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Subaru (finally) brings STI variant to U.S.

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DETROIT — Much to the frustration of hardcore Subaru enthusiasts in the U.S., a crop of forbidden fruit has existed for nearly two decades only in Japan: the Subaru Tecnica International S line.

From the S201 in 2000 to the S208 last year, the high-performance variants of the WRX STI were unavailable in Subaru’s largest market, the U.S.

Not anymore.

The STI S209, unveiled last week at the Detroit auto show, will be sold only in the U.S.

The high-performance model joins a Subaru U.S. lineup that is getting fresher, following redesigns of the Crosstrek and Forester small crossovers and the addition of the Ascent large crossover.

But none of those vehicles has a 341-hp engine, a wide-body exterior treatment, front, rear and side spoilers, a carbon fiber roof panel or 19-inch wheels and Brembo brakes.

“We want excitement, a sportier performance side,” STI President Yoshio Hirakawa told Automotive News. “That’s the reason we wanted to add this performance model.”

Subaru of America CEO Tom Doll sees the S209 as a halo model for Subaru’s U.S. lineup.

“We learn a lot from our racing program that we apply into our normal production vehicles,” Doll said. “That’s the quintessential car that demonstrates that. It’s the fastest, it’s the best braking, it’s the best handling. It’s the best of everything.”

STI will build around a modest allotment of S209s — just 200 in total — that will undergo final assembly at a Subaru factory in Kiryu, Japan, where STI completes its S-line vehicles. The models will arrive late this year.

They will likely carry a hefty premium over the base WRX STI, which starts at $37,480, including shipping.

“We’re going to sell out of them real quick,” Doll predicted. “And there’s going to be pressure, because certain people are going to want it but they can’t get it.”

Doll said he envisions going back to the parent company for additional production.

What do you think?