First Drive: Subaru Forester tS STI
Power Isn't Everything: tS Package Sharpens Forester
Six months ago, we introduced you to a rare, Japan-only Subaru called the Subaru Legacy 2.5GT tS. The limited-edition model was the first offering in the company's brand-new tS series, designed to show there is room in the STI lineup for cars with sharper looks and improved handling. Now comes Part 2 of the tS story: the Forester tS STI.
In an automotive world that's always after more power, it's a brave move to say your cars already have enough oomph, and that your humble aim is to improve handling. But if any carmaker can get away with such modesty and still maintain user interest, Subaru can. It has a cult following thanks to its class-leading, bang-for-buck performance.
Chief test driver Hideharu Tatsumi knows this. That's why he can say with a straight face that "Power isn't everything. Our turbocharged Forester has enough power for now. And that's why we've created the tS, a whole new brand inside the company that bridges the gap between the performance-oriented S versions (like the S201 through S204) and the base models." He says that tS stands for "tuned by STI," but when we queried one of his underlings during the Legacy tS drive, a more colorful story emerged. "Inside the evaluation department," said our anonymous engineer, "we interpret tS as Tatsumi's Spirit, or more realistically, Tatsumi's Setup." That makes sense because Tatsumi is a legend at Subaru, having risen to the position of Nürburgring Meister after 20 years testing Subarus at the famed German track.
Boasting unique STI aeroparts and special paintwork, the Forester tS looks more aggressive than the base model. Sitting roughly two-thirds of an inch lower than the stock Forester's 8.4-inch ride height, the tS incorporates a specially designed STI front and rear roof spoiler, larger 17-inch Yokohama Geolander rubber (225/55R17), and STI badges. Designers continued the STI theme inside with a 240 km/h (150 mph) speedo, STI-badged Alcantara and leather seats with red stitching, and a leather-bound steering wheel and gear shifter.
More power is always welcome in our book, but as explained above, Tatsumi and Co. believe the Forester's turbo already has sufficient punch, and after a few hours behind the wheel, we can't complain. The 2.5-liter boxer turbo is mated to a five-speed automatic gearbox (with manual mode and paddles) and develops roughly 259 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 256 pound-feet of torque from 2800 to 4800 rpm (Japanese-spec trim). We would have liked to have seen the Legacy's six-speed manual gearbox bolted to the gutsy turbo, but the slushbox with flappy paddles shifts quickly enough to keep the driving experience on the boil. But it's what's under that chunky body that transports the Forester tS STI to a new handling dimension.
Among the numerous suspension upgrades are STI's unique inverted Bilstein struts and stiffer springs all around, as well as upgraded front and rear stabilizers, and a reinforced front cross member. But the part that brings the whole package together is the tS's "flexible tower bar," which was also affixed to the Legacy tS. It's an upgrade boasting a flexible center joint that the company has been perfecting for more than 3 years. In concert with the revised underpinnings, the flex tower bar helps give the Forester tS more rigidity through the corners, improved steering feedback, and no understeer.
Another revision to the tS is stiffer rubber bushings that forgo the minute horizontal cuts designed to aid fitting. According to Tatsumi, this modification resists energy loss and further improves handling. The end result is phenomenal. With the flex tower bar as the tS' secret weapon, this Forester's suspension setup resists initial body roll on turn-in, keeping the car flatter and more rigid through the corners, while the rear end follows the fronts with direct precision. The tS also delivers significantly more information through the wheel over on-road camber and surface imperfections.
Much like the tS-equipped Legacy we sampled, the updates help make the new Forester tS STI a far more rewarding drive. The STI team tells us it plans to build a limited run of just 300 cars, and that each car will be assembled after the order is placed.
Will we get something along the lines of the tS-equipped cars here? It's on the table. One Subaru insider revealed that the company is considering offering the tS STI suspension upgrades, including the awesome flexible tower bar, as options in the U.S. in the not-too-distant future. And we hear these parts will be offered for the U.S.-market Impreza and Legacy as well.
|Subaru Forester tS STI|
|Base price||$43,000 (est)|
|Vehicle layout||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door crossover|
|Engine||2.5L/259-hp/256-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve turbocharged flat-4|
|Curb weight||3200 lb (est)|
|0-62 mph||5.5 sec (est)|