We almost don’t want to tell you about the new Subaru Impreza WRX STI S206. Why? Because it’s the fastest, best-handling WRX Subaru’s STI division has ever produced, but you can’t buy it in the U.S. It’s yet another special STI limited edition built exclusively for Japanese domestic consumption.
Subaru’s tuning department takes its STI “S” series very seriously, something we witnessed at the recent Tokyo Motor Show when it revealed the new S206 with its eye-popping spec sheet. There’s more than a decade of history in the top-shelf S series, starting from the radical-looking S201 to the gutsy S204, and the extreme R205. We’ve driven them all and been suitably impressed with every car. But the S206 takes “S” to a whole new level.
You know you’re in for something special when the person greeting you prior to the drive at the Cycle Sports Center two hours south of Tokyo is none other than STI’s motorsport director, former chief test driver, and all-around Nurburgring-meister Hideharu Tatsumi. After a quick rundown of the impressive spec list, he shuffles us over to an S206 sitting in the pit area.
Smiling confidently, he opens the door to one of only 100 NBR Challenge Package models of the S206, a super rare edition celebrating STI’s monumental class win in this year’s Nurburgring 24-hour race. With its unique 19-inch BBS rims and hard-core carbon-fiber roof and rear wing, the NBR certainly looks the part.
Powering the S206 is a version of Subie’s turbocharged 2.0-liter boxer from the WRX STI. Horsepower has been bumped from 305 hp to 316 hp while torque increases from 290 lb-ft to 318 lb-ft. The engine is hand-built, with pistons, connecting rods, and crankshaft all meticulously balanced before assembly. The secret to the S206’s improved performance comes from the newly fitted low friction, twin-scroll ball-bearing turbo, a remapped ECU, and a low back pressure exhaust system that boosts low- to mid-range torque.
Built off of the outgoing WRX STI platform, the S206’s suspension gets specially fitted inverted Bilstein dampers, STI coil springs, and a flexible front strut tower brace, while those 19-inch rims are wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sports rubber (245/35ZR19), highlighting huge six-piston Brembo calipers with drilled rotors.
As we launch ourselves out of the blocks, the S206 feels at once poised and ready for any right boot extension. And any corner. Switching the VDC to S# for maximum throttle response, and with the updated DCCD (driver controlled center differential) left in normal mode, we gun the boxer engine in first and second to record a stopwatch-timed 0-60 mph sprint of around 4.5 seconds.
Compared to the current WRX STI, the S206 displays beefier torque between 3200 and 4400 rpm — where you need most for quicker cornering exits. But as Tatsumi says, “this torque curve also makes it easier to putter round town as well.” Right, but that’s not what we’re here for.
Zeroing in on a tight right-hander in fourth at 100 mph, we obliterate 50 mph in 1 second flat by jumping on the 6-pot Brembos, pop the notchy six-speed gearbox down to second and turn in. Whoa..
It almost defies logic. How can you make an Impreza WRX corner with so little roll, maintain so much lateral grip, and yet retain such comfortable ride quality? It can’t just come from the specially fitted Bilstein inverted dampers, coil springs and tower bar.
Back in the pits, Tatsumi lets on that his team has brought across some “little secrets” from the STI race car, which they are preparing for a second Nurburgring 24-hour challenge in 2012.
“It’s not just the flexible tower brace and Bilsteins that create this ride,” Tatsumi said. “I have brought over a flexible draw stiffener, several other nifty support braces, and special lateral links with pillow ball bushes in addition to a couple of race car inspired chassis revisions. Oh yeah, and one addition that even surprised us was the carbon-fiber roof, which not only improves upper body rigidity while reducing weight, but helps to improve the overall ride quality.”
A carbon roof that improves ride quality? OK. We can’t argue with that because the ride quality is exceptional — firm but compliant – for a hard-core sports model like this with low profile 19-inch tires.
The combination of suspension upgrades and high-grip Michelin tires also meant Tatsumi’s team was able to dial back the steering gear ratio from 13:1 to 15:1, which makes the S206 turn in at speed as predictably as the actual race car, with logarithmic loads of grip and more steering feel and feedback than any STI before it.
This car simply begs you to push it harder each lap. Your insides just about reach their lateral limits before the tires reach theirs. There’s almost no understeer and the rears won’t let go either. The engine, chassis, steering, and brakes are so communicative and responsive, they almost feel like an extension of your body. The car goes exactly where you want it to, when you want it to.
Tatsumi tells us that he wanted his team to build a car that wasn’t just the best STI so far, but create a car that communicates so well with drivers that it makes them better drivers, or at least feel as though they are better drivers. Can’t argue with that theory either. As I honed in on a tight corner at over 110 mph, crunched on the Brembos, changed down and got back on the gas as my brain tried to dislodge itself from my skull and fly toward the scrub, I have never felt more like seven-time World Rally champ Sebastian Loeb.
Not quite satisfied with the explanation as to why the car corners so well, I found myself asking Tatsumi “just how much of that race car is in the S206?” He just nodded and said cryptically, “It’s still ongoing. We want to win our class again in 2012 in the 24-hour race and slice several more seconds off our lap time. So there’s a little more still to do under there.”
Inside, the lucky 300 S206 buyers get Recaro sport seats wrapped in leather and Alcantara, and plenty of S206 badging to remind them not to worry when an ordinary STI pulls alongside them at a traffic light.
So it begs the question: Why doesn’t STI offer an export model, even a very limited edition run, for the U.S. market? According to Tatsumi, there are two reasons. First, even with two catalyzers fitted to reduce CO2 and NOx gases, the S206’s emissions won’t meet current international standards. But more to the point, the ballistically strong Japanese Yen means that this car, which costs roughly the equivalent of $77,000 in Japan, would cost somewhere around $85,000 if (and when) they ever made a left-hand drive version. And that kind of pricing would put it in Nissan GT-R territory, making it hard to justify.
But then again, even if you did have the cash and wherewithal, and even if you were happy with a right-hand-drive version, you still can’t have one because the full lot of 300 (200 stock and 100 NBR editions) has already sold out. As Tatsumi points out, “if you want to drive this car, you’ll have to come to Japan.” Makes sense. If you want to eat the best, most authentic sushi, you have to come to Japan anyway, right?
|2012 Subaru Impreza WRX STI S206|
|BASE PRICE||$76,000 (est)|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door, sedan|
|ENGINE ENGINES||2.0L/316-hp /318-lb-ft, turbocharged, DOHC, flat-4|
|TRANSMISSION TRANSMISSIONS||6-speed, manual|
|CURB WEIGHT||3285 lb|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||180.3 x 70.7 x 57.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.5 sec (MT est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||24.5 mpg (Japan est)|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||N/A|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Japan domestic market only (unfortunately)|