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The Top Gear car review:Subaru WRX STi
For:Grip, chassis precision, ground-covering ability, hardcore nature
Against:Hard ride, turbo's thirst and lag, poor quality cabin, running costs
2.5 WRX STi Type UK 4dr
What we say:
Meet the new WRX, same as the old Impreza. Still a hoot on the right road, still a pain on most others
What is it?
Don’t tell me you don’t recognize it? Fifteen years ago the cult of the 4wd rally refugee was one of the biggest trends to happen to the British car market in years. Trouble was it was largely limited to just two cars, the Subaru Impreza and the Mitsubishi Lancer, and despite their popularity for a few years, they were like fireworks, exploding briefly across the automotive landscape and then flickering out as the recession bit and tastes changed.
But now Subaru has bounced back – but not with an Impreza. At least not by name. This one is known solely as the WRX STi, but everything else is present and correct. 2.5-litre turbocharged boxer four, six-speed manual, 4wd, massive rear wing, unholy grip levels. Even the relative-bargain list price has made a comeback.
What’s perhaps most surprising is that Subaru seems to have been operating in its own little isolation tank and doesn’t appear to have taken into account what the rest of the automotive industry is up to. What we have here is pretty much the same as what we used to have. It doesn’t even have any more power.
What has improved markedly is the stiffness of the chassis and body. As a result it reacts almost instantly to whatever you ask it to do (except accelerate – there’s still far more turbo lag here than you’d find in a BMW M135i or VW Golf R). It feels more alert when you change direction and it’s better balanced and less nose-heavy, too. But Subaru hasn’t made any allowances for our soft-buttocked sensibilities. The ride is hard and we can’t think of many saloons that are more tiring or rowdier to drive. This is still a car that offers few compromises.
On the inside
The cabin is possibly the worst offender. People have got used to chic cabins even in budget city cars such as the VW Up now. In comparison, the WRX’s grey and black plastic effort is hopelessly cheap. The drivers seat is well shaped, you can get comfortable, but it’s no more generously sized in the back than a Golf (although the boot’s better than it was – 460 litres is a hefty 40 litres bigger than it was before). Even a decent level of kit can’t help it: the ambience simply doesn’t befit a car at this price.
Not that £28,995 is particularly expensive for a car that’s this fast and exhilarating across country. Just watch the costs – it’ll cost you £840 to tax for the first year and £475 thereafter. And claimed economy of 27.2mpg is worse than a 552bhp Audi RS6 (yes, really). CO2 of 242g/km doesn’t look clever when a 300bhp Audi S3 saloon emits just 162g/km and can average 40mpg; that’s the stark mark of progress. Subaru will doubtless sell some to the hardcore few who had one before, but as for attracting new people to the brand, Subaru is facing an uphill struggle.