Rise over run is probably something you forgot after sophomore-level geometry class.
But the fundamental principle is there, and is used practically every day you walk up or down stairs. Comfortably, height (x-axis) and distance (y-axis) are directly proportional to each other so you can walk up the stairs, not scale them.
Laguna Seca’s famous corkscrew turn, a sharp left after a crest, following into a sweeping right defies this geometric norm. This area of the track descends nearly 60 vertical feet in 450 horizontal feet of track, or the equivalent of falling down five flights of stairs.
Ideally, you’re falling down the stairs in second gear, by the way. At least the 2015 Subaru WRX STI has a short throw into its second gear.
Ironically, that’s the only time I have a gripe in this car. Plummeting down Laguna Seca’s corkscrew I wonder if the throw is too short. Not, “Am I going to die because I can’t see if anyone is underneath me?” or “Is this real life?”
It is real life, but the car is like a video game.
That’s because there’s so much grip in the 2015 Subaru WRX STI that I’m actually speechless. Here’s Laguna Seca’s dirty little secret: The corkscrew isn’t the track’s most important turn. It may be the most famous, but actually it’s the turn after the corkscrew that really separates the wheat from the chaff. A long, off-camber left hander that tests a car’s ability to grip as the corner’s apex drifts away. Rainey Curve, it’s called, and it’s really the breath-taker here. And it’s also where the STI makes the biggest impression.
The car’s name has quite the cachet. In the 1990s, when Subaru was racking up world rally wins, a special edition Impreza was released to mark the occasion. Tuned by Subaru Tecnica International, the STI street models were the closest everyday consumers could get to Colin McRae’s monster machines. For a small segment of the population (mostly teen-aged) the letters “STI” meant all four wheels off the ground and a rear spoiler the size of the Gateway Arch — pure bliss. Maybe you feel the same way about the small-block V8. Or Posi-Traction. Or your wife.
Think of the STI as Subaru’s purest expression of what it can do: namely, all-wheel drive and turbocharged engines. This particular model uses both, as a matter of fact. The incoming engine is the same as the outgoing engine, a 2.5-liter, turbocharged flat four that produces 305 horsepower and 290 lb.-ft. of torque. Just to make sure you’re awake, engineers have tinkered with the throttle position to bring the STI to speed faster this year than last year. Tap the fun pedal a quarter way and it gives you double of what you had last year, and follows all the way to the floor when your kidneys have shifted to the rear seat. Shifted through a six-speed heavy duty gearbox for only the STI, the car rockets from 0-60 in around five seconds, and grips from here to eternity.
Grip is a somewhat-mythical idea that’s derived from a handful of factors, including, but not limited to, tires, chassis, technology, steering feel and courage. Three of the four, Subaru supplied and did very well. Standard on the STI are summer performance tires (operative word there is summer) that generously adhere to curvy roads. Check. The chassis has been updated too on the STI, thicker cross members, stiffened springs and subframe, which nets a lateral stiffness increase of 14 percent around the car. Check. Active torque vectoring and engine control helps move the car around corners. Check. Traditional hydraulic-assisted steering and a quickened ratio help turn-in. Check.
About my courage. Well, um.
Laguna Seca’s long Turn 9 isn’t the scariest turn. As a matter of fact, to most people watching it looks downright boring. The corkscrew may be flash, but Rainey is all business and coincidentally where the WRX STI makes hay. From the top of the hill to the bottom of Rainey, 100 feet of elevation drop gives a gravity-assist to rocket your car from 20 mph to triple digits. Second gear turns into third and halfway around Rainey, you’re thinking about slotting the short throw into fourth. The gas pedal beckons you to bury it further into the floor and your face bends and tears start drifting from the right corner of your eyes as your fingers tighten around the wheel. Tires chatter but hold on; if you can find the right line and commit, you can power right into nirvana here.
There’s a lot to love about the WRX STI, obviously. Since the Impreza’s launch two years ago, and the WRX debut last year, it was clear that Subaru was returning to the idea that handling comes first in their STI. Car designer Masuo Takatsu said his concept when he began work on the car three years ago was to create “pure power in your control.” Takatsu is an admitted chassis guy, someone who sweats over the high-tensile steel used in every weld and span of the new STI.
“Chassis should always win,” Takatsu says to me through an interpreter.
In no particular order, Takatsu says he’s most proud of the steering response, rear tire control and flat ride in his STI. I’m thankful for all three for keeping me alive today.
It’s difficult to imagine wrapping a car around all of Takatsu’s track-focused engineering, and he’s done his best. Gone this year is the wagon, a Colorado favorite, ditched in favor of focused tuning on only one chassis. The STI will only be offered in a four-door sedan this year (for now) and only in a manual. The car’s exterior is the same type of menacing dork that we’ve come to expect and love in Subaru. An iconic hood scoop up front is only outdone by a massive rear wing that Subaru says is functional, but won’t say how functional it really is. From the glass down, the STI is completely new. Its lines are definitely tighter than in years before and the look is sharper than it has been before. Indeed, Subaru’s touring car built for the Nurburgring in Germany is a bona fide street machine, with little of the rally heritage showing.
The only whisper that the STI has come from the back hills of Finland is the special Launch Edition, available in the U.S. for the first few months. That car, a blue paint scheme with gold BBS wheels, is a throwback to the 1990s Subarus of the similar jib, blowing through forests and gravel on its way to winning world rally championships. While the look is congruous, this car is definitely from a new generation.
This car is about keeping it on the road and getting across it faster.
There are nitpicks to find throughout. That short throw gearbox? It’s a little too short. That wing? It’s a little too big. My standards? They’re impossibly high.
But when it comes down to finding flaws on the interior, exterior and way a $35,000 car handles and accelerates around this track like a quarter million-dollar racecar there’s only one point to make here:
The chassis won.