Japan's Hottest Crossover: The Subaru Forester STI Was a Boxier, Roomier WRX
With the insane popularity of crossovers and CUVs today, auto companies have been working hard to diversify these vehicles, and in turn, making them more pleasing to enthusiasts.
Whether it's something like the Hyundai Kona N, the Mazda CX-5 Turbo or the Acura RDX, the hope is that these CUVs might win over buyers who would have once bought a sport sedan or hot hatchback.
Yet interestingly, one of the greatest enthusiast CUVs ever built is no longer offered, and hasn't been sold for over 15 years. That would be Subaru's Forester STI.
The Subaru Forester debuted in 1997 as a CUV based on the Impreza platform. For all intents and purposes, it was basically an Impreza wagon with a boxier profile and a higher roofline.
In America the first-gen Forester was positioned as a smaller and cheaper alternative the Outback, and it was only offered with a naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine. But in Japan it was a different story.
With its strong Impreza DNA, that meant the high-performance bits from the turbocharged Impreza WRX and STI could easily be adapted.
And soon both aftermarket tuners in Japan and soon Subaru itself began to outfit the Forester with these parts, creating a deceivingly quick, all-weather capable mini SUV.
A Cult Classic is Born
But it was the second generation of the Forester where the CUV truly embraced its STI DNA. Launched for the 2004 model year and only in its home market of Japan, the Forester STI became a full-fledged model.
The STI model wore different fascias from the standard Forester, and the Impreza WRX's signature hood scoop also made the transition.
And that big scoop fed cool air to a turbocharged and intercooled E25 engine that made 265hp and was mated exclusively to a six-speed manual transmission.
Besides the new look and added power, STI engineers gave the Forester plenty of other upgrades including its own steering and suspension setup with a lower ride height and stiffer springs and large Brembo brakes.
The STI treatment continued into the cabin, with an STI-specific steering wheel and more aggressive bucket seats. Inside and out, it was a WRX STI with a crossover SUV body.
The Forester STI basically became a cult classic the moment it was introduced, and sadly Subaru never built a full-fledged STI version again.
When the third-generation model debuted in 2008, the Forester had begun evolving away from being a taller Impreza wagon and into being a traditional crossover SUV.
The formula has certainly worked for Subaru, as today the Forester is both more popular, and also more SUV-like than it's ever been.
The likelihood of Subaru ever building a turbocharged, manual transmission Forester again seems quite low - but if they did we have no doubt there'd be plenty of enthusiasts who'd line up to buy a family-friendly crossover injected with the spirit of an STI.
One can dream, right?
More From Driving Line
- While Subaru won't build a new Forester STI for us, here are some reasons why the crossover SUV is a better enthusiast vehicle than you might think.