Wednesday, March 15, 2017

5 Years with Subarus

5 Years ago today, I picked up a 2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Hatchback from Stan Olsen Subaru (now Baxter Subaru).  There's really been no looking back since then!  Ask anyone who knows me.  I bleed Subaru!

On the one hand, yeah I could probably be "Brand Bias" which can easily be frowned upon.  However, in the last 5 years, the experiences I've had with Subaru ownership and the community I've discovered around it, it's become a great part of my life.  Are Subarus the best cars ever built?  No, I'm not sure anyone can make that claim 100%.  But with everything I've experienced with Subaru so far, it's been the best for me.

Literally the day after I bought my car, I went to a local Subaru meet.  I already knew a couple of the guys there.  A friend had taken me to a meet even before I owned my Impreza.  But there were tuners, outdoor adventurers, mechanics, daily drivers, such a wide variety of people who enjoyed these cars but all came together to hang out.  Many of the people I met through those first couple of meets have become great friends over the years.  They've helped me fix my car, fix my house, come over for dinner, gone on trips together, it's a whole family!  I would've missed the chance to meet them had I owned something else.

Through owning Subarus, I've also been introduced to Rallying.  It's gone from casually watching videos online to building and competing with my own Rallycross car, to going to a Stage Rally to spectate and see this awesome form of motorsport unfold before me.  And now, thanks to people I've met through going to events, I'm going to start the pursuit of actually competing in a Stage Rally someday!  If you had asked me 6 years ago "hey Mike, are you ever going to be a rally driver?" I'd probably ask "what's that?".  It's been so fun working towards this new goal and the road taken so far has been rewarding!

Since I picked up that 2012 Impreza, I've had a few Subarus.  In September of 2013 I picked up a Project Car: a 2000 Impreza 2.5 RS Coupe in need of some serious care.  I turned that into a rallycross machine and sold it to a friend of mine.  In October of 2015 I picked up a 2016 WRX STI Series.HyperBlue and donned "Higgins 75" logos on the wing to support and commemorate the Perfect Season he and Craig Drew had that year.  Last summer I replaced my '00 Impreza rallycross car with a "new" '99 Impreza 2.5 RS Coupe and have been competing with that car now.

The running joke among my friends and family has been "If you know Mike, you either own a Subaru now or you will."  My Wife had a '04 Outback and has a '15 Forester XT now.  My mom has a '13 Outback.  My dad had a '14 Forester that he gave to my sister after he got a '16 Forester.  My father-in-law has had two Legacies and a Crosstrek.  Most of the Groomsmen in my wedding own Subarus, too!  These cars have taken care of the people I care about, so I keep recommending them to friends and family.

Consider this my "Thank You" to everything Subaru.  From the people who built my car in Japan to the friends I can now call 'family' that I've met over the years, thanks for all the great experiences so far!  Here's to "what's to come"

Thursday, March 9, 2017

My First Step towards Stage Rallying

Back in June of 2011, I watched a video of some guy named David Higgins driving a strange car to the top of Mt Washington like he was being chased by a swarm of killer bees.  After further investigation, it turned out this guy was part of Subaru Rally Team USA... and he was rather good at rallying.  I had never seen anything like it and wanted to learn more about it.  I dove in and started reading more, watching videos, and got hooked on rallying.

Four Subarus, two SCCA rallycross seasons, and one Stage Rally I volunteered at later, and I'm in love with driving in the dusty stuff.  I follow Launch Control like normal people follow Prime Time Television.  I have an entire wall in my garage covered in posters, photos, medals, and signatures from rallying.  But, at the end of the day, all of this has made me realize that I want to do more than follow it.  I want to experience it.

When I went to the 2016 Rally in the 100 Acre Wood, I met a lot of awesome people.  From fans like me to technicians, co-drivers, and factory drivers, I really got to immerse myself in the world of rallying.  I even got to meet the heroes I had been following: Travis Pastrana, Christian Edstrom, Piotr Fetela, Agatino Fortunato, Lauchlin O'Sullivan, Nate Ellis, David Higgins, and Craig Drew.  They were all there, all regular people to talk with that just happened to have extraordinary talents.  The whole experience was incredible to finally see and feel in person and, on the 7-hour trek back home, I realized it was something I wanted to do someday.
Of the friends I made at that rally, I've managed to keep in contact with a few of them.  Agatino Fortunato and the All Fours Rally Team helped me get my new rallycross car over the summer.  The SRT USA technicians let me take some photos by David's car at Ojibwe.  But the person who put things in motion for my Stage Rallying hopes was Craig Drew.  I had been talking with him on and off for awhile and was curious about codriving and pacenotes.  What started as a mere question to learn more about rallying turned into an invitation to shake off my doubts and take a stab at it.  Craig mentioned his codriving course that would be held at DirtFish Rally School that they were planning to do again and told me to sign up.  At first, I kind of laughed at the idea.  After all, I had zero experience with codriving... let alone Stage Rally so taking instruction from a Top-Level competitor seemed like a bit of overkill to me.  Still, Craig assured me that I'd be able to survive the 2-day course he'd be instructing.

After thinking it over, talking to my wife about it, and asking a few friends, I started to think that maybe it wasn't such a crazy idea after all.  Just reading and watching wasn't going to get me to a Stage Rally any time soon... so I went for it.  Even as I write this now, just shy of a month away from attending this weekend course, I can feel the adrenaline rushing through my veins just THINKING of getting a start with this.

Creating and using pacenotes is probably the most crucial thing I want to understand from this course.  I've been driving competitively in Rallycross for 2 years so far, so I'm fairly confident behind the wheel of a car on the dirt and gravel.  However, the ability to "see around corners" that pacenotes grant the driver a huge advantage in the jump from rallycross to Stage Rally.  Whether my future with rallying lies in the driver or codriver seat, learning how this process works from an expert like Craig is an excellent starting point.

Can't wait to finally get cracking at this!!

Monday, March 6, 2017

2018 Crosstrek = Lifted Impreza again

Another auto show is approaching, which means blogs and websites are counting on clickbait to drive their pageviews.  They'll tout the "All-New Crosstrek" featuring new sweeping lines and aggressive styling over it's predecessor, but for those hoping the new Crosstrek is more than a lifted Impreza Hatchback donning some beefy wheel archs, it's gonna be that again.

Granted, this really isn't that much of a problem.  The new 2017 Subaru Impreza, built on the new Subaru Global Platform (SGP) has been received well and this new Crosstrek (XV in international markets) will benefit the same.  Like the previous generation Impreza and Crosstrek, they'll share the much of the same in this latest incarnation.  The hood, roof, hatch, headlights tail lights, all four doors, all the glass, and the entire interior will be shared between the two cars.  The roof rails on the new 2018 Crosstrek will also carry over from the Premium and Limited Impreza Hatchback models.  The main changes are in suspension, ride height, structural adjustments, wheels (which look nifty in the teaser photo) front and rear bumper, and the wheel arch moldings.  As with before, the Crosstrek's tougher exterior gives off more of an off-road warrior look to the Impreza's smoother flowing lines.

More details will emerge during the Geneva auto show this week and I'm looking forward to seeing what aesthetic changes have been made between the two.  Regardless of the similarities, the Crosstrek will likely continue to lead the Compact Crossover SUV segment.

EDIT: The 2018 Crosstrek has been revealed!  See?  It's the same formula as before.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Why do Subarus Last?

In recent years, Subaru has been noted to be one of the most reliable automotive brands in the United States. While they have been long criticized for "cheaper" interiors and plain styling, they have been known to build cars that last longer than other competitors.  It's easy to find consumer claims and testimonials about how long their Subaru has lasted them, but there's more to it than that.

Based on findings from Polk, an automotive data information gathering organization, 96% of all Subaru cars built in the last 12 years are still on the road today.  Considering that Subarus undertake a great many tasks outside of daily driving (outdoor recreation, racing, extreme weather conditions) this is quite an impressive finding.  In the United Kingdom, Subarus boast a staggering 99.3% of all Subarus still kicking arse in the last 10 years.  

Consumer Reports recently had a study that found the Subaru Legacy made the list of cars most likely to go over the 200,000 mile mark. They compiled the list from about 30 million vehicles advertised for sale during the year and looked at model years 1981-2010.  The Subaru Legacy was at the top of that list. Unsurprisingly, the Legacy's cousin, the Outback wagon, was also on that list.

One of the things you notice about most Subaru owners is how long they keep their cars. Many owners consider them a member of the family and, when tasked with replacing them, hand them down like family heirlooms instead of trading them in.  These loyal owners are an important part of that statistic for the care they give their cars.  The more someone tends to like something, the better care they take of them.  I'm sure if there were data on the vehicles that have lasted a long time, Subaru or otherwise, you'd see cars with diligent service records kept over their lifespan.  

I've seen the flip-side of this happen with Subaru vehicles, too.  When customers that are new to Subaru buy one, they've heard these claims of how reliable and solid these vehicles are.  It's a bulletproof car, so why bother with general maintenance?  Oops, you missed your Oil Change 30k miles ago... so your engine kinda stopped working.  "But I thought Subarus were supposed to be reliable?!?"  Yes, but anything that is neglected can and will go wrong.  Whether it's a '92 Chevy Lumina or a 2017 Subaru Impreza, you get out what you put in.  For the most part, this isn't the case.  As with any growing brand, issues start to surface.  But many of the knocks I've seen on Subaru vehicle reliability have been less of a manufacturing flaw and more of a neglect issue.

That's not to say Subarus are 100% free of issues.  Ask anyone who's had a head gasket go bad in a early 90s Subaru (all the way up to about 2010 or so) and they might grimace a bit at the reliability claims.  There was also an issue with Oil Consumption on Subarus from about 2011 to 2014, but most of those issues have been resolved or taken care of by Subaru.  No automotive manufacturer can say they've built a "perfect car", but it still seems that Subaru's list of recalls, issues, and nagging problems have been noticeably less common compared to others.

Subaru didn't suddenly become recognized as a Long-Lasting brand overnight.  This kind of trust has been built over a long time.  Remember those cheap interiors and plain styling I mentioned earlier?  Subaru has made a point to focus less on those aesthetic things and more on how the car works.  A smooth-running Boxer engine at the core of every Subaru vehicle is a great starting point.  In a Subaru Boxer engine, the pistons face opposite each other in a side-to-side symmetrical layout. The opposing pistons work to cancel out the inertia force of each other, resulting in less vibration, superb rotational balance, and a smooth feel when approaching the high rev range.  This results in less wear and tear over long periods of time. Add these advantages to an easily-accessible layout under the hood and your labor times go down as well.  Repair costs aren't as high when things are simple and easy to get to.

There's another element at work here that has been helping keep Subarus on the road that you might not expect: Safety.  Remember that for a longevity study to reflect as strongly as the results that Polk compiled the car still needs to be functioning on the road.  While many newer Subarus now have sophisticated collision avoidance systems, the longevity studies predate those.  Subarus tend to stick to the road and provide better control than other cars thanks to their All-Wheel Drive system, low center of gravity, and even weight distribution.  Mix in the great interior visibility for the driver to see and avoid tricky situations and you've got a recipe for street survival.  These components help Subarus stay sure-footed through bad weather and slick conditions.  

So really, it started with Subaru making good cars from the get-go.  Nothing is perfect, but the "Cheap and Easy Does It" slogan really drives home the idea behind making Subarus.  Instead of a lavish interior sprinkled with smartphone tech that will go wrong in a week, they've opted to go the conservative route which has not only made things last longer, but also easier for owners to use.  From there, a loyal group of owners kept their vehicles on the road with religious service intervals so they could hand their trusty Subaru down to their Family member, friend, or neighbor.  These owners know that their car will take care of whomever they're passing the torch with reliability under the hood and a safe grip to keep them on the road when it's bad outside.  It's all a recipe for making a great car with can-do attitude.  In a day and age where everyone is trying to make their dollar go further, finding a car that lasts makes a lot of sense.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Version 7 STI Seats - 99 Impreza

My '99 Subaru Impreza 2.5RS Coupe may be my rallycross car, but I still like to keep it looking nice.  While I usually focus my racecar funds on making it perform better, splurging a little to make it turn heads is always fun.  This time around I decided to change up my interior.  I had been running JDM Version 6 seats and decided to go a different route.

The goal for this car aesthetically is to blend some bits together from my favorites.  The Impreza P1, RB5, and 22B are all favorites of mine, so I've tried to emulate features from those cars on mine.  I tracked down some Version 7 STI seats (which resemble the 22B and RB5 seats) and got some help from Zealous Interiors for matching JDM Blue Door Cards to tie it all together.  The result has me smiling every time I get in the car!

There were a few hurdles to jump with this changeover.  The Zealous Interior door card inserts are great quality and come pre-cut, so it took a lot of trial and error to get the panels lined up just right.  I still haven't attempted the rear panels, which I will have to remove to do properly.  When the new suspension goes on this car, the rear seats will come out anyways... so I'll do them then.  With a little patience and a second set of hands, I was able to set the front door cards pretty well without too many hiccups.  Luckily, the Alcantara cleans up easily so I was able to wash up a few minor mistakes.

The seats themselves needed some modification, too.  While all Impreza seats between 1993 and 2007 are interchangeable between cars, the height of the rails and brackets can vary from model to model.  These JDM Version 7 Seats are out of a 2002-2003 or "Bugeye" STI and sit much too high in the car.  Because the height adjustment on the Japanese drivers seat is on the passenger side in the US, we had to get the whole seat lower.  Using USDM Impreza seat rails, which sit the entire seat nearly two inches lower, we swapped the Version 7 seats onto these rails and brought the seat back to a a much better driving position.

There are still a few more bits I want to track down and add to the interior, but these seats have really transformed things in here.  They're very comfortable for someone my size (5'11" and 225lbs) and look fantastic with the matching door cards.  I'm incredibly happy with how these turned out!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Mid-Cycle Refreshes

I've written before about Subaru Generational Changes that generally act as the blueprint to when models get replaced with a new design.  However, the automotive industry likes to throw around the word "new" in lots of different situations that can seem misleading sometimes.  For the 2018 Model Year, Subaru has three models that are due for their "Mid-Cycle Refresh" that I'll go over.

Before I get started, a Mid-Cycle Refresh typically happens when after a Subaru model has been mostly unchanged for 3 years.  In it's 4th year of production, Subaru makes a few changes to the interior, exterior, and options to update it.  These changes stick around on the car the following year and then, as per that 5-year Cycle that nearly every Subaru follows, the entire model is redesigned and changed.  As an example, the 2012 Subaru Impreza marked the start of it's 4th Generation design.  It received it's Mid-Cycle Refresh in 2015 (new front bumper and some interior changes) and was replaced by the 5th Generation Design in 2017.  Imprezas built in that 4th Generation can share nearly all of their parts between 2012 and 2016 (5 model years).

As of this article being written, the Subaru Legacy, Subaru Outback, and Subaru WRX/STI are all due for a Mid-Cycle Refresh.  This makes sense since they were all redesigned as 2015 models, so the new 2018 models mark the time for a refresh.  In the case of the Legacy and Outback, these changes mostly bring aesthetic revisions to the front end and interior.  The new bumper skin on each model is more aggressive and have redesigned headlights to go along with them.  Inside, both vehicles receive a new radio display that is very similar to the new 2017 Impreza released at the end of last year.  The new Harman-built radios utilize Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for improved smartphone integration.  The displays are also larger and look nicer than their 2015-2017 counterparts.

While the 2018 WRX and WRX STI retain the current radio offering, the rest of the redesigned items are similar.  A new front bumper for both the WRX and WRX STI sharpens the exterior look along with new wheels and new brakes available on both.  The WRX can get a Sport Package that upgrades stopping power and the WRX STI receives larger Brembo brakes (as well as 19" wheels to house them).  Inside there are a few aesthetic revisions, including a leather wrapped center console lid (JDM versions had this standard before).  The console display has also been updated to be similar to that of the 2017 Impreza display.  Gauge cluster designs are slightly different and there's a factory option for STI models to get Recaro front seats.  The WRX looks to retain it's headlight housings that have separate turn signals below them while the WRX STI's turn signals are now integrated into the headlight housings.

These Mid-Cycle Refreshes signal that 2018 and 2019 will be the last two years of these designs before the Legacy, Outback, and WRX/STI make their way to the Subaru Global Platform in 2020.  Not all Subarus have followed this cycle to a "T" though.  The obvious exception has been the Subaru BRZ, which didn't get a notable refresh until 5 years into it's age.  Also, the 2008-2014 Subaru WRX STI managed to have a refresh in 2011 but hung onto it for a longer period of time, so the formula isn't a guarentee.  Granted, both the WRX and BRZ are lower-production cars that don't get as much of the market's attention as the mainstream Impreza, Crosstrek, Forester, Legacy, and Outback.  Time will tell for the enthusiast models, but for everything else, this is a easy way to measure what's ahead for Subaru.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Ride like the Champ! METHOD MR501 Rally Wheels

When Subaru Rally Team USA partnered up with Method Race Wheels, it wasn't just Higgins and Drew doing the winning.  These tough rally-bred wheels are available to the general public to purchase online and through a network of distributors.  From street racers to privateer rally teams, these wheels have been making the rounds.  I had been thinking about a set for my 2016 WRX STI for awhile and finally decided to pull the trigger on a set of MR501 wheels.

The MR501 Rally wheel was their first designed for rally racing. Originally developed as a high-offset 15” gravel wheel, the 501 drove Subaru Rally Team USA’s David Higgins and Craig Drew to a Championship the very first year the used them.  SRT USA famously ran through a stage with no tire on the rear drivers-side wheel and still managed to pull out a stage win in 2014.  The wheels have been battle tested and, as a result, have proven their worth.

It seemed fitting to mount these wheels to my "Higgins Blue" WRX STI, so I finally ordered a set for mine.  These are MR501s in 18x8 with a Titanium Finish wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires.  The wheels also have a wider offset than the OEM wheels so they fit more flush with the side of the fenders without any rubbing or contact issues.  Each Method wheel includes it's own lug nuts, lug key, hub-centric ring, and Allen-Wrench-Fixed center caps.

The matte finish and cast "METHOD" logo on the wheels are striking and really give this car a tough look.  While this car might not see competitive stage miles, it really helps continue the #75 Theme I have going on this car.  The extra offset also gives me a bit more "bite" through the corners and makes these sticky tires grip even more, so it's even more enjoyable to drive.  I'm ecstatic that I finally have a set to run on my WRX STI and am very happy with how they turned out!