Monday, October 5, 2009

STI Carbon - Gentleman's Express

I know, there's always some excuse for me not coming back here with 400 whp from my trusty STI. So here's the latest: I dislocated my right shoulder, and am just a week back from surgery to repair it. One of the many downsides of shoulder surgery is that I can't row a manual transmission for a while. So the STI (and my Mini Cooper S) have been sitting at the shop while I borrow a friend's Scion TC automatic. (Thanks, Larry!)

Just so I'm not ending this post with my medical history, I thought I'd comment a little on the latest Japanese-market special edition STI, the STI Carbon. It's basically like your regular STI, but it's got a carbon fiber roof (like the BMW M3 and M6 cars) for reduced weight up high, where the weight reduction does the most good in lowering the car's center of gravity. Sounds fine, but there's more! There' automatic transmission??? Oh, and some suede seats and dash, but whatever. Autoblog, among others, said it "...doesn't make sense."

Here in the U.S. the transmission choice seems downright bizarre in a car of this type, but there's some precedent for this kind of thing in Japan. Of course, the current-model Mitsubishi Evolution X is available with a twin-clutch auto-manual gearbox, but back in 2002 Mitsubishi produced the Evolution VII GT-A, which had a regular slushbox automatic transmission, plus more sound deadening than the regular Evo. It was termed a "gentleman's express" car, something a little more civilized than the normal boy-racer Evo.

Indeed, in Japan you'll see "salarymen" business-suit-wearing drivers on the highway in all sorts of high-performance cars, many of them modified. It's FAR more expensive and difficult to own and maintain multiple cars there, so most of these are their drivers' only cars. That means they have to do double-duty, sometimes as track cars and daily commuters. There are lots more wagons there -- if you're going to have to live with only one car, a wagon is quite useful -- and many of those are heavily modified. (As a former Legacy GT wagon owner, I go nuts over the huge quantity of modified Legacies I see in Japan.)

So in that context, the dichotomy of the performance-enhancing carbon roof against the performance-sapping (but maybe utility- or comfort-adding) automatic transmission makes some sort of sense. The STI hatchback layout has high utility -- it's a decent alternative to a full-on wagon in terms of cargo space. But maybe the businessman would like something just a little more relaxing during that long Tokyo commute. We'll see. Remind me next year and I'll report back whether it was a sales success or not.

No comments: