Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Higgins aims for Pikes Peak

Subaru Rally Team USA's David Higgins has his sights set at the peak of the mountain.  He's claimed the "Climb to the Clouds" record atop Mt Washington in New Hampshire twice now, but this time the stakes are even higher.  Armed with his trusty Vermont Sportscar-prepped 2016 WRX STI, Higgins and his team are headed to the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb!

As per the entry list, David will be competing in Time Attack 1 for the 100th Anniversary of this historic hill climb event.  It's the 94th running of the race since it started.  Completed in 1916, the 12.42 miles of Pikes Peak Highway leads to the 14,115ft. summit of Pikes Peak and has enjoyed a reputation as a "terrifying and merciless route" through Pike National Forest.  It's a testament to both man and machine to scale the mountain and promises to be more demanding than climbing the 6,288 foot Mt Washington  (over double it's size).  Higgins and his rally wrecking ball will need to make adjustments for the thinning air and altitude as they scale this massive mountain, so it's certainly a new challenge for SRT USA, despite their previous victories in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

The event isn't until the last weekend in June, so the team has plenty of time to prepare between now and then.  However, there are still 3 more Rally America Championship events before Pikes Peak.  The Oregon Trail Rally in April, the Olympus Rally in May, and the Susquehannock Trail Rally at the beginning of June means their time to make any physical modifications to the car will be on a bit of a time crunch.  This team has had more than their fair share of small windows to work with their experience in rally and rallycross, plus David Higgins is known for taking care of equipment at the rallies so there shouldn't be much to fix on the car.  June will approach fast so look for more news on this event coming up!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The 2017 Impreza

On March 23rd, Subaru will unveil the new 2017 Impreza which will not only kick off the 5th Generation design for this model, but also be the first to utilize the new Global Platform!  So why am I posting this on the 22nd?  Because someone at Subaru has an itchy trigger finger.  Behold!

While details will still trickle in about this car after the official release, the design actually does employ a lot of the features seen on the sedan concept that was released before.  The same similarities are shared between the Hatchback concept and the actual version, but here's the thing that people always get hyped up about with the stunning concepts and the let-down production model:  practicality.

Anyone who honestly expected those LED headlights of the concept to make their way on to a production car needs a reality smack to the head.  Did you think those high window lines would provide good outward visibility?  Nope!  So those details obviously get massaged out of the production model.  However, the new Impreza has surprisingly retained many of the lines and cues that the concept had before.
2017 Impreza Sedan Concept

The fender line connected through the doors is still present, adding some depth to a traditionally boring straight line that Subarus have had before.  The lines coming off the grille into the headlight, while muted from their concept agressiveness, are still there.  Even many of the bumper lines are still present with this new design.  I'm still expecting the nay-sayers to say "oh the concept was so much cooler" but they've honestly done a pretty good job of retaining the look they originally portrayed.

Both the Hatchback and Sedan models share the same front-end and styling cues change slightly to round out the rear end to differentiate the two.  The Sedan's sporty styling has a rear wing option while the swept roofline in the hatchback provides a clean and sharp look.  Sport models include silver finish to the grille and fog light bezels.  Standard Imprezas feature LED fog lights while the Sport models offer a larger halogen fog light housing.  Sport models will also continue to feature side-skirt extensions and roof rails.  LED "Boomerang" lights are available on the Limited models for the Sedan and Hatchback.

Sport models are now offered on both the Sedan and Hatchback (previously only the Hatchback had this option).  The Sport models feature a red-stitched interior, much like the current WRX offering.  Other interior upgrades feature a much more stylish design all around, including leather trim on the dashboard.  The new infotainment system, while recently revamped with the 2015 refresh just two years before, expands on connectivity by providing Apple CarPlay and Android Auto bringing integrated smartphone use to owners.

Subaru has made a bold move with the new design, jumping forward in terms of interior and exterior styling with new toys inside to play with. However, they've continued to hold on to what makes the Impreza stand out.  This car still delivers fantastic fuel economy with standard All-Wheel Drive (still the only to offer it in it's segment) and superior safety ratings.  Underneath all this lies Subaru's next-generation Global Platform delivering a chassis that will even rival the advances made in their recent sportscar designs in the WRX and BRZ.  This is also the chassis that will lead the way for all future Subaru models, so not only will these improvements carry over to the Crosstrek, Forester, Legacy, Outback, and WRX, but it will also set a higher benchmark in terms of styling and connectivity that's right in-line with Subaru's Prominence 2020 plan.  More big things are coming for Subaru, and this Impreza is kicking things off in a big way for the company.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Fueling Up for 100AW

Today my friend Colin and I drove down to Salem MO to be part of the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood.  We're volunteering as course marshals for the event and have been looking forward to attending for quite awhile.  After we had signed in and completed registration for the event, we needed to fill up my Higgins-Blue WRX STI to make it back to our hotel.  The gas station we fueled up at was a winner... and here's why.

Agatino Fortunato of the All Fours Rally Team and David Higgins of Subaru Rally Team USA both happened to be fueling up at this gas station.  Several photos and laughs and geek-out sessions later, we actually fueled up my WRX STI and left with smiles that hurt our cheekbones.

Not only was this an unforgettable chance to meet my rally heroes, but it also showed me just how down-to-earth these guys are.  They seemed just as excited to see me and my blue-baru as I was to meet these awesome drivers!  David even went so far as to ask to have a seat in my Series.HyperBlue WRX STI and shared a photo on his social media outlets shortly after.  

So, uhh... yeah.  This rally hasn't even started and I am LOVING it so far!  I'm beyond stoked to see what the next two days bring!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Looking Back - Going Forward

March 15th of this year will mark exactly 4 years that I've owned Subarus.  It certainly feels like it's been a much longer time, but my enthusiasm for the brand has only grown tenfold since I first rolled that Impreza off the lot.  As I look forward to even more great things to come, I thought it'd be fun to take a look back and retrace when Subaru got into my blood.

There are three times I can think of before I owned that hatchback when I was like "man, I want a Subaru".  The first happened back in the Trapper Keeper days.  There was a kid in my class who had a folder with a 2002 World Rally Blue WRX sedan on the front and back... and somehow I thought it was the coolest thing ever.  Well, of course I did!  2002 was the first year I started driving in High School and I had been handed down a "vantastic" 1992 Ford Aerostar.  Literally everything else seemed like a cooler car!  But there was something that stuck out with those bug-eyed Imprezas driving around in the dirt.  It seemed pretty cool, so I asked dad if I could get one.  Not a chance!  Oh well.

The second time came when I was in college.  I want to say it was like 2007?  Anyways, some friends were going out to eat and it was snowing.  My '00 Celica wasn't getting around very well.  A friend of mine had just sold his '86 Nissan Z31 and picked up a '02 WRX Hatchback.  He offered to give me a ride and I remembered "hey, this is that cool car from that folder in High School".  He explained how that hood scoop, unlike on my Celica, was actually working supplying cold air to an intercooler for the turbocharger.  I asked what that meant and he kicked it sideways in the snow onto the main road and smiled.  The quick trip to the restaurant was even quicker... even in the slick conditions.  As the years passed and my Celica started to mix oil and fuel while I got rides to the parts store in this black Bugeye that my next car would have to be a Subaru.

In the Summer of 2011, my Celica was not doing well.  I figured I had about half a year before the engine would need a complete rebuild.  A bad catalytic converter had been causing engine problems that were ruining the ringlands and eating oil profusely.  I didn't have much money to fix it OR to buy a Subaru, so I decided to see if it would survive the winter and get something during tax season.  However, my desire to get a Subaru was further strengthened by a video I saw online.  It featured a Vermont Sportscar built WRX STI with David Higgins at the helm climbing a mountain in my home state of New Hampshire.  Beating the record atop Mt Washington's Climb to the Clouds event not only solidified my decision to get a Subaru, but also got me interested in learning more about this "rally" stuff.  That opened up a whole new obsession that would not only lead me to getting a Subaru, but to later purchase another Subaru for the sole purpose of using it for local rallycross events.

I don't mean to sound like a romanticist with Subaru, but these three moments didn't just make me want to get one.  After purchasing a 2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Hatchback, a lot of big things happened in my life.  I started my first full-time job working for a Subaru dealership just 6 months after buying it from them.  Thanks to the job, I could afford a ring and proposed to my girlfriend that winter.  The next summer I purchased my first home with a nice big garage... which really came in handy when I purchased a 2000 Impreza 2.5 RS Coupe for rallycross that fall.  In winter of 2014 I had the car running well enough to participate in my first rallycross event.  Later that spring I married my best friend (who also had a Subaru) and everything else just started to fall into place.  I would've happily married my wife at some point or another anyways.  She's made for me!  But I really think getting that car helped set things into motion for us over the last four years.

After looking back, there's even more to look forward to!  I've been incredibly happy at my job at the dealership helping people get hooked on these cars like I did.  In place of my first Subaru lies a beast-of-a-machine they call the WRX STI Series.HyperBlue that I love.  The rallycross car has never been better and my wife now has a turbocharged Forester that gets groceries even FASTER than before!  I also get to meet that driver for SRT USA that got me hooked on rallying.  A caravan of friends I've assembled are headed to our first-ever Stage Rally in Missouri to go see David Higgins and Craig Drew tear it up at the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood.  Oh, and that friend that got me hooked on Subarus to begin with?  He's in town this month.  I've gotta thank him for setting me down this path, even if he didn't intend for it to work out so well!

And people wonder why I bleed Subaru now ;)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Rallycross Season Kickoff!

Dirt in your teeth.  Yup, rallycross season must be back!  On February 28th, the NRSCCA kicked off it's 2016 Rallycross season with a full lineup of eager drivers, new and old, to give it a go in the dirt.  Held at the I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, the course design was great for equalizing the wide range of cars and experience levels and the conditions were great!  Strong winds swept through pretty much the whole day that, while not ideal for the workers and spectators outside, quickly cleared the course of dust as each car passed through.  

The event went well and I think we've got a whole new band of eager new talent planning to make Rallycross part of their balanced breakfast from here on out.  While veterans laid down consistent times in close competition, the newer drivers showed great improvement lap after lap.  There was lots of great feedback and praise for how the event flowed easily.  Kudos to the great help from workers all around!

On my side of things, I couldn't be happier with this season opener for the Rallycross program!  I am acting as the NRSCCA Rallycross Chairman this year, so I was a bit nervous to see how things would pan out for this first event.  There was lots of help and behind the scenes work that made things run smoothly and I learned a lot!  Speaking of learning, my codrivers continue to show that I have room to improve as a driver.  This time my co-driver was a fellow Subaru owner and seasoned Rallycross driver who's car was out of commission for this event.  He piloted my 2.5 RS Coupe and bested a LOT of quicker cars with his expert driving and skillful attacks at each turn.  The car really delivered, too!  New rallycross tires that were added at the tail end of last season did great and made it through the day with no issues.  The newly reworked rear suspension also seemed to do well, adding a good amount of rotation through the twists and turns of the course.  I did alright, but I'm always looking to improve and get more consistent.  By the end of the day, my times were finally up-to-par with my codriver, but it took me all day to get it there!  Hopefully I can apply what I learned today to get more competetive from the start of the day for the next event.

Great photos from put the icing on the cake for enjoying this event through and through.  Looking back at all the great cars and fun driving through the dirt made it a memorable season opener.  Really happy with how everything turned out overall and I'm looking forward to more fun in the dirt this year!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

2017 Forester Updates

As with most Subaru lineups, the Forester is due for a "refresh" for the 2017 Model Year.  Originally released in early 2013 as a 2014 model, the 4th Generation Subaru Forester has been a huge success for Subaru.  The exterior will get a facelift for the front that will round out the last two years of this generation for Subaru before it moves to the Global Platform that the Impreza and Crosstrek will start using soon.

At this time, Subaru has not officially released details of the 2017 refresh for the Forester.  From the available photos, videos, and existing Subaru models that have also been upgraded, we have a good idea of what is to come.  The most obvious changes fall in line with other facelift trends from the Impreza and Crosstrek.  The new Forester's bumper cover has been redesigned around the fog light housings, there's a redesigned front grille, and more aggressive headlights are rounding out the front-end changes.  Headlights look to be Steering-responsive units, but this may be limited to models with EyeSight Technology.  XT Models (turbocharged) look to retain the same bumper cover from the 2014-2016 models.  The tail lights have also been upgraded to a LED-type that is similar to the Legacy, Outback, and Hybrid Crosstrek.  Interior changes are minor with redesigned door grips, center console trim, and piano black dash trim.  More of these changes will be featured on the Limited and Touring trim levels while the Base and Premium trim will have more basic changes.

Last fall, Subaru's 2017 Subaru Forester prototype was put to the test by consumers who signed up for a test-ride event through a off-road course set up by Subaru in Japan to experience the new driveline changes that accompany the aesthetic changes metioned previously on the new model.  Engineers wanted to see how the 2017 Forester suspension adjustments were felt by regular customers, so there are noticable driving changes that are on the way as well.  These changes will likely be highlighted later with the official announcement coming in late spring / early summer of 2016.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The "STI" Debate

"Is it STI or isn't it STI?  Well, you guys can fight that out among yourselves." - Regular Car Reviews

This debate among Subaru enthusiasts is a seemingly trivial topic.  Ignore the "Sexually Transmitted Infection" jokes, and you'll find that there's actually a lot of debate on what that iconic logo on a Subaru really means.  The only way to really clear it up is to try to nail down facts and shake off whatever definitions enthusiasts have given what it means when a STI badge is on a Subaru.  Let's give it a go!

For starters, STI stands for Subaru Tecnica International.  Born from Subaru as their technical partner and racing development team in 1988, STI hit the ground running developing Subaru vehicles to push the limits.  Land speed records, World Rally Championships, Isle of Man TT Challenges, and wins at the 24 hours of Nürburgring have been key victories since STI was established.  From those motorsports accomplishments, STI utilized their knowledge of racing to develop performance parts and complete Subaru cars for the Japanese market.  From this aspect, STI established itself as a business component of Subaru not just to sell cool cars and upgrade parts while displaying their knowledge and abilities in racing applications.

While all of this may seem straightforward, there seems to be some dispute on what "STI" means in the US.  This is because of how STI was introduced to this market and the perception that owners and enthusiasts had after it finally touched down on American soil marked by the arrival of the 2004 WRX STI.  Up until that point, this car only existed in other international markets.   Enthusiasts who knew Subaru were modifying their Imprezas, Legacies, and Foresters as best they could to "create" vehicles like their STI-tuned counterparts across the pond.  But when the WRX STI touched down, it suddenly took on the identity of "the STI".  Because the motorsports and other complete cars were still absent from the US Market, the name "STI" began to stick to the only car with that badge on the trunk:  the WRX STI.  This is where much of the controversy stems from, but it's more than just a misunderstanding.

There's a bigger part of this that can seem to be harder to explain.  While the majority of "that's not a STI" claims are about Wings on a WRX or stickers on a Forester, there are some impressive projects from coast to coast in the US that involve swapping the blood and guts of a WRX STI into another Subaru.  Swapping these components has given rise to vehicles that don't just evoke the look of their Japanese counterparts, but actually perform like they would as well.  Older Subarus are popular for this as it is relatively affordable to do a "STI swap" with these cars due to the similar design between most Subaru models in the 1990s and early 2000s.  Early generation Imprezas (1993-2001) are especially popular among the enthusiast community for these kinds of swaps.  Other than the USDM chassis they are based on, there are some impressive builds that could easily pass as a factory option on American soil.  Even names like RSTi (a Impreza RS with a STI swap) and XTI (a Forester XT with a STI swap) have become well known enough in enthusiast circles that represent these kinds of projects.

Many enthusiasts in the US had associated "the STI" with one car, this distinction led to a separation between cars that were and weren't to have this kind of title.  Obviously, through the association, only vehicles that were originally released as the WRX STI were legitimate in most enthusiasts eyes.  However, owners of other Subarus that liked the look of certain iconic parts that made the WRX STI such a sought-after vehicle started adding these to their own.  Put a hood scoop and a big wing on a standard Impreza and you're pretty much guaranteed some controversy.  Add a STI badge to the trunk and you're Grade-A flame bait material.  While the owner may be legitimately interested in just improving the "look" of their car, others saw this as a misrepresentation of what their car actually was.  Regardless of whether the intent of the owner was to simply make something look like a WRX STI or a Forester STI just by adding badges and hood scoops was to improve their car or to fool others, it can frowned upon to do so in the automotive enthusiast world.

As the STI brand grows and increases their involvement with the US Market, this idea of what it means in the US is starting to change.  Part of Subaru's Prominence 2020 plan is to boost brand value by enhancing the STI Brand.  As of this post in March of 2016, Subaru is already starting to phase out older SPT (Subaru Performance Tuning) parts and replace them with STI versions.  There are also sport packages for the WRX and the Crosstrek that incorporate STI parts to upgrade those vehicles.  The American idea of what STI is will start to shift as the products that Subaru brings to the US begin to incorporate more performance parts and complete cars to the customers.  By the time Subaru has their 2020 plans in place, it's likely that we'll already have more than just the WRX getting STI treatment.  Japan already has the BRZ, Forester, and Legacy versions tuned by STI, so some of those versions could be set for release in the US as part of this expansion plan.

In the end, it will still take time in the US market for people to identify "STI" with more than one car.  Once more versions of complete STI cars start to hit the US market and other performance parts are added to existing Subaru vehicles, things should start to sort themselves out.  Still, after over a decade of the WRX STI being the only product to wear that badge in the Subaru lineup, the debate of what STI actually is will probably still linger among enthusiasts.