll have to stash your water bottles in the doors now.)

After everything was popped and bolted back together, I took the car for a spin and tried out the new remote adjusters. They work! It's pretty slick; you just push a button, and faint little clicks emit from each corner of the car. (LEDs blink on the E-Con display at the same time.) After a few seconds, the dampening changes, just as advertised. You can adjust front and rear independently, or you can link them.

As for the actual hardness of the different levels of initial impression is that "1" is great for daily use, and "2" through "5" should be labeled "kidney punch" through "liquefy internal organs." I think I'll be using the higher settings for motorsports only. But really, isn't that the whole idea behind one of these systems? Drive to work on Friday, drive to the autocross on Saturday, and switch settings without every having to turn a wrench. Neat.

Now to find the time to actually get this car on the track...

Monday, April 7, 2008

Red Tails

As I mentioned before, I really don't like the factory chrome tail lamps. I thought I'd cover them in red vinyl, but the contour is a little difficult -- thin vinyl tends to wrinkle if you try to curve it too much. There is thicker stuff, like "Rockblocker," but that can't wrap around the edges, so the clear will show through. That leaves painting. We took the lamps to our favorite body shop, and now they're nice and red. The car really looks different from the back.

For those of you who want to remove your tail lamps for whatever reason, here are some pointers on getting the center lamps (on the hatch) off the car:
  1. First, remove the interior hatch trim. Start at the top, by the hinges. Pop the four pieces loose. The bottom piece is pretty tight, but it will pop free.
  2. Remove the 8mm long nuts from the sides. Note that these have little teflon washers that are easy to lose.
  3. There's one last 8mm nut inside the hatch. Use a socket extension or 8mm nut driver to get to it.
  4. Once all the nuts are free, the lamp will still be tightly attached to the car. It's got a pop fastener that holds it in. We just pushed on that last stud (where the nut was) with the socket wrench, and the lamp popped loose.
While we were in there with the hatch trim apart, we swapped out the backup bulbs with LED replacements.

Monday, March 24, 2008


Since my last post, we've had the car in the shop a bit. We got the painted grille on the car. It gives it a slightly different look in the front, although I think non-Subaru people would never notice. We tinted the windows to the Virginia legal limit of 50% in front, 35% in back. Moving on to something more substantial, we bolted on a set of Cusco Zero-2E coilovers, and lowered the car about 1" from its stock height for starters.

The Zero-2E's are premium fully-adjustable spring/shock assemblies that allow for independent dampening adjustment at each corner, and continuously adjustable height adjustment at each corner. The "E" in the name means they can be paired with Cusco's electrically-actuated remote control, which allows you to adjust dampening from the comfort of your driver's seat.

I haven't yet had time to play with the remote dampening, but my first impression of the way the car rides and handles is very positive. I was a little worried that I would destroy the daily-driveability of the car by making it so rough it was only suitable for the track. That's definitely not the case. The car does feel more connected to the road, and body lean is less, but it's still perfectly comfortable. There's a little more vibration and impact transmitted into the car, but nothing your grandma would complain about. So far so good.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Modification Plan

The car is almost through its 1,000 break-in miles, and my modification plan is gathering shape. My overall goal for the car is to push the performance envelope just a bit in every direction, without making it unsuitable for daily use. That means no roll cage, no monster-huge turbocharger, no mega-loud exhaust. On the other hand, the very soft and quiet nature of this car (even compared with the older WRX STI) leads me to believe I can push things a bit without totally messing it up.

There are also some appearance things I want to address. I wanted to change the front end look of the car a bit, so I added the original equipment Subaru fog lamp kit. I also sent the grille off to get painted body color; I'll post new pictures with the revised grille as soon as I can.

Coming soon: A Kartboy short shifter; Cusco Zero-2E coilovers; and larger wheels and tires.

After that, the Cobb AccessPort. I'll be doing some before-and-after dyno testing with that device. Further down the
road will be more power mods, including a full exhaust system, maybe an intake system, and perhaps a slightly larger turbo and intercooler.

Friday, February 22, 2008


I hate to sound like a luddite, but the SI-Drive ("Subaru Intelligent Drive") thing just seems ridiculous to me. It's a knob in the center console (just where BMW puts their also-ridiculous iDrive knob) that can select from among three different modes. On the STI all it does is change the mapping of the throttle pedal to the actual throttle behavior. I (Intelligent) mode appears to limit maximum throttle, plus it has a shift light that encourages you to short-shift to improve gas mileage. S (Sport) gives you access to full throttle, but the initial pedal generates almost no apparent reaction from the car. S# ("Sport Sharp") is the only one that makes the motor feel like I would expect, with peppy response at lower throttle angles.

The reason I find this system silly is that I already am in control of my throttle foot. If I want to restrict myself to 30% throttle, I can do that without even switching a button. I'll just soft-pedal the gas. Plus, if I change my mind, I don't have to find the button, I can just mash the accelerator! (Gee, maybe I should get a trademark on this system. I'll call it..."I Drive.")

Designing the button to look like a BMW iDrive button is insulting. What, does Subaru think I'm an idiot, and that somehow the cachet of the BMW will rub off on them? This reminds me of those cheap boom box stereos that have what looks like a ten-band graphic equalizer, but it's really just two sliders and a bunch of lines so it gives the appearance of more bands.

I'm in the fortunate position to be able to actual fiddle with the iDrive -- sorry, the SI-Drive -- throttle mapping using the Cobb AccessPort, so I plan to just take the "Sport Sharp" behavior and make the default mode work like that.

I must confess I wish that the money invested in giving my STI the SI-Drive system were spent instead on a couple other creature comforts that are common these days, like a sunroof, or heated seats. Yes, yes, I know, that's not in the spirit of the hard-core performance car, but what can I say. I already established that the STI isn't so much a hard-core care anyway. And even my old 2003 Evo had a sunroof.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The STI Loosens Up

Gas Mileage Rising

The average mpg reading on the new STI was around 16 mpg through about half the first tank. I don't know if that was because nine miles on odometer when I got it were spent putting around distribution and dealership lots, or just because the motor was new, but it's been improving ever since. By the time the first tank was empty, we were up to 18.0 mpg. Halfway through tank #2, it's at 21.1 mpg. It may be my imagination, but the motor seems more willing to rev now, too.

Considering the car's 17/20 sticker mpg rating, 21.1 seems decent.

Living With the STI: More Tid-Bits
  • You can put eight -- yes, eight -- 20-ounce gourmet lattes in the STI. (For those who care, that's two in the front center cup holders, two in the rear cupholders, and one in each door pocket.) And thanks to the STI's plush ride, you won't splash coffee all over your interior on the way home to your seven coffee-starved roommates.
  • If bank-vault solidity is what you look for when you close a car door, look elsewhere. The STI doors make a hollow "ting" sound when you close them. They feel very light.
  • On the other hand, if you're looking for a lightweight aluminum hood like the older WRX cars had, sorry, folks. New WRX models, including the STI, have a conventional steel hood. (Some press reports had said the STI would get an aluminum one, but my trusty fridge magnet says that's not the case.) On the positive side, Subaru finally installed gas lifts on the hood. Hooray! I hate prop rods.
  • This car has a LOT of cornering grip. I'm still trying to find the cornering limits. It may feel soft, but it sticks like a barnacle in corners. I'm pretty impressed with the Dunlop tires. They're called SP Sport 600, and they were specially engineered for this car, according to Dunlop.

Stock Stereo System
Notes, Part Two

Two sort-of-hidden features of the stock stereo are accessed by the "Menu" button. There's speed-sensitive volume, which I'd call mildly useful. And there's "SRS CS Auto," which is a sound processing feature. It makes the sound...different. I have a hard time figuring out exactly what sounds different, though. According to the SRS web site,

SRS CS Auto is the automotive audio industry’s only award-winning surround sound decoding solution that features additional post-processing techniques for a total vehicle surround sound experience. CS Auto’s enhancements include SRS Dialog Clarity™ to improve the clarity of the center or phantom center channel’s vocals; FOCUS® to elevate the sound image for any in-vehicle speaker placed below the listening level (such as in the lower portion of the door); TruBass®, a bass enhancement to deliver the perception of significantly lower bass frequencies and a specialized Channel Mixer which allows adjustable mixing of the front and center channel contents into the surround channels.

Uh...okay. So, we don't really know more than we did, but it sounds okay. The company claims this works with any source material.

EVO Likes the STI

I just got my March 2008 copy of the UK's EVO magazine. (One of the best car magazines on the planet, in my opinion. Especially if you're into photography.) The cover story is about pairing the STI with a Lamborghini Gallardo -- the crazy-fast Superleggera version, no less! -- and chasing them around the wet country roads of North Wales. The STI holds its own, although the authors admit that the Gallardo will zoom away in a straight line. (Chalk it up to the 226 additional horsepower...) The page 61 photo of the two cars, with the STI six inches off the tarmac, is just awesome. There's some terrific video , too.

And hey, they pretty much echoed my comments about the STI's cross-country abilities! Perhaps there's a career waiting for me in journalism if this parts business stuff doesn't pan out.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Break-In Procedures

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

The Subaru owner's manual suggests you drive your new STI gently for the first 1,000 miles. Also, don't drive at a constant vehicle speed. Or a constant engine speed. And don't exceed 4,000 rpm. I guess I'll be waiting a while longer to experience those 305 horsepower.

My commute is 25 miles of straight-line highway. How am I supposed to drive at different engine speeds? I'm doing my best by shifting between fifth and sixth gears, and varying between 55 and 70 mph. The other drivers think I'm nuts.

I'm trying to experience some of the high-performance of this car, but with all the above restrictions, it's kind of difficult. I am surprised by how much lateral grip the car has. The suspension feels pretty soft and there's plenty of body lean, but it still sticks really well. The 245-width tires have a lot to do with that, I'm sure. I think the STI would be great to hustle over bumpy back roads.

Ugly, Ugly, Ugly

I can't stand looking at this car. My 2005 Legacy GT was really an attractive car. Subaru did a great job styling both Legacies -- wagon and sedan. This car...well, it sort of looks like a Mazda 3 crashed into a Lexus RX300. To my eye, it's a visual mess. There are weird combinations of curves (the fender bulges, the headlamps), and lines (the sharp cutoff of the front fenders, the front grille). I can't deny it looks tough, but it isn't attractive. Do you hear me, Subaru designers? The new Lancer Evolution is a nice-looking car! What happened in Subaru-land?

So th
e next question is, if I think it's so ugly, why did I buy it? Business! I find it very hard to sell parts for the latest version of the car if I don't have access to one. "Hi, does your blah-blah part fit on the 2008 STI?" "Um, I don't know, we haven't seen one yet. Let me wait until someone brings one by the shop, and lets me test-fit all my parts on it." That doesn't sound good to me. So, out with my beloved Legacy, in with the homely -- but still appealing -- WRX STI.

I think every car looks better with a little more window tint, a little lower stance, and slightly larger/wider wheels and tires. Oh, and some of those things can actually improve the handling, too. So we're going to try some of that, and we'll see what it ends up like.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Interesting Design Details

Here are some details about the car that I found interesting in my first 200 miles...

  • The STi logo on the center console lights up at night
  • There are dim red lights in each footwell. Reminds me of a German car.
  • The clock also features an average MPG display, but there are no other trip computer functions unless you spring for the $4000 nav-plus-BBS wheels package.
  • If you set your EZ Pass electronic toll thingie on the clock cutout in the dash, it works fine.
  • The car is tall! I almost can't reach the center of the roof. I looked it up -- it's 1.6" taller than the older Impreza STI.
  • The seats are not Recaros, but they're very comfortable. And the Alcantara is grippy.
  • The gauges do a sweep thing (self test?) when you start the car, but you can disable that if you like, according to the owner's manual.
  • It's got a six-disc changer, and it plays MP3 data CDs. That means...lessee...about 65 hours of music if you just stuff six full CDs in. Not bad.

Buying It


We picked up our 2008 Subaru WRX STI on Friday, February 1. Thanks to the folks at Annapolis Subaru for an easy and pleasant buying experience. Sales Manager Chris Kelly is extremely friendly and very knowledgeable about the Subaru product line and the enthusiast community. Sales guy Ed Rucker is super-friendly, too; plus, he drives an '06 STi and he's definitely a car nut himself. Parts guru Jackie said hi, but I had to run out without visiting with her. Hi, Jackie!

I also got to drink coffee from the Super Duper Robot Cappuccino Deluxe 5000 machine. It offers like 20 varieties of coffee. Truly amazing.

So, thumbs up for Annapolis Subaru!

First Driving Impressions:

It's like driving a smaller, tighter Legacy GT. Which makes sense because the car basically IS a Legacy GT under the skin -- put the two side by side on a lift if you don't believe me. The good part of that is that it's quiet, comfortable, and buttoned down in corners. The downside is that it's certainly not the visceral, twitchy hard-core feeling STI that we've grown to know and love. (I know, everyone has been over this before.) To me the challenge will be getting back a little of that more direct feel without losing that nice comfort.

Other Notes:

I listened only to the radio for the first hundred miles or so, and was ready to declare the stock audio system awful. The sound was muddy, and the volume was too soft -- I had to crank it to about 36 (out of 40) to hear anything. Then I put in a CD -- actually, a data CD of ripped MP3s -- and it sounded like a whole different system. There's no low bass to
speak of, but otherwise it sounds pretty good, and it's plenty loud. I wonder if the problem with FM radio has something to do with a defective antenna or something?

Early Modifications:

On my last several cars, I have installed "clear bra" paint protectant, and we applied it to this car, too. (Technically, we applied Scotchgard Paint Protection Film. And professional installer Sophann To did the install.) This is a sticky clear film that is applied to the paint on the front of the car to prevent paint damage from rocks and other road stuff. It works great. It's not cheap, though -- for the price you could probably repaint the front of the car. So from a strict financial standpoint it's questionable. But I don't like seeing my car slowly chewed up from the daily highway commute. We covered the front bumper, hood, hood scoop, mirrors, and also did some strips below each door -- those fat side skirts are going to catch a lot of feet as people exit the car.

We'll also be doing window tint. I like it for the cooler interior, the reduced visibility of car contents (I've had many cars broken into in the past), and the way the car looks with tinted windows.

I also swapped out the interior lights (dome and map lights) to LED units. I'll post about that in a future blog entry.