Subaru WRX STi

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Subaru WRX STi WRX STi

Driven December 2007

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A few months ago, we drove the new Impreza and came to the conclusion that, in its attempt to move into the mainstream hatchback market, it had made a decent go of it, apart from the fact that its designers lost their way and wound up somewhere in Korea, circa 1995.

But you know this already, as you have eyes. What you don't know is how the UK-spec 2.5-litre STi version drives, which is why I'm at the Adria International Raceway near Venice, Italy. Track-only seems odd for a test, though, given that the STi has built its reputation on tearing up the roads.

The hardest thing to get your head around with the STi is that, now it's at the hot end of the hatchback market, it's duelling with VW's Golf R32 and Audi's S3, cars which have worked this patch long enough to have the formula well and truly nailed.

Conscious of this, Subaru has toned down the noise and upped the ride quality in an attempt to broaden its appeal and airbrush the memory of its Studio 54 days, when everything was electric blue boot spoilers, gold rims and conspicuous excess.

It's a risky strategy. To stay with the musical metaphor, it's the band that shifts their sound for chart success and leaves their hardcore fanbase behind. Hushing that distinctive boxer burble might actually end up putting off the 1,500 Scooby fans who bought the last version of the STi, instead of attracting new ones.

Which would be a crying shame, because this is very much an Impreza fan's car. There may be less power at 296bhp than the Japan-spec 2.0 litre's 304, and it does feel somewhat underwhelming in these track-based circumstances, but that power is very useable at lower revs, and the fun quota remains high, thanks to huge amounts of grip. All-new multi-link rear suspension, a 45mm wider track and a longer wheelbase at 2,625mm make for a very chuckable car, even though the steering felt a bit more communicative on previous models.

However, when you start playing around with the centre diff's three auto or six-step manual settings, you quickly realise the genuine versatility of the STi. Live with it and you'll get to the point where you can adjust the bias on the fly, depending on what situation you're in, just like the rally boys. And that's even before you start playing with the three throttle and engine-mapping modes.

The STi has huge potential, and as far as drivers' cars go, will be one of 2008's best. Just make sure you go to Prodrive for a sports exhaust.

Piers Ward

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