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.