What is it?
Subaru’s all-wheel drive, boxer- engined, manual-with-an-actual- clutch, pseudo-rally roadcar. Now called the WRX STI (the ‘Impreza’ part of the name has been dropped) that comes in two flavours: hatchback or saloon. Powered by a 2.5-litre four- pot with just under 300bhp (297 to be exact) and 300lb ft of torque, it’s reliably and easily quick, with 62mph in 5.2 seconds and a maximum speed of 155mph (3mph more for the saloon). Both models are really quite ugly, even after Subaru’s attempts to refresh the car with `hawk-eye’ headlights. Space is good but not great, and the feeling is that the majority of the engineering spend was on the ‘Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive’ system; this is an easy and safe car to drive rapidly, no matter what the conditions.
The only slight reservation about melding permanent 4x4 with decent mechanical grip and adding relatively modest power is that the WRX tends to feel slightly adrenaline-lite in its default mode. The nose pushes wide at the limit, tyres yowling all the way. Subaru obviously noticed this lack of driving love, so added ‘SI Drive’ which alters throttle maps and response, and the ‘DCCD’ or ‘Driver’s Control Centre Differential’. You can make the WRX STI much more frenzied by locking the diffs and turning up the numbers, in other words. It’s worth it: the Scooby takes on a whole new character and – especially with the manual gearbox – feels like a proper rally car.
On the inside
As previously mentioned, the Subaru might be a fascinating engineering prospect but the interior isn’t really up to all that much. Plastics are hard and noisy, the bucket seats are uncomfortable for larger drivers and there are plenty of exposed hinges and wiring runs. Even the boot has a step in the floor to run over the rear suspension. It might have an iPod connection, but the whole car feels slightly off the pace; the multimedia looks like an Eighties’ Amstrad computer game, the Bluetooth system is unreliable and it comes without nav or significant toys. Saying that, it’s a real joy to drive a car with a nice manual gearbox and feel so involved in the action.
Spec on the £32,995 (saloon or hatch) WRX STI is OK rather than showstopping. You get HID headlights, iPod, aircon, pointless hill-start assist, stereo, keyless entry, airbags, etc. And the recently introduced 320R-spec cars get a Pioneer satnav and 20bhp powerhike into the bargain. It’s practical enough and very quick once you get used to the delivery, but you’ll always be aware that it’s not a pretty thing and tax (243g/km) and insurance are on the high side. You’ll also struggle to manage the quoted combined-mpg figure of 26.9mpg. Early twenties is more realistic.