‘Cars on Campus’ column: Who will win the crown?

Phil Baus, B&W Staff

Phil Baus, B&W Staff

“Let me know if I’m pushing it too hard,” I said to Jay as we were exploring the back roads of Bethlehem. The response I got was one that suggested he was a true STI owner: “Ha, I’m not worried,” a response that car enthusiasts like myself love hearing.

Last Tuesday I got the opportunity to drive Jay Fraser’s, ’15, 2006 Subaru Impreza WRX STI — STI for short.

To some, the STI I drove is just an older economy car with 120,000 miles on it, a four-cylinder motor, and a couple of flashy wings and hood scoops to make it look faster than it really is.

Now look at it from my point of view. To me, like many other people who know the iconic Subaru STI, the 2006 STI is one of the best-looking STIs ever made. It has a wide body stance with a breadbox air intake on the hood and a classic rally style wing on the back.

Jay’s STI goes beyond stunning “boy racer” looks, though. Jay has a couple of “go fast” modifications — a full turbo-back Perrin exhaust that only enhances that classic four-cylinder boxer motor sound and a tune on the car’s computer that allows the car to, for lack of a better explanation, “breathe” better.

This all boils down to an all-wheel drive super sedan that pumps out approximately 350 horsepower. To put that horsepower in perspective, your average car most likely makes around 160-180 horsepower; I’m pretty sure my treadmill makes that much horsepower.

The best part about this STI is that it’s not just another fast car. It has character, style and grace. As I mashed the gas pedal, the car made whooshing noises from the turbo and sped off like someone lit a fire under its pants. When I let off the gas pedal to shift (very quickly), that whooshing noise turned into a swift whistle from the blow off valve and then it was back to mashing the go pedal to hear that oh-so-addicting whooshing noise.

Let’s bring this back around to why this car is the perfect car to have, particularly at Lehigh. This is the third STI I have been lucky enough to review here at Lehigh, and I have to think this isn’t a coincidence.

Throughout the past snow falls this year, each of these three generations of STI have all performed as well as, if not better than, the huge lifted trucks and SUVs on campus. With the STI’s sophisticated all-wheel drive system, you can electronically control what percentage of the engine’s power is going to either the front or the rear wheels, sending power to the right place, at the right time, and for the right conditions.

Now let’s compare this particular model STI to the others that I have driven. The 2006 STI is the oldest of the STIs that I have driven, followed by the 2010 STI and then the newest 2014 STI. With each new generation, the STI becomes more refined and more capable on and off road, but that’s only on paper.

I prefer Jay’s 2006 STI due to its raw, unadulterated nature. The cabin is less insulated so you can hear the glorious roar of his exhaust and the rumble from the Subaru signature boxer motor. Everything feels really mechanical, leaving comfort as an afterthought.

The reason I keep calling the STI’s motor a boxer engine is due to the cylinders. Instead of being placed parallel to one another in a straight line, there are two cylinders on each side opposing each other, both lying horizontally to the ground. The name “boxer” comes from the image of the two opposing cylinders which look like they are boxing one another.

This signature boxer motor is in all generations of the STI, and the reason for its consistent use in the STI is due to its low center of gravity. The lower the center of gravity, the better the handling is.

Enough of this engineering, technical talk, though. How did the car make me feel?

The car felt alive, in turn making me feel alive. Even with 119,000 on the odometer, the car did not skip a beat. It made quick work of Lehigh’s hills and corners. The urge of the turbo as I glued my foot to the floor was awesome, and the sounds from the turbo and blow-off valve made the experience more of a journey and less of a drive.

In this case, it wasn’t the destination that mattered; it was the journey. My boarding school’s mission statement was “The journey matters,” and this little Subaru embodies that mission. It took a drive in a 2006 Subaru STI for me to realize what my school meant about “the journey matters.”

Jay brought me to an undisclosed parking lot that still had a layer of crusty snow for a very important driving test: Will it drift? Yes, it drifts. It breaks loose very progressively without any fuss even for an intermediate level driver/drifter/racer like me.

Jay’s STI can drive in the snow. It can drift, it can turn, it goes like a bat out of hell, and it will paint your back porch. Really, this car is the best of both worlds of utility and sport.

Well, I can safely say that I enjoyed my time in Jay’s STI and plan on taking his offer to drive it again this winter. I have been looking to buy a car for soon after I graduate and this car just shot up to my No. 1 spot. They’re cheap to maintain; they’re fast; their engines are bulletproof; they last forever and…oh yeah, did I say they’re fast?

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