As we look toward the next decade, the Subaru lineup is all grown up. The quirky cars of their past have given way to competitive, “right-sized” Foresters and Outbacks. Manual transmissions are out, CVTs are in. Yet the Subaru WRX STi endures, following the formula of its oldest brother, right down to the EJ25 engine. This 2020 Subaru STi S209, then, must be the ultimate culmination of all-things Subaru Tecnica International. And it is, but it comes at a price.
Subaru wanted me to drive their STi S209 so badly that they brought one to our annual Washington Automotive Press Association rally. I was one of a handful of journalists invited to come along for a day of hot takes.
Though the STi S209 is the first “S-model” car sold in the United States, it’s not the first from STi. STi is more than a trim level on the WRX, it’s also a performance brand, similar to the AMG brand of Mercedes-Benz. The S209 is their ninth “special” car developed, and is the “study of everything STi engineers knew about motorsports and vehicle engineering at the time,” says Subaru.
I’ve driven friends’ WRX and WRX STi sedans and hatchbacks over the years, from the earliest USDM WRX sold in 2002 onward. So then, how is the STi S209?
Well, the EJ25 engine makes 341 horsepower and is only transmitted through a six-speed manual gearbox. The Subaru “symmetrical” all-wheel drive can be left to its own devices, or controlled by the driver to change the front-to-rear bias.
The interior is the nicest you’ll find in a STi, although it’ll never be considered fancy. Pink accents break up the dash, where you’d normally find carbon fiber or aluminum or something decidedly less interesting. Subaru’s infotainment has never felt tremendously modern, and it still doesn’t here, although it works just fine.
Driving the STi S209 made me want to close my eyes and recall all the drives I took in college, in friends’ early WRX and WRX STI sedans (I waited to close my eyes until I was parked). They have all been easy to drive with haste, fairly light on their feet and eager for track use, autocross, back roads, or some rallycross action in the dirt. And I think the S209 would be right at home in any of those situations as the “ultimate STi.” Engineers changed suspension tuning to make the car that much better through a corner.
Power feels middling until about 4,000 rpm, at which point the party starts. It’s over in a hurry, though. I found myself bumping up against the rev limiter often – the engine feels like it wants to rev another 1,000 rpm past what Subaru deemed “enough.” The exhaust was tuned specially for the S209, but it’s too quiet.
Visual modifications complete the S209. Fender flares, for the half-inch-wider wheels. A rear wing and front splitter made from carbon fiber. The roof skin? Also carbon fiber.
So then, this S209 is the fastest, nimblest, stiffest, aero-y-est Subaru STi ever made by Subaru themselves. It is, technically, very good. Behind the wheel, it’s also very good. But it’s missing the drama and personality that I’d hope to see from the ultimate Subaru motorsports weapon, built by STi engineers. Especially for $64,000.
Yes, really. This hotted-up STi S209 costs over $26,000 more than a standard STi. It’s a limited-production car, with just 209 being produced, and they will undoubtedly sell all of them. Hopefully at least one owner will use theirs as Subaru Tecnica International intended.
That said, behind the wheel of the STi S209, I can’t help but think of all the track time, tires, and brakes I could buy for a “regular STi” with $26,000. The STi S209 gives off a great, if quiet, first impression – provided you have no idea how it’s priced.