As a car enthusiast, you’d think it would be a difficult task to sell your beloved ride. It makes sense: the boatloads of money, time, and enjoyment spent with your own automobile create a sentimental value that rivals, and for some of us surpasses, the relationship between a parent and child. To let that go, and henceforth never see your beloved car again while being reminded of it every time you encounter the same model on the road, must be quite the arduous decision.
Turns out, it wasn’t; at least from my point of view. A few weeks back I sold my three-years-owned Subaru Impreza WRX STI to the local CarMax, and the decision process took less than a day. The lone point I agonized over was whether or not I thought the price quote given to me was a fair deal (it was). Not an ounce of agony or reflection was spent towards whether the decision to sell the car would come back to haunt me. In fact, I was actually relieved when I placed my signature on the final form, and a cashier’s check of considerable sum was handed to me in exchange.
I loved the STI: it was a great car worthy of consigning a great chunk of my monthly paycheck towards paying for it. It was the first automobile I purchased with my own money, and cause of that it will always hold a special honor in my CV of automobile ownership. In many ways the STI was my proverbial ‘dream-car’, a nameplate I’ve lusted after every since the earliest days of the Gran Turismo game franchise. The rally homologation special offered supercar-beating performance for the price of a compact luxury sedan. For a young petrol-head eager to sample the upper-echelons of speed and horsepower for the first time, it was amongst the very few cars perfect for the task.
You’ve only had to put the accelerator pedal all the way to carpet once to witness exactly why enthusiasts throughout automotive history constantly crave more power and faster velocity. The all-wheel-drive assisted launch of the 305 horsepower STI is absolutely intoxicating, with a pull that pushes you back onto the seats, and your passenger desperately grasping for the grab-handle. The car I drove previously presented only a meager 125 horsepower, so the jump to STI-class of forward propulsion was immense. The STI made passing other motorists on the freeway a simple matter of thought and immediate action, rather than precisely calculated maneuvers and holding your breath.
Subaru’s flagship product was also my first encounter with the wonderful world of all-wheel drive. It’s such an effective tool in the application of traction that it’s no surprise the drivetrain layout has been banned in all forms of motorsport, save the dedicated rally disciplines. All-wheel drive flatters the driver, no matter his or her skill level. Instead of finessing the throttle like a surgeon making a precise cut, power to four wheels allows the driver to prod the pedal like an on/off switch. Endowed with limited-slip differentials front, center, and rear, the STI offered so much grip that not once during ownership did I ever induce the tires to squeal, though perhaps that’s more commentary on me not having the requisite skills than anything.
You haven’t experienced the joy of manual transmission until you’ve owned a car where the shifter is directly connected to the gearbox via rods, instead of the more common cable linkage. It’s been said the Aisin six-speed in the STI is one of the best manual gearboxes on the market, and after having one of my own to row, I can say those anecdotes are absolutely true. The STI has precise shifting action, excellent feel, accurately defined gates, and a sense of mechanical perfection that begs you to downshift just so you can upshift again. The gearbox never complained with jarring crunches or harsh metal-on-metal disagreement; it remained as slick as ever, no matter the countless high-RPM downshifts I threw at it.
I adore the feel and precision of a rod-actuated transmission so much that my car to follow the STI will also feature the same mechanical wondrousness.
Put all together, the STI is one of the best point-A to point-B sports cars for the money, the proverbial one car to do it all. So why on earth, you’d think, did I sell it? It’s simple, really: as a car enthusiast, my goal is to sample as much as possible the full spectrum of the automotive landscape. I’ve had the privilege to own an all-wheel drive turbocharged rally car facsimile, and previously, a front-wheel drive family sedan. It’s time to have a go at the rear-wheel drive experience, which is why the STI got sold a few weeks back.
Of course, that car was not without its faults. The STI may merely costs around the mid 30 thousands mark, but its supercar-rivaling performance equates to maintenance and upkeep costs that are also akin to sports cars many times its price. Equipped with a massively complicated all-wheel drive system and a turbocharged EJ257 motor renowned for its fickleness, keeping the STI on the road in top condition was an exercise in great damage to the wallet. Simple service costs $160 at the dealership, and major service is upwards of $700. Because the numerous amounts of horror stories with engines eating its piston rings and motor oil magically disappearing, I didn’t dare risk not following the prescribed maintenance schedules to the dot - an eye-wateringly expensive endeavor.
Due to having aerodynamic properties of a brick-wall with smaller brick-walls appended on, the STI struggles to leave the mid-teens miles per gallon even if you were to put an egg under the gas pedal and your aim was to not break it. Automotive technology has gone far enough ahead where cars with considerable more horsepower can achieve significantly better fuel mileage. While no one should purchase these sorts of cars whilst paying mind to economy figures, I would be lying if I said I didn’t die a bit every time I visited a petrol station.
A car that’s so expensive to run forces you to find excuse not to drive it often, which is completely antithetical to what sports cars – and cars in general – are all about: the sheer enjoyment of getting out and driving.
The STI was a tremendous paradigm shift from my first car, with it having almost 200 more horsepower, two additional wheels providing forward momentum, and because of all that additional equipment, some 700 pounds heavier. Having sold the STI and gone back to driving the old Toyota Corolla, I’ve had quite a few astounding epiphanies:
1. Weighing in at around 3,400 pounds, the STI isn’t a porker by today’s standards - a rear-driven BMW M3 weights about the same. Stepping back into a Corolla that tips the scale at a scant 2,700 pounds however made me realize the laws of physics cannot be tamed by sheer mechanical trickery or engine prowess. Even though the Corolla lacks the superior all-wheel traction and quick-ratio steering of the STI, the fact that it’s got 700 fewer pounds to motivate reveals a surprising nimbleness that’s lacking in the Subaru. The STI never did hide its weight well; only through the bullish might of its engine and drivetrain combination did it manage to attain its famed agility and quickness - not unlike a Nissan GT-R. The mass is always there: an omnipresent dulling sensation seemingly tangible until you realize you’ve gone way faster through that corner than thought possible.
It’s a fast car for sure, but there’s no substitute for lightweight. Colin Chapman’s ethos is eternal.
2. Through owning the STI, I found out that I much prefer atmospheric engines to turbocharged motors. Force-induction, an excellent technology to make massive amounts of power relatively easily, cannot match natural-aspiration for precision and sharpness. The STI’s considerable turbo-lag and power surge once the tach-needle sweeps past 4,000 RPM is indeed manic and giggle-inducing, but I find myself longing more for the crispness and one-to-one relationship between throttle and power that’s characteristic to atmospheric engines. While it may only be a meager NA 1.8-liter four-cylinder in a family sedan, my return to the Corolla immediately turned me towards the camp of enthusiasts whom are fervently against contemporary automobile’s shift to turbocharged engines. In a world where it’s increasingly difficult to find new sports cars with naturally aspiration, I will be amongst the crowd clinging on to them as long as possible.
3. I don’t know what’s the appropriate amount of power for a street-driven car, but I do know that 305 horsepower in the STI is excessive (start your pitchforks and torches). Only on the brief highway onramps where I’m the lead car can I enjoy putting my foot down flat and winding it out through the first three gears - any gears more than that would land me swiftly in jail. Those scant seconds are absolutely bliss for sure, but the rest of the time I’m mired in the doldrums of infamous San Francisco traffic, unable to access any of the car’s substantial power reserves. Even on mountainous B-roads, opportunity to access the STI’s limits requires a kind bravery and recklessness that I’m far too reluctant to attempt. 305 horsepower isn’t a whole lot when you consider cars with 400-500hp can be bought for around $50,000. How owners of those cars have any fun whilst driving outside the confines of a racetrack is beyond me.
Three years with the STI was a necessary tick on my list of automotive experiences. I found out exactly what sport sedans with appropriate amounts of turbocharged power, excellent steering, bulletproof manual gearbox, and sublime all-wheel traction are like to drive. It’s bloody spectacular, and everything I’ve read and expected. Having had a prolonged taste of an STI’s prowess, for its successor as my next car to be, I’ve decided to scale it back. Occupying soon the same parking space with is a car that’s only got 158 horsepower out of an atmospheric 2.0-liter inline-four. Power to the tarmac will be delivered via the rear two wheels. Most importantly, the new car will be some 1,000 pounds lighter. I’ll reveal and write about that car in a future post.
In the meantime, I can’t say I’ve really missed the STI since selling it a few weeks ago. It took a few moments for me to cease giving the ‘Subaru wave’ to other STI drivers on the road when I encounter them (massively awkward with me driving the Corolla), but absent was any tinge of remorse or jealousy. I guess I’m just not the type of car enthusiast that hangs on to their cars forever, or would hugely regret a sale afterwards. There’s a new car to look forward to! And that’s a vastly more exciting prospect than wasting time lamenting the absence of a car.