Patience. That’s a concept I don’t explore too often, but being on a racetrack and in the driver’s seat of a Subaru WRX STI with a professional rally driver next to me, patience was very much a virtue I dearly lacked.
Many, many years ago I owned a Subaru WRX. It had tens of thousands of dollars spent on modifications, and everything from the turbo, intercooler, exhaust, fuel injectors, clutch and whatever else you could throw money at, I had thrown money at. The main reason? A foolish one – I wanted to have a better lap time.
Little did I know, back in my early 20s, that the tens of thousands of dollars I was happily throwing into the fire would’ve been far better spent on driver training if my goal was to cut a few seconds out of my time.
Having modified the car to increase power and torque by around 30 per cent, my lap time improved by only one-and-a-bit seconds.
It was somewhat disappointing, but after having done a series of driver training sessions on a racetrack back in the day, I managed to cut 3.8 seconds out of my best lap time around Morgan Park (Warwick, Queensland). That was something that would’ve probably cost another $20,000 in modifications to get, had I not learnt how to actually drive.
The reality is the same with nearly any car. The owners modify them for different reasons, but if that is to improve anything but straight-line performance, the key factor remains the driver, not the car. The best modification for any car is the driver – modify the driver and you gain plenty of speed.
The Subaru WRX STI is an interesting car. It carries through the same formula as it has for more than a decade, with its big 2.5-litre turbocharged engine pumping out a healthy 221kW of power and 407Nm of torque. At around $60,000, it may not sound like a lot of grunt, but as a package it’s a lot of car for your money.
It comes with a six-speed manual that can handle a lot more torque, and unlike the WRX, which over time had its engine changed to a point where modifications became far more difficult than before (with less tolerance built into the powertrain), the STI is definitely engineered to be tinkered with.
But as stated before, the best modification, even for an STI, is the driver.
With that mind, I called up CarAdvice friend and Subaru legend, Chris Atkinson. The former World Rally Championship driver for Subaru (and Hyundai) was going to teach this poor sod how to actually drive one of these without constant understeer.
Atko, as he's known, is currently kicking some major arse in World Rallycross over in the States, and he remains the king for making this AWD monster from Japan go fast.
The STi is inherently prone to understeer. In fact, it loves to understeer, so patience is the game. You can, of course, modify the sway bars to dial some of that out, but ultimately you will get a better lap time driving the STi as Atko explains in the video.
As for the car itself, it remains one of the best daily drivable yet track capable sports cars money can buy. It’s the sort of car that you can take to the track on the weekend and drive as a daily during the week.
It will never fail you, it won’t break down, and so long as you treat the clutch and gearbox with due respect, the only wear and tear you’ll have to deal with are the brakes and tyres. It’s ideal for those of us that want to have some serious fun with our cars.
Yes, the suspension is hard, yes it’s a little uncomfortable, and yes it definitely needs an update to its interior, but those are compromises that one has to put up with in a car like this.
All of us here at CarAdvice love the Subaru WRX STI, for it remains the rally car of old. It’s a classic that never seems to age, but to be fair, driving it properly is a bit of a bitch.
If you try to drive it like a regular RWD sports car, all you will hear is your money burning as the front wheels slide around and destroy themselves.
With Atko at our side, we managed to cut around 1.5 seconds from a lap just by changing some of our driving styles. Most of which felt counterintuitive by going much slower in some areas to go fast in others.