2016-11-18

Is a 2014 STi better than a 2004 WRX?

If you ask any of my friends what kind of car I drive, the answer will come to them rather quickly: Subaru. If you ask most of them what kind of car I'd likely purchase next? Subaru. Easy. But it might surprise you that I'd go for something... a little older.

My first new car was a Subaru. So was my second. And now, my third. I love the brand, I'm fond of their activism toward the environment, I praise their quality and performance, and when it comes to working on them, when you get under the hood, there's always well-thought room for a wrench, and you need no special tools to be able to get at things. I've changed my own oil and transmission fluid, and I've replaced a timing belt myself. Sure, things break, and others wear out, but that happens with any car, and I'd wager with little delta on frequency. But I don't need the dealer to fix it, and I don't have to worry that the fix is going to find me knee-deep in parts from all over the car, bolts left over after it goes back together, or me left scratching my head asking, "What next?"

I purchased my first Impreza in 2000, and in the 18 months that I could manage to make the payments as a young, irresponsible adult going through a terrible relationship and a bad breakup, I put 88,000 miles on it. All I ever did to maintain that car was change the oil, and it never quit on me; never gave me a lick of trouble. At nearly 5000 miles a month, that's a lot of frequent oil changes, and a lot to ask of a car, and I'll tell you - I never once replaced that crush washer on the oil pan plug; it never leaked. The A/C blew cold. Tires were about done, but everything else held up, no problem.

Once I got my life back together, and it was time for a new car, the Impreza line was on its third generation, and they had released the WRX variant in its most attractive looking form to date. My 2004 WRX, like me, was born in August. This mattered, because when I finally tracked the cause of the smoke wafting out from under the hood scoop late into its life to a leaky shaft seal on the power steering pump, I found out only after I had purchased the rebuild kit and torn the leaky unit apart, that they didn't build them with rebuild-able power steering pumps until September. I managed to find a website for a salvage yard in New Jersey that shipped me a used PS pump, and a used A/C compressor for ~$200. The maintenance was much more involved on this car than my last, as it should be - I owned it for over ten years. I was 273 miles short of reaching 200k miles on that car, and a large number of the parts, including all of the engine internals - and seals - were original! Sadly, my WRXy's life was cut short by someone texting while driving a minivan through an intersection into my car. Frame damage, and it wasn't worth the cost to repair him. Insurance offered me the opportunity to keep him as a salvage vehicle, and give me essentially nothing for it, or to buy me out of the vehicle, for what turned out to be a low-ball offer.

I think I might have made a mistake in taking the latter. Simultaneously, I shudder to think of what it would have cost to return him to service in both time and money, and I hope that he is three-wheeling through some incredible eternal rally stage up rainbow ridge with a smile right now.

Oh shut up - I know that's not the case. That it was a thought might give you an insight into just how much I loved that car.

To be fair, I was thinking of trading it in. Having worked on it like I did, I understood that it was soon going to be time to do a major overhaul, or try to pass all of those problems on to the next owner. Subaru had just unveiled the prototype for the 2015 Impreza, with looks that could kill, and a roof line for a sedan that looked about as sexy as the coupe I first fell in love with - add in all of the modern technology that wasn't available 10 years prior, and it seemed like it was going to be the perfect intersection of heritage, technology, performance, and reliability that I was looking for to replace my very well loved, but aging do-it-all sedan. I can't tell you how excited I was to be able to see the production version for myself. And how disappointed I was when I learned that its final form was... not that of the concept. Not even close.

Still, the 2015 WRX STi looked the part. It looks like it sit higher than previous models, but it doesn't. I was gravely disappointed in the base WRX - all of the aggressive styling that made my '04 attractive was softened, and muted, and common with the Impreza wagon that was released earlier that year. Even the Crosstrek XV looked more aggressive. The STi's huge rear wing and some subtle badging was really the only thing that marked one from the other on the outside, and made it even slightly attractive.

Under the hood is where the real differences lie. The WRX had an all-new 2.0 liter engine which moved the turbo up front, and made the headers equal length; sacrificing that distinctive Subaru sound for less lag. And I guess it works, because the STi, with its distinctive burble intact - with the turbo in the right spot, and despite the efforts of a dual-tipped exhaust, is only slightly quicker than the WRX. Still, both weigh over 400lbs more than their 2004 counterparts.

Now.. largely the result of a good test drive, and only having the CVT powered WRX to compare it to, I purchased and drive a 2015 STi.

So, here's the thing: I _like_ the car. But I don't _love_ the car. I don't have anywhere near the kind of attachment that I did to my '04. It's a decent car, and I do enjoy our time together. It does what I ask of it most of the time. It doesn't read my mind, and it doesn't react consistently to my inputs. In my first 10,000 miles, I was still mostly enamored with it, but I was still able to find some niggles about it that I just couldn't let go. Now, nearly 40k miles into ownership, I find myself more and more, finding things that I don't like about it rather than enjoying the drive.

I want to be fair, and note that I haven't driven any Imprezas that were made after 2004, and before 2015. This is only a comparison of my WRX to my STi. I'm not an automotive journalist, or a race car driver, but I've written my fair share of essays, and driven much more than my fair share of cars hard enough and fast enough to understand the basics of vehicle dynamics, and how slight changes can have big effects.

Let's start with some positives. One of the things I did to the interior of my WRX was change all of the interior illumination to red. The green that it came with stock was hideous, and quite simply painful to deal with when driving at night. The 2015 STi's interior illumination color is red. Well, mostly red. There's a bit of white and yellow interspersed in there, but I understand it, and I don't expect perfect, but it is miles ahead of the illumination that came stock in my WRX. Unfortunately, what it does color white, or yellow, or something other than red, I don't see any easy way of changing to red. So there's that. It's mostly painless to dive with at night.

The addition of controls to my steering wheel other than cruise control is a new thing. I was really a fan of the control staff on the steering wheel in my WRX, but it only controlled cruise control. It was really comfortable, the motions were precise and intuitive, and it was perfectly positioned to never be in the way, and never be out of reach. I liked the cruise toggle button on the dash to the left of the wheel, but wished it was more of a push on push off deal, so that it would start in the "on" position when the car was started, and even did a bit of experimentation to replace the cruise button with a toggle switch like the fog light toggle, but the car knew what I was trying to do and disabled cruise control entirely until I reconnected everything the way it was supposed to be, and re-started the car. Now, as part of my startup sequence in the new car, I push the cruise button to turn it on, whether I intend to use it on that jaunt or not. The button is on the steering wheel, so it's handy, but occasionally breaks my brain because it switches sides if the wheel has been turned enough. Operation of the rest of the cruise buttons is alright. They aren't in the way, but I certainly have to readjust my grip on the wheel to actuate them. They are handy, and do have a decent feel.

One of the aspects of this car that I think is greatly improved (but still not perfect) is the brakes. I managed to make quite dramatic improvements on my WRX's brakes by replacing the rotors with StopTech slotted one piece units, and Porterfield R4-S pads on all four corners. Additionally, I had steel-braided lines to help make response quick, and pedal feel rock solid. I had this setup so long, I have a hard time remembering what the stock brakes felt like. That stated, the brakes on my STi are _almost_ as good as those. With stock pads, and stock rotors, they stop quick, and can handily activate ABS, but you can very easily overheat them, glaze your pads, or experience fade if you're not careful. The multi-piston calipers are quite effective, and brake changes don't involve as many tools, but I'm not wholly convinced that they're better. There's still that disconcerting "tick" upon your first forward application of the brakes after you've applied them in reverse - it's really just the pad settling against its stops in your current direction of travel, and it happened on my WRX as well. But the pedal feel is inconsistent at best. Sometimes it is right under your foot with a solid feel and very little squish until the pads get their initial bite. I've upgraded to the Porterfield R4-S pads on all four corners, and the bite is better, and modulation is controllable, once you adjust to whatever amount of squish you're going to get for that application. And sometimes, you get all kinds of squish, and have to contemplate whether it's worth it to pump the brakes and go deeper, or just keep pushing your foot down, hoping you don't run out of pedal before you run out of road or traction. Not particularly confidence-inspiring.

Once you are set into the corner, though, the suspension feel is great. It clearly communicates with you what each wheel is doing, and what's going on through your butt and your hands on the wheel. This model year changed the lower control arm attach points to ball joints instead of rubber bushings (though I think neoprene probably would have been sufficient), which gives you an very communicative suspension.. for good and bad. The chassis is set up to give under steer from speed-maintaining throttle on up to red, but if you really manage to pitch it in, you can get the rear end to step out. It's responsive to throttle input, and if you go in a little too hot, you can momentarily lift, turn in harder, and poke it again, and that's usually enough to get you back in line. It takes more nerve to get to the limit, but once there, the car will let you know. It's usually gentle about it, but it can surprise you now and then, and nip at your heels.

This chassis is significantly stiffer than my WRX, which lets the suspension do its job better, and brings that communication directly back to you, and quick. Whenever I visited my brother's house, when leaving his driveway, I'd have to go sideways to clear the front overhang, but I three-wheeled without fail, and as I did, and forces transitioned from one side of the chassis to the other, you could hear the body creak, and then creak again as it settled back on four wheels. This chassis is stiff as a board through that transition. You can feel this stiffness when you drive - for good and bad - and it results in sharper road feel, and more precise placement through turns, and more dexterity when exiting turns.

When you want to get out in a hurry, the STi has about all it needs when it comes to power. If you add more power, you'd simply be exacerbating the existing issues that I'll get to in a minute, but as it comes from the factory, it'll give you plenty of huff when you step on it. There's a little bit of lag, but if you know that, you can adapt to it, roll on the power early, and as you build boost, you might find yourself unlocking the wheel a bit to keep your slip angle in check. It's AWD, so where you point it, it goes, and this one goes in a jiffy. The woosh of the turbo building power is about as addicting a thing as I've ever known - more so than the steady whistle of a little bit of boost at sustained speeds in my WRX. But no sooner can you tune your ear to the woosh as your eye catches the rev warning light flashing red in your face to clutch and upshift, and the joy begins all over again. Careful there, you might see some other red lights.. behind you.

One thing they've added to the STi that my WRX didn't even think of having is traction control. In my WRX, it had a limited slip center and rear differential, which were both mechanical, and neither were adjustable. In the STi, I can adjust the torque split of the center diff from a 50/50 torque split to 41 front /59 rear.I can also control lock from fully open to fully locked. As well, there are a couple of assistants that can be mixed or turned off as you see fit. For the most part, in concert, these all do very well to keep the car behaved, from cutting throttle, and applying brakes to the individual wheels that are causing the problem, to dividing up the power from the front to the rear and vice-versa to keep you accelerating when you want to be. The systems aren't without drawbacks, but more often than not, they are unobtrusive, and only intervene when you're being the worst of sports, and throwing only the biggest tantrums.

If you don't know anything about me, let me tell you that I *love* music. I have no such talent for creating it, but I love listening to it. And this car suits me well on that front. The head unit is much improved from the WRX in that there are a multitude of inputs to choose from. I did like the in-dash 6 disc changer, but the lack of an AUX input on my WRX led me to resorting to hacking the stereo with a kit from Jazzy Engineering that provided me with a CD that played silence, and accepted an RCA stereo pair to play into the CD laser's pickups by way of a ribbon cable. To install it, you had to crack the head unit open and void the warranty. It worked, with the exception of having to either keep the rest of the CD slots empty, or remember to hit repeat when using an AUX input (all the time), and it suffered from a slightly low volume level, which I'm not convinced was the head unit or Jazzy's fault. In the STi, however, I have inputs galore to choose from. There is no cassette, but I'm not bothered by that in the slightest. I only have one CD slot, but to be honest, I can't remember the last time I actually put a CD in it. I think it's empty now, but I'd have to check. The car came with an XM Radio antenna installed, and a trial subscription that lasted for 3 months, which was good while it lasted, but I can't bring myself to pay for radio. FM and AM are fine, and I poke around a bit from time to time when I need traffic, or want to hear news/drivel. It picks up "HD" streams from both, and there is a distinct audio difference between the two modes, and it is painfully evident when it switches. But the best input is the USB port. I have an iPod mini with the lightning jack, and that plugs directly into the USB port, and allows me to control the iPod to skip tracks, stop, play, or even select a playlist, album, artist or song - either via the head unit, or the Multi Function Display on the dash. There's a screen that displays track information, and when selecting music displays more than one line of text at a time, and works in conjunction with the head unit for controls. Though, I'm disappointed that this screen can't put album art up for the track you're listening to. Another feature of the car that I use much more than I thought I would is its bluetooth connectivity. It is really easy to pair your device to the head unit, and then the audio from your device will play through the car's speakers. It also has a microphone that usually doesn't sound terrible on the other end that you can use when you are on a phone call, connected through bluetooth. For this, there are dedicated buttons on the steering wheel for controlling the functionality, and even enacting a phone call, either by a programmed voice-dial, or through prompts. It works pretty well, and I was actually surprised how much I like using it. There are certainly better systems available, but it works well enough. My only gripe here would be maybe the quality of the microphone, because sometimes I get complaints of it picking up car noise (I mean.. there _is_ noise in the car), or my voice doesn't come through completely clear. Mic position might also affect this.

The cup holders are much improved on the STi. My WRX had one small cup holder in the center console that was too small for the size of drink a growing boy like myself usually gets, and another above the stereo head unit that popped out of the dash under the A/C vent that gave ample support for the right size cup, but frequently became sticky from evaporated soda residue from dripping liquids. It kept your beverage at hand, and if you set your climate control right, it could keep it chilled or heated as you desire. But being high on the dash, I've had my fair share of spills, cup failures, and leaks that required disassembly of the dash, and sometimes the head unit face plate, with a long soak in hot water to remedy. The STi moves both cup holders to the center console. There is an insert that changes the elevation of the bottom of the holder, which works well for my wife and myself, as she usually gets the smaller drink, and the higher base elevation still keeps it handy and in reach. The insert is reversible in case you want the shorter cubby in front. Even larger drinks are very well secured, don't get in the way, and you can nearly forget about them being there, but they are still well within comfortable reach when you need it. Taller items like the liter bottles of Smart Water that we usually drink aren't wholly obtrusive, but can certainly get in the way. There's also a little accordion door that you can slide forward to cover the cup holder up, but honestly, I opened it once when I got the car, and haven't closed it since except to clean things up. In place of a rear ash tray, this car also got two pop-out cup holders in the rear seats that pop out of the center console, and two large cup holders in the front door pockets that will easily hold a liter bottle of water. Awesome for stocking up for a road trip to stay hydrated.

The seats in my WRX were pretty stellar. They were wider than in my RS for fat Americans, and the seating position was higher, but that suited me because I'm a fat American,a nd am certainly wider and bigger (and maybe not as spry as I was when I was younger) in my old age. The material they were made of always kind of bothered me. It was effective at keeping you cool in the summer, and warmed well in the winter, but it just never seemed very durable. Having sat in the same spot for over 10 years, the seats were wearing through on the side bolsters, and there was definite wear from me getting in and sitting down that was starting to border on "you need to replace your seats". The material in the STi is alcantara with leather trim. It appears to be a high enough quality that it will stand up to years of abuse, and the seat foam is taut enough that it looks like there is hope for it holding its shape as well. It suffers as a result in that it doesn't regulate temperature as well though. I often find that after a long drive home through traffic, even with the A/C blasting Minnesota winter temperatures that my back gets all sweaty. I imagine that in winter (I live in Southern California, and I don't know what this term means) would be a good time to put the seat heaters to good use, but for someone with chronic lower back pain, they do come in handy to help relax sore muscles from time to time.

A feature that my WRX lacked, but I understand was introduced just a couple years after I bought it, is the 60/40 split rear folding seats like my STi has. This is SUPER handy, as I sometimes need to move something larger or longer than a stroller, and short of trading my STi in for a pickup truck or a wagon, it helps to be able to fold the seats down, and insert larger items in the back. The trunk space in my WRX was impressive, as several of my rocket friends can attest, and there was little that I needed to carry that wouldn't fit, and while the dimensions of this trunk are only slightly smaller in a couple of directions, the fold-down seats makes up for that in a big way. My only gripe here is that the center seat belt has to be pulled out of the way, and around the rear seat panel on one side to not impede the opening. I wish there was some quick-disconnect for this or something that would really get it out of the way, short of removing it. The car seat attach points are awesome, both in the seat, and on the rear deck. It keeps my daughter's car seat in place no matter how entertaining my driving is to her.

A much improved area on this car is the trunk, despite its smaller size. My WRX had a spare tire, and a tool kit, and the trunk floor was a thin piece of hard board that covered up that well, and had two clips on it for the jack handle, and pins to keep it aligned with the opening. This was then covered with a piece of carpet. The trunk was lined on the sides with a molded liner that was easily misshapen by your cargo moving around, or even poking through it, or pushing bolts on the other side of it through. Around the opening of the trunk, this liner was fed underneath the rubber gasket that sealed the trunk, and it very frequently came out, and would never stay in place for long. The trunk hinges were exposed, as were the trunk lid torsion bars, and I've crunched more than one box or fragile thing because it wasn't perfectly placed between the goal posts when the trunk was closed. The jack stowed nicely on the driver's side, in a nice little clamp, behind a handy access panel. No more! The carpet in the STi trunk is much heavier duty, and is quite a bit thicker. It is attached to a semi-rigid cover that is nicely cut to align with the interior of the trunk, and it helps quite a bit to keep things from sliding around in the trunk despite having good weight and traction on the carpet. The spare tire well is much deeper than previously, it seems, and there is a large molded foam insert that has a cubby for small tools and once that is removed, it reveals a foam insert in the middle of the spare tire that holds the jack, jack handle, and a tool kit. There's enough extra room in there for a set of jumper cables, and a can of fix-a-flat. The liner of the trunk is a little thicker than the previous liner, and fits much more like a glove. It also covers over the trunk hinges, which thus far, has prevented any cargo from getting in the way of the trunk hinges upon closing the trunk, thus preventing damage. The floor of the trunk is flat in this model, unlike the WRX which had a slight high spot in the front middle that was incredibly frustrating on more than one occasion when trying to shove cargo forward to make room for more, only to find that it was too tall up front because of the raised floor. The fold-down seats aren't _quite_ flat, so you have to take that into consideration, but at least the whole of the trunk floor is flat.

But not all of the STi is good. Much of it is, but in fact, I've got a long list of gripes that have struck me, not as individually significant reason enough to get rid of it in search of a healthy '04 WRX to restore to the glory I once knew, but the lot combined makes a pretty compelling argument against continuing to suffer in the STi.

Despite the cool factor of having cruise and audio controls on the front of the steering wheel, the wheel itself is terrible. The diameter of it is fine, but it's not consistent. It's got those fat thumb bits where I guess you're supposed to rest your thumbs with your hands at 10 and 2 - but nobody drives like that, and they're too high to give you ample control when your hands are placed comfortably on them. The 10 & 2 thing never made sense to me, and I always opt for a 9 & 3 when I need increased control, but mostly, I drive with one hand on the wheel, and steer with my fingers rather than with my whole arms. The wheel is also lopped off on the bottom. So instead of being round, when you get into really spirited driving, and you are shuffling your hands like a good boy, you have to account for the different radius of the wheel at certain positions, which leaves your brain slightly broken and distracted from paying attention to the road, and doing the geometry calculations and the two-step at the same time to improve your line like you should be concentrating on. The material that covers it is relatively cheap, and scuffs easily. I'm only 40k in, and it's already starting to peel off in layers where I commonly keep my hands, and where it rubs on my thigh from me getting in and out, the smooth covering is rough. I imagine this to be the first interior appointment material failure/wear-thru point. Also, I find three-spoke steering wheels incredibly uncomfortable. I very much prefer 4 spoke wheels like I had in the WRX. The plastic trim on the steering wheel that creates the bezel for the neato switches and buttons that control cruise and audio feels cheap, despite the buttons and switches feeling much better than the surround. The spoke on the bottom is also painted freaking silver of all things, with this matte satin and gloss mixture that just doesn't work. It looks and feels out of place in this car. The Subaru logo in the center of the wheel is an embossed foil job that I have to report, is - NOT - knuckle-proof. One frustrated honk of the horn proved this, and now it's permanently misshapen. The airbag is pleasantly compact, leaving much room for the fancy buttons, but I'd happily replace it with the 4-spoke MOMO that came in the WRX in a heartbeat. One of the reasons that I am being so specific, and selective with finding a replacement for this car is the steering wheel. The 4-spoke MOMO that I like was available on the '02-'03 bugeye, and the '04 Peanut-eye, but for the '05, they changed to a cheap-looking 3-spoke that I can't even fathom liking. It resembles what is in this STi quite a bit.

Seating height is an area where I think the STi leaves a lot to be desired. For my size, I like to be close to the wheel, even though I'm 6' tall. There is plenty of leg room, and much more track behind me than in front of where I sit, should you want to slope your seat back, but I find that I can't comfortably reach everything unless I'm fairly upright and close to the wheel. I have good command over the vehicle, and am mostly able to stay put in turns. But head room is lacking. The seat has a height jack that allows you to bring the seat height up quite a bit, but I don't think that it goes down as far as it should. Being tall, I have to duck my head around the window header to get into the car, and my head is still high in the cabin once seated. With a hat, I am fractions of an inch from hitting my head on the roof. This complicates other things as well, but mostly, it just feels like I'm too high up to be comfortable. The steering wheel telescopes, and I've got it reaching as far as it can. I've got plenty of room in my lap, and I like to keep the steering wheel as low as it can go there, but I can't sit any lower without destroying my posture, or reclining the seat back so far that I wouldn't be able to reach the dash, or the steering wheel. My RS was perhaps too low, and my WRX seemed to get the seating height about right.

Seat width seems too narrow by about 3/4". I'll admit that my hip width has grown a bit since I was young, but I didn't have any problems fitting into or getting situated in the WRX. The thigh bolsters were significant, and I was able to feel well centered in them once I got everything arranged correctly. In the STi, it takes considerably longer to get in, arrange everything, and get centered in the seat, kind of wedging myself in place, and even still, there is odd pressure low on the back of my thighs that make me feel like I'm sitting in a chair that's one size too small. Lateral support from the bucket bolsters in my thighs is very minimal, and I constantly feel like I'm moving, or rather, being thrown around in the STi. The seat doesn't hold me in place. The width of the seat back is also a little shy of comfortable, even though the WRX fit me just fine when I was a bit heavier than I am now. I also liked the one-piece seat back design of the WRX seats more than I like the adjustable head rest int he STi - they look alright, but functionally, I can't find the right combination of height and inclination that makes it work for me. And several times while stretching my arms or my back in traffic, I find myself pulling on the head rest, only to discover that I've tilted it forward another click, and have to pull it all the way forward for it to reset, and then pull it the one or two notches forward to where it feels most comfortable. It's just an unnecessary complication for me, and a hassle to deal with.

Where the seat is positioned in the car is weird as well. I understand with modern cars that the foot-well is shifted toward the center of the car, because the front wheel is on the outboard side, so that minimizes the available width available for the pedals. And to not feel like you're driving sideways, you have to keep the driver pointed mostly forward, which means that you have to move the seating position inboard with the pedals if you make wider front wheel wells - as is required for wider tires, and proper turning radius, etc. But I think that the seat in the STi is 1.5" too far inboard. I don't sense that I'm driving sideways, nor feel like I'm not in the right place, but I don't feel like I'm centered with the steering wheel, and between the door and the center console. I feel like I'm being pushed up against the center console when I am centered in the seat, but on the door side, I have a good 3" of room where I'm not touching anything. I just feel smooshed up against the inside of the car. Particularly when I make a hard right hand turn, I have to completely change my clutch foot position to brace myself from being thrown to the outside of the turn, because there is nothing there that I can brace the rest of my body against. There's nowhere for me to go when I'm turning hard left, so nothing has to change. And with the seat not doing its job to hold me in place, and having to go out of my way to brace myself against a right turn, any spirited driving has me dancing in my seat like a kid before recess who has to pee; constantly adjusting to center myself again for comfort, after sliding one way and then the other, and back again, doing the hokey pokey with my left foot in and my left foot out, and shaking it all about. In my WRX, I got in, and got situated, and I was there until the door opened, and I got out. I didn't have to move to brace myself, and I never felt like I wasn't centered. The seat held me in place, and no matter which way I turned, I knew that I wouldn't be moving all around.

Regardless of the seating position and angle of the seat back, or the width of the cushions in relation to my back-side, one of the things that I really find fatiguing is the complete and total lack of lumbar support. My WRX actually had a lever that would change lumbar support from a little to a lot. I've got a lot of lumbar, being so tall, and the max setting was absolutely perfect for maintaining my posture, and reducing fatigue, even up to spending 18 hours in one day on a stretch driving across country. I didn't find myself needing to stretch or fidget in my seat to keep things from becoming painful. But in the STi, even after a relatively short drive of just an hour or so, I'm itching to get out of the seat and walk around, and stretch my back. My wife hates the seats in this car, and they cause her more pain than they cause me. The heated seats are nice, and I don't know if they just couldn't figure out how to get heated seats to work with lumbar supports, but I would happily give up the heat for the support. To that end, the seats in the WRX had better shoulder support, and were just generally more comfortable than the STi seats. I'm sure that this is one of those aspects where it's going to be different for everyone, but really, I think that they changed for the sake of change, and haven't really improved anything in this area. Wrap a WRX seat in the materials that are in the STi, and I think you'd have an awesome seat worthy of the position it holds, and would greatly reduce fatigue and results of wear and tear over the long run.

Other than hill-starts in San Francisco, the hand brake on modern cars is something that should be out of the way the whole time you're in the car, and only just enough in reach that you can set it without causing injury. They moved the hand brake from the great position that it was in; down, to the rear, and further inboard on the WRX to way far forward, way up high and way far outboard in the STi. There is nothing between my leg and the hand brake but the boot around the hand brake. It's in the way. It's so much in the way that I've actually worn a hole in the boot from leaning against it, trying to be centered in my seat. I often find that in order to get comfortable, I have to sit down, rearrange everything, and release the hand brake before adjusting my lateral seating position again to where I'm actually up against it to feel centered in my seat. There's no reason it can't be located in a place that is less conspicuous, and less in the way. One of the reasons my Wife decided that she didn't like the Crosstrek, and opted for the Forester instead, was the proximity of the handbrake to the driver's seat. It would be less in the way, except for egress, if it were on the floor between my legs, and I had to pull it like a fighter's joystick to set it.

Something that is rather disappointing about the office of the STi is the interior quality and layout. I liked my base WRX just fine. The dash is covered in that spongy, glossy rubbery crap they make the interior of all car dashboards with. It's stock. It's fine. It's not super cool-looking, but it's not aesthetically terrible either. It's a dash. For the rest of the interior, everything kind of goes together, and nothing looks like it is over or under-refined. It's a sporty base model. The interior went together. I did make a couple of refinements; the bezels for the HVAC vents were that non-shiny, plasticy silvery material, and I quickly popped them out, and painted them flat black. They held up for 10 years. There were silver rings around the dials in the gauge cluster, but I painted those black too. I painted the shroud around the gauge cluster, because the basic plastic finish reflected more light than I wanted. I painted the bezel around the HVAC controls and the stereo black as well. Oh, and the cup holder. And the stereo head unit. Like I mentioned earlier, I also changed all of the interior illumination to be colored red. I modified a lot on that car. It was all small, slight, subtle changes, but it was modification friendly. All of the parts were of an expected quality. I covered the center console in a poor-man's alcantara, and it looked great. It felt great. To have the kind of ownership experience where my car and myself became one mind. The cockpit was my happy place, and it was suited just to me. But modifying all of those parts wasn't necessary, and in fact, was made possible, because of the quality of the interior components. They didn't fall apart because I sanded them. They didn't wear off paint because everything moved against everything else. Tolerances were right on so things fit the way they should. The first month I had my STi, the arm rest in the driver's door broke. The sonic-welded plastic did what poorly sonic-welded plastic does - it came apart. I never bothered going to the dealer to get it fixed because I expected the next one to do the same. The cushion under the arm rest also collapsed, and the alcantara comfort swatch is sagging - it's not taut like the seats. The dash is cool looking, but it's got this fake, glossy, carbon fibery insert stripe that goes across the whole thing. And there's several shades and textures of silver in a bunch of places. And the HVAC surround, and the stereo bezel is that fake glossy carbon fibery junk. There's the silver accent on the steering wheel, which is different from the silver rings on the gauge, which is different from the silver accents on the shift knob, which is different from the silver door handles, which is different from the silver parking brake release button. It's not tied together. The palette is too big. Too many colors, textures, and patterns. WAY too many fonts: the Multi Function Display looks like it's some variant of Futura, and the speedometer is a different variant of Futura, but the text for the odometer - inside the _same_ gauge cluster - is something like a monospace Lucida. And the head unit is some other variant of Futura. Come. On. You were able to make it all (mostly) the same color, but you couldn't make it the same font!? The cowl around the gauges looks cool, and it's more of a matte surface than the WRX, but it's still the same crap rubbery stuff, but then there's this unfinished plastic hood over the Multi Function Display that doesn't match anything in the car, doesn't fit well, and has flashing around the seam all around it. It just juts out of nowhere. It looks so out of place, and this feature is standard across the range of Imprezas! I guess what I'm saying, is pick one - carbon fiber look, or silvery plastic. One font. a _couple_ of colors. One pattern. It's like the designers of each individual component were never in the same room, and never consulted each other on their designs, and the thing was just made the way they all designed it to their particular tastes, except - it doesn't have that kind of hodge-podge charm. It's okay to use inexpensive materials, so long as they fit together correctly, and don't fall apart. It's okay to not look exquisite so long as the things stay together. It doesn't have to be fancy - but it should be cohesive. Additionally, I don't see a path forward to be able to modify this interior to make it more satisfying. I mean, the driver's seat needs to move left 1.5", and down an inch. Relocate the parking brake entirely. I'd need to do a bunch of programming to change fonts and colors that don't match, and I don't know how to get that done, much less do it myself. There's other things about the interior as well - the arm rest in my WRX had a metal plate under it that braced it to the structure of the door to support it. It was at the perfect level to rest my arms at my sides, and be supportive, without skewing my posture to one side. The four spoke steering wheel helped this as well, as I was able to rest my fingers around one of the stems, and steer that way. I was comfortable, stationary, and at rest the whole time while driving. The arm rest here is too low, and there's no stem on the left or right, just one fat one with squared-off sharp edges in the middle. And the window sill is too high. There is a step at 270° (9:00) that I can grab with a couple of fingers, and rest my arm on the window sill, but it's too high, so I'm not relaxed, and it makes me lean to the right. It's just not a comfortable place to spend a large portion of your day.

I know it's harder to seal a frameless window than it is a framed window. When your seal moves with the window when you open the door, you have more control over its seal, and there are a number of benefits to framed windows beyond sealing. But I really don't like framed windows. The framing around the window looks like it is cut from stock c-channel and welded together like something I can do myself in my back yard. There is nothing special about its appearance. The gap between the front and back doors, and the trim around the window frame itself looks like a cheap vinyl over-wrap. Mine has a gouge taken out of it because I caught it with my thumb nail once while opening the door. My WRX had four frameless windows, and I never had a problem with it sealing properly. The only time the doors rattled was when you closed them with the window half-down. With the window up, it created just enough tension to keep everything taut, and the doors closed with a solid thud. I don't see what the problem was that they had to add a frame to the windows. It mostly just gets in the way. You have to move further out of its way to dodge it when opening or closing the doors. The frame of the window makes the pillars that much larger because you need to conceal the structure of the door, and the structure of the roof of the car. It makes blind spots larger. Worse, it doesn't actually do anything to increase the safety of the car. The front doors of the STi also have these weird little windows in the front for no reason. I remember when I was young, my Dad's Chevy pickup had these wing windows that you could swing open to let in some cool air without having to completely roll down the windows, and muss up Mom's hair. But these don't even do anything that cool. They're just a little triangle thing. You can't see anything out of them. They don't provide any additional visibility. They don't vent. They don't let light in. They don't block light. They don't align with anything. Someone decided that they needed to reduce the width of the window to they could make the mechanics to roll it down completely fit inside the door, and this random number came up, and that's what they went with, and the balance was made into this weird window. Maybe it's a nod to the SVX - I don't know.

I know I'm a tall guy. But I also sit too high up in this car, because I can't move the seat down far enough. But this cause other issues. In my WRX, I was able to see across the entire front window, and never once had to move my head to look around the rear view mirror for anything. Personally, I thought it was mounted a little low in that car, but with its two knuckle joints, I was able to rotate it up enough to not be in the way, and still be able to see through my back window, all of the things I needed to see. Rearward visibility was great, and blind spots were very small. In the STi, partially a result of me being tall in a high seat, an partially because of poor adjustability range of the mirror, it is constantly in my way. I find myself having to duck and lean to see around it to look right for oncoming traffic, or when I go into a right-banked turn like a freeway off-ramp, I have to lean over or duck to check for traffic in front of me. It's kind of ridiculous. The rake of the front window is so steep, and the roof line is so low that hanging a mirror off of it puts it right in my line of sight, and right in my way. I have to wonder if it is related to hardware associated with Eyesight or something.

Speaking of raked. My forward view - with as close to the steering wheel as I sit, and as low as I can sit, but my head is still almost touching the ceiling - is terrible. The windshield is raked so steeply that the A pillar actually obscures apex points. I learned through feel in my WRX that when you're driving down the road in a straight line, if you put the "dummy dots" in the middle of the hood scoop, you'd hit them with your right wheels. If you put them on the left windshield washer hinge, you'll hit them on the left. However, the sharper you turn, the further from these marks your apex line gets. As if driving a large pickup, at some point, when making a sharp right turn, your apex line exceeds the limits of your window, and you can't see it. Same with turning left, except in a car without a funny little worthless wing window like the STi has, you can see your apex line out of the driver's side window. But there's nearly a foot of dash, and pillar, and rear view mirror and crap where your apex line can be that you can't see. This is not a confidence-inspiring point of view. Driving around town, or driving a truck maybe it doesn't matter so much. But driving a sports car, even a pseudo one, this is a huge detractor. The rearward view is similar. The rear deck is so high (not even accounting for the large wing in the back) that it's a long way behind you before you can see the ground again, even in the rear view mirror. Everyone looks like they're tail-gating you. It makes me a little nervous, if I'm honest, knowing that I can brake shorter than most people behind me, and not being able to see their headlights because they are so close. Side mirrors are large-ish and offer a decent reward-side view. The pillars on the sides make looking over your shoulder more black magic than science most times. I've seen motorcycles be completely hidden by B pillars.

A side effect of the exterior shape of the car, is how it behaves in the rain. I was on a road trip, driving my WRX through New Mexico, and came across this torrential downpour while I was on the freeway. I knew that my tires were up to the task, and driving 70mph, the car was positively planted on the road. More than that, because of the shape of the car, and the angle of the windshield, all of the water was simply blown off the windshield - I didn't need to use my wipers, and got a perfectly clear view of the road. Additionally, the angle of the rear window, and the shape of the body cleared (or kept it clear) that window completely as well. I had fantastic visibility as I drove down the road, and wasn't worried one single bit about the downpour that people around me were freaking out about. I know from experience, that over ~55mph is when the windshield will start to clear itself. For the STi, you would think that because the front windshield is raked more than the WRX, that this would happen at a lower speed, but in fact, the opposite is true - it isn't really effective until over 60mph. And the rear window _never_ clears itself. It's constantly dirty, and requires cleaning every time I fill up, and sometimes more often than that. Driving with my windows down is one of the great joys about driving in Southern California. It doesn't much matter what time of year, if you can crack your windows a bit, and get a decent breeze going, you can drive comfortably on most days, without running the mpg-robbing A/C. In my WRX, there were two "spots" that I could park all four windows in the car, and I could get decent air flow, very little wind noise, and not mess up the wife's hair as we drove along. It was perfectly comfortable to drive at any speed with the windows at these positions, and it never became a whirlwind inside the car. Also, you didn't get that buffeting noise with pressure rapidly and dramatically changing as the wind flowed around and through your car. In the STi, no such spots exist. Sure, I can drive with the windows down, but it's not much different with them cracked just a little from them being completely rolled down. A whirlwind is created inside the cabin that will make Dorothy out of any stray napkin, or light jacket/sweater that happens to occupy the car, whether in the passenger foot well, or sitting on the back seat. It's going to get sucked out the window. I also made the mistake once, of rolling up the front windows completely first, before I stopped, and before I rolled up the rear windows. I can only describe the sound I heard as something a sick sub-woofer would make if you fed it a very strong signal at a frequency less than 30 Hz. It actually hurt my head. So.. don't do that.

Peripheral visibility is something that suffers with the new chassis on the STi, and I'm not sure exactly why. I know it's not because of the rear wing - and to be honest, I never really see it, it doesn't get in the way, and from the Captain's chair, it is completely invisible. But despite seemingly good rear-view mirror positions, and relatively large mirrors, spatial awareness comes at a higher mental cost, and you really need to keep your head on a swivel. I don't recall it being that hard to intuit what was around you in my WRX, and I've found myself several times thinking I was in the clear for a lane change, only to turn my head at the last second, and spot a whole car that I didn't see, and have to abort the move. This never happened in my WRX.

I do my own work on my cars, as much as I can. I changed the timing belt on my WRX, and stopped doing my own work short of a clutch replacement, and replacing the transfer gears and center diff when a snap-ring decided to skip its groove, and break off in the gearbox. But most times you need to get under the car, you usually have to jack it up. But I laugh every time I do, because unless I jack from the rear diff housing, or the front cross-brace, I get two wheels off the ground before I can get a jack stand under it. There is so little suspension stroke on the STi, it's just kind of laughable. To me, this doesn't make sense in a rally-bred car like the Impreza - you should have much more suspension travel. I know, they don't use stock suspension, but you sure as heck can't rallycross a stock STi and have enough suspension travel to keep the power down. I three-wheel going into just about every driveway I go through. I can't enter my condo complex through one entrance because I know I'll three-wheel in one place, while I need to be applying power to get up a hill, and I'll spin a tire. Don't get me wrong, three-wheeling in my WRX wasn't rare, but nowhere near as often, and not to the same extent.

The spring rates on this version doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me either. Higher spring rates increase the suspension's reactive feel, and help keep it flat without body roll when you turn, but you can do much of that with sway bars, and actually get better suspension feel by tuning these different aspects of suspension dynamics. But I notice very frequently, particularly on poorly-maintained roads, that under acceleration or braking, each wheel searches for grip because the suspension stroke is so short, the spring rate is very high, and there isn't much compliance in the chassis. I'd wager that my WRX, despite being much lower on horsepower, could, on a rough road, out-accelerate this STi simply because it can keep the wheels on the ground, and keep the power down as a result. You put this car on a smooth track, and I'm sure it's simply a dream to drive, so long as there are no extreme elevation changes around a hairpin or something. And I think this issue is bigger than personal preference. There are a lot of things that you can very easily change about the dynamics of a vehicle, including relatively easily being able to change the struts and springs on a car with this kind of suspension design, but while it shows the performance-minded thought process behind the design of the car, it doesn't showcase it very well. If you have to have a very particular set of environmental conditions in order for the car to perform well, you aren't thinking the problem through. There isn't any difficulty for someone who has the money and time to make this their second car, or track car, and to modify it to suit the kind of racing or performance driving that they intend to do, but for everyone that bought this car to be their performance-oriented daily driver - changing these aspects is less likely, and the availability of parts doesn't improve upon the situation; aftermarket struts and springs more often than not reduce the ride height of the car, reducing the available suspension travel even more, and increase the spring rate even further, exacerbating the problems that the chassis already had.

So, if the car was intended to be more of a weekend racer than a daily commuter, I would have hoped that they included some method of turning ABS off. They didn't. There was an instance many years ago when one of my acquaintances was driving his WRX at a track day at Willow Springs in Rosamond, CA. Going through the last two turns - wide, flat right-hand turns that are taken nearly flat-out - he spun. As soon as he spun, he applied the brakes, but they were completely ineffective. It turns out that the ABS sensors didn't understand how one wheel was spinning backward while the others were spinning forward, and it didn't really know what to do with that, so it basically allowed nothing to happen. Zero braking pressure was applied to the brakes. It is very possible that the car could have been saved, had any braking been applied at all, but because nothing was allowed, the car hit the retaining wall, and was completely destroyed. The driver walked away - one of hundreds of incidents where the driver and passengers walking away from a completely destroyed car has cemented my faith in Subaru's safety design for life. But this is clearly a fault in the design or logic of the ABS system. If it were able to be turned off for track events, this wouldn't have happened. Sure, you can pull the ABS fuse, but that triggers other events and issues, and introduces more problems. Big deal, you say - that's a track day; a one in a million event. You'd think so, but no. It happened to me in my WRX as well. I wasn't at a track day. I was driving home from work. I got hit in the passenger's side rear, right at my rear wheel. I was spun around 180°, and was traveling backwards, trying to apply the brakes to stop, but the car kept on moving. It went up a curb, and into a fence, which thankfully stopped me, because if it hadn't, I would have gone backwards down a 30' drop. Not that I would have had ABS turned off for my commute home, but that there are very real-world situations where these kinds of behavior could dramatically change the outcome of an accident when technology intervenes. There is still no means to disable ABS. Thus far, despite claims to the contrary, I've tried with all three of the available traction control modes to disable the hill hold to no avail. Sitting in my driveway, where the car is stationary, the brake is applied, the clutch is depressed, the gearbox is placed in reverse, and the parking brake is released - hill hold - in one of the conditions that it claims it will not apply - holds me on my driveway, and I have to fight it to get the car to move backward, down and out of my driveway. Again, I've tried all three of the traction control modes, reading in the owner's manual that one of them will turn it off, but to no avail. Though, at first, it was the most annoying flaw of the car, but I've kind of gotten used to it. I still don't like it, but I've gotten used to it. But it's not perfect by any stretch. It makes finding and using the clutch's friction point weird, because sometimes you're fighting against hill hold, and sometimes you're not. And every once in a while, in some weird place that you've been a hundred times, it will figure that now is a good time to engage hill hold, just to mess with you.

The most disconcerting difference between the two cars is the fuel economy. Now, I realize that this comparison is not fair, but I'm going to make it anyway. Over the 10+ year life of my WRX, including all of the traffic I sat in, and the ass-hattery I found myself a part of when I first got it (getting as little as 12 mpg on one tank!) I averaged 23.3 mpg over nearly 200k miles. So far, at only 40k miles on the STi, the best tank I can muster is 21 mpg, and my average is on the low end of 18. Knowing that I have friends with 5 liter mustangs, and even my Mom's GMC SUV getting well over 25 mpg, this fuel mileage is atrocious. It's a 2.5 liter turbocharged engine, and what I would give to be able to get 400 miles out of a tank these days; I can barely crack 300 if I've been driving in any kind of traffic. My 2.0 liter WRX was getting closer to 28 mpg when I took it easy, or on long trips. The A/C is a huge suck in that regard. I don't know if the compressor is too big for the engine, or what, but while it sure does blow cold, it sucks mpgs like nothing else - and that's on both cars. But I don't know why the STi can't do better. All of the math is there for it to be able to do really good with fuel mileage - it just doesn't. If I had to pinpoint it, I would say that it's probably tuning that's the culprit.

Speaking of tuning, I think they did it wrong on the STi. I get it - you want your car to perform. But they got it wrong. Most people want a car to be smooth and efficient, and be able to turn up the heat when they want it. Subaru kind of thought of that when they added this little knob on the center console. The way I understand it, is that it selects between different boost targets. [I] is for "Intelligent" - for normal driving. [S] is for "Sport" for when you want to pick up the pace a little bit. And [S#] is for "Sport Sharp" - which is balls out, everything that this car will give you in stock form. Throttle response is quicker, it reaches boost faster, and it is much, much quicker. But here's the thing - unless you spend all of your time on the track, or doing very spirited driving, this mode is seldom used. An indication of that, is that when you leave it in [S#], and turn off the ignition, and then turn it on again, the car has automatically changed to [S] mode. This is where they got it wrong. Leave [S#] mode alone - it's great. [S] should have the performance characteristics of [I] mode. It will stay in [S] until you move it out of that mode. But then change [I] to [E] mode, and dampen it two steps more than the difference from [S] to [I]. But beyond boost targets, include full on fuel map changes, ignition timing, throttle response (it's throttle by wire), and many many other things to make this 2.5 liter engine operate with the minimum amount of boost, and get the most out of its mileage. There isn't any reason that with a little bit of tuning, you can't get 30 mpg out of this engine regularly. COBB is an aftermarket tuning company that has created a device that allows you to "flash" the ECU with a different program. One of their initial complaints - or rather, worries - about the car in stock form was the poor fuel mapping they gave it from the factory, and how that's had an impact on fuel economy. One of the benefits of using a COBB access port, is to be able to open your car up to the open-source market of tuning your engine for the specific modifications that you have - or to just better tune your car to suit your style of driving. They do have a "stock" tune that is supposed to unlock several more horsepower, flatten out the HP and torque curves, and extend their usable range, all while keeping away bad things like knock, and poor air/fuel ratios. In addition, they also have a tune that is intended to get the most out of your fuel-misering ways, and easily grant you high 20's mpg. But there are two problems with this system: 1) the unit isn't cheap. The maps are free, usually, but the unit itself is around $700. 2) In order to change from one map to another, you have to completely stop your car, shut it off, and go though a roughly 2 minute flashing process. Not exactly the kind of thing you can do at the drop of a hat, or on the go. I can't imagine it impossible to stack two engine maps on top of each other, and switch from one to the other at the flick of a switch, but apparently, no one has figured that out yet. But that's what the STi needs. Fuel economy on the regular, and that little switch that transforms the car into the beast it was meant to be.

One of the things about what I can only deduce is the tune of this engine that drives me absolutely bonkers is this little throttle bucket that I keep coming across. In my WRX, whether I was short-shifting, or hard-charging, when I engaged the clutch in a gear and stepped on the pedal, the car would give me what it's got at that RPM, and that boost level, and it would just go for it. The STi doesn't. I don't know if it's a lame safety or protection feature or what, but there's a dip in its gumption when you engage the clutch in a gear and step on the gas - it doesn't "go" right away unless you're way at the end of the tach, and really getting after it. It's not turbo lag, because it goes into this bucket only a split-second _after_ it's started to accelerate in gear. You can feel it start to charge, and then retard, and then rear up to charge again, and it's like there's a disconnect between the gas pedal, and the throttle-body that makes it recoil for a blink after you've put a load on the engine. It's frustrating. It isn't conducive to driving smoothly, or keeping you from jerking your passengers around, or suddenly surging ahead once it finds its oomph.

The clutch too, adds to this car's inability to be driven smoothly. The stock clutch in my WRX was smooth and predictable, and had lots of bite. It was aging, but was nowhere near done when I replaced both the clutch and the flywheel with a lightweight flywheel and a "street lite" clutch from ACT. People said that it was going to drive rougher with the lightweight flywheel, and that I was going to get worse mileage, but damn if both of those claims weren't completely false. I actually got better mileage and was able to drive more smoothly with that clutch installed. It did add a bit of noise, but nothing that was unbearable. The clutch was consistent until you got it really hot, and then it would tend to get grabby, so you had to be careful after you got off the freeway from a long commute. It was also sensitive. I would laugh at valet drivers that would hop in, reveling the chance to drive my car (it was very rare for me to allow someone else to drive it) only to stall twice or more trying to get it going, or when bringing it back. But it was a sturdy, predictable clutch once you got used to it. The friction point was in the same place whether it was hot or cold. When it grabbed, it grabbed, and power was applied. The springs in it were rather stiff, so if you didn't engage it smoothly, it would jerk you forward and back pretty good for a revolution or two. I liked that clutch a lot. I don't like the STi's clutch. At all. I can change it, but that costs quite a bit of money that I don't want to spend. I learned that my WRX clutch would have lasted much longer than I thought it would have, and when I replaced it, it was barely half-worn. I had thought that I had abused it enough to necessitate swapping it, but I hadn't - nowhere near. Which is one of the reasons I despair about this clutch. It's going to last for a looong time. But it's terrible. The friction point could be anywhere. Sometimes it gets grabby, and sometimes it wants to slip for days. Sometimes if you don't do it right, it will jerk you fwd and back for several revolutions. The throw on the clutch pedal is a little shorter than it was on the WRX, and the pedal feel is weird. It isn't as responsive as my WRX was. Is it the rubber hosing that needs to be replaced with a steel-braided line? Is it the clutch itself? I don't know, but I don't like it.

As much as I do like having the 60/40 split rear seats, it's not always practical to use them. In that, I then have to settle for the trunk space that the car gives me, and even accessing that isn't as good as it was in the WRX. The WRX had tail lights that wrapped around the back of the car, and the trunk opening wrapped with them. But up above that, the trunk opening opened up quite a bit, and provided ample space to be able to stuff the trunk full. And the WRX trunk was plenty big. I remember being at a rocket launch one time, and it was nearing the end of the day, and I was the last one to fly, and get my rocket back. All of the people that I was camping with were asking me if I needed them to take anything home for me, or if I needed help getting anything into the car. I just told them all that they could put it near the back of my car, and that there was a process. Several of them, you could have bet them that I'd be able to get it all in, and they'd make a hefty wager against it. First the tent, and the collapsible table, and the stakes for the EZ up. Then the ice chest, and the ammo box, and the tool box went in the back seat. Then this, that and the other. Then the E-Z up, and the folding chairs. Then the rockets, etc. I got done, and closed the lid, and everything fit. Just like it did on the trip up there. But their jaws dropped, because they didn't think it possible. It was a BIG trunk, and it had a very wide opening that made getting everything into and out of it pretty easy. The center seat belt retractor was my only real gripe there. But the opening for the STi trunk isn't as wide. And it is a big trunk, but I don't know that I would be able to fit the same things in it without having to resort to using the fold-down rear seats. The floor is flat-ish, but it's just not as big.

And closing the trunk lid with that giant wing on it is another issue. The wing weighs a lot. The torsion springs have their jobs cut out for them to be able to lift that thing. But when you close the trunk, the lid, and the wing wobbles all around, coming into contact with the latch, and all of the seals around the perimeter, and it just moves all over the place. So much so, that even when driving it moves around, as evidenced by a lot of people that have complained about paint wearing off of the trunk and the sheet metal next to the trunk lid because the lid moves around so much. That's a little excessive. I know that the lid was heavier for the 2004 STi, and there were a bunch of people that would switch the trunk lid, but not the torsion springs, only to find that their trunks would fling open, and in likely scare you into thinking that it was going to break your back window, but I don't think that I ever heard of anyone complaining about paint rubbing off. And the STi looks silly without the rear wing. It looks as tame as a Camry.

So, you can see, there are a number of reasons that I'm willing to part ways with my STi. But only if I can immediately replace it with an '04 WRX. I'm really looking forward to finding my old friend once again.

2015-06-04

I was young and dumb once too.

I often found myself driving outside my range of skill and talent. I also understood that falling is part of learning to walk. Or drive, as it were. There was an instance where I suffered the brunt of someone else's inexperience. It wasn't fatal, no one was injured, so this isn't a horror story - just one of those times where the universe just kinda tugs on your reins a little to let you know who's still in charge. I had just come to a stop after driving through a fun little industrial section near where I lived at the time. It was a rather.. spirited drive. I was stopped, waiting for the light to change, so I could make a left turn. I looked up in my rear view mirror, and I saw two kids in a Mazda MPV. Like slow motion, the driver had a panicked look on his face, and you could tell his cheeks were puckered, both hands on the wheel, wide-eyed, and mouth agape mid-word I'm sure I shouldn't repeat. And his passenger had the same face, but with the lack of a wheel to grab onto, was all flailing arms, trying to find something to brace against. Then came the sound. SCREEEEEEE-And then the impact-CRUNCH. Somewhere in there, I had told my passenger to hold on to something. The damage to my truck was minor. Crunched my tailgate a bit. It still closed. I pocketed the insurance money in favor of movies or a good time or something, I'm sure.

But it's funny how lasting an impression such a small moment can have on your life. To this day, whenever I get the impression that the person behind me is approaching a little too rapidly, or isn't paying attention, I look up in the rear-view mirror, and still see those two kid's faces, and flailing arms, and I wait for the crunch.

2015-03-16

Phone woes.

For those playing along at home...

I have an HTC One. An OS update over a year ago left my camera with a purple/blueish hue in every photo I took in low lighting. Initially, I visited my local Sprint store about this issue, and they said it was HTC's fault, my problem, and left me with a dead end, unless I wanted to "upgrade" to whatever their flavor of the month was. I didn't.

I had been complaining about the coverage in the area I work in for about a year via twitter, getting responses from @sprintcare, several times, that the network is fine, take your phone into a store and have it checked out. In January, I started getting even WORSE coverage at my workplace - MAYBE 1-2 bars of 3G coverage, despite the detailed coverage map from Sprint claiming to be providing not one, but TWO levels of 4G coverage in my area. It was suggested that it was the fact that I was in a building that I was getting poor signal, but even in the parking lot, my reception was unchanged.

Very early in February, there was another OS update. This horked all sorts of things. Swype input took between 15 and 30 seconds to look up each word. Even short tests were painfully tedious to compose. The camera was still terrible. Reception was even worse. So I got super verbal on twitter - the only place I've actually gotten any decen kind of response from Sprint. My local store is full of upsells and I don't know's.

Finally, I get a response: a @sprintcare representative requesting that I DM them contact info and times, they want to talk.

Awesome!

I explained the issues that I've been having:

1) Service where I work is terrible. Wifi isn't available, and I only get 1-2 bars of 3G at best, even outside.

She explained that there had been work being done to the local tower, and that it was nearly complete, however, very soon, they would be starting work on the nearest 4G tower, and that for a month or two, only 3G would be available, and that the recently repaired 3G tower was going to have to bear the entire bandwidth burden while the 4G tower is down.

Woah! An answer! That's acceptable. It's frustrating, but I was finally given an actual answer, and while the answers aren't what I want to hear, they are reasonable. Alright. I can accept that.

2) Since the OS update, swype inputs take a long time, and there's some other random silliness about the phone that is nothing short of infuriating when combined with everything else.

She didn't have an answer about this, but because of the third issue, you'll see that it didn't really matter.

3) The purple hue in the camera since the first OS update over a year ago.

She looked into it, and found that this was a known issue with my model of phone, and they would be happy to replace my phone under warranty.

But my phone is out of warranty.

Well, your insurance will cover the replacement.

But I don't have insurance on my phone.

Well, the manufacturer can repair it for you for a fee.

I didn't break it - they did.

She managed to get someone from HTC on the line to explain the issue, and fill her in. The HTC rep said that they would pay to ship my device to them to see if they can repair it, and they would cover the cost of repairing it because I am such a loyal customer (This is my second HTC device, and I bought this one in 2013).

All of the arrangements were made over the phone, until She sent an email with a UPS label in it, and said package my device so it will be safe to ship, and send it on over. It should take 7-10 business days to get it back. I did.

In the interim, the @sprintcare representative tried to line up a loaner phone for me, but I ended up just using my old HTC 4G (which actually is a terrible phone).

On February 13th, I got an email from HTC stating that they had looked at my phone, and it was going to cost me $90 to repair. Fortunately, they had a check box that allowed me to "dispute" the repair fees, and I explained why it was their burden to bear, not mine.

On February 14th, I got a phone call from HTC stating that they were going to cover the cost of repairing my phone.

On February 18th, I got another email that they had received my device, and were beginning repairs on it.

I didn't hear anything else until March 4th, when I got an email stating that my device was getting ready to ship. 13 business days after they received it. UPS sent me a notice that they received the package from HTC on March 6th, so it didn't ship for another two business days!

Originally, it was scheduled to be delivered on March 11th, but UPS delivered it on the the 10th.

I was so excited to get my phone back! I rushed home, and opened up the box, pulled my phone out, and powered it on. - PLEASE ENTER SIM CARD -

Uh.. what? There's a sim card in there! Isnt' there? I poked the little hole next to the sim card, and out popped the empty sled. WHAT!? Where is my SIM card?

I found the number to HTC's support line, and gave them a call. Dude that answered confirmed that when they receive a phone with a SIM card in it, they just pop it out and toss it. Why? Get my SIM card back! Nope. Talk to Sprint, and get a new one.

Well, that's some fine customer service you've got there! Not only are you flippant, and completely apathetic about my needs as a "loyal" customer, you don't even think it's your problem. No one ever told me to remove my SIM card, they just said to send it with the provided UPS label, and I did. This sin't my fault.

I had a twitter exchange with @sprintcare, and I included @HTCUSA in the conversation, but never got a response from them about it. @sprintcare said to find a Sprint store in my area, and they should be able to help me get sorted. I found the closest Sprint store to my work, and paid them a visit. They searched through a stack of SIM cards, but couldn't find any that would fit my device. They suggested that I go to a Repair Center because they would have a better selection od SIM cards available. The Sprint store close to my house was a Repair Center, so I thought I'd stop by after work on the way home, and that would be the end of it.

Nope.

I walked in the store, which was FULL of Sprint people, and had only a small handful of customers in it, put my name down for help, and proceeded to wait more than 15 minutes for my name to be called. Once I was called, the distracted attendant couldn't stop making eyes, and jokes with her co-workers long enough to hear me give her the information she just requested. Once I managed to get her attention long enough to describe the situation, she was confident that she could solve it: $49.99 for a new SIM card.

Uh. Nope.

Then, for a full five minutes, we proceeded to have a circular conversation in which I explained to her that I was not told to remove my SIM card prior to sending it to HTC, they discarded my SIM card, and told me to contact sprint, which I did, and Sprint told me to go to a store to pick up a SIM card. "Yes, for $49.99." No. For no cost at all. "Well, you can pay for the SIM card, or go back and talk to HTC." They sent me here. "Okay, that's $49.99." Nope.

Infuriated by this, my fifth visit to the most worthless occupations of an industrial building posing under the guise of a customer service location I have ever seen, with an unbroken record of having never received anything helpful from any of the occupants of the store, I got on twitter, and hailed @sprintcare to ask them what was up with this response. They said there is no charge for SIM cards. They asked for the store location; hopefully to bust some heads. They then said they would send me a SIM card. 2-3 more business days.

It should be in the mail when I get home today. The 16th of March. A 7-10 business day repair has now worked out to be a whole month, and some change.

Oh, and on March 8th, HTC sent me an email asking for my feedback on their support. Can't wait until this is all over so I can get that started.

Update: The SIM card DID come today, and is now in my phone. The phone takes beautiful low-light photos, like it used to, and the HTC backup seems to have restored what it claims to save, and I am now transferring back into my phone all of the photos and data that was important to me to have on my phone. It all seems to be resolving fairly well, despite all of the pain, and the woefully optimistic claim that it would be finished in 7-10 business days.

For what it's worth, I am completely satisfied with Sprint's social media team - a few key members did a fantastic job of helping me figure out what to do, and how to go about getting my phone repaired, and they were very accommodating.

Sprint's in-person customer service, in the store that I visited, was terrible. Unless I forget, I do not ever want to have to go in there for anything again. Hopefully, I can find a local store that is as accommodating as their social media team.

I am only partially satisfied with HTC's customer service. Their social media team is worthless, and unresponsive. The woman that helped me arrange to send my phone back, should have told me to remove the SIM card (I've never sent a phone in for service before, so how am I supposed to know?), and the dude that I talked to about it being missing should have at least tried to be more accommodating than flippant.

But I am glad to have my phone back. And so far, the most recent update isn't terrible.

2014-11-22

10,000 Miles With a Dream Car

That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

The cars in the wall posters in the bedrooms of adolescents usually don't have a badge with 6 stars on it. If I'm honest, mine didn't either, until much later in life. And I'm talking metaphorically, so don't start thinking this is getting weird. With international feeds of TV hard to come by, and a complete lack of cable in my household when I was younger, it wasn't until the late 90's when I found Formula 1 and the World Rally Championship. I was wholly familiar with all of the players in F1, but there was a lot about the manufacturers in WRC that intrigued me. Most of all, that the makers of that junked up Brat down the street were involved, and their car was just plain FAST! Consider my curiosity piqued. The more I dug, and the more I learned, the broader my fascination with Subaru grew, and the bigger a fan I became of both Subaru, and what they were doing, as well as their prodigy Colin McRae as a driver - if it had wheels, he could drive it faster, and better, and cleaner, and with less effort than anyone. You can keep your José Canseco and Joe Montana - Colin was my hero; this guy can DRIVE!

Sadly, at the time, there wasn't a whole lot of performance at the dealerships in the U.S. from Subaru. Until 1998. Car & Driver, which I was an avid fan of at the time ran an article about this new "Impreza" that Subaru was going to be bringing to the States very soon, and it was pretty decent looking for a converted econo-box; its performance numbers were really stout. The Impreza 2.5RS had clean lines, and aggressive styling for the time. Above that, it was affordable. It took me two years before I could make fiscal sense of cashing in my chips (an '87 Nissan D-21) for a 2000 2.5RS Impreza, but when I did, it became instantly worth it. It was a very enjoyable car, and had the right mix of economy and performance, size and capacity, style and function. Still, it lacked... something. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. 

Then, I learned about what they were selling in Japan - turbocharged versions of my car. Their styling was even more aggressive, and boy, they were sexy! There were many versions of the same thing, as the Japanese were fond of doing at the time, and there was one in particular that is still on my top 3 list: The Impreza 22B. A monster of a car with a 2.2 liter opposed four pumping out 280HP (limited to that in Japan, but was capable of well over 350) with flared fenders, an adjustable wing, a unique hood, and upgraded suspension. It was built to celebrate Subaru's 3rd WRC Championship claim, but it might as well have been built to hang on a poster on my wall - I had a new dream car. The pursuit for the turbo-powered Impreza began.

Forced Decision

Since getting my 2000, there wasn't a time that I didn't want an Impreza. Unfortunately, I lost my first one. I had to settle for a couple of other cars in the interim, but it finally came to a head shortly after the 2004 models were released. I was having mechanical issues with my Eclipse that were going to be expensive to fix, so I decided to sell it. To replace it, I followed my heart, and picked up a 2004 WRX. I couldn't afford the STi, or the insurance for it at the time, delightful as it may have been, I'm sure, but I just couldn't swing it. But I was happy with my purchase, and it treated me really well. I spent a long time with that car, and was really happy with it. I spent a lot of time and effort in making a number of tweaks to make it just right for me, but even off the showroom floor, it was really satisfying to drive.

To Every Thing, Mod, Mod, Mod

Besides being a pleasure to drive, the car was just plain comfy. But if you spend any amount of time in a particular place, particularly during a commute, where you have lots of little bits of free time to absorb completely, your surroundings, you can begin to nitpick. Well, I did. First off, I don't think that one should modify things just for the sake of modifying things. So, the first question that is typically asked of the owner of a car like this is, "You got any mods?" Yes. But they were slow in coming, and carefully considered. I typically didn't replace parts unless they were broken, or worn out, or if by doing so, I would be improving the behavior or comfort of the car in a marked and intentional manner. Lowered springs was the first thing I changed, which improved the ride resolution and performance. Seventeen inch wheels and tires. Slotted brake rotors in front and back to go along with the more grippy brake pads. When I changed the clutch, I also changed to a lightweight flywheel. When the struts gave out, I upgraded those too. The radiator started to leak, so I got an aluminum one. The battery died, so I replaced it with an Optima Red Top.

But there were a slew of other things that I did for my own comfort. All of the interior lighting on the dials was initially green - a horrible choice if you do any amount of driving at night. So, I changed all of the lighting to red. Even the "AUTO" on the driver's power window switch had to be changed from one green LED to two red LEDs. I changed the LCD of the radio, and inverted the LCD for the odometer, and filtered their light as well. The bulb covers that I initially used eventually wore out, and turned pink if they didn't just simply break, and they also made the needles very dull because the light was filtered twice, so I eventually switched to stage lighting gels which restored the needles, and gave a much more consistent color. I made the passenger's map light red so they could look at a map without destroying my night vision. The clock was also green, so that had to be changed. I searched for a long time to find a clock that would work to no avail, so I began looking instead, for one that I could make. Once I found one, I designed a circuit for it, and decided to relocate the clock, because the spot where the clock was would make a perfect place for the data logger that I had. The new location of the clock required a mount to place it correctly, and that meant that the interior panel that it was going to attach to was going to have to be refinished, so I sanded the glossy pewter metallic color off of it, and painted it flat black. I also did this to all of the matching plastic bits in the interior, which included the radio and HVAC bezel, the bezels on the HVAC ducts, and even the rings around the gauges in the dash board. Eventually, I decided to do this to the head unit as well, and it turned out quite nicely when I reassembled the faceplate, and laser-etched all of the numbers and letters back into the face plate. I added a 110V A/C power supply driven by the alternator, with a switch to turn it off and on, and an ignition relay so it couldn't be left on while the car wasn't running. I mounted three plugs for it in the knee well on the passenger's side. Having to cut into that plastic bit, I had to re-finish that, so I wrapped it in micro-suede, along with the rest of the surrounding interior bits. The shift boot didn't match, so I made one out of the same material, and stitched it with thick red carpet thread. I wanted to be able to play mp3s in the car, and was very heavily against iDevices, so I found a guy that had made this piggy-back device that you splice into the data line for the CD player, which required you to have a silent CD (not to be confused with blank) in your player, and then allowed you to plug any audio source you wanted into the stereo pair of RCA jacks on the back. I hacked up a 12v to USB converter, and included it in a junction box so that with one plug I could charge, and pull audio from my mp3 player. Many years later, this turned out to be really easy to accomplish with an iPod and a lightning connector. Even my tint was custom - the strip across the top, I had to have them do a second time to get it right, but it blocked the setting sun, and still allowed visibility of traffic signals.

In the end, everything was _just_ the way I wanted it.

A Sad Farewell

It wasn't until the middle of June, nearly 8 years after the initial purchase date, as a result of perhaps poor life choices, but certainly with a little bit of luck, and sometimes, only with a hope and a prayer, that I finally got it paid off. Perhaps it's a little sad, but at this point in my life, my 2004 WRX was my best friend.

But things were looking up. A couple of things in my life turned around, and the future was looking very promising. My WRXy was less than 1000 miles from the 200k mark, and I was looking into seeing what I could do to replace him. 200k was my goal before I got rid of him. And I drove all but maybe 15 miles. He was a great car, and gave me no significant problems, but he was starting to show his age. In the ten years that I'd owned him, we'd been all over together, including a cross-country trip from Southern California to Florida, and back through Georgia, and Alabama. He'd been to every state I have, save three. He dipped his toes in the Atlantic before I did. And he'd happily cruise along at 80+ through Texas for over 12 hours without complaint. He was a GREAT car. WRXy had plenty of power, and was so much fun to drive; I never got out of him without a smile on my face. I performed as much of my own maintenance as I possibly could. Save for rebuilding the gearbox when the center diff snap-ring let go, and was eaten by the transfer gears, and the occasional oil change that I didn't have the time or facilities to perform, all of the work was mine. If conditions were right, I was down to 12 minutes to do my own oil change, without even jacking him up. His personality meshed well with mine. He did everything that I asked of him, and even managed to keep my ego in check now and then, reminding me that while he will do what I ask, he is bigger than I am - gently, and graciously. I was REALLY looking forward to 200k. What could be next?

I had gotten a new job, and on the way home from work one day, on my way home to change clothes before school. The exit from the freeway by my house is a little weird; It's two streets in one. There's a frontage road next to the freeway that connects one street to the other, and to get to the second street, you have to get off the freeway, and cross the first street on this frontage road. I was first in line in my lane, and I watched two lanes of the southbound traffic on the first street come to a stop, indicating they had a red light, and my green was up next. I got my green, and took off across the first street, noticing out of the corner of my eye a vehicle that didn't appear to be slowing down in the number 3 lane of the first street. I wouldn't have been able to stop in time, so my only option was to let him hit me, or give it the beans. The time it took for him to cross the limit line, and reach my rear quarter seemed like forever, but in reality was some small fraction of a second. I got spun around a bit more than 180°, but still had my wheel turned left to counter the hit, so I rolled backwards up the curb and off the street, stopping just pressed up against a guardrail over a 35' drop. Lucky? Maybe. I knew as soon as I got out to inspect the damage that he was a goner. My insurance offered me a gracious buy-out, and I called the Subaru dealer. I had just gone to look at the first arrival of the 2015 WRX the week prior, and was waiting to hear that they'd gotten an STi in, so I could drive it, and compare it to the WRX before I made my decision. Still, I would have to say goodbye to my beloved friend - that was a sad day indeed.

It Figures

I have to be honest here. I loved the body style of the 2004-2005 Impreza. There are elements of the 2006-2007 that I liked even more. It seemed like they just kept getting better and better. Then came the 2008s. A 4-door hatchback made no sense to me, and despite the commonality of parts, and the slight bump in power, the styling didn't impress me one bit. I knew that at some point, I was going to want to replace my 2004, and I hoped that the styling guys at Subaru undid the ugly that they had made of the 2008s at some point in the near future because I didn't know just when I was going to be able to or when I would need to replace WRXy. For a while, I was even keeping my eyes open for an older 2.5RS like I had before, just to keep my options open. And then, I saw the concept drawings for the 2015, and holy crap, that car was gorgeous. The concept car that debuted at the 2013 New York Auto Show was even better. It was clean, and tidy, with really aggressive styling. All of the information that I was hearing about it was checking all of the right boxes for me. I was really looking forward to seeing the released version. I'm telling you, they could have released the concept as-is, and it would have worked like a charm. It was beautiful.

What was eventually released was.. muted. There are still plenty of aggressive styling nuances, but it still shares sheet metal with the econo-box Impreza, and you can tell. Don't get me wrong, it's not an unattractive car, and I don't dislike its looks, but after the tease that the concept car was, I couldn't envision anything but the straight release of the concept car as anything but a disappointment. That took m a while to get over. Even looking at photos of the concept now, I'm still really disappointed that they didn't simply release _that_ car. A couple of weeks before I was hit in my 2004, I called the dealer that I bought it from to ask if they had any 2015s that could be driven to see what all the fuss was about. They invited me for a test drive.

There were two trim levels that I had any interest in; the WRX, and the STi. Understanding the difference between them is a bit challenging, but if you'll indulge me, I'll see if I can make sense of it. My 2004 WRX was powered by a 2.0 liter horizontally opposed 4 cylinder engine that used forced induction via a turbo to increase power output to 227hp & 220lb/ft of torque. It was mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox, which powered all four wheels via Subaru's symmetrical all wheel drive system. The suspension was coil springs over MacPherson type struts with a lower control arm in the front, and a multi-link setup in the rear. The body shell is identical between the two, but there are minor styling features that distinguish one from the other, including the large wing that most people notice on the STi. This was powered by a 2.5 liter horizontally opposed 3 cylinder engine that used forced induction to reach 305hp and 300lb/ft of torque. It put the power down through a 6 speed manual gearbox with an electronically controlled center differential which altered its handling characteristics when desired. The suspension was more perfomance-oriented, with stiffer springs, shorter stroke, and more robust performance dampers. It also got several interior features that weren't available in the WRX.

For 2015, there were a couple of major differences, to set them apart. The biggest of which, is the use of a completely different drive train in the WRX - gone are the unequal length headers that fed the turbo, which is responsible for that signature Subaru burble that the exhaust made. The STi drive train was a carry-over from the previous generation, however on both vehicles, the 2015 suspension was vastly improved over the previous year, as was the chassis, chassis stiffness, and its roll properties. The WRX was available with a CVT transmission to go with its new engine, which I'll talk more about in a bit. The only exterior styling cue, other than the wheels, and badges to tell the WRX from the STi is the (functional) spoiler in the back. The STi also got LED headlights, and a couple of interior options that are not available in the WRX.

Rush to Judgment

I arrived at the dealer ready to be thrilled. There were only two WRXs on the lot, and one was already spoken for. The model that was available to drive was equipped with the CVT. I had heard about this legendary handling that these new cars were given, and I wanted to feel the difference between the STi and the WRX myself - I had never driven an older STi, so before I placed my order, or got my heart set on one thing or another,I wanted to be sure that it was tolerable, that the wife would like it, and that it wasn't too much of a sacrifice on comfort for performance. The test drive was good, and I was really impressed with the car overall - they had really matured in the last 10 years since I bought mine. Fit and finish is nice, and the interior was quite a comfortable place to be. I suppose the new 2.0 liter engine isn't horrible, but I have to say, that it's missing that 'Subaru-ness' that is the "boxer rumble". That signature sound is part of its character; part of what made a Subaru distinctive. Without it, it's that much closer to being just another import. The suspension feel was incredible. But the transmission was terrible. I completely understand if you're the kind of person that wants to just get in the car and drive, and tactile feedback and the sensation of it all makes no never mind to you, but for me, I want to feel connected - part of the process of driving. I love the feel of it, and the feedback that the car gives to communicate to you what you can and cannot do. The CVT, even with it's "manual" mode just wasn't. It wasn't manual. It wasn't responsive. It wasn't connected. I didn't feel like I had any control over it at all. The slush-box in my 87 Nissan pickup was more responsive. Overall, I walked away thinking that I would probably be satisfied if I were to get the 6-speed WRX, but I still wanted to give the STi a drive.

And then the accident came.

And I HAD to get another car. I had no doubt that I wanted to get a Subaru. Impreza was nearly a foregone conclusion. The choice was WRX or STi. I called up the dealer again, seeing if they had an STi in yet that I could drive. It was a day or two before they said that one was available. I got there as soon as I could to come see it. I felt special, because the internet sales manager said he hadn't even gotten a chance to drive one yet, so he was excited to see what they could do. The test drive was bliss. It was everything I wanted. The seats were comfortable. the ride was firm, and responsive, but not abusive. The wheel felt good in my hands, and the gearbox was slick to shift. The clutch was a different feel, and would take some getting used to, but that's no big deal. Visibility was great, and there was lots of power, and plenty of untapped ability waiting to be unleashed. Of course, I didn't really know what it could do yet, so I was overly cautious on the test drive. The Sales Manager seemed to enjoy the ride as well, which was a relief. In the end, I don't think it was really a choice. With the WRX losing the unequal length headers, and that CVT just simply ruining the drive for me, I couldn't see an answer other than the STi. I thought about affordability, and compatibility with starting a family, and would I still want to be driving this car in ten years?

Yes.

Okay then, let's do it.

First Thoughts

I have to give a quick thanks to the folks at Timmons Subaru of Long Beach. this is the second car that I have purchased from them, and I was happy to go back, even though there is a Subaru dealer less than a mile from my house. Russel and Jennifer really did me well in lining everything up for me, and 90% of my deal was done either over the phone or through email. I only needed to be present to be able to sign papers, and pick up the car. If you are in the market for a Subaru or a Volkswagen, and are anywhere nearby, look them up, and give them a chance to shine for you as well.

I placed my order, and then had to wait for my car to be delivered. Like Bill Cosby waiting for his Cobra in his bit "200 M.P.H." I finally got the call, and headed to the dealer to pick up my new car. I signed some paperwork, and was then presented with the keys. I was given a quick walk-thru of some of the creature comfort features of the car (even though I'd already read thru the owner's manual). It took some getting used to, trying to not lose my tail, who was nice enough to drive my rental car back from the dealer, getting used to the car. I was trying really hard to take it easy for the break-in period, I was. I swear.

Now that it is mine, and everything about it is my responsibility, I was able to scrutinize it a bit more. I really like this car, and I like it more and more with each drive. The seating position is comfortable; supple. It is easy to get into, and get situated in just the right place. I do find that the side bolsters are not quite as pronounced as they were on my 2004, and I tend to move around a bit more when I turn hard. With the rearranged interior, I had to find a different position to drive in - some of the interior features that I used to use to brace myself against in my old car are no longer present. Initially, it was a bit strange, with the cup-holder above the radio in my old car no longer there, but I'm sure that's a good thing considering the amount of soda, water and tea I've spilled into my radio over the years. Now, the main cup holder is just aft of the shift lever between the two front seats. There's a second cup holder directly behind that, and even a divider to be able to reconfigure the compartment for larger storage, along with a little louvered door that slides forward to cover it all up. It works really well, and keeps drinks in place, and prevents them from spilling during spirited driving. One of my favorite things about the new car is the fact that the radio is connected to a USB port in the center console box. Since I finally broke down and bought an iPod, all I had to do was plug its lightning cable into this port, and the iPod is connected to the radio, and the head unit is smart enough to be able to control the iPod, as well as display song information. Also, the steering wheel (despite other gripes with it) has buttons in it to control volume and track, in addition to Bluetooth connected call features, voice dialing, and cruise control. That's pretty sweet. I think I only touch the radio to turn it on and off - everything else is controlled from the steering wheel.

The STi branded floor mats that came with the car have never been installed. Instead, I stuck with the all-weather mats that were part of the options for this car. They are pretty impressive in that they actually stay in place, unlike the regular floor mats in my old car. Part of my routine used to be to adjust the floor mat every time I got into my old car to prevent the mat from bunching under the gas or clutch pedals - which had happened on multiple occasions in the past. Currently, I don't have to worry about it. The passenger one seems to move around just a bit, but it's only a minor annoyance to the passenger. I love the 60/40 rear fold-down seats. To protect the seats from wear, any time I need to carry something that doesn't quite fit in the trunk, I fold the seats down, which takes about 30 seconds, and load up. The carpet on the back appears to be quite durable, and hasn't given me any trouble thus far. I also like that the trunk is lined in this model, with covers for the trunk hinges, and the underside of the rear deck. All of this was exposed in previous versions, and I can't tell you how many times I've loaded up the trunk, and gone to close it, only to find that I was going to (or already did) pinch something under the hinge that would have prevented it from closing properly. The headlights being LEDs is something I am really enjoying. I kind of wish that they extended the use of LEDs throughout the entire car, eliminating filament bulbs wherever possible, but I guess that's an easy enough fix to do on my own over time. The brake lights are LED as well, which I really like, because there is a much quicker response from them when you step on the brake - it always seems like incandescent bulbs have to "warm up" before they reach maximum brightness, and when you put them next to LEDs, the time difference is really evident. I do love having a compass in the rear view mirror, as well as the garage door opener buttons integrated into it. That's one less thing I have to keep in my car floating or rattling around.

The dash board, for me, is a mixed bag. I do appreciate the multi-function display in the center, but there are a large number of things that I would love to see it do, that it doesn't seem to have the capability to do. Maybe there's a modder market there? It's certainly above my head. Layout of the gauges for my 6' frame, who likes the steering wheel as low in my lap as possible makes visibility of the essential parts of the gauges poor - as it was on my '04, to be fair. Beyond that, I like what's available in the gauge cluster overall.

Settling In

Once I got it broken in, I very slowly began to push the limits and feel what it is capable of. There is a knob on the center console with which you can select one of the three "modes" for driving - basically, "I" is your average, everyday mode - it doesn't really seem docile, as most cars go, but for this car, I assure you, it is maybe a 6 on the volume knob. A turn to the left puts you in sport, or "S" mode. Throttle response is much quicker, and I'm sure there are some other changes elsewhere in the car that I haven't researched, but if you were to measure it, I would guess it's about an 8 on the dial. With a flip to the right, you reach 11. Sport Sharp "S#" mode. This car is schizophrenic. In this mode, you better be on your game, because when you point and squeeze, it's going. I've seen several videos on youtube measure 0-60 acceleration in this car, and the best number I've seen is 4.7 seconds, and I believe every bit of it, even if I don't have the practice or desire to pull it off. There is no lack of power up high, but to get the best punch out of the corners, and to overcome the small amount of turbo lag that exists, you do have to select your gears wisely, even with the 6-speed. Still, even if you get it wrong, there is enough grunt to get you back on track, but with a little delay. Cornering at the limit is generous and predictable. The stock tires and 18" rims have a little less forgiveness than the wheels and tires that I had on my WRX, but correcting your mistakes is still the same procedure, and it is easily and quickly done when you pass the limit of what they can handle. None of the harrowing tales that I can tell you about my old WRX have happened in this; I haven't had any "moments", thankfully, but I have gone beyond the limits of the tires momentarily, and been able to reel it back in quickly and safely. The suspension is perhaps just a tad stiff for daily driving, having spent some time with it, and my pregnant fiance's bladder would tell you that it is MUCH too stiff, but even she admits, that aside from that, she really does enjoy rides in the car.

I usually drive it in "I" mode. It takes less finesse to shift smoothly, and leaving it in "S#" in traffic is just silly. That said, every now and then it does feel good to flick the knob to the right, and have a go. Long stretches aren't as terrible as I thought they might be with the stiffer suspension, which while it is quite taut, at speed, over most obstacles, soaks up all but the most revolting bumps with ease. What usually throws me, are the sudden drops, because boy, does it drop, and that's almost always followed by a bump or a rise; in unfamiliar territory, that's the only thing that really catches me by surprise. In familiar waters, however, there are plenty of opportunities to open her up a bit when you know what's coming. She tracks nice, even over rough roads, and again, at speed, the rough road turns into merely a rumble beneath the wheels. While I do love the silky sound of the exhaust with that Subaru burble mixed in there, but to some ears, it gets old. Turning heads as you drive up to populated places, however, never does.

The Daily Grind

This car is just as enjoyable a car to drive in traffic as a car can be, I think. Opportunities to pass, or change lanes are greater and shorter between than ever before, without spoiling your commuter relationship with the people around you. It can poke along in bumper to bumper along with the rest of them, and for my commute at least, the only place the really brings fatigue of any kind is the on ramp on my way home, making up the first five minutes of my commute. I've gotten compliments and nods from older gents and boy racers alike. The seats are comfortable enough for my typically hour long commute, providing I get a moment when I first get seated to settle myself, and situate everything. I like a tight seat belt, so, seeing as I haven't installed a 5-point harness, once situated, I cinch the belt up real good as I get into a bit of brisk acceleration, and I'm usually stuck in place for the next hour. I know that a lot of people don't like that, but it suits me just fine. I did it in my WRX, and I do it in the passenger's seat in your car too, so it's not unique to this car.

My demo period of Sirius XM Radio was a cool bonus that I wasn't expecting. The head unit is fully capable, and comes with receivers for HD radio as well, which, I haven't even played with, really. I think there was a week in the beginning where I programmed all of my old presets into the radio, and switched between them, but since the demo period for XM ran out, I've been listening to mp3s via my iPod almost exclusively. The controls on the steering wheel are quite handy, and there is a mode in the multi-function display to show track information, which isn't incredibly useful, because it only shows like the first 15 characters, and won't scroll longer titles. You can, however, select songs or playlists through the head unit, or the multi-function display (both of which suffer from the same truncation issue) and the wheel/button on the right of the head unit.

There are seven modes in the multi-function display, which you can cycle through using the selector on the dash beneath the hazard button. It can be mildly customized, but I wish that there was more that it could do. I wish it gave you access to more of the information that the car's engine transmission and system sensors collected, and more ways to organize and display them. I had a data logger in my old WRX, and it offered the display of four different bits of information at any one time gleaned from the ODBII port on the car, and you were able to select from any of the available data sources to display in any of these four slots on the display. I grant you, it was just data, and nothing pretty or visual, but it was still nice to be able to select your source, and its location on the display. Additionally, you could change the color of the LCD's back light to suit your need as well. Being used to that in my old car, I still wished for some of that functionality in the new car - it's certainly not new tech, it would just require some more user interface, and perhaps, a bit more programming to make it happen. The most popular of the seven displays seems to be the boost gauge, but I see utility in at least four of the others, so there is plenty to choose from, and there are several configurations for several of the displays, so there should be something in there for everyone.

Trust Me, I'm A Pro

There are many good things about this car:
• Slick, aggressive looks.
• This car is wicked quick.
• Familiar drive train means aftermarket that parts and mods are already readily available, tested, and proven.
• Subaru Burble comes standard.
• Comfortable cabin.
• Lots of data available to monitor.
• Supple, responsive, but not abusive ride.
• Lots of creature comforts come standard.
• Superb traction and handling.
• Excellent steering response.
• Large trunk, fold-down rear seats; plenty of room for cargo.

Don't Call Me A Con Man

However, there are a number of things about this car that I would consider negatives:
• Configurations of data in multi-function display are limited.
• Fuel economy is not great.
• Corner Apex visibility limited.
• Rear-view mirror sits low, and blocks forward-right view. (I'm tall)
• Access to engine oil filter requires the removal of the under-tray (3 bolts, and 6 clips)
• The hands free microphone is terrible.

Quibbles, Quibbles, Everywhere!

Because I drive it daily, I also get a lot of time in it where I'm mostly just sitting there, absorbing the interior. As with any space you spend a decent amount of time in, you can usually think of things that can be done to improve your experience. Think of your desk at work - What if your mouse pad was on the other side of the keyboard? At your desk, you can just move it. In this office, it's a little different. There are a number of things about this car that I would love to be able to somehow change:

• Inconvenient Oil Filter - I love doing my own maintenance on my cars, as much as I can. I changed the timing belt on my 2004 after someone else had already screwed up the job, and neglected to replace the idler pulley, which exploded about 20k mi after the original work. I did my research, and figured out what I needed to do, what parts I needed, and what tools I would need to pull the job off. After 8 hours of work, I was able to start the car again, and that timing belt lasted about 50% longer than I should have let it; my WRX was due for another timing belt when I was thinking of getting rid of it - before it got totaled. Oil changes on my 2004 were VERY simple. As a result of a minor accident that I had gotten into in July of 2007, the under-tray was no longer in place, and I never replaced it. Because of this, I was able to reach up and grab the oil filter without jacking the car up. In fact, I was able to change the oil without jacking the car up in no more than 12 minutes from start to finish. It became quite convenient to not have that under-tray there. I've done one oil change on my 2015, and it was a pain, because at the very least, I needed ramps to get the front end of the car up high enough for me to see under it, and to be able to reach the three bolts, and 6 clips that it takes to be able to remove the under tray. Then you have to scoot that somewhere, and it's not just flat, nor is it much narrower than the inside of the car's front wheels. In all of their brilliance, thankfully, Subaru did mount the filter vertically, so that when filled, you can still hoist it into place and tighten it, however, that means that when it is being removed, it is sure to spill over a large swath of your clean driveway. If the filter were somehow easier to remove, and didn't require that you remove the under-tray, that would be awesome - even if it still required tools to be able to get to it.

• Unify fonts throughout the cabin - The dash, the door, the center console, and the muti-function display all have text (most of which lights up with the headlight switch) that describes what it is, or that make up the numbers that indicate the value it is trying to display. There are a number of different fonts used in different places. On the stereo head unit, the multi-function display, its controls, and the door, they are all the same font. However, the numbers on the speedometer and tachometer, and all of the text that is in the instrument cluster, including the display menu, the timer, and map selector display in the center of the gauge are all a different font. In fact, I think there are even two or three different fonts within that selection. It would be nice if they were all the same. Any of the fonts that currently exist in the car would be fine, though I would prefer what the head unit uses, which looks like some clone or similar font to Futura.

• Integrated Stopwatch - The steering wheel has controls for the center display between the speedometer and tachometer. This display has a timer integrated into it. I wish that this timer, and these controls could be used as a stop watch.

• Scrolling Media Information - Both the head unit, and the multi-function display show track, title or album names, depending on which you choose to display. But they only display the first fifteen characters of the information you request. I don't see any reason this information can't scroll. I think it should.

• Custom greeting image - The multi-function display greets you with a giant Subaru logo when you start the car. I have no problem with that, but it seems like it would be cool to be able to customize this image with your own logo, or image. It can't be that difficult to do. I would also love to be able to change the theme colors, and even select a night theme and a day theme, so that the display is less distracting at night.

• More screen configurations - This is where I almost wish the multi-function display was kind of open source, or some sort of building blocks, as it were. Here is a list of all of the data that you can access, and a number of methods of displaying that data. You have 5 screens. Build your own.

• Better hands-free mic - The hands-free mic in the car is terrible. It works alright if you are not moving, and the car is off, but when you are driving, there is too much engine and road noise, and it pick up all of it, and you can't be heard by the person on the other end. Being that it is a sports car, and road noise, harshness and vibration is expected, they should have done a much better job of selecting a decent microphone to use for the hands-free system, and they should have mounted it such that it doesn't pick up everything in the cabin.

• Engine Maps - There is a selector knob on the center console to be able to switch between the three engine maps that come with the car. "I" is docile, and for everyday driving, "S" is Sport, and is a bit peppier. "S#" is what I refer to as "Angry Mode" - it's like you really upset the car, and it wants revenge right now - along with someone's spleen. I love "S#" from time to time, but I usually drive in "I" for the fuel efficiency, and ease of operation. I think that "S" should swap places with "I" as far as performance, and should be changed to "E" for efficiency, where you reduce throttle sensitivity, limit RPMs to 4200, limit boost to 7psi, and change timing and fuel maps to glean the best efficiency possible out of this 2.5 liter power plant. I don't see any reason that this car shouldn't, with the driver's discretion, and feather-footed driving, be able to get 30-35+mpg. With my normal commute, I can work out about 18.9 mpg at best, but on longer stretches, I've gotten nearly 25 mpg on the trip (but didn't drive far enough for that to be a tank full) or better.

• Climate Control - This car is equipped with a "FULL AUTO" mode for climate control, and it even has dual temperature zones - though I'm not sure how effective that actually is. Here's my gripe. I guarantee, that when you hit the FULL AUTO button, the A/C will turn on. The whole time. Why? It is perfectly reasonable to think that you'd want to reach the set temperature as soon as possible, and most of the time in Southern California, this makes sense. But when it's 68° F outside, and your cabin temp is set for 72°, we don't need the A/C to maintain that. I understand, completely, the desire to make the occupants comfortable, but this FULL AUTO should have enough logic in it to be able to operate without the A/C for anything but the most demanding of temperature differences.

• Auto Up/Down on all windows -  Pretty self-explanatory. While I love the auto down, and new (since my 2004) auto up window control for the driver's window, I would really love it if that functionality was added to the rest of the windows as well. If I'm driving with all of the windows down, and I stop and have to lock up my car, the auto up on the driver's window isn't doing me any favors, because I still have to hold the other three buttons until all of the windows are up. I know that there are modules available, for example, that will roll all of your windows up when you turn the ignition off, and I may consider that, but it is much nicer when it is integrated into the car from the factory.

• Gearing - Let's talk gearing for a moment. Historically, Impreza gearing hasn't been very "long". By this, I mean, that while they have always been pretty quick accelerating cars, they run out of steam early. There's not a whole lot of top speed available when you compare it to cars that have similar 0-60 times. It is often limited, but even when it's not you're on the high side of the tachometer in your top gear very shortly after you set off. I'm loving my 6 speed, for the most part, but it has some quirks about it that I am not in favor of. Even with my 5 speed, I would have loved a bit taller gear to get cruise speed RPM down a couple hundred. Theoretically, this car is still capable of nearly 170 mph with this gearing, but here is my problem with it: At cruising speed, the RPMs are too high. Fifth gear is already slightly less than 1:1, so it's already an overdrive gear. Sixth gear is too short. I can comfortably pull out of 40 mph in 6th, but driving 70 mph gives me 2700 RPM, and 75 is 2900. Eighty mph resolves to 3100 RPM, which I think is too high for a cruising speed. Seeing as you can easily wind 5th out to 130 mph, and when you pick up 6th, you would be around 5000 RPM, in a closed environment, there is still plenty of room to make 6th taller, and reduce the cruising speed RPM, and improve fuel efficiency quite a bit. Even if you reduced power output in "I" mode, you could easily drop a couple hundred RPM, and not have problems.

If you "feel out" the gears, but aren't thoroughly flogging the car, shifting from 4th to 5th just feels odd - it's like a half-step. And then 5th to 6th, again, is weird, like another half step. Once I noticed that, I drove without 5th gear entirely, and didn't ever feel like I was missing something. If all of the lower gears were just a bit shorter, and you left 5th, and stepped 6th up just a little bit, I think it would be a wonderful transmission, and would have a much better feel. On the other hand, if you made 4th where 5th is, and made everything below that taller, you might actually get to 60 mph quicker because you wouldn't have to shift to 3rd to reach it. Then you make 5th and 6th taller, and it accomplishes the same thing.

And of course, all of this becomes quite irrelevant when you really start racing because you would have different gear ratios that you could swap out, so the logic that "it's that way for the track" if flawed in that respect.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I really do love this car. It is comfortable to drive, and offers a lot of fun, and everything I really want in a car. There is plenty of room for people and gear, and it really looks good, and performs better than it looks. The few quibbles that I have with it aren't anything that I would consider deal-breakers, nor does the list as a whole amount to reason enough to not love this car, because I really do. Ten thousand miles is just the beginning, and I am really looking forward to all of the adventures that I'm going to have with an in this car.