For a lot of people, myself included, there's a lot to like about a car which can keep much rarer and more expensive cars honest. It's like the underdog that just won't quit, always biting at the heels of the big guns.
Riding the STi wave of popularity, Subaru has just released the second version of the Forester STi in Japan, the first of which was released in February 2004.
And more than just a compact AWD with a turbo engine and some cherry red badges, the new Forester has been given a thorough fettling to meet Subaru Technica International's high standards.
Fuji Heavy Industries, Subaru's parent company, says that the new Forester STi was developed as a "pure" sport utility vehicle, one that offers drivers 'superb' performance and high levels of practicality.
One of the most visible differences over your garden variety Forester is a unique front apron.
The new front end looks plenty aggressive with a more muscular design that emphasises the front wheel arches, and located below the more angular headlights are the obligatory STi badges where the fog lights would normally be.
There's also a sportier grille design and small brake cooler apertures in the flanks. All told, it gives the STi Forester a much sportier face, and when combined with large 18-inch alloy rims shod with sticky 225/45 R18 Potenza RE030s, it makes quite a visual impact.
The stock-standard Forester 2.5XT packs a 2.5-litre turbo-intercooled 4-cylinder boxer engine and outputs a more-than-useful 155kW, but the go-fast STI version hikes power even more, by a whopping 40kW, no less.
This takes the total power output, measured at the crankshaft, to 195 kilowatts (261hp).
The STI powertrain engineers managed to coax more power out of the 2.5-litre boxer engine by tweaking the amount of turbo boost pressure, adding a bigger intercooler (air-cooled), adding variable valve doodads and a freer flowing exhaust can. The 8.2:1 compression ratio remains unchanged.
They call the engine the 2.5 Boxer DOHC 16-valve AVCS Turbo, where AVCS stands for Active Valve Control System, and together with more durable pistons and connecting rods, the result is Subaru's fastest Forester ever built.
As you can see from the lovingly crafted two-tone table to the right, both models output peak torque and power at the same engine speeds, only the STi generates much more of both thanks to the abovementioned engine tuning.
The STI is also a good 75kg heavier, but the increase in torque more than makes up for the extra bulk. No details are supplied by STi, but expect the 0-100km/h dash to dip below the 6.0 second mark.
Six gear ratios, courtesy of a slick-shifting 6-speed STi manual gearbox, transfer the 378Nm of torque to all four wheels, and Suretrack LSDs on the front and rear axles improve the car's takeoff characteristics as well getting the power down efficiently while cornering.
Subaru Technica International didn't stop at the new look and more powerful powertrain; the chassis has come in for a good once-over, and with new inverted type strut suspension, not to mention a 30mm lower ride height, the Forester STi limits body roll, squat and dive during hard driving.
Brembo stoppers also make the cut, with the Italian ventilated discs front and rear decreasing the Forester STi's braking distance.
Four piston calipers clamp the front 17-inch discs, while two pot calipers work the same-sized rear discs, and a larger master brake cylinder also contributes to increased deceleration and better brake pedal feel.
The Subaru Forester STi's interior has also come in for a few sporty improvements, the biggest change of which is a pair of Recaro bucket seats for the driver and front passenger (complete with trendy STi embroidery).
There's also a blacked-out centre console (black goes faster?), red stitching on the leather steering wheel, gear shifter and handbrake, plus a 240km/h speedometer and lots of STi stickers.
And the worst part about all this STi goodness that's been crammed into the SUV body of the Forester? It's only available in Japan. Unless you're really tight with the wharfies down at the dock, or you know a high ranking diplomat who can speed up the importation process, the chances of getting your hands on one of these very rare Foresters anytime soon is quite slim.
The new Subaru Forester STi goes on sale in Japan on May the 6th, and Subaru Australia said it has no plans to bring the vehicle into Australia. Shame that. Would there be a market for a compact AWD with heaps of character and enough poke to take on the BMW X5 4.8is and Mercedes-Benz ML 55 AMG at the traffic light showdown? Without a doubt.