• Mar 23rd 2010 at 11:57AM
  • 53
2010 Subaru Impreza WRX STI Special Edition - Click above for high-res image gallery

For the better part of two decades, those of us in the U.S. have looked longingly across the oceans as Subaru released a slew of special edition Imprezas in Japan and the UK. When the WRX finally made the trek to the States in 2002, followed by the STI two years later, our thirst for rally-bred performance was satisfied – to a point.

While the WRX and STI (and by extension, the Mitsubishi Evolution) kept our turbocharged, all-wheel-drive lust at bay, a never-ending string of factory-fettled variants continued to come out of Fuji Heavy Industries. Names like Spec C, Type RA, Type RAR, S202, S203, S204, WR1, Spec D and RB320 all begged the question: Why not here?

Well, ask and ye shall receive. After countless caffeine-fueled late nights at Subaru of America HQ, we've finally got a hyped-up STI of our own. And it's not only better than the standard model, it's less expensive to boot.

Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

Only the most irritatingly obsessive Subie aficionados could spot the Subaru WRX STI Special Edition from afar, as the sole exterior differences are its dark gray 18x8.5-inch, 14-spoke wheels pulled from the Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) Spec C and Aspen White exterior (more colors to be available once the initial 125 units sell out). Get a little closer and you'll notice the standard HID headlamps have been swapped in favor of conventional halogen units, and if you pull out your micrometer, you'll find the Special Edition sits one mm lower than its standard counterpart.

That minimal ride height reduction comes courtesy of the JDM Spec C suspension, which has been swapped in unchanged from its Japanese cousin and features 16-percent stiffer front springs and 29-percent stiffer rear coils compared to the stock STI.

The final pseudo-Spec C transformation comes in the form of a thicker rear anti-roll bar (by one mm) and a set of harder rear subframe bushings. And if you're wondering why Subaru just doesn't port the Spec C to the U.S. and call it a day, blame the Feds. The new hatch would have to be re-certified for the U.S. market, and there's no chance the safety boffins in Washington were going to approve the lightweight seats, plastic windows and other assorted kit for sale in the States. You can write your local legislator, but don't expect a response.

Inside, all of the important bits are present and accounted for, including the six-speed manual gearbox, Driver Controlled Center Differential (DCCD), driver-selectable Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) and beautifully bolstered front thrones (you get a plaque with the release number, too). All you're giving up is the automatic climate control (replaced with a trio of manual knobs), six-disc in-dash stereo (swapped for a single-disc unit) and 10-speaker setup (who really needs more than four speakers, anyway?).

While the Germans would doubtlessly have you paying out your orifices for a de-contented, yet slightly grippier setup, Subaru has taken a different tack. The standard STI comes in at $34,995, while the Special Edition stickers for $32,995 (plus $695 for D&D). That's still a bit pricey considering what's included (and what's omitted), but the real dividends should pay off on the track.

It's been a while since we've flogged an STI in anger around a road course, and unfortunately Subaru didn't provide a standard model for comparison, but it took all of two turns to remember why the STI should be a staple of every gearhead's garage.

Although the 305 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque provided by the turbocharged 2.5-liter remains the same, choose the right gear and the minimal turbo lag and effortless tractability of the boxer four makes the first straight on the Streets of Willow Springs evaporate in a cacophony of speed and sound.

Going wide for the first slight right-hander, the stock Dunlop SP600 245/40R18 summer performance rubber gritted into the pavement, reassuring us that grip would give out long after our gumption. And when we finally reached the slightly off-camber 90-degree right, we had a chance to reacquaint ourselves with the stoppers. The same Brembo units fitted to the standard STI were more than up to the task of hauling down all 3,400 pounds with ease, with just a slight chatter from the ABS as the tires fought for traction on the uneven surface.

While steering revisions weren't listed among the modifications on the SE, the connection between the tiller and the tires seemed that little bit quicker and more precise. We'll simply chalk it up to the Spec C suspension, which not only allowed us to make minor, instantaneous steering corrections, but provides considerably more front-end grip than we remember on previous iterations.

After a handful of laps it was obvious that a few minor tweaks in the rear and the JDM-spec suspension had changed – ever-so-slightly – the character of our beloved STI. It seemed more content with smooth inputs than before, with a laser-guided precision that felt decidedly more Evo IX than hotted-up 'Rex.

That impression lasted all the way through our second stint on the track, when we disengaged the traction control and let the STI do what it does best: Mercilessly pummel corners into submission.

The everlasting allure of AWD performance machinery is its inherent ability to be chucked, tossed and recklessly exploited. Throw even a mild-mannered rear-driver into a bend with that kind of wanton abandon and it'll put up with the abuse... right up to the point where you're picking sand out of your clenched teeth. With the STI, it feeds off the mistreatment. Barrel 20-percent faster into a corner than physics should allow, lift off the throttle and the rear end rotates with quickness. Lay back onto the long pedal and ride the slide to the exit. When the tires begin to give up the ghost mid-corner, tap the middle pedal with your left foot (thanks John!), quell the understeer and then feed in the power. It's nearly idiot-proof, and fiddling with the DCCD to suit your driving style makes the whole package that much more alluring. Once we get it onto the road and see how the Spec C suspension deals with the daily grind, we'll be sold, but the overall ride feels promising thus far.

As with everything in life, it's all about compromise. With the STI Special Edition, you have to give up a few creature comforts for a slight – yet significant – increase in performance. That's something we've been asking for since the WRX first hit our shores, and not only has Subaru made good, it's charging us less for the privilege. Porsche, take note.

Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      if by "owns" you mean topped by in every measurable metric, you would be right. The only thing the VW can do better is look better.
      • 5 Years Ago
      There's really no substitute for AWD in the snow belt states.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Why does everything awesome come to the states when I have no money?
        • 5 Years Ago
        I have two kids and debt and I still bought one. Do it. You won't regret the decision. Now I'm just waiting to pass 1000 miles so I can open her up a little bit!
        • 5 Years Ago
        And I'd like to know where that number plate is on the car because I pretty sure it doesn't exist...mine doesn't have one anyways.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I'm in the same situation, but I at least know why it happens-- I have two kids, one income and a boatload of student debt from my grad degree. So, until the education dividends start paying off, EVERYTHING comes to the U.S. when I have no money-- 'cuz I have no money all the time.
      damian the man
      • 5 Years Ago
      tO ANSWER YOUR QUESTION. tHE ONLY REAL DIFFERENCE IS .1 SECONDS TO 60MPH FASTER AND A LITTLE HIGHER TOP SPEED. oTHERWISE GETTING UP TO 60 IN LESS THAN 5 SECONDS, THE wrx HAS AND ALL THE OTHER GOODS. AWD 256hp with 248-250 lbs of tourque is all youe need. And for bout 10k less it's worth it. A couple of little modifications and you will get the 305 of the STI anyway. For 10k less
        • 5 Years Ago
        @damian the man
        3" turbo back exhaust and stage 2 accessport 8-) $1400

        killed the gti stock though, can't imaging what it will do now
      damian the man
      • 5 Years Ago
      tHE gti DOESN'T EVEN OWN THE STOCK wrx. i HAVE BOTH AND MY STOCK wrx KILLS EVERY gti THAT IS WILLING TO PLAY. nOW THE STI destroys that GTI. The enterior might be nicer, but the speed ,handling and control go to SUC hands down.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I wish that to be true - I'm pretty sure the STI would run circles around the GTI. Now the R20... I think the jury is still out
      • 5 Years Ago
      @JimBob - it'll have zero issues with the R20 on the track. the STI's faster, lighter and more powerful. no contest.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I agree, this car looks pretty good. The only issue I have is with the grille, it could be all blacked out but that's just me. Besides that, the performance is pretty good and it's a hot hatch.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Wow, the fanboyism is deep whenever they post a hot-hatch article. I happily own a MazdaSpeed3 but I still like what Subaru did with this car. I like the new GTI's too but I think they get too pricey with options. That magical 30k barrier puts you in used BMW or Infiniti territory. The AWD makes this worth the 30k+ price, in my opinion.

      Looks are subjective, but I don't think it looks bad at all.

      Surprised there are no "Prius ownz this POS" posts yet. :-
      • 5 Years Ago
      "The DSG could be a plus on the VW column, if you prefer that type of gearbox."

      uh yeah...I think the majority prefers that gearbox. Fact is the car is made by a company who makes tractors....and has provided the STi with the transmission from one. Mitsubishi EVO with twin clutch walks all over this.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I like the "less is more" approach to the interior. I don't LIKE climate control; give me the manual controls any day. My current, ratty old Impreza only has four speakers, and that's been good enough for six and a half years.

      What's truly great about this STI variant is THEY FIXED THE UNDERSTEER of the suspension! My experience and understanding for years is that the regular Subarus and Evo are the best balanced, best handling AWDs out there. Following them are the regular WRXs, 2002-07. Not QUITE as balanced, with a bit more understeer than you'd prefer. Last is any STI and the 2008 WRX. While faster, any STI in the USA has been roundly criticised for understeering too much, a regretable trait in any performance car. The 2008 WRX was less fun (than previous versions) because it was too mushy and soft in its responses to the controls. Hopefully, this "new and improved" suspension will be a marketing and sales success as well.
      • 5 Years Ago
      The WRX actually made the trek in March of 2001 as a 2002 model. I bought mine in June of 2001.
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