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Saying Goodbye to the STI

My dad used to say that slot car racing wasn’t any fun unless the cars could go fast enough to fly off the track. If the cars were permanently stuck to the track and there was no chance of them going airborne — no skill involved in keeping them on all four wheels — then what was the point?

In many ways, my 2013 Subaru WRX STi felt the same way. The car’s computerized brain, buried somewhere deep underneath the hood, made sure that no matter how brave I got, it wasn’t more than the car could handle. If I accidentally gave the engine too much throttle, the computer would prevent the engine from revving past the red line. If I popped the clutch when the light turned green, the computer kept the tires from breaking loose from the pavement. If I came to a stop on a hill, the car would automatically hold down the brake for me as I depressed the clutch, ensuring I wouldn’t roll back into the car behind me.

The stereo wasn’t even loud enough to make my ears ring.

I’ve owned fast vehicles before: a ’79 Formula Firebird, a 5.0 Mustang, even a Yamaha R1 motorcycle. When you hit 100 in the Firebird, the whole interior began to rattle. Any faster than that in the Mustang and the rear end started to feel squirrelly. More than once on the R1, I turned the throttle a little too far and felt the front tire begin to lift up off of the pavement. A couple of times, on the interstate.

But the STi had no such limitations, no reminders that you were getting too big for your britches. Any time I wanted to go a little faster, the car complied. There was always a little bit more grip in the tires, a little bit more boost waiting in the turbo. Whatever the threshold of that car was, I never found it.

Except once. I had just exited the turnpike and was in 3rd gear when the left turn arrow at the end of the ramp turned green. I entered the turn too fast, feeling fearless. Halfway through the turn I hit the gas, causing the back tires to break loose from the road. The rear of the car began to slide out from underneath me as all four tires screamed and spun, grasping for grip. I let off the gas until the car straightened out, shifted gears, and punched the gas. My head snapped back and the little blue beast shot off like a rocket. While it was difficult to to push the car past its limits, apparently it wasn’t impossible.

The car was a head turner, that’s for sure. Every teenager with a loud Honda gave me a thumbs up when they saw me. Every kid driving a Hyundai, Nissan, Mitsubishi, or Volkswagen nodded when we locked eyes. And of course, every Subaru I passed flashed their headlights. We knew… we knew.

No car is perfect. Part of the STi’s performance comes from it’s light weight, which also means thin metal, a plastic interior, and no sound deadening. The car’s stiff racing suspension put you in touch with the road below, sometimes a little too much. And its low stance meant you were never far from the pavement, something my knees reminded me of each time I climbed in and out of the beast.

The WRX STi hatchback in Need For Speed: World

The WRX STi appears on lots of lists, including “the fastest cars under $50,000” and “the 10 cheapest cars with 300 horsepower.” But even more than being fast, the STi was simply fun, fun, fun to drive. It was also occasionally fun, fun, fun to teach kids a lesson on the streets. God only knows how I didn’t get a ticket in this thing.

I remember getting super sad as a kid each time my parents sold one of their cars. My dad’s Blazer, my mom’s Cadillac, the MGB we owned… I loved each one. But what I didn’t understand as a kid was that cars aren’t forever. Wants and needs change. Cars are fun to buy and drive and when the money makes sense you can sell them and buy something else. I loved my Subaru WRX STi, but with two growing kids and a car with metal so thin I was afraid to park it anywhere near another vehicle, the timing (and money) was right to part with it and get something else.

Friday night, Susan and I drove to Ardmore and swapped the STi for a big fat cashier’s check. I don’t know what I’ll buy next, but I’m almost positive it won’t be as fast as the STi was. I hope it’s as fun.

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1 comment to Saying Goodbye to the STI

  • Dan Sichel

    Alas, adulthood, the responsibility of children, and biology claims us all one way or another. The good news is that when the nest empties, and you adjust to the quiet, new horizons, akin to those of misspent youth again appear.

    Only now, you are old enough, experienced enough, and ready to appreciate whatever flavor of lunatic life you choose to embrace. Adieu, WRX, but be of good cheer, something faster, crazier, or otherwise better is just down the road.

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