$5 per gallon fuel may soon mean The End for cars like the Subaru WRX STi - the high-performance version of Soobie's Impreza compact hatchback wagon. As much fun as these cars are to drive, they are becoming increasingly onerous to feed.

The '08 STi is rated 17 city/23 highway. It requires premium unleaded, too. Consider what that means:

At $5 per gallon - which is probably what premium unleaded will cost by mid-July - it will cost $85 to fill the STi's 17 gallon tank. Assuming you fill up just once a week, that's $340 per month, $4,080 per year ... just for fuel. Over the course of a five-year period (the duration of the typical new car loan) that works out to an astounding $20,400 - roughly about 60 percent of the base price of the car itself ($34,995).

Remember what they say in Brooklyn?

Forget about it!

Seriously. The times are funereal. I want to cheer for the STi. But it's like being optimistic about the fight fer freedom in Ah-rak.


The '08 STi is powered by one of the highest output-per-cc of displacement engines on the market. Its 2.5 liter horizontally opposed "boxer" four generates 305 hp - a bump of 12 hp over last year (293 hp).

To put that in perspective, consider the current Chevy Corvette's 6.2 liter V-8. It produces 430 hp - a very impressive number. But the Corvette's V-8 is more than twice the size of the STi's four (and has twice the cylinders, too). If the STi's four displaced 5 liters, it would be making 610 hp - 180 hp more than the 'Vette's V-8 - while spotting the 'Vette more than a full liter of displacement.

The '08 STi also outguns its primary rival - Mitsubishi's Lancer EVO ($32,990), which has a slightly smaller 2.0 liter four rated at a slightly weaker 291 hp. (The STi also beats the EVO's dismal 16 city/22 highway EPA fuel economy figures - though just barely.)

Like the EVO, the STi's engine is turbocharged and intercooled - with a driver-controllable AWD system and six-speed manual gearbox standard equipment.

No automatic transmission is offered with the STi - mainly because high-boost, small-displacement fours don't make a ton of low-end torque and so don't do as well when teamed up with an automatic.

Still, the STi's four is very tractable and doesn't have that peaky "on-off" quality that some turbocharged fours have. Power comes on strong - and steadily - from around 2,000 RPM to 6,000 RPM. It pulls like a Clydesdale around 3,500-5,500 rpm - the "sweet spot" for fast passing moves.

Maybe it won't do a burnout - but the STi's 4.7-4.8 second 0-60 times and low 13 second 1/4 miles are their own reward. Mild tuning with aftermarket parts can chop the 0-60 ET down by haf a second or more - and it's easy to get an STi into the 12s in the quarter. That's right there with a new 'Vette, for about $20-$25k less ... which you can put toward gas.


The '08 STi is basically all-new.

It rides on a longer wheelbase (103.3 inches vs. 99.4 inches) and is longer (173.8 inches vs. 175.8 inches) and wider (70.7 inches vs. 68.5 inches) than the 2007 STi. The changes make it feel like the bigger the car that it has, in fact, become - which is a plus or a minus depending on your perspective. The '08 STi (which comes in hatchback wagon form only this year) is definitely more mass-market friendly. It is roomier - especially for backseat riders - and though still a great handling machine with very high levels of lateral grip and precise, "on center" steering, it doesn't make an obvious point of its capability until you're actually in the moment - deep into the apex of a sweeping right or left-hander. To me, this makes the more car more everyday appealing. It runs like hell, but is completely wife drivable, too.

However, traditionalist may miss the harder-edged demeanor of the previous STi - which not only cornered like a full-on rally car but felt like a full-on rally car all the time.


Cosmetically, the '08 WRX STi is very different than the hell on wheels-looking original - with its bug catcher hood scoop, mile-high trunk wing and luridly anodized mag wheels.

Couldn't miss it (and neither could the cops).

The new car's older and wiser-looking. Less obstreperous molded-in scoop; lower profile shell without the huge trunk wing. Discrete quad exhaust tips and a subtle body kit with a few unique trim touches (including fender vents and "STi" badges tucked into the grille and on the rear liftgate) are the main, but not so obvious, differences between the STi and less scrappy versions of the Impreza. Inside, the STI gets a set of really suave-looking sport buckets with suede (Alcantara) inserts and aluminum facings/trim plates here and there.

Gold BBS rims are still available, but the whole package is much more BMW M3-like than "Fast and Furious."

Over 30s may like it; the 20-something crowd might not.

The other thing that must be mentioned is the wagon-only bodystyle. Last year's STi came as a sedan; this year, you can get the mid-grade WRX that way, but not the top-of-the-line STi. From a utility viewpoint, the wagon's got the edge. The cargo area is generous (almost 20 cubic feet) and if you drop the STI's second row seats, you've got 44 cubic feet to work with. That is a huge increase in available real estate over last year's STi sedan - which only had 11 cubic feet of available cargo capacity in its teensy-weensy trunk.

On the other hand, do people who buy cars like the STi really care that much about cargo space? Or to put a finer point on it, do they care less about styling than they do about layout?

I personally like the looks of the new STi wagon. But what matters more, ultimately, is how people who buy cars like this like it.

Or not.


The STi has always felt less like a hopped-up econobox than its chief rival, the Lancer-based Mitsubishi EVO. That gap has narrowed to next to nothing, though, with the introduction of the entirely new EVO that just came out a couple of months ago.

Still, the STi has the advantage of Subaru's much better track record in the quality/durability department. If the EVO is a Saturday night special, the STI is a Browning 9 mm automatic. While Mitsubishi has reportedly cleaned up its act, it's still a pig in a poke until another five or so years roll by and we can know for sure how well the current crop does out in the real world. All else being equal, the STi's probably the better bet as far as quality goes. (And there's no question that Subarus hold their value better.)

In addition to high-capacity Brembo brakes (with ABS) the STi also comes with a Hill Holder clutch that keeps the car from rolling backward on you. Stability control is included, too.


"STi" is short for Subaru Tecnica International - basically, Subaru's in-house performance group, sort of like "M" is to BMW and "AMG" is to Mercedes. But it might as well by Japanese for "goes like stink!" The STi is both formidably quick and seriously fast - and those who laugh at it for being a station wagon do so at their own peril.

To Subaru's great credit, the '08 car - though considerably larger - isn't considerably heavier. Last year's STi had a curb weight of 3,351 lbs. The 2008 comes in at 3,395 lbs. That's just 44 lbs. more - and easily covered up by the extra 12 hp that Subaru tweaked out of the boxer four engine for '08.

The three-way adjustable Si Drive lets you toggle between "sport sharp" (most aggressive), "sport" (normal) and "Intelligent" (which automatically alternates between the more aggressive settings and the less aggressive ones, depending on how you happen to be driving at the moment). Note that these are not suspension settings - but throttle "maps" that fine tune how the engine reacts to your right foot.

Also included with the STi package is a driver-adjustable center differential, which lets you tailor the amount of engine power going to the front vs. rear wheels. A digital bar graph display in the main cluster tells you how much is going where. I think it'd be wonderful if you could flick a switch that would send all the engine power to the back wheels instead of just 90 percent or so. Then you could have your burnouts - and eat your AWD cake, too.

One thing I would absolutely change about the STi if I could is to correct the glaring absence of a standard boost gauge to monitor the turbo. Part of the fun of owning a turbo car is watching the boost dial up. But for whatever reason, Subaru does not include one in the standard STi gauge package.

The biggest single "not included" is GPS - which adds another $2k to the car's price tag.


The wagonized version of Subaru's all-wheel-drive wild child won't disappoint those seeking an automotive adrenalin rush - and may be more appealing to those who shied away from ownership in previous years because of the smallish back seats and tiny trunk. It's just as fast - only not quite so furious.

Now if only it didn't cost so much to feed.... .