The Subaru WRX STI at Oro station.

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There won’t be a race on the new Oro track for a few years, but that hasn’t stopped Subaru from bringing a WRX STI here so I can let off some steam on the dirt.

Oro Station will be a $ 260 million “automotive innovation park” between Barrie and Orillia, and this month received Category 3 design approval by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) to be an internationally sanctioned motorsport circuit.

Today however, it is still half a million square feet of fields, woods and land. Lots of dirt. The kind of dirt 4WD rally cars like to chew on and spit out the back in giant plumes. In other words, a playground for STIs.

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There is a 1.2 km tree cleared loop that will be corners 3-7 at the north end of the planned 4 km trail. This is where I did four laps on level dirt, although the course transformed quite quickly. The recent Ontario rain turned the surface into deep, wet mud, but a few days of clear weather dried it out just enough for the STI to tackle with its original Yokohama tires.

The WRX is the softer version of Subaru’s rally sedan, although it is hardly soft.

Mark Richardson / The Globe and Mail

It is one thing to drive on a dirt road; it is quite another to do it at high speed. Most SUVs will have little difficulty moving forward, provided they don’t stall in the patches of soft ground and let their street tires slip. Subarus, however, still has power on all four wheels, and you can actually feel the individual tires clawing at the ground for grip.

I drove a standard WRX on the course before taking the STI seat. The WRX is the softer version of Subaru’s rally sedan, although it is hardly soft. It has a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that produces 268 horsepower and it takes a lot of the driving decisions for you. There are three driving modes (Sport, Sport Sharp and Smart) which mainly adjust the sensitivity of the throttle. There are also two differentials, center and rear, and the long suspension is a little more forgiving on the passenger’s loins.

The WRX was a lot of fun and I was happy enough to get around the deteriorating course, hitting 80 km / h in the short back straight. Then I got into the STI.

If the WRX is a fighter jet, then the STI is a rocket. Its larger 2.5-liter turbocharged boxer engine produces 310 horsepower and 290 lb-ft. of torque, although you have to maintain the rpm for that. It is only available with an excellent six-speed short-shift transmission which is linked to an electronically controlled center differential, which in turn is mated to a Torsen limited-slip differential at the rear and a differential at helical limited slip at the front.

What it is in English? This means the driver can control the amount of disc sent to the front or rear, in nine increments, from a 50-50 split to a 41-59 split. When you’re driving around a bend and pushing the differential button, you can actually feel the shift from front to back. I can’t think of any other production car that offers this.

There are three driving modes (Sport, Sport Sharp and Smart) which mainly adjust the sensitivity of the throttle.

Mark Richardson / The Globe and Mail

“Depending on the driving situation or the surface you are on, you might want a different amount of torque going front or rear,” says Evan Lindsey, Automotive Line Manager for Subaru Canada. “If you’re doing a hill climb you probably want to put a little more torque up front. If you are going downhill you will probably want a little more to the rear.

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More than that, the mechanical differentials at the front and rear of the STI are almost impossible to go wrong.

“Electronic differentials are really complicated – the technology behind them is fantastic,” says Lindsey, “but when you’re in a gripless situation where all four wheels are spinning all the time, the computers can get a little confusing and they do. are not really sure what is going on and where to send the couple. But with a mechanical system it doesn’t matter – it’s just going to send torque where it needs to go.

It sounds very niche, since most Canadians don’t go on dirt roads and especially not in a $ 50,000 STI. However, they drive on slippery winter roads, where ice takes away the grip of all four tires. Most all-wheel-drive vehicles can transfer power to the wheels where it’s needed for better grip, but the Subaru system does this exceptionally well.

On my last lap in the STI, after rolling down the short back straight at 100 km / h and full of confidence, I misjudged a tight left turn and slid the car off the course. No damage was done, but I remembered Mr. Scott in Star Trek, warning that “you can change the laws of physics”.

Maybe not, but with the right combination of electronic and mechanical magic, you can stretch them further than you ever thought possible.

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