This pumped-up WRX hints at the future of Subaru performance, albeit with a lot more sound and fury. BY DANIEL PUND Photography BY JIM FETS MARCH 2003 If you listen closely, the Subaru Impreza WRX STi Type RA Spec C will reveal the future to you in a whisper. Like a come-on in a noisy bar, your desire to grasp what it has to say will be matched only by your difficulty in hearing it. That's because in addition to having an absurdly complicated name, this factory hot rod is as close a preview as we're going to get of the much-anticipated U.S.-market WRX STi, due in June and shown at the Detroit auto show. What our right-hand-drive car has to say about the character of the upcoming STi was somewhat obscured by the humming tire noise, creaking instrument panel, sound of pebbles pinging off the underbody, and rigidly stiff ride that forces an involuntary exhalation from its passengers over every bump. Here's how it breaks down (and try to stick with us on this): You know the WRX, the 227-hp turbo Impreza that's made it onto our 10Best list two years running. The STi (which stands for Subaru Tecnica International, the company's in-house tuner) gets a six-speed manual transmission instead of the WRX's standard five-speed, a reworked engine with beefed-up internals, a larger intercooler and more turbo boost, limited-slip differentials front and rear, a stiffened suspension, and bigger wheels, tires, and brakes. This is the version U.S. gearheads will be able to buy sometime this year. Subaru claims the STi sold in Japan makes exactly 276 horsepower—the most a Japanese manufacturer can claim under a gentlemen's agreement among car companies in that country. But estimates of its true output are more than 300 horsepower. That's exactly the output of the U.S.-bound 2004 STi, with its new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Further complicating things is the designation of our test car: Type RA Spec C. RA stands for "Rally Applicant." It's a car intended to go racing and is, therefore, stripped of luxuries such as a sound system of any kind, air conditioning, power windows, trunk trim, airbags, underbody coating, and other things—all in the name of weight reduction. It also has an adjustable center differential that can be locked from the cockpit and a roof vent that opens manually—as on rally racers. The hood and roof metal is thinner, and so is the car's glass. It has a quicker steering ratio. And remember that the test car shown here is not the version to be sold in the States. So what can we say about the future U.S. STi based on our drive of this double-throw-down WRX? First, that we'll be happy on our commutes to have sound-deadening material and a stereo. Also, that the Subaru-designed six-speed transmission that will be in our STi is a delight to use, with short throws and a slicker engagement than the standard WRX's five-speed. We'd like—but won't get—the Spec C's super-quick steering. The racing-style bucket seats with suedelike covering, which we will get, are wonderful. Last, we learned from the test car that—surprise!—more power is more good. Despite the obsessive reductions, our tester weighed just 116 fewer pounds than the lightest WRX we've measured. Still, with the extra power and more closely spaced gearing, the STi Type RA Spec C rips to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds. That's almost a second faster than most WRXs we've tested (we made a 5.4-second run in a standard WRX, but others have been in the 5.8-to-5.9-second range). The Type RA Spec C is as quick as a Mustang Mach 1 and quicker, by a few 10ths, than the Nissan 350Z. Despite the wider-than-stock wheels and tires (215/45WR-17s versus 205/ 55VR-16s) that deliver 0.89 g of grip, this WRX is at least as willing to rotate as the stock WRX. The added power, which arrives with the subtlety of a hand grenade north of 4000 rpm, helps break the rear loose. We expect that the larger-displacement 2004 engine will be considerably smoother. This is one of the most active, driver-involving street cars we've driven. This may possibly be because it's not a street car. But the U.S.-bound STi will be. It should cost about $32,000; the increase in power and the extra cog in the gearbox alone make that worth the jump from the standard WRX's $24,720 base price. Oh, and just when you thought you were getting a handle on the myriad versions of this car, be advised that the 2004 STi headed here (along with all Imprezas) will be face-lifted, with new front and rear fascias. Hey, we warned you to read carefully.