Subaru launches its most powerful car ever

Paul Eisenstein
Special to The Detroit News

Detroit —Time and time again, Subaru has teased American buyers with an array of super-high-performance models, only to limit their sales to the Japanese domestic market. But “Subie” fans have reason to celebrate the news coming out of this year’s Detroit auto show.

For the first time, one of the automaker’s “S” models will be coming to the States, and the limited-edition STI S209 will be the most powerful model the Japanese automaker has ever offered U.S. buyers.

"It was always out of reach and drivers could only dream about it," said Thomas Doll, president and CEO of Subaru of America Inc. "Pure S models have never been available in North America, until now."

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Developed by Subaru Tecnica International, the automaker’s wholly owned performance series, the S209 takes things up a big notch above the already formidable Subaru WRX STI model that has become a favorite of young “hot hatch” fans.

Subaru Tecnica International President Yoshio Hirakawa, left, and Subaru of America Inc. President CEO Tom Doll talk after the unveiling of the S209 at the Detroit Auto Show Monday. The car is now available for the first time in America.

"The S209 is the best vehicle STI has ever designed," Yoshio Hirakawa, president of Subaru Tecnica International, said at the NAIAS.

And folks won’t have to guess what’s under the hood when they see the S209 come racing up in the rearview mirror, not with the huge fender flares that serve as the automotive equivalent of six-pack abs.

The “S” designation has both fascinated and frustrated Subaru fans for some years. It first showed up on a special-edition Impreza model — the S201 — back in 2000, with an S208 model debuting last year. All were limited to Japanese distribution.

“Designed with a focus on high-performance driving, the S209 draws inspiration and tech transfer from STI’s most formidable track machine – the WRX STI Nürburgring Challenge race car, which won the SP3T class at the 2018 24 Hours of Nürburgring, marking the fifth time STI dominated the SP3T class at the grueling endurance race,” Subaru explains.

This year’s North American International Auto Show brings with it the debut of a number of performance cars, including the new Hyundai Elantra GT N Line. But the Subaru STI S209 will prove a hard competitor to beat – in part because the STI division touches every aspect of the vehicle, including aerodynamics, handling, power and what the automaker refers to as “driver engagement.”

The new model gets a wide-body treatment, adding 1.7 inches in width, to 72.4 inches, to handle the fat new 19-by-9-inch forged BBS alloy wheels shod with Dunlop GT600A summer-only tires developed exclusively for the S209. Look closely enough and you’ll see they barely conceal new Brembo brakes with cross-drilled steel rotors and 6-piston monoblock front calipers and 2-piston monoblock rear calipers that give the car additional stopping power.

New vents up front help cool those brakes while rear vents reduce turbulence around the back tires.

Front bumper of the Subaru STI S209

To keep the S209 firmly planted on the road, it gets Bilstein dampers, a thick new rear stabilizer bar and a number of other enhancements drawn from the Nürburgring race car including rear and side spoilers, and a rear wing. Other upgrades, such as the carbon-fiber roof panels help hold down weight and lower the car’s center of gravity.

Of course, the beating heart of the S209 is its powertrain, and the 2.5-liter turbocharged boxer engine found in the stock model gets major upgrades, starting with a new, high-spinning turbocharger and strengthened pistons and connecting rods that help it punch out a whopping 341 horsepower and lots more off-the-line torque.

That’s all fed into a six-speed, close-ratio manual gearbox to all four wheels through Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive system. New front and rear limited-slip differentials, along with a driver-controlled center differential, ensure all that power gets to the pavement, while a new torque-vectoring system helps the S209 claw through tight corners.

To complete the package, the new Subaru gets Recaro sport seats and unique badges – including a number plate to remind you it’s one of only 200  coming to the U.S. starting late this year. Pricing will be announced closer to the on-sale date.

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