The '90s were a wonderful time for cars, especially for JDM models which have now become bonafide classics. I was born at the start of the decade, so I was too young to have driven any of them then, but I admired them all the same. At least as much as my childhood imagination would allow.
And there were plenty to look at. The EG/EK Honda Civics. The Toyota Supra. The R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R. But one of the cars I wanted to drive most was the Mitsubishi Evo. I don't know if it was because of its rally pedigree, or the fact that it looked really cool in lime green in 2 Fast 2 Furious (and equally badass in red in Tokyo Drift). Whatever the reasons were, I was drawn to that superhuman Lancer. And I much preferred it over its boxer-engine rival.
Sadly, the Evo would go the way of the dodo before I joined the motoring beat. Unless Mitsubishi decides to revive the nameplate (and not as a damn crossover), that's one dream I'll have to leave behind in my childhood memories, along with driving the Mach 5 from Speed Racer.
Luckily, the Subaru WRX STI lives on. I can't say I grew up loving it, but I still respect its heritage and capabilities. And on a drive from Manila to La Union, I figured it would make for the perfect, rally-bred companion.
What struck me immediately about the car is its sporty design. Or lack thereof, actually. It almost blends seamlessly into a parking lot or city street. No gaudy wings or look-at-me lines that scream for attention. I say almost, because the massive hood scoop and lime green calipers aren't fooling anyone. I actually watched in amusement as a security guard did laps around the car, staring in awe. Still, it's subtle enough to be bypassed by most people's glances.
Inside, you're greeted by the standard Subaru fare of dark leathers and red stitching. The analogue gauges are a nice, utilitarian touch. The pedals, naturally, are aluminum. In the middle sits this car's big upside: the six-speed manual shifter. Operating it takes some getting used to; the clutch is as stiff as you'd expect, while the stick would warrant a short shifter installation if you plan on taking it to the track.
Under the hood sits a potent, hyperdrive-like 2.5-liter turbocharged Boxer with 296hp and 407Nm. Not the biggest powertrain in the land, nor does it have the most impressive figures, but at times it felt that the Subaru engineers had sinister intentions when they built it.
Make no mistake, I've driven fast cars before. The Honda Civic Type R has roughly the same amount of horsepower. The Ford Mustang has nearly 500hp in its V8. The Nissan GT-R, which I've driven full pelt down a racetrack straight, can rival most supercars.
But none of them possessed the raw, unbridled force that the WRX STI delivers directly to the driver. It reminded me of when Jeremy Clarkson reviewed the Porsche Carrera GT on an old episode of Top Gear. He mentioned that with most fast cars, you reach a point where the power starts to sputter out. With the GT, he said, the speedometer would just continue to climb.
Granted, the WRX STI is a different breed of car, but at times its power delivery felt damn near unstoppable. The other cars I've driven are fast, yes, but they made me feel like I was in a safe cocoon that happened to be going at quick speeds. At no point did I feel a sense of danger with those cars. With the STI, the way it picked up speed felt as if you got shoved head-first into a raging hurricane. The chassis offered little resistance against the forces of nature around me.
The Sport Sharp mode was by far the worst culprit. Whenever I turned to this setting and tapped the throttle, I felt my entire being sink into the bucket seats as my gums opened wide for the whole world to see. And each time as I felt my eyes getting drier (the g-force made it impossible to blink, you see). Shifting becomes difficult due to the stick's long travel. Meanwhile, I feared running into any dimples on the road, because the stiff suspension would surely make me feel every bit of it.
It might pass for an everyday car, but it's the furthest thing from it. Never mind that it has four doors and a trunk. A Miata would be a better-suited for the job. It's stiff, rides low, is tiring on your whole body to drive, and has more power and torque than I could ever figure out what to do with. In all honesty, it's a frightening machine. And at P2,748,000, it's expensive. Definitely not something for the faint of heart.
But that's exactly that makes it endearing. Even in 2018, there's a place in the automotive world for a raging machine such as this. In a time when cars are slowly but surely getting tamer by the minute, the STI is proof that you can still be intimidated by four wheels and an engine.
While my nerves (not to mention my discs) were thankful when I finally returned the keys, there was no question in my mind that I had just driven something special. My only question is, what will it feel like when Subaru rolls out its new Global Platform?
I can't wait to find out. Sorry, discs.