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2008 Subaru Legacy STI S402 review: classic MOTOR

By Peter Lyon, 12 Aug 2019 Reviews

2008 Subaru Legacy STI S402 review classic MOTOR feature

When STI breathed life into a final red-hot Liberty special

Just 12 months before the unveiling of the next-gen Subaru Liberty, STI has produced its swan-song of the current flagship four-door. The S402 is the creation of Subaru legend Hideharu Tatsumi — the brand’s chief engineer and test driver for the last two decades.

This review was originally published in MOTOR’s September 2008 issue

To ensure the S402 was a success, Tatsumi tested it extensively at the Nürburgring, “otherwise Japanese enthusiasts wouldn’t have given the car any street cred,” he says. 

The result is the best-performing, best-handling Legacy ever.

There’s a unique mesh grille, flared front guards and wider 18-inch Bridgestone-clad BBS rims, but it’s the hardware lurking beneath that really impresses.

The 2.5-litre flat-four is force-fed via a twin-scroll turbo with more boost, a tweaked ECU and a sports exhaust. It sees only modest rises over the existing 2.5 turbo — 210kW at 5600rpm and 392Nm at 2000-4800rpm. But driveability is the real winner, as gleaned from the fat torque curve. The engine delivers 95 percent of its peak twist at just 1800rpm and keeps pulling hard right up to 6000rpm.

Celebrating 30 years of STI: Legacy RS RA v WRX STI Type R v WRX STI 22B

The S402’s boxer is mated to the Impreza STi’s six-speed manual, which is packed with a set of revised ratios. The increased torque spread and closer gearing allows drivers to take second-gear corners in third. And the end acceleration result is surprisingly quick — the S402 gets to 100km/h in a claimed five-dead.

As with other Subarus, the S402 comes standard with Subaru’s SI-Drive, and again, Sport Sharp is the only mode to select for spirited driving. It delivers instant throttle response which is consistent with the rest of the S402’s controls.

Classic MOTOR: Impreza WRX S402 STI

The steering ratio has been shortened from 15:1 to 13:1 for quicker turn-in, and matched to revised STI-tuned dampers and springs. The S402 also packs a couple of secret weapons — in the form of specially-designed strut braces — that aid precise body control through the twisties. The braces have a flexible mid-section that allows some absorbency during initial weight transfer when cornering, while still adding to the S402’s structural integrity.

The end result is almost an elimination of understeer. This car goes exactly where you want it to and keeps all four tyres firmly planted on the road. The overall chassis set-up delivers excellent feedback, too. It’s just a pity that the S402’s soft-leather seats don’t quite offer the side support you need when carving through fast bends.

But the brakes — Brembo six-pistons up front, two at the back — are phenomenal. They have progressive feel, don’t fade, and afford serious retardation — allowing you to brake deep into corners. Road manners are nothing short of sensational, with effortless acceleration, precise cornering, exceptional grip and strong brakes.

Not surprisingly, Japan will once again keep this cracking drive to itself. But isn’t this hot Legacy the sort of tonic Subaru Oz needs right now?

Straight from the archives on classic MOTOR

Engine: 2457cc flat 4, DOHC, 16v, turbo
Power: 210kW @ 5600rpm
Torque: 392Nm @ 2000-4800rpm
Weight: 1490kg
0-100km/h: 5.0sec (claimed)
Price: ¥5.355million/AU$51,990 (Japan only)

Like: Superb brakes; excellent throttle response; handling
Dislike: Seats need more side support; modest exterior changes