Fall 2002 Forward to a Friend

The WRX STi isn’t just a WRX with more horsepower, but it does share its rugged, unitized body and chassis with other Impreza models. The chassis is so stiff that it doesn’t need the strut-tower brace used in other performance cars. Beyond the overall chassis, Subaru engineers have analyzed every component to make sure it’s strong enough to be part of a 300-horsepower sedan.

What makes the WRX STi different? Start with the engine itself. Although at 2.5 liters it’s the same size as the engine in other Impreza models, it has a reinforced block to cope with higher internal pressures. Variable valve timing optimizes internal airflow, and the larger turbocharger produces higher boost than the WRX’s. A larger intercooler with a water spray reduces intake-charge temperature. Electronic throttle control – “drive by wire” – and racing technology such as sodium-filled exhaust valves and iridium-tipped spark plugs help handle the heat while also helping the WRX STi engine to qualify as a 50-state Low Emission Vehicle.

A six-speed manual transmission and a larger, stronger clutch mate with an exclusive Driver Controlled Center Differential. The differential offers a choice between computer-controlled power distribution or – when conditions or personal driving style warrant – a driver-selectable manual override. Front and rear limited-slip differentials make sure the all-wheel-drive system gets maximum grip at each wheel.

Special inverted struts increase bending resistance for more accuracy and responsiveness in hard cornering. Stiffer springs make a less forgiving ride, but they’re necessary in such a high-performance car. Quicker-ratio steering gives the driver faster input. Huge Brembo racing-style brakes combine with specially tuned Super Sport anti-lock braking for sure and stable stops.

Acceleration, braking and steering all connect to the ground via 17 x 7.5-inch BBS aluminum-alloy wheels and wide and sticky 225/45 R17 90W Bridgestone Potenza RE070 directional summer-only tires.

No wonder the car is named for Subaru’s high-performance and racing arm – Subaru Tecnica International, or STi. It earned the honor.

“In my day-to-day driving, I
seldom get out of third gear!”
– Gloria Miley,

Lynnes Subaru, Inc.
of Bloomfield, NJ

“Unbelievable. Never been in a
car that fast.”

– John Wexler,
Lynnes Subaru, Inc.
of Bloomfield, NJ

“Talk about handling!”

– Kevin Goodwin,
Royal Motor Company in Cortland, NY

  Even in driver’s ed, we never squealed tires. At least not on purpose. But with western Pennsylvania’s BeaveRun Motorsports Complex serving as a temporary campus for the Subaru Academy’s traveling sales consultant education efforts, not only do students make the tires howl, but the teachers make them howl the loudest.

For two days this past summer, 123 bona fide Subaru sales consultants and an ersatz one – me – are learning the finer points of the WRX STi, Subaru’s new rally-inspired ultra-performance sedan. And not from a textbook. We strapped on helmets and, with British racing school instructors aboard, put the hammer down and went slithering around BeaveRun’s race track.

For the past 10 years or so, Subaru has become a master at making and selling “crossover” cars and trucks in America, including the Outback, Outback Sport and Forester. Think rocks and trees, fly rods and mountain bikes.

However, the rest of the world has seen a more “pistons and asphalt” side of Subaru as the carmaker participated in a form of motorsport called performance rallying. (Here’s more about rallying.)

Tipped off by special-interest magazines and fueled by the Internet, car enthusiasts have followed the racing successes of the Subaru World Rally Team as well as the overseas offerings of streetable high-performance Subaru vehicles. Tom Caracciolo (Director, Product Planning and Product Development for Subaru of America) and a number of Subaru sales consultants note that this is one of those rare times when the customer often knows more about a Subaru vehicle than Subaru sales consultants.

Therefore, the intense training on WRX STi. Subaru provides training sessions, called “ride and drives,” for all products, as do most manufacturers, to educate sales personnel about the cars they’re selling.

For the WRX STi, it’s more important than ever. As Caracciolo points out, “The sales consultant not only has to be an expert on the product, but also has to let the buyer know just how much performance the car has. Subaru can’t have buyers uninformed of the responsibility they have with this very potent automobile.”

Subaru has plans to import 3,200 WRX STi models per year, and fanatical WRX STi buyers want undriven cars. So with a limited number of vehicles available for sales consultants to drive, Subaru is making a big investment to train about 3,600 dealership sales consultants about the WRX STi.

The agenda begins at an area hotel. Participants learn that the driving exercises are carefully designed for a controlled environment and for education about the car, not to develop instant racecar drivers: “No Mario Andrettis going back to the dealerships,” we’re told. In other words, don’t try this at home, kids.

Intense trackside product and
driver training reflects the staff?s
considerable experience in racing
and the automobile industry.
After a shuttle to the track, the class is divided into four smaller groups to rotate through lesson stations. Each is led like tourists by a guide with a flag. Some of us even have cameras. I’m in the blue group. I follow the blue flag.

The blue group heads first to BeaveRun’s kart track, a sinuous mile-long loop of asphalt. With an instructor in the passenger seat, we drive in third gear, feeling the sticky performance tires bite into the track surface, and learn something about following the “racing line.” The sales consultants won’t become experts at racing technique, but they do learn that when an enthusiast uses the phrase it has nothing to do with the ponies. But darn, we get only three laps. We’re left wanting more.

The next stop is a large asphalt lake marked with lime and pylons. Students again take the wheel to learn the six-speed manual transmission, common to Porsches and Ferraris but a novel feature for Subaru. Only a light touch is needed for the “center loaded” shifter. The rev alarm, warning when the tachometer’s redline is fast approaching, is also explained here.

Another demonstration shows how the Driver Controlled Center Differential, if switched to full 50/50 lock, causes “torque binding” and a lot of drivetrain noise when turning. And yes, they really do all do that. And no, you shouldn’t do that on dry pavement.

The blue flag leads next to BeaveRun’s race course, where we apply our shifting skills all the way to sixth gear, and then experience the massive deceleration from the WRX STi’s giant Brembo racing brakes.

We also learn about the use of water spray over the outside of the intercooler, a racing trick to reduce intake air temperature after it has been compressed and heated by the turbocharger. A button on the dash gives a two-second spritz. It can make a five-mile-per-hour increase on the straightaway of a race track. That may seem trivial, but in competition, small differences add up.

Like other high-
performance vehicles,
the WRX STi has a
6-speed manual
After an evening trackside barbecue, we return to the hotel for more lessons. The classes are technical, and students pay rapt attention to explanations of cutaways of brake discs and the turbocharged, double-overhead-cam engine. Knowledgeable questions prove that the students have been paying attention and know their stuff.

The next morning, the blue group begins at the asphalt lake again, this time for a demonstration of the Baja Turbo, the crossover pickup with a 210-horsepower engine. That’s followed by a drive of the Forester 2.5 XT, a similarly powered crossover SUV. The added zip is impressive.

The blue crew returns to the race track for a ride in the passenger seat while our instructors, genuine race drivers all, show us what a professional driver can do on a closed course. Chief instructor Andrew Davies says, “They call this a ‘demonstration run,’ but we [instructors] call it ‘payback.’” So much for our frightening the pros while we drove.

Students – helmets on and securely strapped in – get what is for many the ride of their lives. Each WRX STi roars away from the pits and, out of sight on the road course, its tires moan while cornering on the edge of adhesion. Jaws drop as the Subaru sports sedans fly by behind us on BeaveRun’s main straight.

Ah, but we’re not done yet. We get one final stop at the track, where students can once again put fear into their instructors. Payback for payback. Students have noticeably improved, with more confidence, better technique and undoubtedly more knowledge about Subaru and the WRX STi. And certainly no absence of enthusiasm.

Of course, it’s all about learning and serving the customer. And it’s “well worth it,” opines Billy Van Auken, business manager at Royal Motor Company, Cortland, NY. But he adds with a smile, “Man, I love driving that car.” Driver’s training, indeed!

John Matras has photographed for and written new car reviews, old car profiles and automotive history for both enthusiast and general-interest publications for almost 25 years.

See an excerpt from the exciting WRX STi training video and find out more about Subaru and professional rallying.