Climbing into the STI for our road drive, it was immediately apparent, in the first mile, that some things haven't changed; the STI still rides stiffly (more so than the WRX), and has a noisy interior. Taking on the challenging surfaces of Carmel Valley Road, the suspension conveyed plenty of busy and jittery over the worst kinds of uneven patchwork, and crashed hard over some potholes and especially rough bits. There's also a lot of simple road and tire roar, on nearly every road surface—way more than in other sharpened small performance cars such as the Ford Focus ST or Volkswagen GTI.
The din from underneath is a bit surprising, as Subaru has put a lot of attention into how the engine sounds from inside. It's joined the legions of sporty cars to offer an intake resonator that pipes pulses from the intake manifold (via a damper) into the cabin. Such a system, which seems right at home in the BRZ, smacks of too much boy-racer for a $40k car (there's no way to defeat it, and we like listening to the exhaust and turbo-whistle sounds more); but it's tuned to only add to the chorus of sounds at higher revs and when you're really pressing your right foot into it.
Wow, what steering. And a great gearbox.
On a curvy road, we quickly forgot about the road roar and jittery ride. If you can look past those awkwardly fast-and-furious elements, the STI is a hoot to drive, with a flexible powertrain, excellent steering, and more grip and poise than you might ever need or sanely tap into on dry (or damp) public roads. The steering here is way better than what you get in the WRX. Although the one very meaningful change is that the steering ratio for the STI has been shortened to 13:1 from 15:1 (2.5 , giving the hydraulic assist (yes, there's no EPS here) a nice, relaxed center, great weighting off-center, quick responsiveness, and more feel from the pavement than you'll find in nearly any other performance cars today.
The gearbox you get in the STI—a heavy-duty one, with a parallel-rod linkage (and a short-shift kit in the Launch Edition)—is a lot sweeter than what you have in the WRX’s lighter-duty gearbox and cable linkage. Engineers admitted that it’s considerably more expensive.
Just as with the WRX, and the STI’s predecessor, this is a car that you can simply get into and drive very, very rapidly. You easily gain confidence, and with the tremendous grip of the performance tires, and the poise of the all-wheel drive system, you lose track of exactly how quickly you’re moving down the road until you wonder why that Mustang (or BRZ) can’t keep up with you.