ï»¿In 1980, inspired by the recent domination of the infamous, four-wheel drive Audi quattro, Subaru competed in its very first WRC round, the Safari Rally in Africa, with one of its first all-wheel drive cars — the Subaru Leone 4WD. Subaru competed admirably, and although no win was secured, it was a turning point of sorts within the company that saw a shift of focus towards the possibility of high performance 4WD machinery. As it turns out the Japanese manufacturer was right on the money, as a new era began to dawn upon the world of rally, an era that would see many of the world’s greatest and most widely recognised all wheel drive vehicles come into being. Cars like the Subaru impreza WRX STi.
STi is born
Eight years after that first foray into 4WD rallying, Fuji Heavy Industries — the parent company of Subaru — finally decided the time was right to create a performance arm of the Subaru umbrella, Subaru Tecnica International, or STi for short. STi began as a purely after-market racing outfit, working in the star vehicle at the time, the full-sized Legacy sedan. The Legacy ran a turbocharged flat four cylinder boxer motor, and did very well right up to 1992, when Subaru came to the realisation that it was simply too big to ever be a truly competitive car. Thus, the Subaru Impreza WRX was born.
The star EJ20 motor could now be bought powering a lighter and far more compact body. Sales of the WRX went through the roof, and Subaru decided the time was right for STi to work its magic not just on race cars, but on production vehicles too.
In February of 1994, the very first factory-built WRX STi rolled off the production line sporting 184kW from a beefed up version of the original boxer motor.
The Version 1 to Version 6 STis are, for lack of a better word, excellent. As far as bang for your buck goes, you can’t do much better than the STi, except perhaps its main competitor, the Mitsibushi Lancer Evolution. As one might expect, the STi improved as the 1990s progressed, providing a better-handling, faster and safer ride as the cult car went from one version to the next. Grip levels are incredible throughout, and the very strong turbocharged EJ20T provides an excellent compromise between low end torque and high end power.
Of course the entire car is very improvable should you require more performance, with bolt on power parts, suspension and brake upgrades, all of which are very good value for money considering the potential performance gains they are capable of.
Something a Little Bit Special
Amid the sea of ‘normal’ STis, there have also been a good number of special editions. These range from the mild to the wild, and generally command a higher price depending on which edition you’re looking at. The more commonly seen examples on our roads, like the Type R two-door coupes and RA race-specs, are all fairly achievable price-wise, but rarer editions like the fire breathing, wide-body, 22B coupe — of which only 399 were made — command far higher numbers.
The Pitfalls of Popularity
The WRX STi is one of the most popular performance cars in New Zealand, and that title comes with both its bad and its good points. On the downside, you would be very hard pressed to find an original, unmodified example. As the car is such a road-going monster, finding an Impreza that hasn’t been royally reamed to within an inch of its life can also be a challenge. That is not to say good examples do not exist, but it can be a difficult search.
Secondly, its popularity makes the STi officially one of the most stolen cars in New Zealand, so prepared to be nervous every time it’s not in the garage.
The good news is, everyone loves these cars, and at the moment parts are plentiful.
Lastly, these cars are popular for a reason. The STi is an awesome machine that if well looked after, will eat up the tight and twisty turns of New Zealand’s roads for years to come with little complaint.
Subaru clubs are well represented here in New Zealand. The two best outfits are WRX-specific outfit Rexnet www.rexnet.co.nz) and Subaru-wide club Clubsub www.clubsub.org.nz).
Luckily, although the STi is a specialist car, they are very popular in New Zealand, and so replacement parts are very easy to get hold of through club websites, Trade Me and wreckers. Subaru dealers can also supply brand-new parts at a higher cost.
As with other performance cars covered in previous issues, there is a high likelihood that your potential new STi will be modified in some way — make sure these modifications are carried out professionally, safely and correctly. The EJ20 is a strong motor, but even forged pistons will let go if the previous owner has been running very high boost pressure — any car running 20psi or more should be checked thoroughly.
Although a very strong car, early STis do have one weak point — the gearbox. Any Subaru with a five-speed ’box should be checked thoroughly for damage and wear, as the gears are notoriously flimsy — a problem that wasn’t truly resolved until the upgrade to six-speed in 2001. Realistically, no matter how modified the potential new car is, the reality is it most likely will have been driven hard its entire life, and there is no ignoring that. Find a seller who clearly loves their car, even if the asking price is a little higher — it’ll be far less of a headache in the long run.
Subaru Impreza WRX STI – Specifications
Engine: 2000cc flat four-cylinder turbocharged boxer motor 209kW (280hp)
Bodies: Two-door coupe, five-door wagon, four-door sedan
Performance: Electronically limited top speed 250 (155mph), with a 0-100kph figure at around five seconds
NZ Prices: Expect to pay anywhere between $7000 and $20,000 depending on age, odo reading, condition and rarity.
Words: Peter Kelly