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Homespun specials - The Subaru WRX STi Diamond Edition/BRV

2018-12-27 07:09

Road Trip: Justus Visagie, Images: Willem van der Berg/Justus Visagie

Subaru WRX STi Diamond Edition

Image: Justus Visagie


As a celebration of thirty years of STi, Subaru Southern Africa introduces the 2019 Subaru WRX STi Diamond Edition, a halo model in the Subaru performance car line-up.

If the purr of a domestic cat is therapeutic to humans, as some scientists say, then the ultra-low burble of the special STi hits like a banned substance …

"Did you find someone to dice?" my brother asked, gently mocking me as I arrived at his home in Vanderbijlpark. It was 20h00 on a Thursday, 45 minutes after I had left Sandton. Vanderbijl, like many other industrial and mining towns, have a subculture of home-grown, souped-up specials, often with outlandish visual enhancements.

READ: Subaru's exclusive WRX STi Diamond Edition arrives, only 30 for SA

"They were too scared to show themselves," I replied, as he looked at the car admiringly. His eyes followed the neon yellow edge trim of the body kit and I knew he was wondering what it will look like lit up by ultra-violet 'black' lights.

GALLERY: 2019 Subaru WRX STi Diamond Edition

An hour later we went inside to discuss the car over a whisky and the drive for the next day from Bethlehem to Bloemfontein via Golden Gate and Ficksburg.

A diamond anniversary

Unlike a ‘Legend’ special edition Hilux, this Subaru, built to commemorate 30 years of Subaru Technica International (STi), did not just get tattoos and a bad attitude. No, there is the important matter of 39kW and 57Nm more power and torque above that of the standard WRX STi.

Subaru WRX STi Diamond Edition

                                                                       Image: Justus Visagie

To endow it as such, a local team at Subaru Southern Africa under the guidance of Deon van Heerden reprogrammed the electronic control unit of the 2.5-litre Boxer engine of the normal car and fitted a performance exhaust system. They also fitted a new STi engine brace, pushed the left and right wheels apart by 20 mm and lowered the nose by 10mm. 

Only thirty cars were developed, and according to Van Heerden they have managed "to develop the fastest and most powerful production STi ever released in South Africa with the Diamond Edition" and he is understandably very proud of his team.

It comes with a 5-year/150 000km warranty and a 3-year/75 000km full maintenance plan

These thirty cars are not the only Subaru-models in the world to celebrate 30 years of STi, but they could be the rarest. In Japan, the Type RA-R diamond edition for its domestic market uses a highly boosted version of the 2.0-litre engine that delivers 242kW of power and 432Nm of torque.

The United States also received a 30-year edition, but the unfortunate Britons – and the rest of the world – did not receive any, so we can count ourselves lucky …

From Vaal to gold

At 08h00 the next morning I set off for Bethlehem. By now I was used to the strong vibrato of the engine. Either my ears started to filter the excess noise or perhaps I was going a little deaf.

At 120km/h and 2 600rpm (in sixth gear) the 2.5-litre flat four emits a deep base that makes Bluetooth calls challenging at times. But, if the purr of a domestic cat is therapeutic to humans, as some scientists say, then the ultra-low burble of the special STi hits like a banned substance …

Subaru WRX STi Diamond Edition/BRV

                                                                     Image: Willem van der Berg

The road link between Heilbron and Bethlehem is of varied quality. The sports suspension and 19-inch Y-design alloy wheels (with 245/35 R19 rubber) did not appreciate the worst sections, but we had to soldier on.

After a Wimpy breakfast in Bethlehem, I headed East on the N5 and then peeled off onto the R57, travelling South until I reached a T-junction with the R712 – the road that dissects the Golden Gate National Park. 

When the engineers at SSA put the STi on steroids, they did not just raise the power and torque output, but also made it easier to use. The standard car only reaches its 221kW maximum output at 6 000rpm, whereas the special edition needs only 4 500rpm to peak at 260kW – more powerful than even the Japanese market edition.

Subaru WRX STi Diamond Edition

                                                                        Image: Willem van der Berg

However, the 2.5-litre mill still suffers from substantial turbo lag. While not completely gutless at low revs, it takes a while to boost, and when the tacho needle flings from 4 000 to 6 000rpm, the driver experiences a few moments of Nirvana.

As in all new Scooby’s, the driver can adjust the throttle's sensitivity between low, mid, and high, or as the manufacturer calls it: Intelligent, Sport, and Sport Sharp.

The most direct route between Bethlehem and Clarens spans only 40km, but that is the mundane way. We decided to take a 123km detour that snakes through the crown jewel of the Free State province: Golden Gate Park.

The wind beneath my wing

I pulled over at the Eastern entrance of the park and considered adjusting the driver-controlled centre differential (DCCD) for the solo run through Golden Gate.

I then decided to rather apply the logic of engineers-know-best. So, I left it in Auto and let the car decide how it wanted to split the torque between the front and rear axles, on the fly.

Thankfully the road surface was mostly intact, but there were a few … yes, you have guessed it … potholes. Thankfully the STis razor-sharp reactions allow it to sidestep them with ease. 

The steering is fast, and the front wheels are quick to react. While the hydraulic rudder is precise overall, it sometimes felt overly light with the steering wheel in the 12-o’clock position, especially when driven hard.

The symmetrical all-wheel drive allows for power drifting out of corners with confidence. But not too much power, as I found the stability control (Vehicle Dynamic Control or VCD) could be reluctant to engage. That is great for track driving, but not comfortable for most drivers on narrow mountain passes that happens to be public roads.

Tied to a rocket …

From Clarens, the road leading to Ficksburg has fast sweeps and long straights and is in a fair condition. Here the STi was in its element, but roadworks slowed me down, and the once pristine road between Ficksburg and Fouriesburg is now also in a sorry state.

Subaru WRX STi Diamond Edition/BRV

                                                                   Image: Willem van der Berg

Meanwhile, the rush of acceleration from 4 000 to 5 000rpm drained the tank and my wallet. I realised poverty is the only cure for this compulsion, and I eased off the throttle, letting the revs drop to 3 000 … and then lit it up again. This car does not want you to drive it prudently, so do not expect any Discovery Rewards for gradual acceleration or overtaking.

Treasure found

My visit to Bloemfontein was no casual one. I was on a mission to learn more about a car company named BRV. It has no relation to a Honda troupe carrier called BR-V, and the name has nothing to do with Bloemfontein. 

Instead, it stands for Brandt Radical Vehicles, a family-owned business from the sleepy centre of South Africa with radical self-designed and built models. How radical? Well, considering its attributes, very radical.

Image: Willem van der Berg

                                                                     Image: Willem van der Berg

For example; the BRV M-range has a monocoque chassis with 1.2 – 1.6mm steel body, an integrated roll-cage, leading-arm front suspension, and 325mm of ground clearance. Its default engine is a 2.8-litre Cummins turbodiesel, but if you want 4.0-litre Lexus V8 or 6.2-litre Chev LS3 V8 power, that is okay too.

"We have two kinds of customers," says Gerrit Brandt, the man responsible for procurement. “Farmers who want a vehicle that can withstand all conditions and guys who want exclusive toys.” Applications of the BRVs seem almost endless and there is interest from arms manufacturers too.

Subaru WRX STi Diamond Edition

                                                                       Image: Justus Visagie

All the design, engineering, and production work are carried out by BRV, with tasks shared between Gerrit, Lourens, and Stiaan, as well as their father, Antonie, and mother, Marietjie.

The modest and soft-spoken Antonie, a former CSIR fuels researcher, founded the company some 16 years ago. The business designed and manufactured trailers and later a small off-road vehicle called the DTV Roadrunner.

Gerrit took me for a quick taxi ride in one of the latest BRVs: an M3 Extended Cab. The build quality is impeccable, and its suspension unperturbed by obstacles in its path. 

Returning to the factory I thought of how successful home-grown cars have been in the past, but also how many broken dreams line this path. Having met the Brandts, and getting a small taste of their product, I cannot help but feel that BRV is headed for great things.

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