Apply the growing mindset that the SUV will save the sportscar (refer to last month’s TopGearSA) and you might reach the conclusion that Subaru’s gradual expansion of lifestyle vehicles like the XV and new Forester would allow Subaru to develop and fund its WRX 90s niche in to the year 2019. When that doesn’t come to fruition you can always rely on the big anniversary to re-engage the STI nomenclature.
April 2nd 1998 was when Subaru registered Subaru Tecnica international (STi). A period when blue collar turbo charged Japanese sportscars and sedans were more than a thorn in the side of thoroughbred Italian supercars. Then modern Germanic hatches followed suit, delivering greater sophistication and matured styling to chamfer the extroverted edges. But you don’t need a history lesson other than the adage ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same.’
Operating with a level of autonomy which is quite frankly unheard of in Japanese auto management, Subaru South Africa wheeled in the current gen STI for its own set of mods for the Diamond Edition. Cue the TopGear music, and with some remapping of the 2.5-litre engine and a new exhaust, the tweaks ratified 260kW and 464Nm – increases of 17.7% and 14%.
Through the syncopated throb throb of the locally built exhaust, the massaging of mid-range power of the STi Diamond Edition noticeable. A little more spotless in the heart of things but still married to vintage STI turbo lag which keeps you waiting for it. Teasing you to 35000rpm where it changes character, screaming waheeeey boooost up to 7000rpm with old fashioned whiplash. The gears and clutch are thick and meaty but I’d still take Honda’s better weighted shifts in the Type R. STI remains physical; all big turbo, big pistons…little awareness of tightening WLTP or carbon emissions.
Speed doesn’t manifest itself effortlessly like it does in the STI’s contemporaries, instead you carefully construct every element of the 5.03 second 0-100km/h sprint. Then 0-160km/h in 13.7 seconds in another hammer and tongs duel. Gains of 0.7 seconds and 1.0 second, squaring the STi Diamond Edition up on the front porch of the dual-clutch Golf R. Fancy yourself a shade of Colin McRae? Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive (which has evolved to a lifestyle tool rather than a performance one) allows the centre differential to be adjusted manually. But it defaults to Auto when you start the car and I find that my mornings keep me preoccupied with things other than how I want the C-diff to engage…
Notwithstanding, the STi Diamond Edition is a car that’s all about hard biting corner exits. If you’re reckless on the entry the nose will understeer until you either dab the brakes or wait an eternal lifetime for the system to wake up and send power to the rear axle. At which point inevitably you’ve wound 15 per cent too much lock on and that yellow front splitter, which will probably look better against factory blue paint, is now pointing with finality towards the inside kerb. Wish the system reacted a bit quicker because the switchblade-type dynamics can’t match the modern day’s systems for sheer neutrality.
The STI Diamond Edition has trouble matching rivals’ interiors. Quite easy to tumble out of the seats during hard cornering, and a good engine soundtrack is no reason to fill the doors with muffled audio equipment. There’s no Subaru eyesight (a blessing, actually) while the sunroof, keyless entry and android auto are the few highlights.
No amount of late night tinkering at Subaru SA can mask this package’s age which is priced right up there with the apex of hot hatches and sedans. The grin factor however is huge, I love what it stands for and equally what it stands against like a giant performance anachronism in an era that’s mostly vanished from today’s millennial minds. But I ask myself, where to from here, how many Foresters does Subaru need to sell before we get a proper reborn STI? Andrew Leopold
- R820 000
- 2457cc, 4cyl turbo petrol, AWD, 260kW, 464Nm
- 0-100km/h in 5.0secs, 250km/h
- Verdict: It won’t lure you out of a modern performance sedan, but it keeps the STI badge ticking over